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_Studies_Jul_26_2019
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_Studies_Jul_25_2019
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_Studies_Jul_24_2019
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_Studies_Jul_23_2019
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_Studies_Jul_22_2019
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_Studies_Jul_21_2019
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_Studies_Jul_20_2019
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_Studies_Jul_19_2019
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_Studies_Jul_18_2019
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_Studies_Jul_17_2019
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_Studies_Jul_16_2019
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_Studies_Jul_15_2019
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_Studies_Jul_14_2019
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_Studies_Jul_13_2019
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_Studies_Jul_12_2019
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_Studies_Jul_11_2019
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_Studies_Jul_9_2019
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

Monday, July 1, 2019

Energized by a morning plein air session

landscape study - plein air at Carroll Joyner Park
Great view at E. Carroll Joyner Park in Wake Forest

The afternoons have gotten really hot and steamy in my area, so getting outside to paint early in the day is a priority for me. Evenings could work, but I've found it tricky to time that well with the setting sun. In the morning the heat starts to arrive, but at least there's enough light to work with!

I had an idea for a good spot at the great park near us that would allow me to study atmospheric perspective. I was super excited when I got there to find the perfect spot next to a tall tree that provided shade. Well, it provided shade for part of the time — after about an hour and a half I became aware of the fact that I was starting to cook out there. I was so absorbed in painting that it took me awhile to notice, but my nice shade tree was no longer protecting me from the glaring sun. I think it's time to order that plein air umbrella I have my eye on…

After sketching a thumbnail to get familiar with the shapes in the scene and the light and shadow patterns, I mapped out the basic shapes on the canvas panel. Then I blocked in some average colors that helped me see color and value relationships. I was dubious about that wall of blue-grey that represented the distant tree line, but I kept moving ahead with it to see what would happen.

Average colors and values blocked in

Those distant trees are my favorite part of the painting, so I'm glad I stuck with the color there. My intention with this session was to study the effects of light in the landscape and to mix reasonably good colors with this set palette I'm trying out. I wasn't too concerned with making a great composition, just wanted to paint a scene that I was excited about in general.

The palette I took this outing was:
  • cadmium yellow light
  • cadmium orange
  • cadmium red medium
  • transparent earth red
  • viridian hue
  • ultramarine blue deep
  • burnt umber
  • titanium white
  • ivory black
I found it pretty easy to use for quick color mixing. The transparent earth red and viridian hue made a good deep green. If I were going to do a big sky, it might be nice to add in phthalo blue. I have so many colors that I really like and are useful to have, but carrying all that weight on my back adds up! I can see how some parts of the year a different group of colors could make mixing more efficient. I'm imagining that in the fall and winter, having some purple and yellow ochre would be convenient.

landscape study - plein air at Carroll Joyner Park
"Park Vista", 8x10 oil on canvas panel

Aside from the heat near the end, this was a great session of outdoor painting. I felt less rushed and more clear about my process than some of the others. And one of the best parts was that by wrapping up at 9:30, I had almost the whole day still in front of me and felt energized by the feeling of accomplishment. Gotta remember that feeling!