Tag Archives: Yosemite conservancy

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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Color harmony

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Today I thought I will post about color. Using color in a painting is a very powerful way to make a statement, but it’s complex nature makes it hard to understand. Color, like value, only makes sense in context. A color by itself has no meaning. Now, there is this concept that all colors are inherently warm or cool but that only makes sense if we compare it to other colors of the color spectrum. Let’s say you’re only looking at cadmium yellow, cadmium orange and cadmium red. Which one is warmer? You see where I am getting at? If we compare it to Cobalt Blue, then those colors are much warmer.

Many painters rely on formulas, mixes they fall back on no matter what is being painted. While I agree that certain colors are used more than others (simply because they do mix well with others), using general formulas for every painting is not going to work if we are truly painting what’s in front of us. (Just to be clear, I am talking about the experience of painting from life here.)
Here’s why: Predetermined color schemes do not produce an authentic version of the harmony in a subject matter. You cannot predict the colors that will be needed in a painting. Your own perception is going to dictate what you will use. How will you know what you will be seeing before you see it?

Understanding the phenomenon of color temperature is key to painting well. Colors do appear either warmer or cooler than their adjacent colors (!) The temperature of any color changes when we lighten or darken it, when the adjacent color changes, or when another color is being mixed into it. As if that’s not enough, colors change when the light on them changes. I remember when I was maybe 10 years old and tried to paint the hair of a blond woman, painting an acrylic portrait. I tried and tried but I just didn’t get it right. What I neglected to see was that she was standing under and next to green palm trees. Her hair picked up the green sheen of the palm trees! Of course it would! It was very subtle, but I didn’t see it because I didn’t look right! Her hair, the way I painted it, looked out of place!
How could you ever paint this correctly if you come into the painting with a predetermined color mix for blond hair?

Only by painting many paintings will we learn about subtleties like this. There just isn’t a good substitute for the real thing. Go out and do it. Paint from life!

A week in Yosemite!

Once again I supported the Yosemite conservancy art program by teaching free classes for almost a week. In return, I got to stay in this magical place for free. Still a good deal, considering that the lodge is still $250 per night even this late in the season! Even without it, I feel good about giving back a bit and sharing my art with people who might not be able to afford a workshop.
My classes were filled every day and, despite some rain storms we had a wonderful time! Archer liked it also, even though he looks a bit apprehensive when we stopped at Tunnel view!

During my week of outside teaching I noticed that many students don’t understand the concept of color harmony. Many paint a blue sky, green trees and yellow grass creating ‘sectional paintings’ where one area has no relationship with the other. The results often look amateurish or child-like.

The key is to limit the palette to mostly primaries and be aware that every color has a bit of the other colors in it too. If you have a red barn in a green field it sticks out like a sore thumb, but if you put a little bit of that red in the grass and a little bit of that green into the barn, it looks much more natural and beautiful.

Lastly, there is a so-called super color in every painting. The color that sets the mood of whatever it is you’re painting. It can be found throughout the picture and helps to make the work look more unified.

Yosemite in October!

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”   – John Muir, The Yosemite, 1912.

I feel privileged to be invited to teach for the Yosemite conservancy. Once a year I donate my time and take people to places around the park where we all paint together. The dates this year will be October 23 to 29 which is the height of the Autumn season, so expect spectacular colors all around the park! To pre-register go here and scroll all the way down to the bottom of the list to find my name!

I know many Americans and even Californians, who have never been to this amazing place. Words can barely describe what you’re missing out on! Every time I drive down into the valley it truly feels like arriving at some magical, mysterious location and all my worries and everyday concerns seem to vanish instantly!
Hope to see you there!

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!

Drawing skillz

A good way to approach a drawing is to first draw in as true proportions as possible, then make a second drawing from the first. This time just drawing the essence of the first, omitting stuff. Simplifying is easier that way, since we no longer look at the original reference but already a ‘version’ of it.
If using a photograph, you can do the same thing. Your individuality will go into the drawing and later the painting, which is what you want. You can always check your changes with the original for accuracy or perspective, but you are essentially making a free interpretation of the picture rather than slavishly copying everything you see in the photograph.
I find that while it also works when painting outside, it is less practical because of the time factor. Light is changing rapidly and it’s difficult enough to do one drawing. It takes many hours of plein air painting to sort of develop the ‘instinct’ of what needs to go in and what can or must be left out! Put in the time!
A drawing or painting is often more interesting when parts of it are left unfinished. The detail and finish in the other areas will have a bigger impact and stand out more.

Ultimately, my goal in painting is beauty as oppose to verification of truth. Generally, people don’t put paintings up that are ugly. I know there is art for all kinds of reason and that’s just fine, but for my art, beauty is pretty important!

What makes a painting beautiful, Part III

There’s more to it than putting pigment on paper. One of the things I have learned is that, not only do we paint best what we know best, but also, we paint best what we truly love! Somehow that love goes into the painting and other people pick up on it. Every scene ‘feels’ different. Early morning, midday, twilight…winter, summer, spring and fall. It is important to convey the feeling of the subject, I think. If I hear that one of my paintings made somebody feel as though they were there, I know I have succeeded!

Light and color have a lot to do with it. They set the mood in a painting. It is one thing to copy nature but quite another to express her in a painting! We must never loose the big message to all the little unimportant detail. For instance, we need to consider the sweeping energy that a tree has, not so much how many leaves there are.

When working from a photograph, I think it’s important to do a drawing of the scene first. By interpreting the scene in your own way, you’ll paint a better picture than you would by slavishly copying everything on the photograph!