Saturday, October 31, 2009

And Now for Something Completely Different

Just wrapping up the week here at the Sedona Plein Air Invitational in Arizona. We’ve had an unusual cold snap come through with some freezing painting temperatures. But all have managed to produce nice work despite our numb little fingers and frostbitten noses. Other than this weather anomaly, it’s truly a spectacular place to paint.

For growth as an artist, I feel you need to step out of the box and try something different to spur new ideas on a fairly frequent basis. Since painting is such a solo endeavor, I find this to be vital. No one is looking over my shoulder telling me to do this or that, so these little experiments have taught me a lot. Forcing me to open my eyes and look at things in a new way.

Driving around Sedona admiring these magnificent mountains, sculpted into a myriad of colorful peaks and spires. Their breathtaking beauty gets your mind swimming with ideas for paintings. I’m usually drawn to the shadows in scenes I end up painting, but here I was amazed at the color shifts in a fully lit mesa. Some of these flat lit expanses with very little shadow were intriguing and it got me thinking about color in a single value. I’ve always admired the work of Dan Pinkham. His understanding of color is far beyond most artists and yet his work is simply put in a subtly beautiful statement.

Which brought me to the painting above: could I paint a uniformly lit scene in one value step using only color to define depth and form. “Colorforms” above, was my 6x8 plein air attempt at that goal. For better or worse, I was amazed at the difficulty and could see how someone could spend a lifetime studying this approach. But I also gleaned a lot of useful information on how certain colors worked in adjacency to one another. I began with mixing one of the orange colors in the main bluff, trying to find a color that represented the form and yet sat in its place depth-wise. Then throughout the rest of the painting, it was a matter of mixing a color that worked but did not step up or down on the value scale of my original color note. I ended up being oddly pleased with my attempt and utilized some of the green combinations as a solution in my very next painting.

While I don’t think I’ll go in this direction as a painter, the study and change of pace was refreshing. I believe these exercises can pump new life in ones work. Color can be your friend, but you certainly need to work hard on that relationship. Enjoy!

Monday, October 19, 2009

My Wave, Baby

My apologies for taking so long to post. This has been an extremely busy time with three plein air shows in a little over a month, commissions to finish, and two good friends staying with us: artists Ken DeWaard and Jill Carver. So, I’ve had a few hats to wear!

With the close of the Laguna Invitational event yesterday mixed with spotty weather, I thought I’d discuss my approach to the beach and waves. Since I’m near the ocean, painting at the beach is a popular subject for me. But even as I’ve done my share, the ocean and its waves are endlessly challenging. The above scene, titled “Foam Rollers” was one of my Laguna entries, a 9x12 plein air painting on our first sunny afternoon late in the week. I usually prefer the afternoon here on the west coast as you get some nice shadows on the crashing waves. And with that, here’s my take on painting waves.

First up is composition: I like the juxtaposed angle of the incoming waves as opposed to the angle of the bluffs, if I have that scenery option. Both are little wedges that lead the eye into one another and that creates a natural “S” composition, which is the solution above. Next up is observation and study of the wave sets to choose what I want in my painting. There are several sea “events”: flat ocean, the start of a cresting wave, the wave just beginning to break, half breaking/cresting and a fully broken wave with a roll of whitewash. Once I’ve chosen (I mostly go with a mix of breaking and cresting) I sketch in my placement of the wave(s). Planning is critical for me to end up with good results. Next is understanding the shape. When you watch the ocean, it’s usually a jumbled mess. There are so many lights and shadows happening that it doesn’t seem to make sense. To simplify the process, I try to visualize the wave as a cylinder and how the angle of sunlight will create a highlight at the top, putting the whole side in shadow. I then observe a middle shadow color for the foam and paint it in. This unifies the shape without getting confused by the action of the surf. I’ll vary the blueish whites and purple notes to give it interest, then hit the top of the wave with a yellow/white highlight to create the top of the “cylinder”. Same goes for the cresting part, but I'll add a dash of lighter water color at the tip to give the appearance of light penetrating the wave. I also make sure the foam rushing in on the wet sand has a “thickness” to it by painting a shadow at the base. Adding touches of yellow and/or viridian in the whitewash helps keep the whites more interesting.

This approach to painting waves has given me better success in believability. Thinking of it as a basic shape keeps it simple, but I’ll spend a lot of time working on the little color and edge nuances to make it look and feel complex. Enjoy!