Thursday, July 30, 2009

Editing Confusion

Just returned from the always fun Easton Plein Air event out in Maryland. Above is one of my entries for the competition, “The Mildred Belle”, a 9x16 painting of a historic Chesapeake Bay “Buy Boat” that caught my eye on this overcast morning during the event. This boat was used as a middle-man for oyster and crab fishermen to bring their catch to market in the early 1950s.

I was drawn to the wonderful cool whites against the gray blue water and was interested in seeing if I could capture that effect. The trick was eliminating all of the confusing background that competed with the boat itself. I’ve attached my photo of the scene so you can see what was omitted. (This piece was painted entirely in plein air and my photo was only for documentation.) Good editing is always needed in any painting, but I had to be much more inventive for this one. The large lighthouse that was behind the boat was virtually the same color, limiting my impact of whites to contrast the boat. I deleted that entirely and used the red building behind it as a better shape. Its deeper rust color helped that small white piece of the bow to pop. I had to walk around the lighthouse, catch a glimpse of the red structure, then painted that in loosely from memory. It was the same on the left side of the scene with the other large boats directly behind. I deleted those too, but needed something in the distance to suggest the harbor, so I painted the two distant boats from a couple that were much farther to the left. I continued the green tree mass behind everything for added simplicity. Now I had a quieter, complementary background to support my main interest. I painted the Belle next but further omitted small, unsightly items such as the orange cooler and aft canopy, plus a few ropes and other items that were unnecessary. I added the American flag on the back and few more rust streaks, but pretty much stayed true to the ship.

The result was this simple portrait instead of a confusing mess of shapes. If we can’t see the forest for the trees, sometimes a beautiful scene can be overlooked. This was one time I didn’t mind that the sun never appeared. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Italian Reds

Since I loved painting in Italy so much and thought the subject matter was intriguing, I thought I’d do something big for the Festival of Arts this year in Laguna Beach, CA. Above is my main show piece “Italian Reds,” a 48” x 36” studio version of my original plein air work posted before.

This painting was completed over three days in mid June using my photo references in addition to the on-site work. I decided to handle the approach similarly to the way I painted it before, by painting the cypress, distant trees and hills first. I broke out the big brushes for this one to achieve the fresh, painterly feel I felt I conveyed in the original 12 x 9. Once I had the depth, I proceeded to the poppy fields working back to front. I kept the distant flowers as a mass and balanced the reds and green in a harmonious fashion to read as a segue from the foreground to background. Next was the main focus area. I wanted a feeling of power and punch without describing every flower, so I loosely painted in general areas of red where the groupings were to be featured. I then went back into the green stem areas and cut into the reds trying to develop interesting shapes as I proceeded. I added the darker shadows to the underside of the flowers next to complete the forms. The poppies at the very bottom of the canvas were kept very simple and in shadow to support what’s above them and not to distract. Next was developing the focal flowers further by punching in some darks, and adding more variety and nuances to the colors. I introduced a secondary eye-movement by adding in the violet flowers. Last was the sparkle of highlights in yellow and other bright dashes to catch your eye.

This piece came together surprisingly smooth, but I think since I had a successful study to begin with, it made the large work fall into place readily. It was fun to have a piece with so much bright color, plus it contrasted nicely with the deep atmosphere. Now I can sit back and breath easy it with a glass of wine in hand. And as most Italians will tell you in regards to their drink preferences, “the best whites are red.” Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Just returned from a successful Telluride, Colorado plein air show. It turned out nice since the torrential thunderstorms thankfully abated for the three days we had to paint, plus the two-day outdoor sale. In the short time we had, I was curious to find the scene from the front of my web site titled “Los Gatos.”

Normally, I first paint on location, then do studio pieces using the plein air versions as reference. This time it was the reverse. The painting “Los Gatos” was done from photos taken two years ago in Telluride. I thought it would be interesting to see how this would develop in plein air. Finally finding the alley after driving around for a while, I realized the light was all wrong. I spent the morning and afternoon doing two other paintings waiting for my alley to play out. At about 6pm the light was starting to rake across the structures and those cool shadow areas of the gravel and weeds were becoming wonderfully luminous. This painting is all about those strips of light, so I began by massing in the shadows that were already appearing. As the light began to diminish and hit the focal areas, I indicated those highlight color notes quickly. I wanted to make sure I knew the values before they disappeared. I finished off the shadows next, keeping them simple and then returned to the highlights to complete the painting around 8:30pm. In my original piece, I added the cats to finish a scene that seemed to need a bit more interest. In “Eight O’Clock Alley” above, the light contrasted so well, I felt the painting made the statement I wanted. That’s usually how I determine if a work is finished. Adding people or animals to this piece would take away from the beautiful light qualities that developed. In “Los Gatos” the highlights were more minimal and adding some cats gave the focal interest to lead your eye around.

In revisiting this scene, I chose a slightly different angle and canvas size so as not to just duplicate what was done before. I feel a painting has to be new and fresh each time, painted for the right reasons and not simply trying to relive past glories. Enjoy!