Category Archives: Locations

Locations where I’ve painted.

The California challenge! NOT looking at the bright side..

As a plein air painter I get to see and know the state pretty well. One of the most depressing things about California is the fact that anywhere you go, everything is fenced in. No exceptions. Even if you drive into the most remote areas, there’s apparently still enough money to put up fences, making it all but impossible to paint from anywhere else than the road.
That way many of the most beautiful vistas cannot be visited because the owners of the land put up barbed wire and signs that threaten legal action. A recurring theme in the USA.

Having said that, it’s not like that everywhere in America. In Vermont, for instance, you can park at the side of the road and with few exceptions walk anywhere you want. No barbed wires there. California? Forget it unless it’s BLM land, state owned land or a National
park. We live in this huge state and 90% of the land is inaccessible! Kind of sad, isn’t it?

So for those of you who come from out of state and especially visitors from other countries:
You may look at the beautiful rolling hills but you may not walk around and explore! Private property, no trespassing!

In Europe it’s completely different. I painted in France so much in 2008 and 2009 and never had a problem. Park at the side of the road, take gear and walk into the fields. Nobody cares. Sometimes I had to park my vehicle in someone’s vineyard, no problem either! I just put a sign on the dash (artist painting in the area) end of story. Imagine that here. Your car would be towed and they would sue you for trespassing, just because you want to paint ‘their’ land.

There’s a gynecologist in the area who actually threatened to sue an artist for painting his estate on a hill off of Highway 46. When she painted it, she wasn’t even on his land.
Her painting was on exhibition in a nearby vineyard where he spotted it on the
wall and demanded it taken off. When the owner of the vineyard refused, he pulled it down himself and took it with him. The artist had to actually call the police to get her painting back. True story!

I know this is an extreme case but you’ve got to wonder! If we don’t revere art and artists, what kind of a society are we?

I don’t want to be completely negative here because there are many people out there who welcome artists on their property. Even if they don’t know anything about art, they understand that artists play an important role in a society and they try to be supportive. My deepest thanks goes to them!
It is never a good idea to generalize everyone, but I am trying to make a point here.
In California, the fact that you own property means that you can put barbed wire around it and keep people out. In Germany and France you own the property also but you have no problem with someone walking across it and let them enjoy it as well.
The question is, why are two seemingly similar societies so different in that regard?

Lighting in painting

In the art of painting we decide what quality of light we look for. Sharp and brilliant or more diffused is one consideration. The color of the light itself, i.e. warm or cool and the direction where the light comes from will dictate the way we paint the form.

To paint light we must focus our attention on light itself. This means that we will not be painting the objects before us so much as we will be painting light and the way it falls on these objects or brings them into our vision. A painter once said: ‘A head is something you choose for the light to fall upon.’ Contrast determines the quality of light itself, sharp or soft or anything in between. In dim light conditions the separation may only be one or two value steps. In strong light in may be separated by three or four value steps.

For me, a painting with subtle, diffused light is very powerful. More so than one with extreme light and high contrast. It is also much harder to do!

One problem we have as painters is that our brightest light (the white) is never as bright as nature’s. All we can do is stay true to the relationships from lightest to darkest and paint them in that order, even if the value cannot match nature perfectly.

If we paint light correctly, it will make the form work out itself. We think about the light, halftones, and shadows. We make sure we have the correct sequence of value relationships (lightest to darkest) and getting the color within these values. That’s it. Now that sounds easy but, of course, is a lifetime endeavor right there.

Light and its effects provide the best means of bringing unity and consistency to a subject. The light will effect everything in the subject the same way. Everything will take it’s relative place in the whole scheme and all values and colors will be brought together into a single effect. This is unity that creates beauty!

By using color and value right, we can create a powerful and elegant painting even with mundane subject matter!

Thanks to all of you who followed my blog in 2015. I wish every one of you a successful and prosperous new year! Here’s to 2016!! Let’s pray for a more peaceful world.

Drawing skillz

A good way to approach a drawing is to first draw in as true proportions as possible, then make a second drawing from the first. This time just drawing the essence of the first, omitting stuff. Simplifying is easier that way, since we no longer look at the original reference but already a ‘version’ of it.
If using a photograph, you can do the same thing. Your individuality will go into the drawing and later the painting, which is what you want. You can always check your changes with the original for accuracy or perspective, but you are essentially making a free interpretation of the picture rather than slavishly copying everything you see in the photograph.
I find that while it also works when painting outside, it is less practical because of the time factor. Light is changing rapidly and it’s difficult enough to do one drawing. It takes many hours of plein air painting to sort of develop the ‘instinct’ of what needs to go in and what can or must be left out! Put in the time!
A drawing or painting is often more interesting when parts of it are left unfinished. The detail and finish in the other areas will have a bigger impact and stand out more.

Ultimately, my goal in painting is beauty as oppose to verification of truth. Generally, people don’t put paintings up that are ugly. I know there is art for all kinds of reason and that’s just fine, but for my art, beauty is pretty important!

When is a painting finished.. and other musings

As I come to the end of a painting, this question always rears it’s ugly head: what else does it need?
The one after that I hate even more: couldn’t I have done a better job with this or that section? Is it a good painting? how good? My philosophy here is that I did the best I could do with what I have and who I am right now. I move on to another painting. This becomes very apparent to me when I look at work I did a few years back. It was the best I could do at the time. End of story.
You cannot ‘make’ a masterpiece. One day it may happen or it may never happen. It is a waste of time to think ‘this is it, this time I’ll do it’.
Doesn’t work.

Lack of decision and endless fiddling with the current painting is a harmful thing. You have to learn from the mistakes you can spot at the end and make amends, but the energy must go into a fresh effort! Learn to use your time wisely.

A word about talent: to any artist who has slaved over years to acquire his skills in painting, it is the most irritating thing to hear that your ability is just a ‘gift’. Talent is the first step, you have to have it. Absolutely. But nobody who paints amazing paintings has done so from day one. They put thousands of hours into it. There is no formula in art that will not break down as soon as the effort behind it ceases.
A good analogy is athletics: do you know how many hours pro figure skaters or tennis players practice every day? No need to answer that. Talent may help get you to the elite, I don’t dispute that. Even if I practiced tennis 8 hours a day from now on, I would never play like Roger Federer. I know that, I just don’t have enough talent.
But to say as artists we just have ‘this gift’ is ignoring how much work we’ve put into it.

Of course nowadays there are many who put more effort into their social media page instead of their art, but that’s another blog post. Or not.

What makes a painting beautiful, Part IV

You ever look at a dark tree against a light sky? The sky wraps itself around the tree, or the tree reaches into the sky mass. Both is happening, naturally. As logic dictates there is no visible connection between the branches and the sky, right? Well, not exactly.

There is a modification of the light going on near the dark and vise versa. Very gently, but it is there. It is the phenomena of diffraction:

As dark masses approach a light mass they grow slightly lighter. As a light mass approaches a dark mass it grows slightly darker, next to the dark mass. The edge can still be hard, as a branch in a sky would be, but the sky goes a bit darker around them. At the same time, the branch gets a bit lighter in value before it meets the sky.

This is how Sargent did it:

The second thing is the color. There is almost an exchange of color happening as well. The hill color behind the barn can be in the barn also. Same goes for the hill: put some color of the barn into the hill and it will look more harmonious.
The most obvious way to see this is to look at a telegraph pole against a sunset. It’s pretty crazy that the pole would take on the red or yellow of the sun on the bottom and the blue of the sky on the top. Isn’t it just a brown pole? The effect of halation!

Nobody says you have to paint like that all the time. But remember the old adage: you have to know ‘the rules’ before you can brake them.

Eventually, I will write a book with all these weird painting tips. It is nice to help fellow artists improve their painting skills, but first and foremost I will have to work on my own progress in this strange art world. The teaching is but a small part of it and it must not take over. It is not my calling to be a watercolor instructor. My calling is to be an artist. Thanks for reading my blog.