Tag Archives: mood

What is a good painting?

In my last blog post I have talked about how painting can be compared to music. Personal taste is ultimately the reason why an individual likes a painting or a song. Good art, bad art? Who’s to judge? What’s great to one person may be horrible to another. In music, there are people who love endless jazz solos and others would want to run screaming out of the room if they were exposed to it. There may be paintings that I like a lot and someone else hates them. Overall, I think that’s natural.

But there is some music and some art almost everyone can love, maybe Mozart? Paintings by Sorolla, or more contemporary, Dali? Ancient Notan art of the Japanese and Chinese. In other words, there is a consensus where most of us feel the same way about something. To take it further, most people would agree that Audrey Hepburn was a beautiful woman. So there is almost like a standard for what’s beautiful.

How would that apply to painting? I think, ultimately, it comes down to the personal style of any given artist. The artist’s personality that has its presence in their work. We can see it. Sometimes you look at some painting and you just know, that’s a Sargent or a Zorn! The masters have their own distinctive style. It is *their* own personal vision of beauty that we pick up on and it resonates within us.

Nature by itself is not art per se, it is what the artist expresses when they paint her that becomes art. A painting that has the mood of a landscape is more powerful than one where the artists tries to paint every leaf on a tree.

Art and music are also influenced by the aesthetics of a people and societies in general. Sense of beauty and taste also changes with time, although some art and music is ‘timeless’. Landscape painting is timeless, I think, because we as human beings come from nature. It is in our DNA. In music, the classics like Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin etc etc. are still liked and listened to today even though their music was written hundreds of years ago.

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Painting and music – a great analogy

Both art forms (music and painting) have effects on our subconscious!

Words like sensuous and passionate, or emotional, stimulating, mood altering, uplifting, depressing… can be applied to both music and painting!

An example would be to make a painting too busy. It is equal to listening to
music where someone plays solo without stopping. It is tiresome and ultimately not a pleasant experience. It is like looking at a painting that is filled with too much information
or no color harmony.

Emotional attributes are equally felt in the use of color in art. A painting has the highest impact when it captures some poetic mood of nature, an impression of strength and power, or an emotion in a portrait. Color sets mood. Just think of the beautiful works of the masters Corot, Whistler or Thayer.

Warm colors, by nature, are exciting and stimulating but can also be irritating. Imagine being in
room where all the walls have been painted scarlet red!
Cool colors have quiet the opposite effect. They are restful in the emotional sense. There is
a reason why most people use soft greyish tones when painting walls in their houses.

Going back to music, any music piece is only consecutively played notes between pauses which, when played without emotion, are just that: notes, scales. The actual music is in the interpretation. It is nowhere to be found in the notation.

Exactly like in painting: without an emotional connection a painting is just pigment on paper or canvas. It is certainly not found in the color mix. That’s why there is the term ‘artist’ and another one for ‘painter’. When does a painter become an artist?

When a painting is ‘technical’ we may be impressed (or not), but when a painting grabs you by your emotions it becomes art. That’s the painting you keep coming back to, whereas the technical one has your attention for 30 seconds and then you loose interest!

Instead of my paintings, this time I have uploaded some of the masters.

A good quote by Millet:
‘Technique should always hide itself modestly behind the thing expressed’

Horses!

Drawing and painting horses is a challenge. Horse anatomy is quite difficult. One of the mistakes I always did was to make the neck too short and the body, or the flank, too long. Most important is to get the curves of the rear, the back and the belly right. Often, in landscape painting, the horses we paint are quite small so as long as it looks right, we’re good. It does not actually have to be right. There is a difference! I should trademark that..

As Richard Schmid rightly says, you don’t actually have to know anything about the thing you’re painting. But it is imperative to spend time observing and drawing it! In the end, the only way to fully understand an object, whether it be a horse or a car, is to draw it many, many times.
Only then will we ‘get it’ and I am not talking about intellectually getting what a horse is all about, just referring to drawing skills here. Horses are more challenging to draw than cows, don’t you think?

I recommend charcoal drawing for the simple reason that you can take it anywhere you go. It doesn’t weigh much and it’s a great way to improve drawing skills. I use Faber-Castell Charcoal Pencils and General Pencil Co. Vine Charcoal. These come in different hardnesses, from the super hard to super soft.

Here are a few good links:
~ Think Like A Horse is a great website covering horse anatomy
~ A Horse for Elinor has good pictures of dressage training
~ Equitherapy has horses galore

A Most Songful Stream!

The first picture was the reference photo used to paint ‘A Most Songful Stream’. The location is one of the most visited places in Yosemite National Park, so painting en plein air was out of the question at this spot. Too many people and to make matters worse, this view is from a busy bridge. I thought it would be interesting to see how it was edited and simplified to become more manageable and paint-able!

Notice how the (point-and-shoot) camera always overexposes whites. The water certainly has some whites especially where it cascades down, but it wasn’t nearly as bleached out as in the picture.

I have added mist from the main falls which are located behind the dark trees on the right. I have also added a few bigger boulders as a foreground. The trees on the left side were given less attention as they don’t add much to the painting. I simplified the rocks so as not to over-model them and lastly, I added some dappled lights in the darker sections.

By painting sections this seemingly complicated scene can be painted effectively. Still, it is not an easy painting. I always look for the light and dark patterns and exaggerate them, that way I maintain a clear light path and order in my paintings. With flowing water, I try to pick up on its energy and make use of that as well.

This painting will be part of the first Annual Waterworks Exhibition at Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, May 1 to June 5. Please visit if you’re in the area! Click for more information.

Click to see this as an animation and more of my work on Instagram.

Now that winter’s over, it’s time for all-day plein air! My students have asked what equipment I use, so here it is for you: I use Daniel Smith pigments and Arches watercolor blocks. I paint with DaVinci Casaneo brushes using a Holbein Metal Palette 500. My portable/travel set-up includes the Sienna Plein Air Artist Pochade Box Easel, size Medium and the Sienna Tripod Easel. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.

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.’