Sunday, January 13, 2013

A snowscape flayed

A Village in Vermont
Something I occasionally do on the blog is critiques of readers' art that is sent to me . I choose those that I think will be most instructive to other readers. I cannot critique the work of everyone who would like me to do so, though.  I open them  in photoshop and quickly scribble some corrections on them with the brush tool, not very slick, but it shows what I intend and doesn't deface the original art. The picture below was sent to me and since it is winter and there is snow (at least in the north) I am going to take a scalpel to it. Thank you to my victim, who will remain unnamed, for allowing me the use of the art.

Above is the piece as submitted, and below is my Photoshopped version.

Here is what I did, and why;
  1.  I worked to create more diverse and interesting shapes. For instance, I felt the three pines across the foreground were too similar. I downplayed the one at the furthest left and I made the shapes of the two remaining trees more individual. I made sure each of the trees had a different size too. I want to get as much variety of shape as I can. Repeated shapes, sizes and intervals between shapes make a repetitive and uninteresting design.
  2. I dropped the pine on the right down behind that little bench. That is visually more interesting. I am value stacking, it helps get recession and  is another way to vary the shape of that pine from the pine on  the left. This ONE has  something in front of it. I like to stack lights on top of darks and then lights behind those. It gives more punch to a design.
  3. I opened up and simplified the middle of the painting. That makes it  circular design, a vortex. This makes the eye travel around the circumference of the painting like a big "O". Read  Edgar Payne if you want to know about design "stems", that is large geometric patterns concealed beneath the representation that give order and arrangement to a painting.
  4. I felt that the path leading through the foreground was to obvious,  I just hinted at it using shadows catching the now half concealed trail through the snow. It is really easy to be too obvious in painting. Often it is best to give less information rather than more.
  5. I varied the line under the pine trees, rather than HERE'S THE TREE AND HERE'S THE SNOW! I wove the two of them together. I used the shadows and lumped up the snow to avoid too straight and obvious a line where they met the ground. Dropping that right hand tree a little lower helped keep the three trees from sitting on the same straight line also.
  6. I added recession to the snow as it went back. If the foreground snow and  the background snow are the same value and color the eye will read them as being equidistant. I painted the foreground snow with a smidgeon of  cadmium yellow, the midground snow with a little  cadmium orange and in the distance I added a little cadmium red. As the  snow recedes the yellow gradually drops out and the red  increases.
  7. I  threw another layer of distance into that background line of trees too, and varied the line of the trees against the sky back there. There were two groups of two pines back there that I felt were too symmetrical, so  I removed one of the pair on the right.
  8. I warmed up the sky a little too, that explained the color in the snow, the sky being warm makes the picture more unified in the temperature of the light. I felt the color of the light was unexpressed, or too neutral.
  9. I added hazy drybrush "twigs to the weeds in the foreground. The transparency of that is more interesting and it allowed me to sneak a subtle violet color in there.
  10. I threw a little snow up in the  branches of the deciduous  tree at the right. I did this to add a little accent there, and also it is another example of a way to do a little value stacking. It is a little accent to enliven the passage. I often like to throw one little detail into each passage, the viewer perceives it and moves on assured that there is something going on in there. Passages don't need to be bristling with detail, one little observation of a detail will carry the whole area. It also adds sparkle.


There are now several on tap, I have already announced the White Mountain Snowcamp, I do have space left in this one, if you  are interested, please click here. Snowcamp is the most fun I have all year! The workshop is held at a rambling, late 19th century inn, The Sunset Hill in Franconia, New Hampshire which is very romantic and old timey. It might be cold, but the inn is right at our backs as we work, so we can run inside by the fire and drink more coffee if it becomes too much.The workshop will be held January 26 through 28.The inn is the perfect place to do a class and the scenery is fabulous. The White mountains are spread before the inn like a movie set.

Sarasota, Florida

Sandcamp! This will be held February 8 through the 10th.  I have had a local ask me to do this one,  actually several  people inquired about a Florida workshop so here it is. I will follow the usual protocol. In the morning I do a demo, and in the afternoon the students will  paint and I will run  from easel  to easel doing individual critiques. I will explain my methods and materials and give individual attention to each student. I will also do a seascape demo, as we will be on the water it is useful too know a little about how the surf works. 

This workshop will extremely intense, we will meet for breakfast and work until the light fails. Then we will eat dinner together and I will draw on napkins and wave my arms. I try to cram as much as I possibly can into the three days. I will, (as usual) work you like a borrowed mule.

If you want to come, here is the link.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

About finding landscape subjects

Rembrandt, Adoration of the shepherds

 I get a lot of e-mails from readers, and I guess they are a big part of my reward for writing the blog. It is nice to hear from people who have read it. I have received a lot of Christmas e-mails and New Years greetings from blog readers, thank you all. I try to reply to them all briefly, but some do get by me.  I received this e-mail the other day.

I just finished reading your blog, its taken me close to 2 years!  It took so long because I tended to savor it.  Some days reading just one post, other days reading a couple.  Its been a fantastic insight into the life of an artist.  I really have learned a tremendous amount, and it has helped steer me in directions for further study. --Thank You.

  I would really like to know how you pick your spots for doing plein air.  Is it just one thing that grabs your eye?  A bunch of things that you move around on your canvas?  Does it matter that much since you are designing your painting anyway?  

This may sound trivial to you, but I have a devil of a time trying to find a good spot.  I think I want everything to be perfect.  Inevitably, I spend a good first half hour or more just walking around trying to settle.  And then, once I am half way thru painting, wishing I had picked one of the other spots.

 ----------------a reader

 I have written so much, I think I have written about that too, but the blog is a giant labyrinth of over a thousand posts and even if I have written about that before it is a good suggestion for a post just the same. 

There are few if any perfect locations. Those that do exist  must be out west. Every location I find in New England has SOMETHING that resonates with me, but they all have problems. I too used to drive for hours trying to find the "perfect" place, I haven't for a long time. I joke with my painting buddies that I feel it through my feet when I am  in the right place, it is somewhat a matter of intuition. I think that I register the feel of a place. I know there is something there. A lot may be wrong with the scene, but there is a "feel' to it. But, I do have New England, a very special place, to work with. I have New Hampshire, the coast of Massachusetts and Vermont at hand which are very evocative and American. Pure nature is good everywhere though. A couple of trees and a field is really all you need to paint a fine landscape.

The important thing is not to be subject driven. Look  for collections of shapes that work well together, rather than the perfect group of objects. Try to feel the scene. be aware of how it makes you feel and then think about how you can amplify that to make  the viewer respond to it. I often feel a quiet wistfulness or nostalgia in some places, even when I have never been there before. Some seem  haunted, others are triumphs of natures beauty and  make me feel the joy of being alive and out in nature. Some places have great architecture or a historic  interest. The important thing is to develop a sensitivity to the POETRY of place. But mostly I look for interesting collections of abstract shapes that work well together. I look for design possibilities. I have painted thousands of landscapes so I am aware of set ups that have bitten me in the past. Those are problems that I have run into before that I know are going to be hard  to resolve.
Thinking design makes lots of places paintable. I used to paint with some old guys who are now dead. They would stroll out into a location and set up their easels and I would wonder "what the hell do they see out there?"I was looking in front of them, rather than at them, for the secret.

THIS IS IMPORTANT...... You bring the art with you into the landscape. Maybe out west in Montana there are perfect places to paint, but in the rest of the world, what makes the picture, arrives with you. It is in your excitement, your intent and your empathy.You have to be looking from the world of art at the actual world, not looking at the world for art. A painter with lots of art flowing in their veins can make a fine painting in the most ordinary of places. 

There is a knack for choosing spots, I am sure it is a developed skill. The master landscapist finds subjects in places the rest of us would walk by without recognizing. Besides being on the lookout for attractive arrangements of shapes, a good landscapist knows ways to deal with the imperfect designs presented to him. If there is something in the landscape that seems to offer a possibility, the practiced painter probably has discovered a way in a previous painting, of dealing with that problem. A beginner looks at the landscape and asks " What does it look like", a more practiced hand asks "what can I do with this?" Here then, are some bullets;
  • Ask  yourself, what is there that is appealing to me about this place? what could I make here?
  • Think about how you would say that in paint, not how you would copy the look of the place, but how you would express it in the language of paint.
  •  Develop a tool box of solutions for dealing with the problems in the landscape before you.To do that you must of course learn to recognize them.
  • Know what direction you are facing. As the day lengthens the sun is going to move and that is going to present either opportunities or problems. You will need experience and perhaps a compass to do that. 
  • Look at lots of historic paintings. It is very useful to have a mental library of how great painters who came before you dealt with similar scenes. It is useful to know how others  have handled the problems with which they were also faced.
  • Keep a couple of different format canvasses in the trunk of your car, "maybe that scene would work on a long rectangle instead of this squarish 16 by 20 I planned to use? maybe I need a vertical canvas?"
  • Simplifying is the root of design, maybe the scene before you is too fractured and complex, would it work better if you left out something, or reduced it into a few simpler forms?
  • Read Edgar Payne! (Composition of Outdoor Landscape Painting) Learn about design stems, sometimes knowing that will give you a way to impose a design on a scene that doesn't quite work.
  • Try to be empathetic. See if you can become attuned to the "feel" of the landscape. This is sensitivity. Cultivate that.
  • Read Emerson.
  • Make thumbnail sketches. The first thumbnail you do will be the obvious and  often lackluster "take" on the scene. After you have done a few you might hit on something more creative. It is like returning several times and taking a couple of more runs at the project.
  • Find a place that has lots of possible pictures. Monet did that with his garden and those radioactive haystacks.There are locations, like grand views that offer up for the painter but a single subject. There are others from which you can pull a hundred different paintings."What if I stood over there?" There was a stream through the snowy woods near where I once lived in Maine, that I painted over and over.When I didn't want to search for a new location or drive too far, I always went there.
You won't  learn this in a single season, you have to make lots of paintings. That would be true of anything you want to learn to do, incidentally. People develop  the ability to do things through repeated effort.


I have scheduled another Snowcamp, a winter painting workshop in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Snowcamp is the most fun I have all year!The workshop  is held at a rambling, late 19th century inn,  The Sunset Hill in Franconia, New Hampshire which is very romantic and old timey.The workshop will be held January 26 through 28.The inn is the perfect place to do a class and the scenery is fabulous. The White mountains are spread before the inn like a movie set. 
It might be cold, but the inn is right at our backs as we work, so we can run inside by the fire and drink more coffee if it becomes too much. The views from the inn are so stupendous there is really no reason to leave the grounds, so we don't lose any time to driving to our locations. At lunchtime the inn brings our sandwiches etc, right to us. The inn has helped me do workshops for years now. They even provide us with our own dining room, where we can eat together around a big round table every night.  I do a talk  on art and design while our dinner is prepared by the inn's chef. 
The workshop is very intense! It is as intense as I can figure out how to make it, in fact. We will run very long days from breakfast till evening. I try to cram as much information as I possibly can into three days. That's a short time, I always wish I had three months. I do a demo every morning  and then in the afternoon the students paint and I  run from easel  to easel doing individual instruction. I can save you YEARS of screwing around!

If you are coming from far away, many have, it is easy to fly into Manchester airport. That is a full sized regional airport serviced by several carriers. You can rent a car there and be at the inn in an hour and a half. Boston Logan Airport is another hour to the south, but may save you a connection. 

If you have never painted in, or been to New  England, it is a very special  part of  the country and the White Mountains, where the workshop is held are both beautiful and historic. There is much here that hasn't changed since the 19th century. I am  originally from Minnesota, but I have been in New England  for about 30 years. I love the special feel of  the place and New  Hampshire is a very authentic part of  it. Besides New Hampshire has no sales tax .

If you are interested, please click here.