Tag Archives: mood

Same scene – different media – different times of the day

As you can see, I am experimenting with my art a bit right now. The fact is, I am always experimenting. I try to never get complacent, to fall into a rut and do the same thing over and over. Before you know it, as an artist, you are known to paint certain things in a certain way.
You become a ‘one trick pony’.

I avoid that at all cost. I don’t want to be put into such a drawer. I think it is important to never be static and to always change, to evolve, to move on. Artistically speaking, I mean. (Although you could make that argument for life in general as well, but that’s another blogpost… LOL)

On our last plein air outing near Bishop’s Peak, I felt I messed up my painting. At least, I didn’t like how it came out. Being there at the wrong time with the wrong light, I didn’t feel inspired but since my friends all painted I felt compelled to paint as well.

It took another trip to get better references and I feel good about the two I posted here. Both of them are not done plein air. To be honest, I had problems painting this mountain. After a few plein air attempts I figured I needed to move this into the studio to understand what it was I didn’t ‘get’. In the end, I think it was a combination of wrong light and lack of vision. I just didn’t really know how I wanted to see this painted.

The appearance of this peak changes dramatically during the course of the day, so it’s very easy to get lost. Despite all my years of painting outside, I made the cardinal mistake to follow the light. Not so much in the foreground but the light on the peak itself and promptly messed up the painting.

Repainting it in the studio made me realize what had happened. The sunrise piece is done in water-soluble oils. I used to paint lots of oils in the ’80s and ’90s and lately I have been getting back into it more. I apologize for the bad pictures, you can find a better version of the first one here. I need to learn how to take good pictures of oil paintings!

Value range in painting!


A big problem in painting is that we can’t achieve absolute true values. The actual bright light is much brighter than we can ever achieve with white paint or white of paper! After all, it’s just pigment on paper or canvas! The best we can do is paint the correct values from lightest to darkest to achieve a realistic feel. Once that is done the painting will ‘read’ right. It doesn’t matter if it is not the ‘true range’. Working against the light produces strong contrast and highlights on tops of objects. Working with the light produces close values within the object but contrast against the background. Watercolor lends itself better to the former, simply because we do not have to paint around so many objects to preserve light.

Values can only be analyzed by comparison. Any brushstroke will look dark on white paper because there’s nothing else there. Quality comes from correct value relationships which in turn express the true feeling of light!

Some painters paint with a b&w value scale next to their color palette to help determine what the values of various colors are in b&w. Color can be very deceptive as to value. Sometimes, when it’s vivid like a bright red, it can seem lighter in value than what it really is! During the impressionist era painters tried to paint true values by applying super thick paint on the theory that the natural light would catch and therefore raise it’s value. When this was first done, critics called it a trick. Does it actually work? You be the judge…

Artists can, through color and value, attach elegance to common subjects.

An artist once said: in painting, value does all the work, color gets all the credit! So true!

‘The Art Spirit’ by Robert Henri

I thought I should share some of Robert Henri’s quotes from the book The Art Spirit that I am studying at the moment. My thanks goes out to Phil Kinsey for turning me on to this book! It was written in the late 1800’s but it is as true today as it was back then. The truth will be the truth, withstanding the passage of time. Enjoy!

‘If you want to know how to do a thing you must first have complete desire to do that thing.’

‘The effect of brilliancy is to be obtained principally from the opposition of cool colors with warm colors, and the opposition of muted colors with bright colors.’

‘Hold on to the few simple larger masses of your composition, and value as most important the beauty and design of these larger masses, or forms, or movements. Do not let beauty in the subdivisions destroy the beauty or the power of the major divisions’.

‘Whatever you feel or think, your exact state at the exact moment of your brush touching the surface is in some way registered in that stroke.’

‘There is a super color which envelops all the colors. It is this super color – this color of the whole – which is most important.’

‘Do not be interested in light for light’s sake or in color for color’s sake, but in each as a medium of expression.’

‘In painting of light, in modeling form, keep as deep down in color as you can. It is color that makes the sensation of light. Play from warm to cold, not from white to black.’

‘The painting that impresses you at first sight and the next day loses even the power to attract your attention is one that looks always the same. It has a moment of life but dies immediately thereafter.’

Simplifying a scene

Painting, writing and music have a lot in common. Have you ever tried reading a book
that was written with too much trivia and detailed descriptions? After a while it became a chore
to keep going instead of a great read.
In music, if the composition is too complicated with lots of intricate passages, it’s hard to listen
to it. Some Jazz music is like that.
Well, it’s the same with a painting. The artist can get lost in detail and trivia as well. The
camera is already master at recording every single detail. The artist’s job is to take the subject
apart and find the essence. That what gives it life, why it is interesting and why it is worth a
painting and capture that essence.
Every painting has a key component that has stirred the artists soul! It can be the design,
light and dark patterns, the subject itself, for what it is.. The main inspiration.

One of the hardest things to learn is to weed out what’s unnecessary and to develop what makes the scene. If we edit out too much we might end up with a painting that’s somehow not working. If we leave too much clutter we might end up with something that is confusing.

That’s why, once we pick a subject we must have a clear vision of what we want to accomplish. We can’t hope that it will work itself out during the process of painting!

Here are some tips to stay focused:

-Always remember what it was that made you want to paint the scene.
-Unfocus your eyes a lot while painting
-During painting, always step back and check if things are working out
-Never spend too much time on any section of the painting
-Work out a definite focal point
-Keep an eye on the time elapsed, spend too much time on the same piece and you start doing
too much!
-Make every brushstroke count
-Try not to second guess what you just did

You can easily see that my blog is about painting, not limited to the watercolor medium only.
Painting is painting, no matter what choice of medium!

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.

Plein Air vs. Studio

There is definitely a resurgence in plein air painting going on right now. Especially watercolor painters understand their medium is the best for painting finished paintings on site. But plein air does have it’s limitations and that’s what this blogpost is about.
First the part that makes plein air so important: there is a wide variety in color nuances in Nature that cameras ‘don’t see’. Same goes for the values, the human eye is so much better understanding different qualities of values (in shadows, for instance).

What’s not working so well is painting a more accomplished piece, especially in a bigger size. By that I don’t necessarily mean more detailed, but more elaborated and more thought out.
Plein air is always rushed and for obvious reasons: light’s changing, you can’t spend all day thinking about what to do next.
Once you have a painting you did outside and combine it with photo references you’ll be able to paint a more accomplished version. The wonderful thing is, it will still have the same spontaneity to it, almost like the on-location work.
To illustrate what I mean have a look at the two images here. The first one was done on location. I am tempted to call it the Violin player since I had to endure his playing the same three pieces over and over (let’s just say he wasn’t a virtuoso)
The second one, done in the studio, is larger (14×20 inches) and I have made a bigger effort working out the shadows and ‘controlled chaos’ in the areas where the focal point is.
Something I would not have had time for outside.

Other problems with plein air painting is often the subject itself: 90% of the scenes you encounter are not paintable as they are.
So you end up changing it, making stuff up. While that works most of the time, it’s easy to get suckered into painting a scene that is just not suitable for painting.
Some plein air painters change the scene so much, it almost looks like something from another place. I don’t believe in that. If I paint plein air, my goal is to catch the mood of the scene before me. Otherwise, I might as well make up a painting from a photograph. No need to go outside if you don’t paint what’s there!

Without having painted outside, I would’ve not ‘understood’ the colors in these buildings. Only by painting while looking right at the real thing is this possible. A big thing for me is to be actually there and taking it in with all the senses. Seeing, smelling, walking through it… some of that will go into the painting! Sometimes, the better painting is the one done on-site. Other times it’s the one done in the studio! You just never know!

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.