Tag Archives: California landscape paintings

Watercolor vs. Oil

This is a scene I have painted many times. It is near where I live and to me, represents our area to the dot. Rolling hills, pastures and a barn setting. Since I started more oil painting again I thought I’d give it a shot in that medium. The watercolor was painted two years ago.

The oil is from a slightly different vantage point and it is also a different time of the year. The watercolor was painted in mid winter, when it is ‘greenest’ around here. That’s right, in California, it gets green in the winter because most of our rainfall happens then!

The oil was just recently painted in the spring. The green on the hills has already changed, turning a red-ish brown. That happens pretty much as soon as the rains stop. This is, however, my favorite time to paint them. In the winter, it is sort of a carpet of intense green (think New Zealand) and is quite difficult to do in a painting. The painting can become overloaded with sameness. To me the watercolor was harder to do for that reason.

Both mediums convey their own mood and feel. This will be one of those places that I’ll paint
over and over. Different times of the day and in different seasons.

Painting plein air, I believe the goal should be to capture something of the scene and not ‘make up’ something different. It is true that sometimes we have to change things around a bit, because mother nature just put too much information there. However, to me there is no point in painting plein air if I don’t really paint what’s there. In this case, it was the study of the hills and sky that make the painting. The interaction of it all. How it’s all one! If I change everything, why go out at all? I can take a picture and do all that in the studio.

To get the color and value right it is essential to observe right. The hills have colors of the sky in it and if the clouds are low enough, they will have some of the hill color in it! Notice how the greens change. The shadows, the sunlit parts, the foreground field. All different! I am so blown away by little things like that! It really excites me, such a miracle…well, not really but I find it endlessly fascinating! I can almost feel the scene…

To say it in the simplest most straight forward way: to paint well, all you have to do is observe right, mix the right color with the right value and put it in the right place. Done!

Small on-site sketches…or….little paintings!

I know that Jeremy Lipking and Scott Christensen teach the importance of making small on-site sketches whenever possible. I even heard that in Scott’s plein air workshops, students only get 45 minutes to finish a painting on each location visited! When some of the best painters have great advice, it certainly is a good idea to consider it!

The advantages are obvious and multi-fold:

  • It may be less intimidating to start a small sketch than a bigger painting.
  • Despite the relatively small size (only 5″x6″ or so), the painting process is the same. You still  need to work out values, color, drawing and edge just like in a bigger piece!
  • You’re going home with 3–6 paintings instead of just one (that you may or may not like).
  • Last but not least, you have multiple on-site sketches from which you can do a bigger studio piece from!

Oh, and here’s another one: often there isn’t enough time to finish before the light changes too much, but it’s almost always possible to finish a 5″x6″ piece. These sketches should really take no longer than 30–45 minutes each, no matter what medium you’re painting in.

I don’t even bother with an underpainting when doing these in oils. Since I am a watercolor guy, I just jot down a few lines with pencil and paint ‘alla prima’ (direct painting). The basic principle for Alla Prima painting is to observe, mix and put down the right amount of paint in the right place with the right value. If possible with little or no adjusting, changing etc.

Easier said than done! Practice, practice, practice!

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.

What makes a painting beautiful? Part II

Composition! It’s everything…almost.

Every good composition strives to hold the eyes of the viewer within the painting. It is called the eye path or leading line. It is achieved by line work and arrangements of shapes and patterns.
If you study the horse scene, you notice that the eyes go straight away to the horse on the right. It helps to have the grass point to it. (not too obvious; in a subtle way)
Right after that you start noticing the pair of horses on the left, because the right horse is looking right at them! The very left horse and the one on the right have eye contact. From the pair on the left you’ll notice the railing taking us back into the picture where the barns sit. The telegraph pole connects to the sky. Also, the tree line of the dark background tree and the lower end of the blueish hillside trees make a line that points straight to the right horse.
That’s the eye path I developed for this picture.
It is debatable whether it works the way I intended. It always is, but that’s ok. I arranged my shapes (horses, barn, pole, trees) in ways to support what I was after.

Now, what about subject matter and focal point? Aren’t those two sides competing, vying for attention? Maybe, but I think it still works. The eye contact of the horses does it for me. There is a connection, it gives it meaning and animates the scene. The look like they’re moving…they look alive.

Things to avoid: Important shapes too close to the edge of the painting. Big blocky patterns in the foreground that prevent the eyes from traveling into the picture.
All very traditional, but that’s what this is: traditional painting

Paso Robles Arts Festival 2015

This weekend the Paso Arts Fest came to a close. It was well attended and I am happy to say that all my work sold (four paintings, one was auctioned off) The caliber of artists participating was quite impressive for our small town: Established painters like John Cosby, Ruo Li, Libby Tolley, Richard Robinson (from New Zealand), W. Truman Hosner, my friend Andy Evansen, Carolyn Lord and many others. Andy, Carolyn and myself were the only watercolorists, maybe that’s why we did so well!
One of the biggest surprises (almost unheard of, really) is the fact that one of my watercolors got an award of excellence. I mean, watercolors never win anything!
Here are some impressions of the festival. The signature show will run until the end of June and I have four paintings in it.