Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Structural Concepts

Here is another painting from Sonoma Plein Air. “Morning at Ernie’s” was my submission for the main gala event. I’m always inspired by the works of Scott Prior and William Wray, and this place was right out of their playbook.

Ernie’s Tin Bar is an auto repair shop slash bar joint, in which I’m assuming you can get your car fixed and drink your way though it – an interesting concept. The best thing about this place is its character, a lean-to structure with mish-mash construction and lots of junk that begs to be painted. The toughest part of this scene was setting up. I’m across the street, wedged between the highway guard rail and a ten foot hedge, standing on an uneven slope, with barely enough room for me and my easel, and just four feet from a busy car and truck route. (Disclaimer: please don’t attempt this at home, plein air artists are trained professionals).

I felt this was the best angle for the composition. The framing of the white sign against the mass of trees in the background was extremely important. As was the large area of darks that make up the left side of the painting. This allows my white areas to pop and hold the focal interest. My overall success though, hinged on edge-work. I kept my straight lines extremely varied. It might look like it’s just a painterly way of working, but it was well thought out. By forcing the white sign pole to be imperfect, gave it the character I was looking for. Ditto for the roof eaves, guard rail and scrap metal storage rack. I painted all of the foliage as unelaborated simple masses so not to detract from the building. The silhouette of the oval sign holds your eye from all the angles sliding to the right. I adjusted the far fence and tops of the distant trees to counter-balance those angles as well. 

Or it just could be my hands were shaking so much from the trucks screaming by at 60 mph! Enjoy.


  1. Haha I know exactly where you were standing. Brave man, Greg! I've painted Earnie's before, but couldn't pull it off. Yours is a beauty~
    'hope you had a good time at Sonoma!

  2. Great compositions. You are right, you have some nice alternating contrasts going on with the sign and building. Thanks for sharing your design choices too, it's always helpful to learn from experienced artists such as yourself.

  3. Thanks for all the explaining. Nice Work!

  4. All the directional lines in this composition lead me right to the white sign. The road leads me to it as well as the roof line and the sign post keeps me from sliding right off the canvas. Great compositional planning!

    The first time I saw you paint at the Newport Harbor show I watched you lay down several "straight" edges of the pizza parlor. In my head a light went on because I'd been trying to figure out how to paint an edge without it looking too perfect and there you were painting straight edges the way I'd imagined them in my mind. Thanks for the lesson!

  5. Well done Greg. I love the edges. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. What an amazing painting. Especially considering the painting conditions. But you have a gift so I am sure had a snowstorm also hit while you were painting this, it still would have been a masterpiece. Congrats on such a wonderful painting.