Saturday, September 28, 2013

Back in the studio

The rains have arrived and I'm back to painting inside. It's pretty windy out there too, right now. There may be more painting weather the end of this week, but for now it's back to the studio. This one is from a photo of the phlox at the height of their bloom in August. They lean against the veggie garden fence to get as much of the east-side sun as possible.

I worked on this one a couple of sessions, and tried to keep it as loose and relaxed as possible.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A fantastic cloud-painting day

What a day it was yesterday! We had a good little rain at lunchtime, then mixed clouds and sunshine through evening. I went out with my paints at 4:30 and the clouds looked good, so I made a cloud painting.

Clouds #9

Just as I was finishing it, the clouds went into a more beautiful arrangement. I thought, why not? and took the first one up to the house and started a second.

Clouds #10

And when I finished that one, they were even more dramatic, so I went on to a third. I could tell I was getting tired by then, this one looks more imaginary.

Clouds #11

After I finished the paintings, the light was going dim but the sky was still bright and the clouds were gleaming gold. I stayed down in the garden, picked some fruit, and walked the fence, taking photographs as the evening came.

This morning I'm thinking about how the good one happened, and it’s all so uncontrollable. The only thing your thinking mind can do is set you up for success and then get out of the way. It’s how much paint you have on your brush, it’s the momentary, constantly changing mix of colors on your palette, and what sequence you make the brush strokes in. It’s all those things you can’t possibly keep track of, so you stop thinking, and just let your intuition guide you. And stop painting, the first moment you can, so you don’t ruin the good stuff you’ve made.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Slow progress

After 5th session
It turns out that I picked a really difficult subject in this ligularia and the complex background behind it, but I am slowing making progress. Good thing, because the nice days of painting outside are coming to an end soon. The things that make the ligularia a really choice subject are the same things that make it really a bugger to paint—those big, reflective, undulating leaves, with their visible veins. They're a lot like painting drapery, they are so smooth and curvy and show so many different shades and hues of reflected light, and I have pretty much no experience whatsoever painting drapery. But today I felt like I finally found a good mix of colors to use for the background. The painting is a long way from done still—especially the ligularia leaves—but at least I like the mix and general arrangement of colors.

My previous experiences doing plein air painting, before I started painting in my garden, were with groups who would drive somewhere, paint for a few hours, then leave and come home. I wasn't anywhere near good enough nor quick enough to paint anything worth keeping, so it became ultimately something I had no interest in doing. However, being able to go out almost every day to the same spot and work, not have to schlep the larger pieces of equipment, and be able to take some amenities out with me, like my ipod loaded up with great music, is so different it doesn't even seem comparable. I really enjoy my sessions outside. I always give myself the first five minutes or so to relax, settle into the garden, and remember how much I love being outside in it on nice days. That always puts me in a good mood, and then I start looking at the painting, looking for where I can make headway on it that day. Although I never would have tried the ligularia if I had realized how long it was going to take me, at my stage there is no painting that doesn't help my skills, no matter how slow it goes.

As my summer painting winds down to its inevitable end, it seems that I've learned a fair bit about what colors my plants show in outdoor light, and I expect that knowledge to improve my studio painting this winter. I've had so much fun doing this I'm going to really miss it when it gets cold, and I'll really be looking forward to being able to go out again when the weather gets friendly enough next spring or summer.

Clouds #8

This cloud painting I did two days ago. I got a late start and as a result, got to see some sunset hues on parts of the cloud masses.

Outdoor setup

I'm including a photo of my setup, luxurious as it is. The cloth chair with foam padding in the seat and back is one of the most comfortable outdoor chairs I've ever had, and it makes a great painting seat. The purple bucket on the ground is what I use to carry paints, water, brushes and paper towels down from the house. It works great.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Redeemed by color

I have a small canvas panel that I worked on a couple different times last winter, trying to portray bright sun on an early winter morning, but I couldn't get it to look any way that was pleasing to me. I couldn't go out painting this afternoon, it was too breezy and too darkly overcast—yep, fall is coming soon—and I was desperate to play with my paints, so I picked it up and decided to paint over it with a wide brush and the same colors I'd been using, for the most part. The only color substitution I made was a blue violet for red violet, but I also used a lot more yellow than I did before.

I finally like it! I like it for the simplicity, and for the colors, and for the feeling of it.

It's a little scary to think that I can't get through a quiet afternoon without painting, but, oh careful what you ask for. I feel much better now.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The leftover paint paintings

Once again I finished up my main painting session with way too much paint to throw away, so I got my 12x16 canvas pad and used up the paint having as fun as possible. I decided to paint what was right in front of me, in as loose and abstract a style as I could. I was thinking of Joan Mitchell. I did add a couple more colors than I already had on the palette.

Is it a teapot? Is it a ship? Nope—it's the three young firs growing up in my neighbor's pasture. Every year they get two or three feet taller and are already blocking parts of a view I used to have. At the same time I'm lamenting that loss, I can paint these strong young trees as part of my visual garden, which they are now.

I also decided to vote into this status my little leftover paint study of several days ago, which I played with for two more sessions and also got some valuable lessons from. The main lessons were how beautifully the blue, burnt orange, and viridian and sap greens play together, and also how vitally important that almost black mass is to the mood of the painting.

It really is wonderfully enjoyable to paint for the sheer joy of putting color on a canvas, without expectation, without tension, without obligation to any goal except your own enjoyment.

A new approach for me: Start With The Whole Painting

Ligularia 3rd Day

I have a Ligularia plant right in front of where I've been sitting painting the barn that's been begging me to paint it since I first started painting outside. Its large lily pad-shaped leaves, thick burgundy-colored stems, and very casual but bright golden yellow flowers give it a lot of character. When I first started my barn sessions, its buds were just about to open, and I've been putting it off—not now, I'm busy—but now I'm done painting the barn for now, and its flowers are fully open, so two days ago I got out my biggest canvas pad, 18x24", and started working on its portrait. The first day I got just a sketch of its form, outlined, and a suggestion of values in the background. The second day I went out and made a conscious decision, because it is a portrait, to fully conceive and paint the background either ahead of or in parallel with developing the image of the plant. I'm tired of trying to paint a good background around a complicated subject.

The second day I roughed in the colors of the leaves, stems and flowers, specifically because I knew I had to make every color I used in the background had to support the portrait of the plant and show it off to its best advantage. As soon as I had a good idea of the greens, browns, and mauves that I was going to use for the Ligularia, I started experimenting with the background, roughing in and trying different colors and forms for the background. After that session's work I took this photo:
Ligularia 2nd Day

Most of the colors and shapes are the actual background that I see from my painting viewpoint, but as I was picking and choosing what I was going to include and what I wasn't, a fully formed thought came into my head:

"You don't have to use the colors that things actually are."

In other words, if a deep purple-brown worked better in the area where I wanted to paint one of my mugho-pines-on-a-stick, then it was not only okay, but perfect for me to paint that little pine in shades of deep purple brown, and if the huge green mass of Pineapple Sage doesn't work, it's perfect for me to make it shades of gold. In other words, every single element of this painting must work according to the theme and colors of the finished painting. I acknowledge that I've been getting reminded of this idea for years and years, and yet this is the first time I'm consciously choosing to keep it in mind the whole time I'm working on this painting.

Part of the reason I decided to do this is because every day I'm out there we get one day closer to the cold, wet, rainy season, when I won't have these lovely comfortable temperatures, soft breezes, and brilliant Oregon summer sunlight. I know there are artists who paint outside when it's raining and cold, but I'm not one of them, and I rather doubt I ever will be.

Another principle that I've bought into mentally that I wanted to put into practice was to paint over everything I don't like at the start of each session. I never saw the use of this until I watched the video "Mystery of Picasso", where I learned how much he reworked his paintings while he was working on them, and realized how much more freedom that gives you to try different ideas while you're working.

Today (Day 3) I spent most of the Ligularia session correcting things from the second day that I didn't care for, fixing leaves and where the flowers are. I also worked on the stems, and added the foliage of the different-shade-of-yellowish-green double file Viburnum which actually sits right behind the Ligularia. I didn't like the light colors predominating in the background, and I wanted to see if I could make the dominant color of the whole painting these two tones of green, without having them be confusing or conflicting.

I have a feeling this painting is going to take me several sessions, so I wanted to post what happens while I'm trying this approach to painting.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Barn in the big picture

In the Shadow of the Nine
I wanted to get more of the trees and show the barn more in proportion to its surroundings, so I took a wider view on this one. Today was sunny and I was able to get the last of the highlights and darks.

Barn #5
No clouds today, but I wanted to try something different anyway. I've been looking at a lot of Expressionist and Abstract Expressionist paintings in six books I got from the library last week, and I thought I would try something more abstract. I wanted to see if I could capture more of the feeling of the little barn under the tall, tall trees. It's not what you'd call finished, but I find something compelling about the simplicity of it.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How fast do clouds change?

I had another great day painting today. I'm still working on my latest barn painting. For the last two days, when I stopped painting on it outside, I thought it was done; today I even signed it. But when I brought it inside and look at it, I knew it's not quite done yet. Maybe tomorrow. While I was working on it, the clouds in the east were slowly building and changing, so I could do another cloud painting today. I had been taking photos of them changing, and they made a constantly shifting panorama.

Clouds #7
I had used up my cheap, 12x16" canvas pad, so I took down a 9x12" Fredrix canvas pad. I decided almost immediately that small is good when you're painting a moving subject. And I took a slightly different approach, after painting a real POS yesterday, so bad that I'm not going to post it. There was so much blue sky today that I decided to sketch the outlines quickly of the separate clouds, and fill in the sky between them first. That meant that I basically chose my composition first thing and stuck with it, despite how the clouds changed, just using the later clouds for color and texture reference.

I kept taking photos, just for fun, just to see how fast the clouds were changing. I took the first one right before I started sketching the outlines, the second as soon as I finished the sketch and started painting, and the last one when I stopped painting.

When I began sketching

3 minutes later, done sketching

28 minutes after beginning, done painting

What fun!