Saturday, April 30, 2011

!00 paintings that shook the world!

58) Olympia, by Edouard Manet 1832- 1883

From a wealthy family, Manet was a student of Thomas Couture. Like many of his generation he was enamored with the bravura style painter, Velazquez. The painting was exhibited at the Salon and caused a scandal. The model is so naturalistic and probably a prostitute. The irreverence and sauciness of the subject were shocking in 1863. There were always lots of nudes about, but they were idealized and not presented with this frankness. I however think she is lovely, just the same and I forgive her everything.

A great white shape silhouetted against a dark background and simplified and flattened, Olympia has a bit of influence derived from Japanese prints. There is very little rounded modeling within the figure. This was contrary to the prevailing academic "look" at the time too.Despite the poke in the eye to the public, the picture actually has deep roots in classical painting, it's based partly on Titian's Venus of Urbino.

Notice how stark and flatly lit the Manet is,next to the softer more voluptuous Titian. The immediacy of its presentation was much of why the painting was scandalous. I imagine that Titian's model was a Sunday school teacher relaxing on her day off.

I believe I will return tomorrow and write more about Manet,he's an interesting character.

!00 Paintings

57) Friedland byJean-Louis Earnest Meissioner 1815-1891

This enormous masterpiece can be seen at the Met in New York. It is a tour de force. I find it awe inspiring. A small reproduction only hints at what the real thing looks like.

Scale matters in painting, not in images.

(that sounded so cool when I wrote it, that it had to be in bold text, there is the benefit to a forced writing regimen, stuff does pop out at you)

It's (gotta remember to get that right, that's a contraction for "it is", I know that, but still get it wrong routinely. It is a blog though, I have no editor, they get paid). easy today when we have seen movies of the same subject which are full of detail plus movement, to dismiss a painting like this as just another image like so many others, and still at that. That would be true if it were an "image". When you stand in front of it, and think of it as a painting, that is a different thing. It is a magnificent painting. The drawing is so incredible that you can stand and be entertained by it. I can watch it like a TV set.

Meissioner loved to draw, and spent 12 years making the thing, he posed models, made little sculptures of figures and even had a legion of horsemen ride over a crop in the field to know what that would look like. The exhaustive research and the endless sketches and studies add up to a very beautifully wrought painting.

In art school they used to dismiss technique as hollow, a teacher might have used the sobriquet "empty technique". Different styles and periods of art have valued different qualities in painting. In the 19th century, beautiful worksmanship was highly esteemed. Think of Faberge eggs and Belter furniture. Meissionier believed in technique as art, the story was important, but what it looked like was where the painting lived. The painting was "well considered in all its particulars",
as the period vernacular would have it.

More on this tomorrow, I have to paint. I have a big project I am furiously working on.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Decadent Romans dimed out

I posted Couture's painting, The Romans in the decadence of the Empire last night. Tonight I want to draw some hopefully explanatory remarks on it and discuss it's design. You may have noticed I use the word design most of the time, rather than composition. The reason is that design implies a deliberate arrangement, the result of plotting and scheming. Design is intentional, not created from the cropping or found arrangement of nature.

Above is a great swooping line implied within that writhing mass of figures and gesturing limbs. The middle of the painting is full of stuff going on, the figures are in an enormous constellation across the center of the painting. The background is simpler and serves as a backdrop or field on which this figurative assembly is arrayed.

Along that implied swooping line in the middle of the painting are scads of rhythmic lines formed by various limbs of the post figures. They all echo or respond to each other. This is a pattern. The design of the painting is based on a pattern of shorter rhythmic lines arrayed in a manner so as to set one another off. It is sort of like a package with a fancy bow hanging in swags across it's middle.

Gee, that's hard to explain, I hope you all got that.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

100 painters ye shall know

57) Romans in the Decadence of the Empire by Thomas Couture 1815-1879
image from

Couture was another shoemaker's son and was from Senlis, a small town about 40 miles from Paris. Like so many great French painter he was from a working class background. Trained under Baron Gros he was a sensational young artist. The painting above is a modernized version of the "grand style'. He was strongly influenced by the venetian, Veronese. The silver color and classicism of the piece are balanced with a romantic conception that appeared contemporary to his viewers. This 1847 painting made him famous and is his masterpiece. He began to receive many portrait commissions and was a master at that genre.

Above; The Widow

Couture had a falling out with the Academy and opened his own atelier, rejecting the official means of teaching young artists. Couture taught Eduard Manet, Henri Fantin Latour, Puvis de Chavannes ( a muralist) and the American, John La Farge

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Some observations on the technique of Thomas Moran

Thomas Moran 1837-1926 The Cliffs of the Green River

I was visiting the Amon Carter museum in Fort Worth-Dallas last week and saw a wonderful show of Hudson River school paintings. The painting that really caught me was a Thomas Moran. Here are some things that I noticed about the painting that I DID see.
  • The painting only appeared to be "tight". On closer examination it was broadly painted, more so than I would expect from a Hudson River guy, although he was of the second phalanx, the Luminists.
  • Portions of the painting appeared to have been done with a knife. Particularly this was evident in the cliffs and rocks (the painting I saw was of the Green River cliffs).
  • There seemed to be an enormous amount of oil in his paint. It appeared to me that the paint went down much thinner and oilier than that we get out of a tube today. It almost looked as if he may have mixed his tints in little cups beforehand. I am guessing at that of course. But the paint was really flatted like a great deal of oil causes.
  • Their were little figures riding along one side of the painting and they had been reduced to their simplest shapes. the heads were just ovals of flat color. From a distance they worked very well. up close, there was nothing there.
  • I was surprised by how much of the painting looked as if it could have been done in earth colors and chromium oxide rather than cadmiums although they were there too. Still for such extravagant color effects I would have supposed a brighter palette. So many 19th century painters seemed to have worked in a few earth colors and then decorated their pictures with a few bright cadmium notes.
  • The foliage looked to have been mostly painted with a knife and had little details of leaves added with a fine sable. Again it was very broad when observed closely.
  • Moran made lots of pencil drawings on several trips to the west, and then painted from them back in New York for the rest of his career. But rather than this being a disadvantage to him, it worked in his favor. He was free to install color as he pleased. He did a lot of watercolor sketches too, and I think he relied on those and some color annotations on the sides of his drawings to color his paintings in the studio.
  • His color was influenced by the sunsets and brilliant effects he invented, That allowed him to paint great passages in yellows and reds that would have been much more ordinary if painted on site from observation.
  • This distancing from the actual subject also freed him up to install layered steps back into the painting. The unit above has that. He is continually silhouetting a dark passage in the fore or middle ground against a brightly lit passage behind it. He was making visual poetry rather than a journalistic accounting of what was actually sitting before him.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A little more about adhering canvas to panels

I returned home late last night after five days of driving. Long trip! A month on the road. I am reposting a comment from the blog as it is informative. Thanks Tim, for the method you use.

Blogger Tim said...

I use ordinary wood glue for mine, on birch plywood that i seal with acrylic matte medium ( I could also use the matte medium but it is more expensive than the wood glue, which is PH neutral anyway)

I have a cheap large mirror from IKEA that I put then panel on, to ensure the surface is completely flat and then I have a bunch of glass from the different frames Ive bought bulk, they are very good to put on top of the panels for an even pressure. I put two heavy books on top of that (Bauhaus design History and a Sargent book, maybe some dumbbells too)

I spread the glue with a old credit card, making sure it isn't too thick. If the glue is too thick, the moisture could dissolve the ground from the back, and you can get "dents" if you apply pressure too hard in certain places. Say that your glue layer is 1 mm, you could if you are unlucky end up with fingerprints that are like craters 1mm deep.

Its a good idea to start the contact of the panel and linen in the middle of the panel and work your way outwards from that. Hold the linen in both hands make a "U" shape with it and plopp the the center down in the center of the panel, slowly pushing the linen down. Thats difficult to explain, but it usually leaves me with no air-bubbles whatsoever.

I was also asked this:
"Is the jury still out of polyester canvas? I have been trying it out and love that it is so stable and unaffected by water based primers and gessoes. It keeps its tension regardless of atmospheric conditions and eliminateds the need for keying. But I wonder about the paint canvas bond over time and what happens if the tension on the canvas is released. ? Will the canvas contract more than the paint film?"

I have decided that I didn't like the surface of the polyester canvas. It does stay stretched and is probably tough as nails, but it is a little like painting on a steel window screen. It has a very hard feel to it's weave in my opinion.

I wouldn't worry about the adhesion any more than any other acrylic primed canvas. Of course I always worry about adhesion on an acrylic canvas. The coming and going of the canvas should be less than almost any other canvas as the polyester is so inert, so that shouldn't be a problem.

For now I am using the Centurion oil primed linen from Jerry's. I think it is OK, but I haven't used it long enough to say I recommend it. Claussens type 12 is awfully nice but very expensive. All linen comes and goes a lot, that has been an ongoing problem for me, so I am not sure what I think is the best substrate. Up to 18by 24 I am happiest on an oil primed piece of Masonite. I wrote about how to make those in a blog post entitled "making panels.

I recommended Miracle Muck for adhering canvas to panels, here is an info sheet from its manufacturer on that stuff. They say that it is a EVA or ethylene vinyl acetate so it is PH neutral when dry and archival enough for our purposes. I still think that hide glue or Elmers is OK too, all the old guys used it and their work is fine.

Sourcetek, a fine supplier of artists panels and materials has an explanatory sheet on using Miracle Muck here. Here is a link to their site where you can buy excellent panels all covered in Claussens linen and ready to go.

I believe their site recommends using a rolling pin to smooth the canvas onto a panel and instead of beginning in the middle and working outward, they suggest rolling from the bottom. Everyone seems to have their own method here.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Mounting canvas

"Question...what kind of adhesive is used to attach oil primed linen to a Masonite panel and does it need to be stretched? I was going to try contact cement watered down a little and a razor knife to cut around it."

I was asked the above question via e-mail.

I seldom mount canvas to my panels, but it is easy enough to do. I would not, however use contact cement. There are a number of different glues that you can use though. Elmers makes a liquid hide glue that many people like. Others like Miracle Muck, here is a link to get that from Judsons.

The process is simple. Cut your panels on which you intend to mount your canvas, linen or cotton or whatever you like. Paint the board with the adhesive and lay the canvas on that, your canvas should be about an inch larger than the panel all the way around. I like to smooth it out with a brayer, here is a link for those.
Work the air bubbles from the center outwards.You can do that just with your hand, but not quite as well. If you have a friend who owns a frame shop perhaps they will let you put panels in their vacuum box, that lays them down really well as it pulls all the air out from between the canvas and the support.

Stack your canvases up and put a heavy weight on the overnight, a pile of books or a Ford Explorer. The next morning trim the canvas to the same size as the support using a NEW fresh razor knife blade. Razor knives are the most dangerous tools an artist uses. Always retract the blade when not in use and watch the non knife wielding hand.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

If you were paying for MY supplies

Because I am in business as a painter, I have to to hold my costs to a reasonable level, but what If I didn't care what things cost. If instead of me paying for my paint, what if YOU were paying for my paint? What would I use?
Well let's see.....
  • I would use Blockx paint, I like it , there are a few more expensive paints, like Old Holland, but I like Blockx.
  • I would use Fredrix's, Kent Linen to paint on, there are again more expensive oil primed linens, but that will do.
  • I would probably continue using the Winsor and Newton brushes, but I would throw them away and the end of every day. I do like em sharp.
  • I would use English rectified turpentine as my solvent, again Winsor Newton's is fine. It sure smells good.
  • My white would remain Lefranc and Bourgeois, It is my favorite white at any price.
  • I would wallow in Genuine Rose Madder, and cobalt violet, I might choose the Old Holland for that. The list on that is 468 dollars a 225 ml. tube but it is awfully nice.
  • I would allow about 2,000 dollars or more for each 24 by 36 frame. I know several makers in that price range.
  • I would have a Wooten desk for a taboret.

Squaring up stretchers

I was talking about stretchers the other night. I think I will continue in that vein by talking about squaring them up prior to stretching. There are several different ways of doing that. It is important that your stretchers be square. If they are not your pictures will not fir your frames, and That's a nuisance.

The standard method, I suppose, is to assemble them and using a tape measure, manipulate them until the dimensions between the opposite corners is equal. Once you have those two distances equal, Staple, screw, nail or ignore the corners together. If you fix then together (which I routinely do) you will be unable to use stretcher keys. Those are the triangular pieces of wood or plastic that are affixed to the back of a canvas when you buy it prestretched. I never use them because they knock the canvas out of square. If a canvas gets loose on the stretchers I pull out the staples on two sides and pull it taut again. Again if you knock the canvas out of square it won't fit the frame.

The easier way to square a canvas is with a drywall square. Here is one of those below.

They are made fore people hanging drywall, or sheetrock. They are about four feet long and you can rapidly push the stretchers into square using one. This in what I usually use.

Sometimes when you are traveling, you may not have either one. Find a steel doorframe, or window, or some other feature of a building that is liable to be square, assemble your stretchers and push them up against the inside dimension. Then turn the stretchers the other way and do that again. Usually you can get close enough to square that way.

Friday, April 22, 2011

stretching it

Good questions in the comments today. I think I will answer those out front.

Jesse said...It's an interesting method. It's been a LONG time since I've painted on stretched canvas (15 yrs?) but I seem to remember it taking a long time. It added time since I stretched unprimed, and then went through the priming process. How long does it take you to assemble the stretchers and attached the primed canvas?

I can stretch a 24 by 30 in about ten minutes. I often meet students who have never learned to stretch a canvas, there is really no big deal to it, and what are you going to do with all of those stretchers behind the paintings that don't work out, throw them away?

Deb said...Why not linen panels, Stape?
And Cynthia, I've used that method many times and works fine.
Stape, how do you cut out the linen in the first place? Do you try to square it at all, or just cut a bit swatch larger than the painting size?

I don't want to pay that much for panels, the big ones are expensive, the little ones are OK but I can rapidly stretch up a canvas with good materials for less. To cut it I lay the stretcher, assembled, on top of the canvas rolled out flat on the floor, I draw a line about four inches out from them and cut it with a scissors.

Prairie painter said...I am wondering about priming the canvas. Do you do this before you head out on your trip so it is ready to go? or do you buy pre-primed? How much priming do you do anyway? I get confused about the different recommendations when using oil. Canvases will come primed, but then one is recommended to put on some more.

I always buy preprimed canvas, I am busy enough without priming my own canvas. I very rarely paint on acrylic primers or acrylic gesso. I see no reason to add more primer to a preprimed canvas. I am not too hard to please, I don't obsess over the materials, I just need professional quality. I have been using a very inexpensive oil primed linen called centurion, sold by Jerry's. I haven't even used a whole roll yet so I can't endorse it, bnut it seems to be fine, particularly considering it's price. Maybe I will discovered some big problem with it, but so far it is OK. It is a little thin.

I went to a great show today at the Amon Carter Museum of Hudson River school paintings. There were many important canvasses in the show, really the best examples of the finest painters of the period. Including a great Moran of the Snake River, Asher B. Durands "Kindred Spirits" that I recently showed on this blog and Coles "Course of Empire". The admission was FREE, thanks Amon!

One of the guards repeatedly told me I was getting too close to the paintings. I always fold my arms when I lean in to examine a painter's handling, to show that I won't touch them, and the paintings were all under nearly invisible museum glass. I found that really annoying, as a painter it is essential to look closely at a painters worksmanship.

The catalog was sold out but I was able to order one and have it sent home. It appears to be excellent, they had a copy to look at on the benches in the exhibit.

The Carter has a great collection, all of American painting,they are particularly strong in Remoingtons and Russells. There was a time when most of the museums in America were free or had very low admission prices. They were thought of the same way as a library, purposefully made available to everyone. Today many of the museums are pushing towards twenty dollar ticket prices. When I was an art student, museum restaurants were often cafeteria style located in the basement and affordable. Today they are upscale elite restaurants that exclude by their price and formality all but the elite visitors. But the Carter is free. good fgor them, I hope they will be able to keep it that way. I expect that was a condition that Carter set when he founded the museum, but that was the condition set by the founders of Americas other great museums donors that now charge high admission prices.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

On a roll

Two woodpeckers of indeterminate specie.

Traveling and painting big art can be a problem. I am painting some 24 by 36's and 24 by 30's.
Here is how I do that.

I carry only one set of each size stretcher. These are the oversized, "professional" stretchers that are about the size of a mans wrist. I like those for bigger paintings as they don't "bow-tie", that is, contort inwards at the middle. The lightweight stretchers are less than ideal for anything larger than an 18 by 24. I carry a box with several sets of large stretchers knocked down , a roll of canvas in its fiberboard tube, a stapler and canvas pliers.

In the morning before I set out to make a large painting I assemble and square a set of the stretchers and mount the canvas on them. After I have finished the painting outside I leave it in the sun to dry. This works particularly well in the desert of course. But I also paint with an alkyd medium, usually Liquin, so I get quick drying times anyway. By about the second day the painting is dry to the touch. I then pull the staples out from it's perimeter, and take the canvas off of the stretchers again.

Often I carry a second tube, from a mailboxes store, but on this trip I have only the tube with my canvas in it. I lay the painting out on the ground, or the top of a large bear proof steel storage box
and gently roll it, painting side inwards, back on the roll from which it originally sprang. Now I have my stretchers back for use on another large painting.

I have done this many times and have never had any problems resulting from rolling the paintings. It may help that they are still newly painted and very flexible, I don't know. When I get home I will put all of them back on stretchers of the correct size and then finish them in my studio.

This system allows me to carry only two sets of large stretchers and paint as many big paintings on a trip as I like, without having a car full of enormous paintings to protect all the way home from the abuse of travel. Sometimes I have stopped at a UPS store and bought a tube from them, which they sell in many sizes, and mailed the rolled paintings back to myself at home. Works great.

I don't paint any small pictures, a 16 by 20 is about as small as I like to work so this enables me to avoid having to do the pochade box (pronounced pochade ) miniatures that many traveling artists make. I need full sized paintings for the galleries and I don't want to make them in the studio from sketches and photos, I want to actually paint them on location. I get better results that way, and show the original art rather than studio made versions art in my exhibitions.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Notes from the desert, photo edition

Here I am, looking sporty. You can see how nice I am.

I am just going to show some photos tonight and let you see the Big Bend national park where I have spent the last ten days painting. I have made a lot of work, far more than I have showed you. After I take it home and buff it up, it will return to Kornye gallery in Fort Worth Texas.

Here is another rough 24 by 36. I spent two afternoons on this one and it will go to the studio for finish as usual. I will post some of these from the trip when I get them finished.

Here is my traveling buddy, and old friend Scott Moore from Stockton Springs, Maine. This was taken the day it was 102 degrees.

This is a view looking up into the Chisos mountains. Big Bend contains an entire mountain range. It is enormous. Big Bend is also the least visited National Park in America. It is out in the sticks, very wild and often very hot. The park is on the northern most part of the great Chihuahuan Desert.

Above is a view up from near Panther Junction, where the visitor center is. As you can see this is very dry very unforgiving country. The sun and desert dryness will KILL you if you don't bring enough water and get lost.

Here is a long view across the desert to the Grapevine Hills. This is pretty typical of the plains part of the park. I find it very beautiful, although I suppose it might not be to everyone's taste.

This road leads out from Dagger Flats, named after the Spanish Dagger plants found here in profusion, not for a knifing event. Tommorow I will be back on the road, heading home, with a couple of stops on the way.

Monday, April 18, 2011

It looks easy!

As write this post tonight a very attractive skunk keeps coming up to me and sniffing my boot. It is mostly white and gray, not like others I have encountered before. Carries itself very well.

images by Eduard Manet from
Some one in the comments recently referred to spontaneity and the possibility of losing that. I want to speak a little about the type of paintings above or those from the brush of a John Sargent or other bravura painter. Although the paintings may look dashed off, and they may even be done rather rapidly, that is part of the art, an artifice, a deception.

In the early eighties when I first heard Stevie Ray Vaughn play guitar, I thought, that sounds so easy! But what it was, was facile. Great musicians, acrobats, and magicians all deliberately work at their craft until it looks effortless. They want it to look easy. If. when you saw them perform, they looked like they could barely do it, their effort would be a distraction. The trick is to make it look as if they can just rattle off difficult things by natural talent. I suppose it may be attractive to viewers that the labor is camouflaged, as the viewer can then imagine himself doing the same thing ( as I supposed until I next touched a guitar after hearing SRV ) Part of being REALLY good at something is making it look easy.

Richard Schmid once wrote that "loose is how things look, not how they are made". The passages that seem spontaneous are often those painted most deliberately with icy concentration. Nothing in them is accidental. The ability to make them is at the end of a long progression of failed or lesser sallies at the same result. To paraphrase the amazing Mr. Schmid "spontaneous is how a painting looks, not how it was made".

There is no way to relax yourself into being able to dash off bravura passages in profound alpha state nonchalance, anymore than you can play guitar like SRV that way.

Another stupid demo

Might as well show another demo. Here is a one shot n18 by 24. I painted this one with a huge cheapo brush from Michaels. As you can see above, I ghosted the image in very lightly to get my design. I wiped it out once already after about ten minutes of work, this is my second try.

I used burnt sienna and chromium oxide green to lay in the grass and the left hand reflection. Their is a little ocher in the babk at the left. This is all transparent, I don't want to touch the white too soon in the process.

I faked the sky, there was just too much empty blue up there. I felt I needed something going on rather than leaving so much of the canvas "undecorated". The clouds are ivory black, white, and a little cadmium yellow in the lights. I sketched them in first with white polluted with the sienna and chromium oxide green so the would have the same color cast as the rest of the painting. Then I painted the sky, cutting them in with cobalt blue and white. Then I dabbed some white and burnt sienna into the blues to vary them and cut the chroma.

Above is the painting as it looked when I quit for lunch. I will fool with this one just a little bit in the studio when I get home.

Here I am, painting the Rio Grande in 102 degree weather.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A shorthand of vision

The painting above, Trouville, le Chemin la Corderie from
is by Eugene Boudin. Boudin was a 19th century French painter and also the teacher of Monet. Boudin was also a major influence on one of my favorite landscape painters, Edward Seago.
I am showing you this because I want to point out something. Boudin hints at things rather than carefully delineating them. Below is an example,

Look at the nervous little strokes that he uses for the branches and the few dots for leaves. He gives just enough information to convey what we are looking at and no more. The tree behind the branch is just random marks and colored rice.

I was talking last night about not needing more information in an unfinished painting but more art. Here are examples of that. There is really very little information given, but plenty of artifice. Artifice means deception, trickery. You are tricked into believing that you are seeing a branch, but when you look more closely, it's just paint. Boudin was perfectly capable of pushing the painting to a salon finish, but he knew he could convey more by saying less.

Boudin was an early exponent of outside painting and he probably made this at least partly outside. But it is not a literal transcription. Boudin has translated it from vision into his own visual language. Like a skilled translator who thinks"I know how to say that in my own language" Boudin saw nature and then could say it in his own language. He was not literally copying the thing in front of him. The illusion is not gained by velocity of execution, it was probably done very deliberately. The illusion comes from an installed simplicity. Boudin has at his command a vocabulary of forms, abbreviations and generalizations from which he chooses.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Notes from the kitty litter wilderness

Here is the painting that I showed you the the night that was all in violet (not inviolate). I have colored the image up and chased down more of the drawing.Tomorrow I will take it off the stretchers and roll it up. I only brought one set of 24 by 36 inch stretchers, and I will put a new canvas on them. I am carrying a roll of Centurion oil primed linen from Jerrys for which I paid less than a hundred dollars. The stuff is a little thin, but the surface is fine and is free of defects. So far I like it. I don't think I have used enough of it for long enough to give it my stamp of approval.

I don't try to finish things entirely on a trip like this. I need to produce as many "starts" as I can. Now I have plenty of information on the canvas. The painting needs more art, not more information. That I can hopefully provide it in the studio. I have photos to remember the place by, but in practice I hardly use them as I change things so much, and they provide information, but not art. A piece like this may see a weeks worth of work in the studio before it is finished.

My art sells because of the things I do in the studio. My paintings are tighter than the average plein air painter's. But most of my efforts there go to getting finish, not adding detail. I try to keep the brushwork fluid and not tighten down on the piece with small brushes. I develop patterns and enhance the design. I fool incessantly with edges to get the painting to flow the way I want. I link my darks, simplify overly complex passages and tweak color notes here and there. I "police" my shapes carefully trying to make them unique and avoid repetition. When first I bring a painting into the studio, often the work is only half done. Sometimes I can finish a painting in the studio in only an hour or two, but usually I have to pull my hair out over them.

Friday, April 15, 2011

More notes from the desert

I think I will write a little about desert adaption for the landscape painter. The first warning is that this, like the ocean is a capricious and sometimes threatening environment. Everything here has thorns, teeth or just a lot of attitude. Temperatures in the day here are usually in the high nineties, but this is April, it is often much hotter than that. I have painted outside in 115 degree heat, and that gets real extreme.I like the heat, and it cools way off at night so sleeping is comfortable. I am getting in touch with my inner lizard. Here are some things that I have learned about desert painting. I am sure a local could add to the list, but this is what I have learned.
  • I have a very heavy kit, so I don't go very far from my car. If I have a problem I walk the hundred yards to my car and I'm gone. If I was packing a pochade (pronounced pochade) box I might go further.
  • Their are sudden gusts of high wind here so I am glad for my heavy Gloucester easel, I would surely blow down with anything less.
  • I am wearing high snake proof boots. If I am walking out into the scrub, I have the piece of mind that is well worth what I paid for the boots at Cabellas. I keep my hands out of places I can't see and I look at the ground I walk on, before I walk on it.
  • I carry a half gallon or so of water with me and drink all day, I make a point of consuming at least a gallon a day.
  • When it is hot the paint moves real well. I am using almost no medium and the paint flows beautifully. I got a deal on some Permalba, which I am cutting half and half with flake. I don't usually buy Permalda, but that is what I could get as the Jerrys at which I stopped in Austin was out of Winsor-Newton, Gamblin, and Rembrandt, and doesn't handle Lefranc. Good thing I didn't need Gamsol, they were out of that too. At least they didn't have the riggers I wanted.
  • I don't leave anything behind me. I know that sounds obvious but I have seen "artists" empty their solvent on the ground and fail to chase down a paper towel taken by the wind.
  • Desert painters get great drying times, My pictures are dry every morning, even with almost no medium, although the flake is a dryer in itself. Old time house paint often had some lead in it just to aid drying.
  • I sometimes use sunscreen when part of me gets overdone, but I tolerate sun well and am turning into beef jerky. Bring the spf 50
  • I wear a hat with a brim, if you are sun susceptible you might need a broad brimmed hat like the Mexican cats wear.
  • It hasn't rained since September so everything is as dry as tinder, therefore I don't smoke or build a fire out in the desert. Wildfires are all over Texas right now, so I don't cook.
  • Camping is easy in the desert. Rain is the enemy of camping, if I know it isn't going to rain I can camp happily. Wet sleeping bags in cold weather are one of life's greatest tortures.
Back tomorrow, if I forgot anything and you are an expert desert painter, I welcome your input in the comments.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A drawing for a painting

Here is a 24 by 36 I started yesterday. The light was watery today, as we had high cirrus clouds. I didn't want top spoil one of my existing paintings by returning to it in anything other than full light, I started a new painting.

This is another tactic I sometimes use, particularly on larger pictures. I spent the entire first day working transparently (no white). Using a brush and pulling back my whites with a rag, I worked out the entire painting. I have tried to get as much pattern into this thing as I could. It looks a little like Chinese brush painting at this point. Scott Moore with whom I am traveling says the Chinese look is coming from the cheapo oil primed linen made by the Chi-Coms.

The beauty of working in a single color all day is that I have separated the problem of color from those of design and drawing. I like to really get my little iron teeth into the drawing before I start worrying about color and handling. It might seem a slow way to go about things, but I make the time back later, and the subsequent coloring up of the painting goes quickly. I have chased down the gremlins that would have been waiting for me with a less fastidious approach and the painting should proceed without any (or few) nasty surprises.

I did this drawing in cobalt violet. That's a good color to have at the root of my shadows, but I could have used burnt sienna or ultramarine. I would never want to do this with a cadmium red or any other color that I would have to fight later at the bottom of my shadow notes.

Above is my trusty Lincoln Continental with it's Live Free or Die plate ( # Stape) parked on the road up the Chisos mountains.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Notes from the desert

I guess I can tell you where I am, so many have guessed. I am in Big Bend National Park in West, Texas. Big Bend is America's least visited national park. It is very wild. The temperatures here are running about 96 during the day. It is also a little smokey here as there are big brush fires burning in West Texas and Northern Mexico.

Although I have been joking about the snakes and javelina's I am actually very comfortable in this environment, as I have painted here before. It is a little like painting on the moon, the landscape is very jagged and fierce. I think Big Bend is one of the best places to paint, but you have to be willing to camp out to do it. There is actually a motel in the park, but it is always full.

Here is another picture I am working on, there is no under painting this time. I am using the "big poster shapes method". Great stretches of this one are only indicated by a tone at this point. I will take it out again and probably finish it tomorrow. This is an 18 by 24.

I am on a strict schedule here. I am working on a morning painting, this one, and an afternoon painting, the 24 by 30 I showed you before. It is not possible to work on a painting all day, as the light "flips over" at about noon and the light is exactly the opposite of that with which you started the painting. So I have several pictures going in rotation. I plan to work two days on each 18 by 24, and three on each 24 by 30. Sometimes I get an 18 by 24 out in one shot and I almost always can do a 16 by 20 one shot. I would rather go back on a painting several times as I am much faster outside, than in the studio.

I intend to ratchet up my schedule tomorrow and work three sessions a day. I want to have three going in rotation. I need to get a lot of work done for a gallery here in Texas. As I don't do much work from photos so I have to make the most of the time I am here. I can count on good light every day out here is desert land though and I am in production workaholic mode. There are no distractions here (other than the blog!) so I am free to just jam out the paintings. I already have about a half dozen, counting those I made in the hill country near Llano, Texas. Great little town that, loved it!
See you all tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Casa Grande, day 2

Here are the next several images of the current picture in development.

Below I have worked up a darker sky and invented some clouds as there were none and the painting looked a little empty in the sky. The darker ultramarine and white sky makes the mountain stand out and gives me enough contrast to get the thing to light up.

I continued to work on the entire painting, trying to advance it as a whole rather than finishing one area ahead of the others, an approach called herding sheep, here is a post on that idea.
The darkest darks in this photo are a little overstated, I was unable to correct them without compromising something else in the painting.
I drove through a range fire the other day, one side of the road was on fire, the smoke went hundreds of feet in the air. I had the air conditioning on and I could still fell the heat through the closed windows. Now I am sequestered in an undisclosed location stocked with havelinas, snakes and tarantulas. I am hoping not to see a mountain lion. I have been sleeping in a tent, enduring searing heat (getting in touch with my inner lizard) and getting great drying times.
I have limited access to the net, but I hope I can post again tomorrow.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Just a quick post today! But I am able to get to an internet hotspot and again, I am operational.
I am going to do a step by step of a painting I am working on. The scenery is really big here and I am doing my best to compress it onto a 24 by 30. You can see that I have started out with a sketch on the canvas in burnt sienna. I shoved it around for over half the session trying to get it designed. I care more about the design than anything that follows. If I get the design right I get a good painting. If I don't, no matter of detail or finish will make the thing work.


Ultimately I pushed the right hand crag over to the right as I felt the painting balanced better with it over there. I want the mountain on the left to read as the subject and "loom" over the rest of the landscape. I have not touched the white at all. As soon as I do that I "lock down" the painting and can no longer easily shove it around. I am using a little violet (transparently) in my shadows to make those clearer.

Here is the start of my lay in. I pushed the sky a little to the right over in that upper right hand corner to refine the shape of the Casa Grande mountain. Then the light failed. I will work on another picture for the morning session, and then late this afternoon I will take this one out again. I am not a plein air painter by many peoples definition, but then neither was Monet. I often work repeated sessions on a painting.


I will return tomorrow with the next stage of this painting ( if I don't get snake bit!)