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!
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
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.