Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Design study 1 (3-A-Week Challenge)

STL design assignment 1 Oct 14 2019
8x10 design study

This week I'm focusing on the next topic in Matt Smith's online mentorship program: design. For this study, I used a reference photo that I'm just crazy about because of the way the low sun is casting long blue-violet shadows across the snow, with the contrast of the warm-colored shrubs.

The designing of this one involved removing our old car that was in the shot and rearranging some of the brushy elements to help move the eye around the visual path I was going for. I also made note of where I wanted strong value, color, and saturation contrast as a part of this path.


Value masses

I enjoyed working with this palette quite a bit, which I based on two pairs of complements plus a blue:
  • cadmium yellow (the Holbein version of this pigment is quite deep)
  • ultramarine violet
  • quinacridone violet
  • chromium oxide green
  • cobalt blue pale
Something I'd like to try on the next paintings is to go darker with the initial washes of color for the dark areas. I think that will keep them a little more transparent/less heavy looking if they start out darker because I found that when I went back in later to darken them, they got much more opaque and heavy.

This is a subject I've done a few other times: at the beginning of my 30 Days of Value Thumbnails and as a color mixing study with a much larger palette of colors. I always liked that mini color study from the value thumbnails project, and this new painting feels like it's in the same spirit but an improvement on the design. And the color palette on that other one was so huge! I see now why I was struggling with color harmony and saturation — using a more limited palette that's built for efficiently neutralizing colors has been really helpful for wrangling over-saturated colors.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Value study 6 (3-A-Week Challenge)

STL values assignment 6 Oct 11 2019
10x8 values study

I'm wrapping up this series of studies focusing on values with a reference photo from our Grand Teton/Yellowstone trip. I'm pretty happy with how the water and trees are looking, but I felt pretty stuck on the big areas of rock. The main problem I had was uncertainty about simplifying the colors shapes in the rocks, so they turned out really fuzzy and soft looking. Plus I couldn't get a sharp edge on my brush, even though it was a flat. I think the issue is a combination of too little paint, and uncertain mark making.


Value masses

I mixed color value lines using my selected color palette but ended up not really using this method in the way it's intended. Instead of mixing colors together at the same values, I was rather haphazard about it. I realized after the fact that I wasn't totally present and focused on the painting, and was feeling a little mentally distracted. I do think the value line method is effective for color mixing when I'm concentrating more on what I'm doing. The palette I chose were largely based around two pairs of complements (yellow/purple and yellow-green/red-violet) with a neutralizer (burnt sienna) and ultramarine blue to cool colors off. Which I guess ends up being three pairs of complements!
  • cadmium yellow medium
  • burnt sienna
  • quinacridone violet
  • violet mixed from alizarin permanent and ultramarine blue
  • ultramarine blue
  • sap green
  • titanium white
Next week I'm moving on to the next unit in the online mentorship program: design.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Value study 5 (3-A-Week Challenge)

STL values assignment 5 Oct 9 2019
8x10 values study

This values study is based on a photo I took at a local nature preserve over the summer. It's a place that I'd love to go back to and paint on location, now that the weather is cooling off. When I was there scouting the preserve as a potential plein air spot, the evening rain storm was clearing off and the sunlight was coming back out. The clouds were this great purple-grey color and where the sun struck the edges it was yellow. And the trees had this interesting acidic-green quality that happens in some post-rain lighting situations that I just love.

Since the tree masses were very similar in value, I used color temperature to distinguish the different planes as they go back into the distance. I think that part is working well, but my value is too light on the sunlight parts of the main tree which introduced more contrast in that shape than I wanted. I first noticed there was an issue after I put the sky in and saw that the contrast between the leaves and the sky wasn't strong enough. That should have been a clue to take a closer look and make adjustments.

The shape of the main tree gave me a lot of trouble, and I really don't like how it turned out because the smaller shapes that radiate out from the main part are too similar and static. They don't capture the gesture and character of the tree which I really like in the reference. The shapes in the notan were much better. I may have had more luck blocking in the whole tree as one dark mass, and going back later to add the sunlit colors. This would have allowed me to concentrate on the shapes only, worrying about the values and details later.


Value masses

For the color palette, I experimented with a new trio:
  • green gold
  • quinacridone violet
  • ultramarine blue
It worked well for achieving color harmony, but was definitely a combination that forced me to think about warm/cool relationships because I couldn't mix the colors in the reference photo. Good for stretching my color mixing skills, and a reminder to test out a small amount of the colors before squeezing out a big blob!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Value study 4 (3-A-Week Challenge)

STL values assignment 4 Oct 7 2019
10x8 values study

For this study I chose a photo from our Grand Teton National Park trip that had strong value contrast between the trees/reflection and ground/distant mountain. While value was my main focus of the painting, I did spend more time planning out how I want the eye to travel around it than I have in the past. So as I was working on the notan and value shapes, I looked for ways to increase contrast in the primary spots that would be on that path.

One example of how this played out was where there's a snow patch behind the two tree tops in the upper left section. That's not where the snow was in the reference photo, but I thought it would help create balance and interest to make that an area of high contrast.


Value masses

I built my color palette around a pair of complementary colors, plus a yellow:
  • Prussian blue
  • transparent earth red
  • sap green
  • alizarin permanent
  • Winsor lemon
  • titanium white
I found this palette challenging to get good warms. Which makes sense because of how cool most of the colors lean. I probably would have better luck replacing the Winsor lemon with cad yellow light. This was my first time using the new tube of Prussian blue…I'm not sure how I feel about it yet. Next time I use it I'll try it with some warmer-leaning colors

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Value study 3 (3-A-Week Challenge)

STL values assignment 3 Oct 4 2019
10x8 study of values

I'm continuing to focus on values with my 3-A-Week Challenge, as a part of my online study with Matt Smith. I like the way he breaks his course down into four main fundamentals of drawing, value, design, and color. I chose a photo from our Zion National Park trip a few years ago because it has a clear, simple, limited value scheme.

The notan plan helped get me prepared for identifying the major shapes and values. I knew the in-shadow portion of the painting would have more going on than the sunlit areas. So in that large white area on the right, I added some dark shapes that follow the angle of the hill and add interest so it wasn't overly simple.

Main value masses

My palette was based on two pairs of complementary colors plus yellow:
  • quinacridone violet
  • ultramarine blue
  • thalo yellow green
  • burnt sienna
  • cadmium yellow
  • titanium white
It took many adjustments to get the reflected light in the shadow areas looking the way I wanted. That whole shape on the left started out way too dark and I just kept lightening bit by bit until it finally had a sense of sunlight. There's a warning given by professional landscape painters that goes something like this: "Don't put too many light values in the dark value masses or else you'll break up that shape into a bunch of smaller, disconnected shapes!" A warning I've clearly taken way too literally for many months :P

With this painting, I definitely wanted to keep the value contrast I saw in the reference, but I allowed myself to nudge things lighter and lighter until I really started to feel the sensation of light in the scene. I'm super happy with that aspect of it. I'm less happy about the bushes in the middle and lower right because the scale is so off. But it was time to wrap up for the day and I was fine calling that area good enough.

And now I'm wondering how many hours it would take to drive from North Carolina to Zion…

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Value study 2 (3-A-Week Challenge)

STL values assignment 2 Oct 2 2019
8x10 study of values

My focus with this painting was value, and I chose this reference photo from a set that Matt Smith provided with his online mentorship program. I thought it was a good example of strong contrast, with the dark trees sandwiched between the light foreground and background. I like the way the dark shapes dance across the canvas from one side to the other.

I planned out the painting a couple of days ago by doing a series of notans and a value sketch, and used that plan as a place to start.

STL_Values_Assignment_2 notan

STL_Values_Assignment_2 shapes and values
Major value masses

One of the things Matt reinforces in his class is to not let yourself be a slave to the reference. I like that he repeats it often because I struggle to avoid it even though I really want to be designing a composition that works well as a painting — not copying what's in the reference. I think this will come easier in time with more experience painting outdoors, but the biggest challenge I have with it right now is that I feel like when I attempt to make changes I won't be able to convincingly paint the adjustments.

With this painting, I felt myself inch a little closer toward making those changes as I see fit and not worrying so much whether it's "accurate" (meaning looking like the reference).

There's a bit of mimicking going on with some of the trees but overall I'm really happy with this one. The color palette worked well, too:

  • cadmium yellow light
  • alizarin permanent
  • sap green
  • ultramarine blue
It's a pretty standard limited palette, although I debated setting up some different options like quinacridone violet, green gold, prussian blue or burnt sienna. The last painting was more saturated than I wanted, so for this one I organized my palette around two sets of complements (mixing an orange from the yellow and alizarin) to help remind me to grey down the colors.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A new painting challenge: 3-A-Week

STL values assignment Sep 30 2019
8x10 study in values

When a series of commissions and design projects came up toward the end of summer (including a Basset Hound portrait), I took a little sabbatical from landscape painting. I found that these projects left me mentally and creatively drained, and trying to cram in painting would have felt like a chore. Even though I missed painting, it was kind of cool because it gave me a little perspective on what I want to do for my next art challenge.

My primary painting guidance is coming from the Matt Smith mentorship program from Tucson Art Academy Online. It's a 1-year program that started in July, and includes feedback from Matt on our paintings in addition to educational lessons on the fundamentals of landscape painting. I know a year is a good amount of time to take advantage of the feedback opportunities, but I also know that a year can pass surprisingly quickly without goals being met. A few weeks ago I did a check-in with myself on my 2019 goals and general activities of the year so far  and was excited to see both progress where I wasn't expecting it and common themes that I can use to build on moving forward.

The biggest theme I noticed was that I do well with assignments. When I have a specific thing to work on — whether it's a commission, freelance design project, or self-directed focused practice project — I stay pretty focused on it and complete the commitment. But when I keep it all loose and casual, like "I'll just try to paint a bunch this week", it gets pushed down the road and is replaced by other things. Usually by some assignment!

So I decided to try something I'm calling "3-A-Week", where I make three paintings each week during the month of October. I'm combining some previous focused practice projects and the mentorship program into a workflow to give myself structure.
  1. Step one: Explore the dark/light harmony of the subject with a series of five notans, with a timer set for three minutes each.
  2. Step two: Choose a composition and locate 4-6 major shapes, assigning a value to each mass.
  3. Step three: Determine which of the four fundamentals (drawing, value, design, and color) I want to focus on with my subject.
  4. Step four: Create an 8x10 or 9x12 painting using my plan.

Back when I did the 30 days of value thumbnails project, I discovered that I like doing the planning one day and the actual painting on another day. Having a bit of a break from it helps me approach the painting stage with more energy and a fresher perspective.

I think this challenge will help me get back the momentum I had for awhile there. I felt a little rusty with this first painting of the challenge because it's been awhile since I stood at my easel. There are several things that would improve it, and I debated whether to take the time to make these adjustments. I'd rather keep moving forward though, noting what needs help so I can keep an eye on that for the next one.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Custom Basset Hound portrait

Hunk the Basset Hound custom hand drawn portrait
"Hunk" 8x10 colored pencil, watercolor, and gouache on watercolor paper

I had a few projects come up toward the end of the summer that kept be really busy with non-landscape painting — including this custom portrait drawing of Hunk the Basset Hound. I fell head-over-heels for Hunk! The way his mom described his personality as an irresistibly lovable tyrant definitely reminded me of our own dogs. And I was particularly smitten with his long hound face and ears because of our Dachshund, Bosco.

Hunk's mom provided the idea for the tilted crown (inspired by a Biggie Smalls photo with the same pose) and emperor theme. For these portraits I always choose a botanical accent for the framing elements, and for this one I was inspired by the fleur de lis designs seen with French nobility. It's a reference to the crown and the Basset Hound's French heritage. She also told a hilarious story of Hunk getting onto the table and stealing donuts, so I included classic pink frosted donuts with sprinkles in place of large jewels on the crown.

Getting to work on this handsome guy was super rewarding! If I have to take a mini break from painting my landscapes, I'm grateful that it's because of great projects like this.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Limited palette color study

limited palette study Aug 16 2019
"Early Summer Serenity", 8x10.5, oil on canvas panel

After a couple of weeks away from my easel, I was itching to get some painting in today. I've been doing more sketching and working on engaging my right brain during the process, which makes me enjoy it much more. My favorite way to sketch these days is gesture drawing because I approach them in a much more loose and carefree way.

Yesterday I pulled a photo of a local park out of my reference photo stack and did a quick sketch of it in two values. The foreground wasn't very interesting, so I experimented with adding a vanishing point on the horizon line at my focal point and made diagonal lines radiating from it. I added some interest along those lines to help guide the eye into the painting and activate the boring foreground. The sketch was the basis for this limited palette color study.

I used one of the 12x16 acrylic primed canvas panels from Jerry's Artarama, first dividing it in half and applying a ground of raw umber and titanium white acrylic paint in a medium-light value. For a square tetrad color palette of yellow-orange/blue-violet and red/green, I chose:

  • cadmium yellow (this Holbein color is close to a cad yellow medium on my palette)
  • alizarin permanent
  • winsor violet dioxazine
  • viridian hue
  • Utrecht White
To draw my shapes onto the canvas, I used a mix of red, green, yellow, and white to make a warmish grey. That didn't work very well though because the white got into the first colors I put down, which were in the shadow family. So those colors became too light and chalky. Next time I'd just use a thin version of a mix without white. 

After I got everything blocked in, I realized the canvas was split straight across. This is how my reference photo was, but it didn't look good. I added a small bush in the middle ground to break up the line between the grasses and the trees, but the shape of it isn't great. The grasses are longer than that area would indicate, and it feels like it's floating on top of them rather than growing up out of them. 

I had fun painting the foreground grasses, exploring contrasts of temperature and intensity. Although it was challenging to invent the mauve path of wildflowers because I wasn't using any reference images for that area. Not sure how well it reads to a viewer. 

I'm happy with the color harmony in this one. And it was so cool to be able to mix a good blue for the sky from viridian hue and dioxazine violet. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get away with no blue on the palette for a landscape study, but it worked!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Limited palette color mixing study

limited palette color mixing study Aug 1 2019
Limited palette color study, 5 1/2 x 7, oil on canvas

A couple of months ago I purchased one of Barbara Jaenicke's excellent monthly lessons that was about color mixing for oils. It also included color palette selection for soft pastels which was great because I could see her thought process on both mediums as well as a demo from start to finish to see how her process differs between oils and pastels.

Purchasing the lesson includes an opportunity to submit a painting to her for personalized feedback. And I was really impressed with the thought and care she put into her comments about the painting I completed for the lesson! It was very thorough and covered things I did well, plus areas to improve. She obviously put a good amount of consideration into her remarks which I totally appreciated.

After getting this feedback, I did another version of the painting, both to incorporate her notes and to continue practicing my study of chroma. I've been learning a lot about how to control the saturation of colors better, and in my initial painting the colors were much heavier feeling than I wanted. Barbara helped me see that balancing the local colors of elements with the effect of sunlight on them, as well as adjusting chroma, would help bring more luminosity to the painting.

For this study, instead of a split primary style palette I used a limited palette of double complementary pairs (orange/blue, yellow-green/red-violet), along with cadmium yellow light for lightening the sap green and adding more of the sunlight effect:
  • transparent earth red
  • ultramarine blue
  • sap green
  • quinacridone violet
  • cadmium yellow light

I toned the canvas with mix of ultramarine blue and transparent earth red, and did a monochromatic underpainting with these same colors. I like that the neutral mixed from these colors allows me to have a value roadmap without overly influencing the color temperature. Lately I'm preferring something closer to a warm grey over cool violets or red-orange tones.

Left to right: mini color study from May, color mixing assignment from June, and limited palette study from today

I painted this same scene as a mini color study for day 24 of my 30 Days of Value Thumbnails project. So it's fun to see how my interpretation of it changes as I learn and explore. By doing multiple studies of the same subject, it's helping me see how the color temperature influences the quality of the light. For example, when I pulled back all the way on the warm reds and oranges (in the almost-finished stage below), it looked like a totally different time of day — more like mid-day instead of evening. Adding more warmth to the tree and adjusting the cast shadow made a huge difference.

Before adding the warm reds and oranges 

Another thing I tried this time was to stop looking at the reference photo for the final 15% or so. I looked instead to see what the painting needed to make it feel right to me instead of just trying to imitate the photo. Which isn't accurate color information anyway.

I enjoyed using this palette, and I do think it helped with color harmony. I especially like that I was able to gain some control over chroma with it!

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Day 20 of notans

Yellowstone National Park Waterfall
Notan sketches of a waterfall, Yellowstone National park

With this set of notan sketches, my focused practice project is complete! It feels good to have created 100 of them and to feel energized by it, not burned out on them. Having the 3-minute time limit definitely helped with that. Without it I would have certainly fussed around for a long time — not that spending more time on them wouldn't be useful. With more time, I could make them better, increasing the potential for making better paintings with them.

My original goal with this project was to design better notans for landscape paintings. I wanted to:
  1. design pleasing and interesting patterns
  2. make a variety of shapes with no two intervals the same
  3. create dark/light harmony to provide a solid structure for contrasting elements in my paintings
What I found was that the 3-minute timer went off before I could really make great notans that follow these three principles. But the cool thing was that I found a greater appreciation for the process of exploring different formats and compositions.

By quickly running through several options with one reference, I could eliminate some directions as uninteresting and focus on those that looked like they had the most potential. One of the things that trips me up when it comes to creating a painting is that I could do anything under the sun and that's just too many options! Having several quick studies to compare to each other provides context and makes me feel more confident about any one direction than if I hadn't taken the time to explore. (This is a lesson I've learned a thousand times since college. It gets overwritten by my desire to jump in and get started with the fun stuff.)

So while I can't really say my notan-making skills are solid at this point, I'm confident they'll get there eventually. The big win from this project was discovering a process for incorporating them into the preparation stage of painting, which is super exciting.

Focused practice project parameters: complete 100 landscape notans. 3 minutes per notan, 5 notans per session, 20 sessions to reach 100.