I can't believe I've let a year go by without posting here. My apologies if anyone has been missing me. I have been back for two weeks house sitting here in Belcarra, enjoying quite a restful time with the dogs. Working on a couple of small drawings and small paintings. One of the lessons I took from my Tuscany trip and course last spring was to spend more time on small works which will help me grow my skills faster. I always want a finished piece every time I paint. This is not necessary especially if I'm trying to learn some new skill or work with a new idea and it's not working out then move along onto another piece. Look for what thrills me in the scene or set up that I'm about to embark upon.
With my portrait project completed I feel a little adrift as to what to do next. For the last 3 years I've been working towards gallery shows and now I'm wanting to try and figure out where my passion is in painting and drawing. What really makes me excited about the work? I've heard many times it's the process but I'm not sure I believe that. I'm thinking it is something that runs deeper in me.
I've had some thrilling moments this last year while working towards the portrait show but when I think back my thoughts go to the plein air pieces, landscapes and the still life setups at the farmer's market that I did throughout the summer and my traveling in Italy. I have learned so much this past year. It's the growing and challenges in getting to that next level I believe is where my passion shines through the most. Well I guess that is my answer to what makes me passionate about this artist life I've chosen for myself. I think I will keep on this path and keep painting the things that thrill me and hope that others can feel that excitement as I work towards excellence.
2-Establish a Design & Create a Notan
Notan is a Japanese word for the balance of Light and Dark.
First establishing a design, this is your composition and this is one very big subject and lots of ideas to cover which I will tackle with more posts in bites size units.
In this painting though I wanted to have a central circular/oval focus in the upper half of the scene. This is a pretty simple composition which helps to keep the viewers eye within the picture plane.
The concept I chose for my first en plein air painting this year was based on mood, atmosphere and a dramatic sky counterbalanced by calm waters. I titled the concept "A Storm Brewing". It's a good idea to title your painting from the very start. This will help you keep your concept for the painting clear in your mind while you paint. On a day like the one I was tackling here the moods and values were changing from moment to moment. By being as clear about my primary concept and what I wanted to capture early on helped me keep to the plan.
A three word title is ideal, a longer title will not help focus you and will water down your visual concept. This will also keep you focused on a main dominant concept. Since I was interested in other ideas and elements of the scene, I wanted to keep one dominant. Here the dramatic sky against calm waters would best suit the view I was first taken with. It's okay to have a secondary focal area and more concepts but one should stay dominant. I loved the patterns of the cloud shadows across the mountains but the storm brewing was to be dominant for this particular painting so these patterns became secondary focal areas to the cloud action and only add some other visual interest until that rainbow presented itself.
Design dominance into your compositions. Three ways to accomplish this is through size of value and/or temperature, dominance by repetition of shape and/or colour, and dominance of temperature.
When the rainbow did presented itself it was hard for me to keep it secondary to my original focal concept. I felt I was too far along with the painting to change at that stage but I was able to give this new concept of weather effects, with the rainbow arching across much of the sky a more supporting role by shrinking it and having it cut across the left corner of my picture, helping to keep the viewer's eye within the central picture plane as originally planned. There is nothing wrong with making last minute changes as this would have still been possible to add as the main focal area but I had to make decision. I'm not sure I made the right one in the end but I'm glad I put it in. Like sunsets it was fleeting and I just had enough time to paint it before it disappeared on me.
Note that a concept is not things. For example it's not a 'big mountain' or a 'beautiful tree' or a 'stunning rainbow'. A good painter begins with a strong concept to base a painting on. The visual concept is usually suggested by your subject. This will then help to formulate your composition and notan.
My notan here had a dominant grey value and worked best in three values. Notans can be two values or three values but keep it simple.
See my next post on how I developed the notan for this scene, stay tuned.
1-Picking a Concept
A good painter begins with a strong concept.
As you look around, what grabs your attention, find something that excites you. Why did it grab your attention? What about this view has attracted you. The answer will be a concept usually suggested by the subject itself. Move on if nothing has caught your eye.
Visual Concepts by Robert Bissett
Morning or Evening Light
Horizontal Movement, Vertical Counter-Movement
Light Shape suspended amid darks
Light Shapes moving against Dark Shapes
Preparing Plein Air Travel Kit
This week had been filled with exploring around Tuscany on Google maps for locations to stay before and after the Plein Air workshop I plan to take in May. How exciting is that?
I did manage to do a couple of small paintings at the end of this week and continued on with the fifteen minute sketches every morning.
The mornings have been very beautiful with sailors warners of bad weather to come. One day the sun was shining under the clouds and through and I missed getting a good photo of this amazing sky because it changed so quickly by the time I got my big girl camera it had changed substantially. I've seen similar morning sky images painted by The Group of Seven and will try and capture something like what I saw. I'm working on trying to develop my memory. But getting out earlier to capture these would be ideal. Even just to do a small study.
The way the sun was hitting the far shore was also very unique, usually the sun hits the mountain tops first and as it rises grows more down the mountain. However, on Thursday it glinted under the clouds and seemed to grow from the waters edge upwards but that must have been the clouds movement. Again I was unable to capture this view as it happen so quickly and by the time I got my camera it was already fading.
Both these paintings I've used a limited palette of colours as I am going to travel with a fewer number of hues then is usually on my palette. This is a warm/cool primary palette which means it has each of the primary colours with a warm and cool version. I found it to be a little challenging as I usually have twice as many tube colours on my palette and I'll need more practice again at finding my mixtures as a full palette is much easier to arrive at a colour I'm hoping for. Not to say mixing on my palette is what I want to be doing, ideally I'll be mixing on the canvas wet into wet.
This studio I'm working in is large and full of natural light and although I was working inside on these paintings and from my computer screen for a specific image I am surrounded by the hues of the rain forest.
Origanizing, What To Do First?
I drove into Belcarra to my house sitting gig through a thick fog. It was late afternoon and still light out. After a day of packing and two days of organizing my paint gear I decided that I'd bring the studio stuff over in a couple of days, by then I'll have realized what I was missing in other essentials and would have been making my lists. By next week I'll have everything here and will be able to settle into a steady creative practice, whoopee.
This past week I have been trying to do some more thumbnail sketches of compositions. Having decided that I would be starting to try and do these on location more often again as I haven't been outdoors painting in quite a little while now and I am out of practice doing notans. Deciding on what are good compositions to paint and now I might ask myself did I ever get there with compositions. It is such a large and full subject to take in.
Over the holidays I had been trying to finish reading the book on drawing - 'Sketching from Square One...to Trafalgar Square' by Richard E. Scott. This book has been such an eye opener for me and since August having practiced daily drawing sessions discovered my love of drawing again. I started with 45 minutes each day but these have stretched into several hours and I found myself drawing instead of painting. Today I started a 15 minute drawing practice at the front windows. The fog was lifting and the view was stunning. First thing I asked myself was - What about this scene had most grabbed my attention? Today the patterns of fog and the layering of the landmasses, which I'd say was also atmospheric perspective.
This first practice and first thing in the morning is to start to sketch for 15 minutes before I do anything else, is to develop my sketching hand to get practiced at quick studies. It's a plan, yah.
Studies In Progress Getting More Involved
Trying to become the best I can be. This has me on a new track with drawing in pencil. I know I have mentioned this now a couple of times but it is the slow plugging away at this that has my full attention.
Tortoise mode may not be the best learning method but I have found my stride with these drawings. I say drawings, you say sketches, here the distinction is sketching being a quick study and drawing a more finished, exploratory event.
For a couple of years I have been working small in my studio and trying to time myself by limiting the amount of time on each painting. It has definitely helped with my outdoor painting studies, as one needs to be able to paint much faster as the light changes and since I'm a late afternoon painter the light changes really quickly.
The graphite pictures were going to be loose and quick also but I've found I don't like working like that, it feels unfinished and I have a perfectionist and detailed orientation in my personality trait. Besides I see every flaw, maybe not right away with my own work because the eye is a trickster by trade. My initial lines are soft and exploratory which when off will be erased or disappear under progressively darker lines. Or may be left visible but some of that I do like to see in a finished drawing which is just fine. I will have to think and research how this fits in with my impressionist technique of painting. Just realizing that I haven't been follow the same course as the I've been perfecting a new technique in my painting for the past year but I think I can do that something similar with the drawings.
Stay tuned I will write more on what I decide I can do around that kind of Impressionist drawing. This may be a misnomer as when I think of the impressionists I think colour and light. Follow my exploration of portraits and drawings on my FaceBook page DeniseMaxwellPainter.
The last couple of weeks I've been doing graphite drawings. Having decided that I can probably learn more and develop my skills faster by practicing my drawing techniques. The struggle has gotten less with painting the portraits but I still spend enormous amounts of time going over and over areas that have not been drawn correctly in the first place. My hope is that by producing the drawing first I will be faster at the painting.
For a short while I was feeling under pressure to keep trying to produce a weekly quota of portrait paintings. A schedule, will be good to maintain though as I have less than a year to accomplish my numbers for my portrait show in November 2015. I have decided that I can also frame and display these drawings and they should be a nice addition to the show overall.
I've been also drawing still life setups of my collectables. These I've been doing to practice my measuring of proportions working from life. I have been learning some new techniques for both working with edges and for measuring. The techniques for drawing edges are a little different with pencils vs paint but it has me looking and deciding where and what edges need to be worked. For measuring I've been using a plumb bob and angles I have a long off knitting needle for angles and triangulation. Ellipses still challenge me and I'll be trying to sketch a few hundred in the next couple of weeks for practice.
I sure love to learn new things as I move on the developing my skills to become a most excellent painter. The learning will never end I'm sure. As I find new things to challenge my skill level and new techniques to practice my hope is to share some of my perspective on what makes an above average picture so that you can see art differently and why you may find one you love and another not so much.
Checking Values, Preventing Them From Going Spotty
I have a bad habit of making slight value changes within my larger shapes as I try to change the hues and temperatures of the colours spots I'm seeing. I'm also trying to not fuss with my brush strokes too much. By looking at the black and white photo I can see if my values are staying within range.
I'm pretty happy with the ease this is coming along and I started this piece mid last week and had a two hour sitting with Lanna. I've caught a softer smile then the original photo had which she didn't particularly like.
I did get a little spotty with my big shapes and I hope to be able to make minor adjustments to these by linking some of those values up and softening a few edges. With those changes and the final rendition of the garment I should get this finished this long weekend. Happy Thanksgiving!
I'm a long way from being able to dash these off and have likeness, essence and brush strokes that are loose and maintain their freshness. I may never get there but if I can find that something that I am calling essence at this point in time, because I don't know what else to call it, I am very pleased in the end.
This piece has gotten there in some measure for me and I dare not touch it further.
Location of Old Fort Langley
My plan to capture the morning sun breaking through the far clouds was a good idea as everything changed to be a dull overcast by the time I finished this piece. I tried to capture the mood of the day on the river but the event was fun with lots of activities and family events. Of course I missed most of the activity as I spent all of my time painting a bit off the beaten path.
It was hard to pick a location to paint as there were so many great things all very close at hand and these old apple trees dotted along the path that winds through the area with heritage farms and barns. A couple of beautiful horses were also playing in the pasture as we scouted around. Being my first time on this event Michael King walked me around a bit to see the spots he had painted in before.