It cannot be overstressed how important values are in order to accomplish a successful painting! I dare say it is *the* most important thing, more so than color and the actual subject matter. Think about it: if a painting “works” it is most likely well composed and well balanced and the tonal values are right. It rarely is the actual colors that were used. For instance, when painting a sunset the sky could be yellowish-orange, but it might as well be purplish-blue. It doesn’t matter! What does matter is how light or dark the clouds look compared to the water and how light or dark the water looks compared to the boats in the foreground. Or in this particular painting: the tonal relationship between the clouds, the mountains and the town in front of the mountains.Tonal value is easier understood if we think of it in black and white, as a greyscale from light to dark. It just needs to be applied to color as well.
Watercolor is the most difficult medium in this regard because we only have one shot! It is much easier accomplished with oils or acrylics because you can endlessly layer your paint. Eventually it’ll look right! You do this in watercolor, we all know what we get: the dreaded mud!
The painting Crossing the French Alps (15″x 20″) is done in the studio. I was only able to do this value sketch and snap some pictures on location when driving through the Alps on our way to Germany. But that’s all I really needed. The pictures help to remember the scene, but they do nothing when it comes to tone. The darks are always too dark and the lights are always too light in photographs. That’s when the sketch comes in! I like the sky best in this painting, the cloud formations give it some drama. I left out many cars waiting at the light and added the figures to enhance the focal point. It always helps to add people to your work, our eyes are invariably drawn to them!
Back in California and still in culture shock! Getting used to the wide streets, ten-lane highways, football-field-sized grocery stores and then… why are the sausages so big? It’s like eating two in one serving…
All in all, quite the contrast to our village in rural France. I’ve been doing lots of plein air since I’ve been back and I noticed that people check out my work and comment. Whenever I set up my easel and paint, there is always someone saying something nice or encouraging. Europeans are not as outgoing, I think. They might sneak a peek and keep going. Americans are always up for small talk and have a friendly word.
I started bringing a small box of business cards. So whenever I am out painting, people can just grab one and who knows, someone might actually be interested in buying a painting sometime! Pigs do fly…
While painting this, someone came out of a nearby shop and asked me, “What are you painting, man?” So I said, “Oh, that little church over there, see the nice light on top? It really makes it stand out and shine.” He just looked at me as if I was crazy and said, “I guess that’s why they call you an artist, eh?”
Another one from Venice! This one was done early in the morning with that typical haze lingering in the air. I tried to paint as quickly as possible, letting the paints bleed. I feel I overworked the water a bit. It’s so easy to be overwhelmed when painting on location. There are so many things you see at once and the longer you look, the more you start seeing. But like the master painter Joseph Zbukvic says, “You mustn’t put it all in”! I have also found that you cannot put in all the colors your eyes perceive. There’s so much to learn still…
Speaking of the Mr. Z: I am very happy to announce that I signed up for his workshop at Fallbrook, California next spring. I can hardly wait and I am sure it will be an eye-opener in many ways.
My next post will be from CA as I am heading home!
This view was probably painted a million times before. The Basilica of Saint Mary of Health, as it is called in English, was built after a particularly devastating outbreak of the plague in 1630. It quickly became an emblematic part of the skyline of Venice and inspired many big-name artists like Canaletto, Turner, Sargent and Guardi.
As always, it was important for me to get the mood of the place and I tried not to put any details into the building itself. Just the shapes and letting the paint do the work. The only details are the boats and the poles on the left hand side, but I tried to keep those vague as well.
I have been on the road quite a bit lately, painting in three different countries. Can you guess which ones? All these are done on location, in less than 40 minutes, and with only one paintbrush. They are pretty small, approximately 5″ x 8″.
I had a few interesting interruptions while painting:
An armored bank vehicle blocked my way about halfway into one painting. He actually moved the thing when I asked him, which was very nice, considering the gravity of his job. The same thing happened again later that day, this time with a delivery truck. I just decided to relocate. In a way those are great learning experiences and it teaches me to be extremely flexible and to stay calm no matter what happens.
Painting in Venice was a great experience. There were so many artists, I was always close to another painter.
Painting on location is by far the most rewarding, and a lot of times those small paintings have more life in them than any of the studied studio pieces done from reference materials. The least I like to do is a color sketch if I plan a bigger piece later at home. It always seems to come out better. Sometimes I still like the sketch better afterwards! Maybe it’s because there’s no time to think and I am forced to get it done quickly, thereby creating a more spontaneous looking painting? I’ve no idea…