Tag Archives: Yosemite National Park

California scenes!

 

If you ever find yourself inside the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, check out the paintings by Swedish/ American painter Gunnar Widforss. They are all over the lobby and some of them are huge. All watercolor and painted about 100 years ago. Some are better than others (just like with any painter) but they are all worth looking at. From what I heard, he was strictly painting outside which is remarkable given the sizes of some of his works. A truly dedicated artist!
Widforss painted the tunnel view (Yosemite) in his time. Nowadays you mostly see photographers there to capture the sunset. I also painted it many times in all kinds of weather/ daylight.

Anything can be good painting material, depending on the condition. Not many watercolorists tackle cascades and waterfalls as they are quite difficult to paint. In the right light, though, it can be a wonderful subject.

Before painting anything I always look for the following aspects:

Will the light work as a painting vs. as a photograph? This is not as simple as it seems. Often I am tricked into believing that a scene/photograph will make a great painting only to find out after painting it that it didn’t really work out the way I thought it would. Experience helps here.

Will the value pattern work? Just making sure I have everything from super light to super dark somewhere in the picture. There is nothing worse than a painting that’s all mid-tone.

Am I emotionally invested? If not, forget it! In other words, if I am not 100% sure I like the scene, if I am not really psyched, I won’t paint it. Done that many times and the resulting painting was always mediocre, at best.

Do I have a strong design and composition? Are there areas that seem unresolved? Is my focal point there?
This is also tough to judge, especially outside. When painting watercolor it is easier because there is drawing time first. While drawing it is often obvious what’s not so great and fairly easy to change before the paint goes on. In oils, I can always scrape off areas but that is definitely best avoided.

Lastly, I will think about my color palette for a particular painting. It is important to have good color harmony and think about the interaction of color in all the major shapes, i.e. foreground, middle ground and background.

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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.

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!

Visiting Artist at Yosemite Art Center

Last week I worked for the Yosemite conservancy again. This is my third year in a row and I enjoy spending time in this magnificent place and paint. I taught for four hours every day, helping fellow painters. I do not get paid for it, it’s a way to give back to the community and I gladly do it.

Once again I spent time at the stables and sketched horses. Yosemite is a peaceful place and I love sitting in a remote location, paint and re-charge my batteries, so to speak.
This year we had sun, clouds, rain, snow flurries and temperatures between 31 and 80 degrees (0 – 25 C) I enjoyed every minute of it!

How plein air painting helps your studio work

The more we subject ourselves to painting outdoors the more we’ll learn about pitfalls of painting in general.
Working in your studio is great but the biggest problem is always ‘over-planning’ a painting.
Outside, that won’t be an issue. There’s simply no time, but in the studio we have all the time in the world and that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Here’s why:

Imagine you have your paper up, the reference ready on the ipad (or by whatever other means) and you begin your drawing. You’ll draw and draw, erase and re-draw. Pretty soon, all that beautiful energy of line work will be diminished, if not completely gone.
Just like when we paint with pigment, it is so important to have that energy in the work. Erasing, second guessing, changing while half way thorough will all interfere with the original graphite line or brush stroke. Sure, sometimeit doesn’t look right and we do have to use an eraser. That’s ok. That’s not what I mean.

I am talking about the over-planning and overworking that happens so easily when painting in the studio. It happens because we have too much time and we want to make it perfect. The problem is, it won’t be. Quite the opposite will most likely happen. We want to be so perfect that the work will look ‘blah’ in the end. It may even look perfect but unfortunately, boring as well. Who wants something perfect? I’d take a photograph..
Sure, it may be a bigger size but that doesn’t mean it’s better.
Quite often the smaller paintings done in very little time do look fresher, more alive and full of energy than the bigger studio versions.

What to do is the question! I think the solution lies in painting indoors as if you’d paint outdoors. Not exactly rushing it, but nonetheless at a brisk pace with little or no corrections. Let it all flow. Let it happen.
During the preliminary drawing, let the pencil flow across the paper, hardly lifting it. Feel the energy going on the paper! Don’t be a drawing/painting robot.
I heard once that one should never erase the wrong lines. The analogy was getting lost in a snow storm. You need the old tracks in the snow to know that you were wrong and to find the right way…doesn’t fit 100% but has a true ring to it!

To use my painting above as an example: This watercolor is 18by24 inches, done in the studio. I have painted this with the help of my many sketches I did on location and with the aid of a few photographs I took of the scene. It was painted quickly, in less than two hours total. Without having actually painted there, it would have never come out like this!

Teaching at Yosemite Valley

This was my second year working for the Yosemite conservancy at the Art and Educational Center in Yosemite Valley, California.
The week went by like a blurr and my classes were exceptionally well attended. Painting locations included the Merced River, the Ahwahnee Hotel, the meadow across the Yosemite falls (unfortunately, w/o water) and the Horse stables.

I’d like to thank Aline Allen of the Art Center, for her organizational skills and filling my classes. It is a privilege to be a guest at Yosemite and I look forward to coming again in the near future!