Tag Archives: studios on the park

Painting Vineyards!

We live in wine country and get lots of tourists over the weekends who do wine tasting tours and visit one of our numerous great restaurants in Paso Robles, Central California.

Many people tell me I should do workshops here, locally. They do have a point. Our area is beautiful with rolling hills, littered with nice barns, cows and horses. It is also extremely varied when it comes to landscape painting: I can do a barn painting early and be on the coast in Cambria in less than 30 minutes and paint the magnificent coastline, Torrey pines and rocky cliffs!

Painting vineyards is not easy. They do sell quite a bit in galleries around here but they are tricky to paint, I think. They are usually just rows and rows of sameness therefore it’s easy to produce something that looks all green, contrived and boring. Remember, there’s nothing more boring in painting than symmetry!

I didn’t like much how I painted them when I first moved here, (see sentence before LOL) but I think I am getting the hang of it. Slowly. The key is to somehow brake up the all the directional lines that the rows of vines naturally create. So it’s important how to position yourself to the vineyard, in other words, picking the right viewpoint! The vines can never be the focal point. Well, maybe not never but often it’s good to have a structure or some other point of interest in it. Rows of vines could look interesting with vineyard workers in them, but I haven’t encountered any so far. Maybe in the fall. Once the colors are changing it will look even more spectacular! I can’t wait…

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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.

Plein Air painting – why do it?

There has been a strong move back to painting on location in the last couple of years. Many painters do almost nothing else, so 90 percent of their work is done outside. Why would anybody want to subject themselves repeatedly to painting in the heat, cold, wind, surrounded by flies, passers-by with lots of questions and get sun stroke? Why not just take pictures and paint in the comfort of the studio?

The answer is obvious, but also more complex than it seems. Cameras record a place but don’t do it very accurately. Values are usually off but also the subtle color relationships within the subject matter are not captured well. Our senses are just so much more keen than a mechanical or digital ‘thing’.
Unless we do a completely value based painting, it’s important to pick up on all the subtle color nuances that the camera can’t see.It’s up to the artist to interpret them in their own way, put their own spin on it and turn it into art.
It’s a very different experience to be on location as oppose to just go by a picture of it. I think painting outside will ultimately improve an artists studio work as well.

Having said all that, I personally think painting outside should only be one part of what an artist does. The studio work is at least equally important! In the studio, working from a plein air sketch is invaluable. You can attempt a bigger painting and while working, the memory of the place will come flooding in and go into the studio piece as well. Ideally, that’s what should happen.

I am trying to divide my painting time into 30% outside and 70% inside. For me, a perfect balance

When painting outside, one of the worst distractions are people who linger to watch and ask me lots of questions, constantly reiterating that they ‘do not intent to disturb me’. Luckily, most people are great. I have no problem with someone watching me, just don’t strike up a lengthy conversation. I am here to paint!
We had a new one the other day. Unprecedented. While painting in a small park near the ocean at Morro Bay, some guy came up and asked us if we knew why the restrooms are locked. My painting buddy looked at him and actually answered that he doesn’t know. I pretended I am deeply involved in painting but had to really hold myself back and not say something rude!
It never ceases to amaze me what questions you get! We couldn’t believe it, but it also made for comic relieve once he had sauntered off.

Plein air in cold weather!

cropped nature takes over

I thought I speak about that a little bit, since it is that time of the year! Painting outside when it’s cold has it’s challenges, just like painting in real hot weather does. The biggest problem with watercolor painting is drying time. That means, if we do big washes (which I usually do) they won’t dry for a long time resulting in periods of unwanted waiting around, twittling my thumbs!

What’s the solution? There’s no real good one I am afraid. But there are things you can do that definitely help: If you’re near your car, you can use the car’s heater and fan. It works perfectly and only takes seconds if you crank it up on high!

If the sun’s out, it goes without saying to put it down and it dries very quickly.

If the sun is not out and you’re not near your car, try using less water and a bit of chinese white in your big background washes. It makes the paint flow slower and dry more quickly. A word of caution: it takes practice to gauge how much to use, if you use too much you’ll get opaque ugly soup, if you use too little it won’t do anything at all!

Lastly, you can break up your washes more. If you know your middle ground is darker than your sky (it almost always is), just don’t paint there at all in the first wash. Stop the sky halfway and leave the white of the paper. That way, you can immediately start painting without waiting since you never touched that part!

If it is colder than 0 degrees celsius, or 30 degrees F, I don’t recommend watercolor painting outside. I have had my washes freeze before and it’s just plain awful! Better wait for warmer weather!