Friday, June 26, 2009

What if it doesn't rain?

Anders Zorn, Nude under a fir image;

I have just returned from Vinalhaven., That is an island about an hour off of Rockland, Maine. It is a very beautiful place and I think it looks more like the way Maine is supposed to look than anywhere else I know of, except maybe, Beals Island. I was out there for only about three days.
Although I got some paintings started, I lost one whole day to rain, so I worked inside on a seascape project. The days that I did get to work outside were very dark. So I wrote the posts on painting in the rain, on a painting trip after spending the day painting in the rain on a painting trip.The sun came out today and I thought it might be good to write the opposite post on painting on a sunny day, as a sort of pendant to the last.

As you choose your subject it is nice to know which way the sun is going to move, That will give you some idea of what might happen to the light in your painting. You will also need a hat with a wide brim or a baseball cap to keep the sun from blinding you. Here is a link to a post describing choosing your place to set up. ta-da!

Sunny days are usually going to give you more exciting and appealing paintings. I no longer mind gray days if they aren't too dark. But give me a choice and I want a sunny day every time. All of that contrast and the shadows give definition to the painting.

When you set up your easel, see if you can point the back leg at the sun, that will put your canvas in the shade.


If you have your canvas in the light you will misjudge your notes and be disappointed when you get it inside. It will also tire your eyes looking at its glaring surface and the glinting light on the edges of your brushstrokes. You may want to use an umbrella to do this. The reason painters use umbrellas is not to keep the sun off of themselves but off of their canvases. I don't carry an umbrella as I have enough equipment already. I just turn my easel so my canvas is not in the light. Sometimes that means the subject I am painting is not in the same direction I am facing but usually I can live with that. People who see me out there when I am doing that will ask, "what are you painting" because the way my easel is facing gives them no clue as to my subject.

William Merritt Chase, Prospect park, Brooklyn, image from
There's a lot of glowing light in that painting. I like the way he kept the foreground shadows up in key yet low enough to separate from the lights. That is a matter of great delicacy.

It is important to understand how the parts of the light work and I have written a post on the parts of the light . See it here. You need to know, always, whether the place you are putting your brush is in the light or the shadow.

Keeping a good gap between your lights and your shadows will help you get more light. Even if the example above has the lights and shadows in the foreground very close together, the dark accents scattered around give enough contrast to make it go. Gray days are about close values and subtle and often silvery grays. Sunny paintings are about contrast between the lights and the shadows.

Those contrasts are of value, color, saturation, pigment, temperature, and sometimes opacity.

I am going to dig deeply into each of these ideas in the following posts. I have been looking forward to this series of posts for a while. The concepts I will begin to present I have taught in workshops and developed a systematic means of presenting.

Here's another William Merritt Chase

I recommend a larger palette for working on sunny days. I think you will need.
  • cadmium yellow
  • cadmium red light
  • perhaps another cadmium or two, your choice which maybe a cad. red deep or a cad yellow lemon
  • ultramarine blue
  • viridian or permanent green
  • Thalo or Prussian blue
  • Alizirin permanant or Quinacridone
  • Titanium white
That is a basic chromatic palette, if you wanted to, you could lose the greens and possibly the Thalo, but I would recommend against that. You may want to add an earth color or two like burnt sienna and yellow ocher, I would miss those colors terribly if I left them at home.

I will return tomorrow and begin the explanation of the highlighted points above.


Stapleton Kearns said...

Willek (not Stapleton)says;
Hi, Stape. No Post... No problems, I hope. It should be OK to take a day off now and then. That carot at the top is really complex. I It looks like a very simple, 4 paint pallet, too. If it is really there, that purple note in the middle ground is terrific. I was not aware of Enneking and in my image search, was surprised to see the great variety of the sizes of his work: from 4x9 to 52x63. Lovely work, too.
Futess= girl who rubs your feet wile telling your future. WillEK

Stapleton Kearns said...


Sorry, I had a typo in the "post" bar and I woke this morning to find it unpublished. Here it is though.
That is, incidentally 170 in a row.
Maybe I should do an "artist you should know" post on Enneking, he is one of my heroes.I actually considered him for my top 20.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Futess= archaic, diminutive (feminine)of fute.

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

Nothing profound to say, just would like to introduce myself as someone who has past ties to many of the places you paint, admire many of the same artists, and appreciate what you are sharing. Thanks!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Hi Jo-Ann
Thanks, perhaps we will meet someday.

Tom Sutherland said...

Great post as usual. This is my first comment to your posts, but I look forward to reading everyone of them while having breakfast. It sets up my day.
I'm a huge Anders Zorn fan and have done a few paintings using the Zorn Palette. Some have been successful, others not so good. I like it best for portrait and figure work.

What are your thoughts on Zorn and his palette.


Unknown said...

I just picked up on how much dark accents can support a high key painting. Even in the second Chase painting, the dark accents of the foliage help ground it. I didn't get this before - thanks!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I guess I will open the post tonight talking about the Zorn palette.

Stapleton Kearns said...

That contrast is key to making the "light" work more on that tonight and following. Ever think of having Frank Ordaz do your portrait? Boy I'd like to see that!

jeff said...

There is some speculation as to the origin of the Zorn palette.

I'm not sure what the man used myself this is from an American Artist Magazine article on Zorn:

"Many artists mention the concept of the "Zorn palette," especially in regard to portraiture. This warm palette, which is often said to include simply a yellow, black, red and a white-but no blue-may be a very useful tool, but it is a mistake to attribute it to Anders Zorn. A few portraits and other paintings by Zorn seem to show a definite warmth adn a lack of tube blues and greens- and Sandstrom confirms that the painter was proud of saying he mixed all of the hues on a canvas from just a handful of colors-but many Zorn paintings utilize blues. In fact, in Sweden Zorn is celebrated for his depictions of water, which required blue paint. Sandstrom had difficulty even comprehending the assumption that Zorn worked with the specialized pallette associated with him. She reports that 17 tubes of cobalt blue alone are represented among the 243 tubes of paint left by Zorn in his studio in Mora."

Stapleton Kearns said...

You have anticipated the contents of the next post.Either way it is a limited palette question as much as a Zorn question