Thursday, March 28, 2019

Edge of light on North Carolina treetops

landscape study based on Painting the Poetic Landscape Color Harmony lesson - completed
Landscape study in color harmony

Study topics

Composition with 5 shapes; painting trees and sky holes; color harmony

Process notes

Using the second lesson on Color Harmony from Barbara Jaenicke's oil course, Painting the Poetic Landscape, I made a thumbnail study from a photo I took recently on a road trip between Charlotte and Raleigh. Then I sketched it in with a brush onto a toned 9x12 sheet of Canson Canva-Paper, followed by a tonal underpainting.

landscape study based on Painting the Poetic Landscape Color Harmony lesson - block-in
Tonal underpainting

For colors, I mixed a variety of cools and warms in the 4 basic values of my composition (blue, grey-violet, red-orange, green). Blocked in the cool colors, then warm colors. Once everything was blocked in, I added tree trunks and limbs, but this didn't turn out well so I regrouped and came back in with large, loose strokes and blended them out, simplifying the masses more. Then I used a palette knife to add some limb details and added sky holes with a brush.

What I learned

After my initial "finish" that I didn't like, I converted the reference photo to black and white. This made it much, much easier for me to focus on shapes instead of trying to match colors in the photo. Rather than attempting to render what was there, I concentrated on capturing the mood of the scene and overall impression of each big shape. This also helped draw the eye to the center of interest instead of getting confused by all of the heavy tree details.

Another big improvement for me was using the palette knife instead of a brush for the very fine lines of branches and highlights. One thing I'd do differently next time is delay these details until everything else seems in place.

On my initial pass of colors, my paint was too sparse and didn't flow well onto the surface. I'm working to keep those initial strokes thin so they don't pull up later and create a dull muddy area, but I also want to get more of the underpainting covered. This is something I'm continuing to experiment with as I get a better feel for the dynamics of brush, canvas, and paint.

I ended up pretty happy with this study, especially since there was a point I thought it was a hopeless mess! I'd like to do some more versions of this scene to see how my understanding and interpretation of it develops with repetition.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Landscape study of an overcast day in Durham

landscape study based on Painting the Poetic Landscape Composition lesson - completed
Landscape study of an overcast North Carolina day (9x12, oil on canvas)

Study topics

Composition with 5 shapes; painting trees and sky holes; overcast day light; color interpretation

Process notes

Using the first lesson on Composition from Barbara Jaenicke's oil course, Painting the Poetic Landscape, I made a thumbnail study from a photo I took recently in Durham. Then I sketched it in with a brush onto a toned 9x12 canvas, followed by a tonal underpainting.

thumbnail sketch for Composition study
Thumbnail sketch with 5 shapes and values mapped out

landscape reference from Cheek Rd MST trail March 16 2019-67-2 with value scale
My reference photo that I took on an afternoon hike in Durham

landscape study based on Painting the Poetic Landscape Composition lesson - block-in 4
Initial block-in, with values from original value plan

Blocked in the sky, water, near dark trees, mid value trees (red-orange) and rocks, and distant trees (green). Refined areas, moving around the canvas. At this point it looked really strange to me, so I took a break to think about what to do to improve it.

landscape study based on Painting the Poetic Landscape Composition lesson - first phase
At this point I had basically finished my original idea, but it looked really strange so I kept going

After coming up with some solutions, I worked on it for another couple of hours until I was mostly happy with the changes.

landscape study based on Painting the Poetic Landscape Composition lesson - completed BW
A black and white version of my completed study — there are still 5 shapes, they're just slightly different than what I started with

What I learned

Biggest lesson: don't give up! I really almost chucked this one after the first "finish" because it seemed hopeless. But then I had some lunch, which helped my spirits immensely. I decided it would be worth it to change my value plan around since I didn't like it anyway, so what's the harm?? My original idea was to make the more distant trees lighter and cooler, to pull the warmer bare trees forward. In this case, that strategy wasn't working because in reality those distant trees were just so much darker than the bare trees.

I also thought about the cluster of small, dark trees in the foreground and why they looked so out of place. Since it was an overcast day, the diffused light didn't make such a severe value change between those trees and other elements.

Realizing these things got me excited to get back to the easel and give it another go. I darkened the back tree area and lightened the bare trees to bring them into the same value, lightened and refined the small dark trees, and softened some edges. This was also a good opportunity to put in brush strokes that make the bare trees look more stick-like and less full.

The color is more vibrant than I intended, but I like the way joining the background trees and near trees into one value quieted the whole composition down. It's much more aligned with what I feel about this scene. And the extra practice painting sky holes is a good thing.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Creek scene study in a high key

high key study in 4 values of creek scene Mar-12-2019
High key study in 4 values

Study topics

Light temperature; high key value structure

Process notes

Aimed for a neutral, mid-day lighting scheme. Mixed the darkest color at just lighter than mid value, and mixed the other 3 values lighter from there.

What I learned

The high key palette has a hazy, atmospheric quality that I'm enjoying. The compressed value range reduced the contrast overall, and changes where my eye travels. It's so cool to see the way light conditions change everything about the image — I'm excited to get some plein air experience to develop my understanding of light temperature and its effect on colors.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Creek scene study in 4 values

mid-high key study in 4 values of creek scene Mar-11-2019
Was shooting for high-key values, but apparently needed a lot more white!

Study topics


Monochromatic 4-value plan; 4 major planes of landscape painting; aerial perspective; light temperature

Process notes

Painted a 4-value study from reference photo. For color study, planned colors based on a morning light situation (yellow light/purple shadows). Aimed for a muted, high-key value structure and mixed the darkest dark to be roughly a mid-value. Blocked major shapes in with representative colors and values for each area.

4-value monochrome plan

What I learned

My attempt to go high-key missed the mark, but I still like how this study turned out. It would have helped to look more critically at the darkest value (the treeline and deep shadows of shoreline) before charging ahead with the rest of the block-in. I was trying to match the value of Gamblin's Portland Grey Medium but it got darker than that.

It was also interesting to see that even though I was muting my color mixtures down quite a bit, there's still so much color in the study.

Although I really like the feeling of autumn in the scene, once again my morning light comes across more as evening light. Maybe a neutral, mid-day light would be a good next step.

The reflection on the water was fun to work on — and I especially like that area in the lower right where I mixed an intermediate color to soften the edge between the reflection of the grasses and the water.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Still life study of 3 onions #2

still life study of onions Mar-8-2019
Color study over monochromatic underpainting

Study topics

Monochromatic underpainting in 3 values; pre-mixing colors on palette; slow and intentional brush strokes

Process notes

Used viridian and transparent earth red for underpainting, on a sheet of Fredrix sheet canvas. Blocked in subject with a small hog bristle brush, wiping out lightest values. Used synthetic bristle flats for color application.

underpainting for still life study of onions Mar-8-2019
Underpainting in viridian and transparent earth red

What I learned

After the last study in underpainting, I had wondered if it would be easier to wipe out the light values with a sheet of the Fredrix canvas. It definitely was!

I liked using the mix of viridian and transparent earth red because it allowed me to go darker with the values. I could have done more variation with warmer and cooler in the underpainting by not mixing the two colors together as thoroughly, which would have been nice. But overall I think the dark earth color worked very well as a base color.

While painting in the color, I was able to lose a few edges in the dark and mid values which helps give the study looseness and freshness instead of looking like shapes cut out and stuck onto a background. I'm gaining a better understanding of the way lost edges bring unity to a painting.

A tiny bit of the underpainting is showing through, especially in the cast shadows. It's very difficult for me to leave more pieces of it showing even though that's my goal. Will have to keep trying!

I avoided painting all the way to the edges of the canvas because I thought it would bring a bit of energy to the otherwise subdued image. But in retrospect the onions are too close to the edges to make that work well. Next time I could try zooming out to leave more space to make a vignette, similar to how some portrait painters work, and suggesting a background rather than showing it all completely.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Still life study of 3 onions

still life study of onions Mar-7-2019
Used the 3-value underpainting to establish shapes and guide the color values

Study topics

3-value plan; monochromatic wipe-out underpainting; pre-mixing colors on palette

Process notes

Toned canvas with transparent earth red thinned with Gamsol, then drew in the shapes with the same paint using a synthetic round brush. Lifted out lights and added thicker areas of darks, leaving the toned canvas as the middle value.

underpainting and first colors of still life study of onions Mar-7-2019
The underpainting in transparent earth red, with the first spots of color applied

Pre-mixed my basic set of colors before starting on my new wood panel.

I wanted to do less scrubbing in of color and more laying down of single strokes, so I used Gamblin Solvent-Free Gel to make the paint move more smoothly with the flat hog bristle brush.

Panel: cotton duck canvas mounted to mat board, coated with gesso and sanded relatively smooth.

What I learned

My homemade panels for doing studies soak up the oil paints so quickly that doing the lifting out was very difficult even with mineral spirits on my rag. I'm learning more about that and it seems to be either the gesso or the paper board — perhaps why so many professional painters recommend oil-primed linen. I have a sample of that to try soon.

The synthetic brush I chose for the underpainting was a lousy match for this canvas panel because it was too soft and flimsy against it, but might work better on some of the Fredrix canvas sheets I have. They're slicker feeling than the panel I made myself that has a rather absorbent gesso.

I really liked using the solvent-free gel! It made the paint go on much more smoothly than when I don't use it, and doesn't thin the paint like adding linseed oil.

I had intended to leave some of the underpainting color peeking through but during the course of painting totally forgot about it. I want to do that next time, as well as try a different underpainting color.

I'm loving the different colors in the shadow shapes of the white onion. They were fun to spot with my color isolator and mix up on my palette. The variations give a lot of life to that whole area. I also like how the values of the table top and top of the white onion are the same which made a subtle edge there.

I also really enjoyed using my new wooden panel. I sealed a piece of baltic birch plywood with wipe-on polyurethane, and I'm hoping the light and natural color helps me improve my color mixing experience. Pre-mixing the colors made me slow down and really observe what colors I saw and gave me a clear family of colors to work with when I needed to adjust for details.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Still life study of red onion

still life study of red onion Mar-6-2019
Still life with diffused lighting

Study topics

3-value plan; monochromatic block-in with greys; color block-in with large brush

Process notes

Set up a red onion against a natural colored linen fabric, with diffused indirect lighting. After doing a sketch and establishing the value structure, blocked in the subject on the panel with deep, medium, and light Portland Greys.

Color palette: ultramarine blue, naphthol red, cadmium yellow light hue, titanium white

Brushes: hog bristle bright size 12 and filbert size 4; Ivory rigger size 2

The panel I used was one I had made by securing a piece of cotton duck canvas to a piece of masonite, then applying a few coats of acrylic gesso sanded smooth after each coat.

What I learned

I was so surprised at the impact of using a large size 12 brush on this small 6x8 panel — it really helped prevent me from making lots of picky little strokes and made a stronger effect. I saved the smaller filbert for details and that worked well.

While it was much harder to discern the shadow family from the light family, I liked the softer look of the diffused lighting.

Blocking it in with greys was interesting…in some ways it felt like an extra step that isn't necessary on a small study, but it also helped me separate color from value and have a more clear road map. It would be worth exploring some more, with different underpainting colors to see what I like in different scenarios.

I also liked painting on this canvas panel a lot. It works well with the bristle brushes and the texture makes me happy.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Still life study of red onions #2


still life study of red onions Mar-5-2019

Study topics

Painting from life; 4-value plan; using synthetic bristle brushes on smooth panel

Process notes

Sketched 4-value plan of dark, dark middle, light middle, and light. Set up palette with 4 divisions and a small blob of grey at the top of each section to represent dark (dark grey), dark middle (Gamblin Portland Grey Deep), light middle (Gamblin Portland Grey Medium), and light (Gamblin Portland Grey Light).

Roughed in subject with thinned paint in a yellow ochre color on a Silver Brush Bristlon brush. Blocked in colors, moving from dark to light. Once it was blocked in, I refined the shapes and colors using a couple of Rosemary Ivory brushes.

Palette: viridian, ultramarine blue, permanent alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow light hue, titanium white, ivory black, Portland Grey Deep/Medium/Light

Panel: masonite prepped with a few coats of acrylic gesso, sanded smooth after each coat

What I learned

I can't believe how different it feels to use the synthetic bristle brushes on a smooth panel. Mostly what I've been using for the last several months is hog bristles on either gessoed poster board or canvas. The issues I had yesterday might not have been about the cardboard panel after all because I had similar issues with the paint feeling tacky. It could be the brushes or the Gamsol I used. This combo will definitely require some practice to get comfortable!

Being methodical about separating the values on my palette seemed to help with color mixing. I read about this technique in an interview with Jill Carver. Apparently it's something artist Harvey Dunn taught to his students. This, combined with a clear value plan and the grey paints in 4 values, worked pretty well and I'd like to do more of this.

For my next study topic I want to explore this still life subject with a 3-value plan like I did back in August. At that time I used photo references, and I want to see what it's like to do it when painting from life.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Still life study of red onions

still life study of red onions Mar-4-2019

Study topics

Painting from life in order to see more colors than in a photo; finishing a study; lost edges

Process notes

Made a notan sketch, then blocked the subject in on a gesso-coated 6x8 piece of cardboard. Started by blocking in the shadow shapes, then the not-in-shadow shapes. Once it was blocked in, I refined the shapes and colors. Finished with some lost edges.

Palette: ultramarine blue, permanent alizarin crimson, cadmium yellow light hue, titanium white

What I learned

This cardboard surface seems to really absorb the oil in the paints quickly — the surface tacked up more than I'd like so either I'll need to switch to a different surface or use more paint. I tried out some of my new synthetic bristle brushes and found them difficult to use on this surface. I have a smooth gesso panel that I'd like to try next.

My value structure got a little out of alignment, especially on the onion in the back which got flattened out. Next time I want to do a more clear value plan to prepare, and also try making divisions on my palette for 4 values and work on getting the color mixes to stay in those divisions. I'm loving these colors though, and it was fun to add variety to the shadow areas.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

4-value study of a mountain cabin

study in 4 values mountain cabin Feb-28-2019
4-value study

Study topics

Making a strong 4-value plan before painting a color study; color temperature of the light; atmospheric perspective.

Process notes

Broke the scene in a reference photo down to simple shapes and 4 values. After painting the plan, I studied the colors in it and then converted it to black and white in order to not be influenced by its color. To paint the study, I used my standard limited palette of colors plus black, testing swatches of color against the plan along the way.

Building off what I learned with the previous study of this subject in 3 values, I tried making the color of the light more consistent throughout. I used the principle of color relationships that I read in The Painterly Approach by Bob Rohm:
"Viewers perceive certain color relationships as symbolic of different lighting situations. They see yellow light and purple shadows as morning light, neutral or white light as midday and orange light with blue shadows as afternoon or evening light."

Mixed color on the fly rather than pre-mixing color families.

4-value plan in black and white, and color block-in

What I learned

I liked using 4 values instead of 3 for this particular subject. It helped me separate foreground, middle ground, and background better this way.

And I loved working on that mountain in the distance — I used a technique of making the whole mountain the same basic value and distinguishing the sunlit areas with a warmer version of the same value. I find that relationship subtle yet intriguing. I used the same approach on the tree line in the middle ground by adding a warmer green to the sunlit tops without changing the value much at all.

In the end I think it looks more like late afternoon/evening light because of how orange the sunlit areas look, especially on the near trees. To get it closer to morning light I would have needed to use less red on the trees and in the meadow.

On the black and white value plan, I wish I had used the dark-middle grey on the sunlit portions of the trees in the foreground. It would have given a more accurate vision of the ultimate value structure of the study. But on the whole I really enjoyed painting this one and I love how it turned out!