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!


  1. What an interesting concept, one value painting. It is appealing and as a LaRock original, I would be thrilled to have it in my home!

  2. Hi Greg, I've come back to the image a few times and it packs a punch, even for a 6x8. It reminds me of a lesson Johannes Vloothuis once gave us when he talked about painting in one value, particularly in the middle, being the area where all the colour fun is! Good for you to keep yourself on your toes!

  3. Thanks for a reminder to experiment!

  4. You succeeded in this experiment. The use of complementary hues to overcome equivalent (or near equivalent) values works! Wonderful.

  5. I love this painting - just colors and shapes!
    The enigmatic atmosphere of light (sunrise? sunset?), mountains and green patches is very appealing. Excellent work!

    Inna Lazarev,

  6. Since your name popped up on FASO today, I took a look at your blog - really like this piece - makes me think of Bonnard. More about color and shape than anything else. Terrific.