Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Is Snow White?

In my experience as a Colorado resident, the answer to this question is, "Only a small percentage of the time." When snow faces directly at the sun it appears pure white. Most of the time it will be a warm shade of gray. On days with bright sun casting hard-edged shadows, the snow will be warmer in the light and colder in the shadows (as in the photo above).
The opposite occurs on cloudy, over-cast days with diffuse shadows. In the photo below, the color temperature of the lights is colder while the shadows will be darker and warmer. You can also see that the edges are softer on an overcast day.
I like to look at and paint snow because it lends itself to watercolor techniques. In particular, I like to start wet-in-wet with stucturing the whites and then proceed by adding the hard edges.
Recently finished the fall newsletter where I talk about painting skies. See my website for more painting info.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Compositional Clarity

A question my students often ask me is how do you know what to emphasize/de-emphasize. I showcase my "first impression" or what attracted to the subject. It could be a single person in a group, the sunlight on a mountain top or a texture on rusting metal. Something first grabbed my attention. Whatever it is, this should be your star. Think of the other elements in the painting as supporting members; they are necessary but must be played down. So always ask the question, "what is this painting about?". If you can answer it, you're on your way to compositional clarity. A vignette is often a good way to get to the point.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Summer for Plein Air

As the summer ends, it's still hot and sunny in Colorado and I've extended my plein air season. I love to take students out on location to work -- we see so much more by looking directly at our subjects vs. working from a photo in a studio. We see color and tone more easily, the scale is correct and gone is the exaggerated perspective of the wide-angle lens. Many of my original plein air sketches surpass later studio work. So I encourage everyone to get outside while the weather's good. Paint and enjoy it!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Newsletter on Glazing Now Available

Just uploaded my Summer Newsletter on a topic that's received a lot of interest in my classes and workshops: Glazing. It's a way to paint luminous backgrounds in watercolors that add interest and depth. I often start paintings by glazing with different transparent watercolors followed by more opaque pigments. This painting, "Riding in Style", is an example of glazing using semi-opaques for the final glaze. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

In a Series, Part II

Preparing for an exhibition, I'm again painting variations on a theme. This time the subject is a series of views of Gore Creek in Vail, CO. On summer days, the streams edge is a popular place for waders of all sizes. I decided to concentrate on the children playing in or near the water. These paintings are composites from numerous photos and sketches of the view from the gallery with a goal of creating a sense of place on a warm day.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Spring Newsletter now available

Just finished my spring newsletter "Multiple Centers of Interest". This goes into more detail than previous posts.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Working in Series

Is once enough? Well, probably not. I was recently looking at a complete edition of Picasso's known works. I enjoyed watching the creative process as good works morphed into masterpieces. Some subjects were painted over 20 times until he was satisfied(?).

This process opens the creative doors. We can try out new designs, uses of color and value as one idea leads to another.

The images here show what goes on behind the scenes at a horse trial. It's not over yet. The next round will emphasize color. For now, I'll continue painting horses, people and trailers until I run out of variations on this theme.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Out of Sight, But Still Seen

In my watercolor classes at Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs, we're currently working on a project entitled, "Out of Sight, But Still Seen". Our goal is to produce a successful watercolor in which we see an something indirectly. For example, we could see a subject's imperfect reflection, its shadow or its footprint.

I'm using this exercise to get out of the rut of painting objects in a classical way. Far too often, art is a repetition of what's gone before and loses our interest. Sometimes the perspective from which the painting is produced is as interesting as the work itself because of the clues it gives the viewer without explaining too much. I like these paintings because I find them mysterious or evocative. In the photo below, I like the way the scene in the rear view mirror seems to fit in with the view, but is really a reflection of where we have been.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Multiple Centers of Interest

My last blog was based on "emphasis" and the concept of having one dominant idea in a painting and focusing on it. Yet I'm often asked, "Can you have more than one center of interest?" The answer is yes, provided that one area is the dominant center of interest and the others support rather than compete with it.

I like to divide the canvas or paper in quadrants and have something strong happening in each quadrant, all the while being mindful that one of these must be the star. And it's important to have balance. If you assign a weight to the visual strength of each area, then the dominant area must be equal to or greater than all of the other areas to have balance.

This is a big subject and I'll talk more about it in my next newsletter. In the meantime, here's an example of a painting that uses this concept. If you divide it into four equal parts, the top, left quadrant is dominant. I used color and tone to draw interest to the other areas, but was careful to subordinate them.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The need for emphasis (and downplay)

As an instructor, I have new students enrolling in art classes all the time. Many of them arrive with strong backgrounds in the techniques of drawing and painting, but few know how to emphasize an idea. They usually want to give equal importance to every part of their painting. Even older students who have been painting for a long time seem to have trouble with the concept of "emphasis". Ed Whitney used to say that the problem was "tight jawed egotism" or a desire to show off. Whatever the cause of the problem, the inability to emphasize one idea above all others and do it with subtlety is an indication that you still have room to grow.

So how do we move toward clarity of statement? I'll ask my students, "What do you want to say in this work? What first attracted you to the subject?" I'll have them write it down so that they can stay focused on it. Then, as they plan their painting they are aware of what part needs to be emphasized and what other parts need to be downplayed.

As they paint, I coach them on not letting the subordinate areas steal the show. They can unify them with color, tone, shape, etc., but their goal is to let the focus of the painting remain dominant. This is the hardest thing to teach! But I've found that the more you paint with this in mind, the easier it gets.

In "The Moorage" the emphasis is on the shaft of light rather than the ships and it was this light that first attracted me to the subject.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Winter Newsletter Now Available

After lauding transparent watercolor, I just wrote and uploaded my 2009/20 Winter Newletter on using iridescent and metallic paints (a/k/a opaques) in watercolors. Pictures included. For a very different effect, you might give them a try. Best of luck!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Transparent vs Anything Goes

Learning to paint watercolor in the late 60's, I watched an evolution from pure and transparent to the almost anything goes spirit of today's watermedia. In full honesty, I can do things opaquely that I could never do in transparent watercolor and I'm thankful for the progress. Yet I wish to pay homage to the purist ways. When I see a good transparent watercolor handled in the classical way, it's a joy to behold: fresh, crisp, luminous as if lit from within. Whenever I can achieve it, I'm thankful and "Dive Boats" is an example of this. Direct and to the point, not overworked, what a former teacher called a "watercolor statement".
So, go for the glow, and if you miss, there are always alternatives.