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.

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.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

What heat advisory?

landscape study - plein air at Durant Nature Preserve Jul 20 2019
Painting outdoors at the Durant Nature Preserve pond

I was all set to spend a few full days painting outdoors, but the weather isn't cooperating. So I'm shooting for a few quick morning outings instead. I wish I'd picked a closer spot this morning because it took about 25 minutes just to get to the location, and since it was my first time there I had to walk around a bit to choose where to set up. But on the upside, my goal was to do a series of fast studies so the rising temperature helped hurry me along a bit. I just didn't get more than one in before packing up and heading home.

For this study, I had all kinds of trouble getting the tree shapes looking right. I think the main problem was that I was breaking the mass of trees down into too much detail too quickly. So I lost my way with them because the proportions were off. If I had kept the initial shapes much more basic, it would have likely made a huge difference. I'm happy with the overall value range and the water area.

One thing I'd like to adjust for next time is to choose a simpler scene so I can focus on color mixing. Or another way to tackle that is to make sure the scene stays as larger simple shapes until everything is blocked in at the colors I want, then add smaller shapes for detail.

Day 12 of notans

Notan sketches of a country road with a farm structure

There was a lot going on in the photo I chose for today's notan sketches! It overwhelmed me to try to make quick decisions about what to include and what might work as a center of interest. But one of the best things I'm learning with this process is that even though three minutes isn't enough to create a completed plan for a composition, it's enough time to rough in a sketch to see if it's a direction worth pursuing. I find it's very easy to become attached to the first thing I sketch, without exploring other directions to see whether it's going to really capture my idea.

I recently enrolled in Matt Smith's online mentorship course and the first unit is on drawing. He teaches about the two basic elements of drawing as they relate to painting: proportion and perspective. With today's notans, I focused on linear perspective and how the angles of the fence posts and road head toward a vanishing point. I also made note of how the shrubs in the foreground can contribute to the feeling of depth, which is something I was excited to hear Matt talk about because it's not something I'd given much thought to before. But I can already see the potential of this as a powerful tool for creating interest in a large foreground.

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

Friday, July 19, 2019

Day 11 of notans

Notan sketches of trees and mountains

Today's notan sketches felt like an exercise in what I don't want to do. For the most part, I ended up with walls of solid dark trees and lots of parallel lines. Perhaps it's simply a good example of how the scene as it's presented by mother nature doesn't offer a great composition, and it's my decisions as an artist that will guide it toward an interesting painting.

Though it looks super messy, the wide horizontal format in the upper right has potential. If I were to make a more interesting and pleasing pattern by improving the shapes of light and dark and arranging them better together, it could be a good structure for a painting.

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

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Day 10 of notans

Notan sketches of a creek in the forest

I love walking through the forest, and would like to be able to paint an intimate forest scene well. But it's such a complex subject — between the small shapes, textures, low value contrast, and all the neutral colors — that the task of simplifying and clarifying the shapes overwhelms me. This set of notan sketches felt like a good first step at learning to observe what's happening with a busy forest floor.

While I don't think these are particularly effective sketches, going through the notan process does help me start to see how mapping out a strong composition of light and dark can provide a road map for making sense of this feeling of chaos.

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

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Day 9 of notans

Notan sketches of a local nature preserve

When I was choosing a reference photo for today's notan sketches, this one caught my eye because I picked up a subtle S-curve in the light area of the grassy field. But in doing the sketches, that actually got reversed, and the dark areas picked up the S-curve structure. It wasn't what I was originally aiming for, but it could certainly work.

I like the possibilities with the square format, and I think this composition would work nicely with a dark-dominant balance which would allow the sun-struck field to be more of an accent.

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

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Day 8 of notans

Notan sketches of trees reflecting into a pond

Today was a good example of where my preconceived notions about the subject held me back from really exploring compositional directions. I thought I wanted it to be about the way those three shrub shapes broke up the light land shape and created a varied reflection in the pond. So that's what I kept focusing on. It wasn't until the final sketch — the vertical format in the lower right — that I broke into a new interpretation of the scene. This cropping feels more dramatic to me, with more visual tension between the two shrub shapes than when there are three. That visual tension is something I've read about but is always cool to experience doing myself. At some point I might be able to enhance that one by exploring the steelyard composition.

And in contrast to the vertical format, I noticed how the horizontal notans felt much more calm and tranquil.

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

Monday, July 15, 2019

Day 7 of notans

Notan sketches of trees next to a field

With this set of notan sketches, I noticed that on the very straight-forward horizontal orientations it's been more difficult to avoid an evenly-split dark and light pattern. It seems to be a function of big areas of trees (dark) next to sky and sunlit ground (light) and the way I'm framing the scenes while photographing them. When I change the orientation or crop in, it automatically changes that balance. This was an interesting thing to note and should help me when selecting scenes.

I also really like how this project is helping me see shapes more than subject matter. I believe being more aware of that will improve my compositions.

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

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Day 6 of notans

Notan sketches of a country road

This set of notans was an interesting challenge. The photo I had taken on a nearby country road showed most of the scene in shadow, with intense evening sun dramatically lighting a group of trees. I had to figure whether to put the road, which was both in shadow and a strong geometric shape, with the darks or lights. I was glad to have these project parameters to encourage me to try it different ways.

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

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Day 5 of notans

Notan sketches of a scene from Yellowstone

For this set of notan sketches I used a photo from our Yellowstone trip. It's an impressive vista with mountains, rolling hills, dramatic clouds, and a road leading into the picture. The only thing it's missing is a family of bears!

The atmospheric perspective in the reference photo sets up some great blues in the distance that's in sharp contrast with warm gold grasses in the foreground. This is definitely one for the "paint some day" pile.

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

Friday, July 12, 2019

Practice mixing greens

green landscape study Jul 11 2019
Color study, 5x9 oil on canvas

This is a scene I did a study of previously, and I wanted to take another crack at it with some compositional adjustments and different palette colors. I've been studying mixing greens for the past couple of months by exploring different mixing approaches, and thought it would be fun to see how my methods are evolving.

I'm also working on making my colors less intense. After trying to figure out what was off about a recent study, I realized that a couple of things were going on: my colors were too saturated, and there wasn't color harmony. It's no coincidence that this occurred shortly after expanding my palette with a slew of new tube colors!

When I started with oil paints, I just used a red, yellow, and blue plus white to mix everything. Slowly I've been enticed by all of the other fantastic colors that so many artists find useful on their palettes. And have been struggling to keep them under control. So I'm thinking it might be a good time to reduce my palette again and get back to basics until I have more experience working with them. One tip I've read is to get comfortable mixing one limited set of colors, then slowly add in additional colors one at a time to incorporate them and maintain harmony.

For this landscape study, I used a limited palette that reflected the main colors in the scene and would give me options for neutralizing:

  • a mix of viridian + transparent earth red, gradated to a middle value with cadmium yellow light, then with white to the lightest value
  • alizarin permanent gradated to white
  • transparent earth red gradated to white
  • ultramarine blue gradated to white
I'm happy with the way the colors harmonized in this study. And working with this set palette helped me think in terms of warmer or cooler rather than trying to match a specific color. I'm working on exploring the way colors change depending on what's around them, and how I can control temperature and intensity to influence those relationships. 

Day 4 of notans

Notan sketches of trees with dappled afternoon shadows

For my reference with this set of notans, I used a photo I took the park where I liked the way the strong tree trunks framed the scene, and dappled light was running through it. The way the sun hit the light green leaves made them glow, especially compared to the cooler, more purple colors in the trees behind them.

I was surprised about how much I like the square and wide formats. By raising the horizon line on the wide format, it put more focus on the dappled ground shadows. And the square format narrowed the focus to just one of the glowing trees.

I think if I were to paint this one, I'd want to find a way to not make the colors obnoxiously green. And I would take the time to make sure the shapes are better. More than 3 minutes, lol.

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

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Day 3 of notans

Notan Studies Jul 10 2019
Notan sketches of trees in the park

I'm really liking how this notan practice is helping me think about how to add interesting passages in large solid areas. It's making me shift my mindset toward considering all of the parts of the composition instead of just concentrating on a focal point. Like with this scene, I'd want to spend time putting some more shapes in the grassy field so it's not just a single solid mass. Those shapes wouldn't necessarily be darker, but could represent temperature or intensity shifts that add some interest.

And I ran out of time (I think that's going to be a theme with this project), but introducing some contrast with the clouds in the sky would be great!

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

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Day 2 of notans

Notan sketches of a waterfall scene at Yellowstone

For this focused practice exercise I used a photo from our Yellowstone trip. The first notan I sketched was the vertical rectangle format, and it was super challenging to see this subject in any of the other formats! I'm glad I tried it though because it helped push me in other directions beyond my first response.

This subject has interesting angles and shapes, so it would be a great one for further composition exploration and taking to the painting stage. I see potential for studying color temperature and intensity with it since it has a relatively small number of colors.

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Focused practice: notans

Landscape notan studies Jul 8 2019
Exploring shape, pattern, and dark/light harmony with notan

When I look back at my older posts, the focused practice projects stand out as some of my favorites. The list of things I want to practice is infinitely huge, but one topic I've noticed comes up a lot in my paintings is composition. Often times I complete a painting or study and then notice something about the composition I would like to have done differently.

The 30 Days of Value Thumbnails project (I didn't frame it as a focused practice, but in retrospect it fit the bill) helped me get quicker at spotting very dull compositions. But I still ended up with several that have uninteresting shapes, so I feel like a natural next step is to work on those shapes and patterns that form the structure of a painting.

Which brings me to notans! A year ago, during my focused practice project on values, I did a short section on creating 2-value notans. Those were based on in-shadow and not-in-shadow divisions of dark and light, and I stayed pretty faithful to the reference image. For this new project, I'm approaching it with a mindset of finding light and dark harmony, which means adjusting shapes when needed to make a pleasing pattern instead of just following the reference.

My focused practice goal:

I want to design better notans for landscape paintings.

This goal has a number of smaller problems I'd like to address:

  1. Designing a pleasing and interesting pattern
  2. Making a variety of shapes with no two intervals the same
  3. Creating dark/light harmony that will give me a solid structure for contrasting elements in my painting (values, temperature, intensity, edges, texture, details)

Time commitment:

15 minutes of practice time every day. Using one landscape photo that I took, I'll create 5 notans (3 minutes each). I should be able to create 100 notans in 20 days.

Day 1

I'm super excited to be using Procreate for this project. I can quickly draw and erase with it (important because these are just 3 minutes each), and now that the thumbnail template is created it'll be a snap to start each day's studies. A variety of formats (horizontal, vertical, square) and some basic prompts (high horizon, low horizon, mostly dark, mostly light) provide structure so I'm not staring at the blank page every day wondering where to begin.

Having the prompts to do mostly dark or mostly light has already proven very helpful: my tendency is to make things evenly balanced, and I'd like to be more intentional about adding greater variety. And the short time limit is going to help me focus on the simple shapes instead of getting bogged down in detail at this preliminary stage.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Another great morning painting outdoors

landscape study - plein air at Carroll Joyner Park Jun 30 2019
Happily painting away in the shade

It was a treat to be able to paint outdoors two days in a row. I went back to the same park and chose a new location to set up my box, next to a taller tree than yesterday for more shade. I intended to paint the pond but couldn't find an interesting enough composition that wasn't in full sun. Just down the path from the pond was a spot that caught my eye — cool, bright shadows raking across the grass, with a path leading back to a shaded area in the woods.

I liked the contrast between the trees in bright morning sunlight and the darker wooded area and positioned that as my focal point using the rule of thirds as a guide. The thumbnail sketch I started with helped me work through angles the foreshortened path and value structure. I almost skipped that step so I could just start painting, but I'm glad I didn't because without doing that bit of prep work I would have struggled my way through the whole experience.

I stuck with the same palette and block-in approach from yesterday, but changed my painting medium a bit. Instead of a 50/50 Gamsol/linseed oil mix, I used a tiny bit of Gamsol for the block in but mostly kept it on the dry side. And as I painted, I used linseed oil to loosen the paint. This texture was nice to work with and I want to try using it some more to see if it can give me better results. I'm learning that the texture of the paint is such a personal thing and what works great for one painter might not work as well for me.

color block-in - plein air at Carroll Joyner Park Jun 30 2019
Average colors and values blocked in

A couple of other things I want to experiment with are the color of my canvas and the color I use for the drawing on it. Today I used burnt umber on a white (untoned) canvas and didn't like how the cool shadow colors mixed with the earthy brown. It would be different if the cool colors were painted opaquely next to the earth color, but today they just mixed together and the shadow colors were dulled.

I'm curious to see how this average color block-in approach would work on a pre-toned canvas — like grey, burnt umber, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, or transparent earth red. I think I have some direction for my next several paintings!

landscape study - plein air at Carroll Joyner Park Jun 30 2019
"Bright Spot", 8x10 oil on canvas panel