Tag Archives: plein air

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’

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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!

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!

My new Sienna set-up

I used this custom-made easel for years and years but it started to fall apart, so it was time to get something new! I wanted a set-up that I can use for both watercolor and oil painting.

There are many choices out there, most of them prohibitively expensive and with someone’s name attached to it. I don’t like that so much, that’s why I went for this simple and reasonably priced Sienna Plein Air Artist Pochade Box Easel, size Medium. It is quite easy to set up. More importantly, it holds painting sizes up to 14″ x 18″, which is as big as I would ever paint outside. The angle is adjustable and I can still use my sunshade. (Another big plus for me!)

While you can use any tripod, I ended up buying the coordinating Sienna Tripod Easel as well. If you have a good tripod already, you don’t need to. I tried my old one for a while but the whole thing was just too wobbly. A stable and light tripod is, unfortunately, quiet expensive but it is money well spent: the easel has to be rigid enough for drawing and withstand some wind.

I also like that my Holbein Metal Palette 500 fits exactly into the box opening! I definitely lucked out there… It comes with a tray to store a water container or painting medium and brushes. I don’t like having to hold a palette in my hands while painting, so this is one of its best features.

A note about the weight: The Pochade was advertised as 3.5 lbs, but I weighed it and it is definitely more than 4 lbs. I can’t say I like that, but it’s still acceptable as that weight includes the tempered glass. So no complaints here. I bought the medium, which is really a small size. Overall, I good product that I would recommend to a painting friend.

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!

Composition: a path through the painting

 

We’ve all heard of the rule of thirds, but there is also another good way to create a focal point:

A path through the painting. That refers to the way line work creates a dynamic path that leads the eye around the painting. I often use it as it makes for a very interesting composition. When out in nature we have to look for these things. I think they are almost more important that the subject itself! A good painter can create a great painting out of the most drab and boring subject, i.e. a junk yard or an intersection with nothing much there but ugly buildings, just by making use of this!

That brings me to another point: it’s easy to get lost in the subject and neglect the composition. In this instance, dry docked boats with men working on them is great subject matter in itself. However, if we just show a boat on stilts and nothing else that can be a bit underwhelming to look at. After all, we just have our pathetic, two dimensional piece of paper or canvas to capture it all! So I tried to create a path to make it more interesting. I also created big areas with, what I call abstract painting. The entire hillside behind the boat and the entire foreground has an abstract quality to it. I always say, in representational painting, 80% of every painting is non-representational!

Finally, ‘pardon the dust’, so to speak: my website is currently down because it gets a much needed revamp. Hopefully it won’t take too long. Stay tuned!!

 

The California challenge! NOT looking at the bright side..

As a plein air painter I get to see and know the state pretty well. One of the most depressing things about California is the fact that anywhere you go, everything is fenced in. No exceptions. Even if you drive into the most remote areas, there’s apparently still enough money to put up fences, making it all but impossible to paint from anywhere else than the road.
That way many of the most beautiful vistas cannot be visited because the owners of the land put up barbed wire and signs that threaten legal action. A recurring theme in the USA.

Having said that, it’s not like that everywhere in America. In Vermont, for instance, you can park at the side of the road and with few exceptions walk anywhere you want. No barbed wires there. California? Forget it unless it’s BLM land, state owned land or a National
park. We live in this huge state and 90% of the land is inaccessible! Kind of sad, isn’t it?

So for those of you who come from out of state and especially visitors from other countries:
You may look at the beautiful rolling hills but you may not walk around and explore! Private property, no trespassing!

In Europe it’s completely different. I painted in France so much in 2008 and 2009 and never had a problem. Park at the side of the road, take gear and walk into the fields. Nobody cares. Sometimes I had to park my vehicle in someone’s vineyard, no problem either! I just put a sign on the dash (artist painting in the area) end of story. Imagine that here. Your car would be towed and they would sue you for trespassing, just because you want to paint ‘their’ land.

There’s a gynecologist in the area who actually threatened to sue an artist for painting his estate on a hill off of Highway 46. When she painted it, she wasn’t even on his land.
Her painting was on exhibition in a nearby vineyard where he spotted it on the
wall and demanded it taken off. When the owner of the vineyard refused, he pulled it down himself and took it with him. The artist had to actually call the police to get her painting back. True story!

I know this is an extreme case but you’ve got to wonder! If we don’t revere art and artists, what kind of a society are we?

I don’t want to be completely negative here because there are many people out there who welcome artists on their property. Even if they don’t know anything about art, they understand that artists play an important role in a society and they try to be supportive. My deepest thanks goes to them!
It is never a good idea to generalize everyone, but I am trying to make a point here.
In California, the fact that you own property means that you can put barbed wire around it and keep people out. In Germany and France you own the property also but you have no problem with someone walking across it and let them enjoy it as well.
The question is, why are two seemingly similar societies so different in that regard?