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.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Day 19 of notans

Notan sketches of Schwabacher Landing, Grand Teton National Park

For today's notan sketches I revisited a setting I loved at Grand Teton National Park. Schwabacher Landing has everything: water, views of the mountains, trees, meadow. And beavers if you're lucky enough to spot them. I had used this same photo as reference for the first day of my value thumbnails challenge back in May.

I explored the reflections of the trees and mountains on the glass-like surface of the water, but I don't really care for the symmetry created by the reflection. At least not as the main focal point of the composition. Balancing small spots of dark with the large dark shapes on the right and bottom made the shapes more interesting and harmonious.

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

Friday, July 26, 2019

Day 18 of notans

Notan sketches of a pond and trees

I'm working on a study for my online course with Matt Smith — or put another way, I'm overthinking and over preparing for the study. Today's notan sketches remind me to work from large and abstract to smaller and detailed. When I look at these sketches they don't really look like "things", which is exciting because it's allowing me to look for the dark/light harmony more. Quieting the left side of my brain that wants to label things is definitely an ongoing practice! Getting back into gesture sketches would help, and I think continuing to include notan sketches in my painting process will help.

With only a few more days of this focused practice project left, I'm starting to think about how to incorporate notans into my workflow. I'm really enjoy how simple it is to make them on the iPad with Procreate! And using a timer prevents me from getting fixated on one solution before exploring others which I like.

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

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Day 17 of notans

Notan study of trees along the edge of a field

I had taken the photo that these notan sketches are based on one evening earlier this summer, when dark clouds were starting to roll in and create drama with the sky and light on the trees and field. There were intense orange- and yellow-greens from the evening sunlight, and with the purplish-grey of the sky it was a really interesting color combination. I played up the darkness of the sky in some of these to accent that edge between the sunlight trees and relatively dark sky.

This one would make a great study in creating color harmony with a palette made of split complements yellow-green/red-violet and yellow-orange/blue violet.

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Day 16 of notans

Notan sketches of trees in the park

I'm interested in the challenge of making a grouping of trees into an interesting pattern of light and dark shapes. So for this set of notans I explored enhancing the diagonal paths that I saw suggested in the photo. There's also a nice rhythm of the tree shapes moving into the distance that I like. This scene would make a great study in subtle shifts of color intensity and temperature since the subject itself isn't super dynamic.

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

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Day 15 of notans

Notan sketches of a farm structure at a local park

The late afternoon sun was creating some interesting shadows in this scene that I thought would work well for a notan study. I like the combination of structured form (the building) and organic form (the trees), along with the linear perspective lines of the shadows raking across the foreground. It was fun to play with the scale and placement of the structure — if I were doing these sketches on-site instead of from a photo I'd have even more information at my disposal for the placement and surrounding elements.

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

Monday, July 22, 2019

Day 14 of notans

Notan sketches of a grouping of trees

I was curious to see what would happen if I chose a reference photo with overhanging tree branches in the foreground. I like how it activates the sky area, but I'm not sure whether it would actually read as foreground leaves in a painting. Another option would be to turn those shapes in the sky to clouds and blue sky.

I love how doing these notan explorations is helping me see the potential for completely changing elements into something that will make a stronger composition. I find it more difficult to make that leap when looking at photographic reference. But by removing the color and focusing on simplified shapes, it makes it easier to imagine other ideas in place of the specific subject in front of me.

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

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Peaceful plein air morning

landscape study - plein air at Falls Lake Jul 21 2019
Fishing spot at Falls Lake

Despite a rocky start (forgetting my brushes and struggling to map the values and shapes of this scene) I eventually got into a groove and really enjoyed my time painting at the lake. The turnoff I chose today is designated as a fishing spot, and yesterday when I drove by there were many people here fishing. But this morning it was quiet, just a few other people including a couple launching kayaks. So it was very peaceful in this little nook I found.

I wanted to be sure to get some angles in with this one, along with water and greens. Although I totally did not need more paint, I finally broke down and bought a tube of sap green — with the goal of speeding things up when painting outdoors — and its complement, red violet. I also put ultramarine blue, cad yellow light, and cad red light out on my palette. I wish I'd brought transparent earth red or burnt sienna with, which would have provided a nice earthy red-orange to the mix.

I do think these tubes of green and violet helped me neutralize my colors faster which helped make the whole experience more fun than my typical plein air palette of the three primaries. I'm looking forward to playing more with my new colors!

Day 13 of notans

Notan sketches of a local nature preserve

Today I did my notan sketches a bit differently than before by putting the reference photo under my drawing areas. This made the drawing part go more quickly and gave me more time to consider the dark/light balance. Working directly over the image like this isn't my ultimate goal, but as a tool for this exercise it sure made these notans a lot more fun to make! It freed up a little bit of my brain to focus on how shapes relate to one another instead of also stretching my drawing skills. And given the short time limit on these, that was very helpful.

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