Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sonoma Coast Workshop!



Tomorrow I head out to the coast to conduct another plein air painting workshop!  I never really got a chance announce this one on my website, as it filled up long before then. I'm sorry if you missed out - please hop on my mailing list to make sure you'll be among the first to hear about them! (Karen and Liz, I'm talking to YOU!) 


 

Our destination is Timber Cove, which is 14 (insanely curvey) miles north of Jenner. A dozen students and I will be painting atop cliffs overlooking the Pacific. The forecast promises absolutely glorious weather, (whew~) and I heard rumors that there is a lot of whale activity out there. We may even see them jumping.  That would be an exciting bonus indeed.

I've painted in the area before so I know some great spots to lead a group. I can't wait to get crackin'!!

If there's wi-fi at the hotel, I might be able to post updates. But chances are I'll be sipping wine and hanging out by the fire with some fun people, with crashing waves as background music. If it goes well, I hope to make this an annual event.

 Well I'd better get packin'!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Live Demo!



On Thursday, October 7th (7pm - 9pm)  I will be doing a live in-studio landscape painting demonstration at the School of Light and Color in Fair Oaks, Ca.


I will be taking a painting from start to finish, and discussing relevant issues as they arise. We'll cover topics such as materials and set up, what to look for in design and composition, blocking in with simple value structure, color strategies, light and shadow properties, and orchestrating the visual elements to pull it all together to make your statement.


Bring your questions about techniques and principles - I will answer them as best I can!  All my trade secrets are yours for the asking!!


Admission is $10 and seating is limited, so you will need to contact the School and reserve your spot.


Contact: Debbie Warrick
              School of Light and Color
              10030 Fair Oaks Blvd
              Fair Oaks, CA 95628


phone: (916) 966-7517
email: sarback@lightandcolor.com




Hope to see you there!



Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Go Figure


Prelude, 12 x 24 inches, oil on linen


It has been a really hot few days in California. Los Angeles hit an all time high at 113 F.  See? we had a very mild, pleasant summer and now we're paying for it.  I hope not. 

Anyway, I wanted to share with you my latest effort at figure painting. Actually, the subject matter is not the emphasis of my efforts but abstraction is. I'm getting a little bit more comfortable with non-descriptive strokes, and I'm really excited about their potential. 
The driving idea behind my endeavor is to define less. Whereas convincingly describing "things" is a necessary descipline, it is not, I decided, a vehicle for expression of my identity. The more faithfully I describe the thing in front of me - that is, the more I render - the more the painting becomes about that thing and not about me, the artist. 

I'm not arguing the validity of skillfully rendering the visual world. I'm just more interested in expressing my personal view of the world. To quote Cezanne, "painting from nature is not copying. It is realizing one's sensations."  My task is to realize my sensations, not someone else's, and certainly not literally and objectively recording what I see. 

I don't know why, but I am finding that I can most directly and honestly realize my sensations when I'm painting a figure, as opposed to a landscape or a cityscape. Not worrying about the rules of realism (for lack of a better phrase) as it pertains to describing an environment does liberate me in a way. I'm only dealing with organic shapes at this point and not even having to deal with perspective issues of painting an interior. May be that's it. I've narrowed down the set of problems to solve to a simple figure/ground relationship. 



 





Of course, a "simple" figure painting is as complex as anything, and challenges and variations are endless.  

Many an artist friend have told me repeatedly, "your greatest strength is figure drawing. Why are you painting trees?"  It's not that I like painting trees more than the figure, but up till now I couldn't see how to make my figure paintings into expressions of my identity. They have always been about the figure being painted, not about me. And I did not want to show those paintings in galleries because I knew there was something more to it than just making pretty pictures.

 



I feel like I'm almost ready - not ready to show, but ready to commit to serious pursuit of this subject matter. I need to go beyond 10 minute drawings and once-a-week painting sessions in a classroom setting. I need work directly with a model and immerse myself in this process. Scary.

 



I'll end this post with a technical tip - you like those, don't you? Me too. LOL

OK, so when you look at a Rubens drawing or painting, you think, wow, how come his figures look so much more fluid and dynamic than some of the other old masters. You do think that, don't you? You do look at Rubens, don't you? No? well you should.   What makes Rubens' figures so fluid is that he draws the gesture first, with rubber hoses for limbs (Ok, they didn't have rubber hoses back then. His drawings just looked like they had rubber hoses for limbs without joints, ok?) and he forced anatomy on top of them.  I like to do that sometimes, as in the case of this leg in my painting. a rubber tube gesture first (think Gumby) and anatomy imposed onto that gesture. Quite the opposite of building a figure by measuring lengths and triangulating anchor points and stuff. I don't have patience for that, so the Rubens method works better for me.

Anyway, a more learned scholar may say my description of how Rubens worked is bullshit, but if you'll humor me and practice it, you'll get more fluid and lyrical gestures out of your figure work. You might even start to see some of Rubens in your work!  You could do worse :-)



 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Autumn Arrives


Autumn Arrives, 16 x 20 inches, oil on linen


Here's one that I'm just finishing up for my show. At 16 x 20, it is a little bit larger than many of the others. I have a few more 16 x 20's and a couple of 24 x 36's yet to to be shipped.  They're finished and just sitting in my studio, drying. If I ship them later this week, they will arrive in Chicago with days to spare so I feel pretty good. 

The very last paintings, which were the larger ones went more smoothly than I'd anticipated, giving me extra time for packing and shipping. Honestly, I thought I would be struggling to pull off the big ones because the first of the large ones was a doozy and I had to scrape it twice.

The most recent paintings show more expressive brushwork, resulting in both more interesting abstraction, and restraint. By restraint I mean not rendering the hell out of everything. Learning to suggest rather than describe is, of course, easier said than done. I've done thousands of paintings and I'm just now beginning to understand what is meant by "less is more". At least, as the phrase applies to my paintings.

I think it will take hundreds more paintings and much contemplation before I can articulate it effectively, but I feel a door has opened up which allows me a glimpse into where to take my art from here. It may be another tangent or a dead-end road, but I believe this one's worth investigating!





Thursday, September 23, 2010

Some Recent Figure Studies



Well, I thought I'd be getting back to my usual pace of two posts a week, but lately I have just been too busy. I had that workshop up in Amador, (awesome!) I have another coming up on the Sonoma Coast, I have a weekly class, and I'm trying to finish up a group of paintings for my show in Chicago next month. Packing and shipping twenty five paintings take a lot of time I don't have, too.

I will post the last of the paintings for the show soon, (you have seen some of the earlier ones on this blog) but for now, I thought I'd post some of the studies and class demos I've done in the last month or so.

This first one is a 9 x 12 I did just yesterday, as a demo for my figure class. Sort of a limited palette thing. She actually had this punky metal collar thing which I painted during the demo but took it out after I came home. I wanted something less fashiony.





Another 9 x 12 class demo from a several weeks ago. The gesture is stiff and sloppily drawn, but I enjoyed doing it. Has potential, I think. Perhaps I'll revisit this pose when I have a suitable model.




   


Speaking of sloppy, here's one that started out tightly but toward the end I got fed up with it because I had put in too much detail. I started to take some out with blobby, abstract brushwork. Not really a successful study, but hey, ya win some, ya lose some.


  


 Here's one that's more straightforward. I like this one a lot for it's economy of brush and directness of application. I was focused more than usual, and it shows. I wish I could do this more often.



 


One from last week. I've been playing with lost edges a lot more lately, and for this one, I thought of either making the background light and losing the flesh into the background, or making the background dark and losing the garment into the background, popping the bare skin. I went with the former and I like it well enough. But if I had more time I would liked to have done another and do the other option, just to compare the two. 

The chairs in this painting are made up. they're just dark silhouettes to make the otherwise uninteresting shape of the skirt more engaging by linking with one another. The skirt and the chairs are treated as one shape, which is far more interesting than just the skirt. 





This one kind of ended up looking like an Alex Kanevsky, whose work I admire very much. I wasn't intending to copy his style, but in playing with lost edges that don't conform to rules of traditional representational painting, I accidentally arrived at this. Still, the brushwork, drawing style, value and shape organization are mine and I'm sure my decision making processes don't resemble his, so I don't feel so bad.

Anyway, this one I like very much for the new ideas it gave me. I plan on exploring some of the little things I discovered and see how I can apply them to my landscapes and cityscapes.


OK, back to work!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Amador Wine Country



Summer's End, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen


This weekend, I am off to teach another three-day plein air painting workshop, this time in the beautiful Amador wine country. Amador is indeed an bona fide appelation, although not well known outside of the Sierra foothills. It's a small, beautiful and unnoticed cousin of the famous Napa and Sonoma wine regions.

I usually go up there (just a 45 minute drive from home) to taste wine and not to paint, but I reckon I'll be doing both this weekend.





Fleeting Hour, 9 x 12 inches, oil on linen


We'll be painting at a couple of wineries, which should give us plenty of variety of subject matter. I have a demo spot picked out for tomorrow afternoon, too. Hopefully it won't be too hot or windy.






Crossing the Valley, 6 x 8 inches, oil on linen


I'm really looking forward to painting with my band of unruly (not really, I hope) students in this beautiful place - we can't not have a good time! Wine will only make it better, too.

There's one more thing. I read this article in the LA Times earlier in the year, and am dying to go to Buffalo Chips and try their pie. Amador City is just a few minutes from where we'll be painting, so perhaps for lunch one day, I'll be having a slice of pie :-)





Farmland Patchwork, 6 x 8 inches, oil on linen

The paintings I posted today are all going to my upcoming exhibition at Anne Loucks Gallery in Chicago/Glencoe. If you are interested in any of these, give Anne a shout. I haven't sent her the paintings yet, but you might be able to put dibs on one before the show opens.

I may not have time to post this weekend, but you'll get a full report of my Amador painting adventure at some point~


Monday, September 6, 2010

Painting in the High Sierras: Day 5



Ah, the last day of painting in the mountains! The wind was pretty bad during the night, preventing me from a good night's rest. Burrowing deep in the sleeping bag helped, but then it got too warm. May be next time I'll bring ear plugs!







When I awoke and stuck my head out the tent, it was so cold that I retreated right away back into my cozy nest and slept another hour. When I finally emerged - lured by the promise of hot coffee - it was still pretty nippy.

Though we didn't have a thermometer, we guessed that the temperature was in the low 40Fs, plus the wind chill factor of... I don't know exactly, but it was icy and penetrating.




Hot breakfast. A little extra calorie intake this morning. Kate fried up some sausages, which we ate quickly because everything got cold so fast.








Cody, our fearless protector from bears, was not a morning dog.





When the sun finally rose above the peaks and warmed the valley, we were able to move and get to painting. The wind persisted though, so I decided not to hike out far with my gear. In fact I stayed right were we were, and painted Kate's saddle. It was a challenging little still life, but I love how it turned out. I'm particularly happy with the economy of brush and the abstract quality of the non-focal areas.

After lunch, I tried painting a view of some boulders nearby, but it got way too windy and I had a difficult time focusing on the task at hand. I ended up scraping that one after about an hour.




So I came back to the kitchen area where it was somewhat protected from the gusts, and did another still life, this time of Kate's authentic cowgirl boots. Those spurs aren't decorations~

This one was done rather quickly - it's a simple idea and design, no tricky color issues and no huge distances to convey. Drawing was the only thing I needed to really watch out for, and that worked out pretty nicely. This was the last painting of the trip, and I was glad to have finished with a satisfactory piece.






Stroganoff for dinner. It was just the thing to warm up the body from the inside. Some good wine to go with it, too. The temperature was dropping so we didn't stay up too late.

Next morning, we packed up and headed out. There is one final thing to mention; on our hike out, big gray clouds started to grow quickly from the South, and by the time we reached the trail head, it caught up to us and it started snowing! In August? That's right, and you thought I was exaggerating when I said it was rather cold, didn't you.






Mindful of the speeding ticket I got on my first day, I drove home at speed limit, pissing off many an impatient driver. But no farther incidents.

It was an awesome week of painting and hanging out with friends, in an incredible setting. I'm looking forward to my next trip already!!


Don't forget to check out Bill Cone's blog to see what beautiful paintings he did on this trip!



Thursday, September 2, 2010

Painting in the High Sierras: Day 4



Thanks to the exhausting painting day, I slept really well. I think there was some wind but I was completely out and it didn't bother me.

When I awoke, my head was clear but my body felt sluggish, so I decided to stay near the camp this day. In fact, I set up my easel right next to my tent and did my first painting. The cloud activity continued, casting moving shadows all over the landscape - I thought that might be an interesting challenge. And it was a challenge. It got too fussy, and it's not organized very well. It has two or three ideas competing for attention. And it lacks oomph.

No matter. I was happy to be painting atop my little hill. Speaking of hills, on the day we arrived, I pitched my tent some 80(?) feet away from the kitchen area, and a climb of about 30ft. A mere 30ft, but each time I made that climb, I was left short of breath. And I went up and down a dozen times each day to fetch this, or put away that, so I got quite a workout just going to and from my tent. That's altitude for ya.




Big clouds were brewing... threatening us with adverse weather...





Still staying near the camp, I thought perhaps I would paint our base camp. The grouping of our chairs were interesting, and they became even more interesting when Kate sat down.






She was on her break and sat for me for about an hour, so I painted quickly. The speedy brushed worked in this case, and I was pleased with the spontaneous quality of this sketch. Figures are always fun to paint from observation, but you don't often get the opportunity to do it outside of the studio setting. A natural, un-posed figure doesn't usually stay that way for more than a few minutes, so it was a big treat to paint this one.






Another view from my tent - the other direction. We are almost covered by clouds!





My last sketch of the day is a part of the kitchen. The old Coleman stove atop a bunch of rocks made a nice still life set up in defused light. Sunlight occasionally hit a few areas, causing a bright accent here and there. I painted the whole thing in diffused light, and added the little patches of sunlight at the end.

The wind was picking up...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Painting in the High Sierras: Day 3



Wednesday morning. The winds were much calmer through the night. I could hear the distant sounds of the falls and some critters scurrying about but no wind bombs. I slept much better, thankyouverymuch.


After breakfast, we packed our lunches and headed up to Gem Lakes, which is another 20 - 25 minute climb from our base camp. Getting up close to the 2000 ft sheer walls and glacier patches, you really feel the brutal power of nature up there.

Above is my first sketch of the day, and it turned out to be one of my favorites from the entire week. One thing I did differently with this one is to switch my thinking from "look how much color you can see in those gray rocks!" to "look how colorless those rocks are!" Why should pushing color be more desirable than pushing colorlessness? It's just preference of one level of saturation over another.

You'll look at my painting and say, "but you DID use color. I can plainly see the cool and warm shadows in your painting."

But I can assure you, it's a lot less saturated than what I actually saw. And I used black to make my base gray, as opposed to mixing primaries which is what I normally would do.





Actually, it's not that big a deal how I mix my grays, as long as all the variations are related to each other. This is my sketch for the painting. Pretty rough and sloppy, huh? Can you see that my intent was to work out the big, abstract design with just a few values, and nothing more?







Light changes quickly, so once you've committed to a design based on shadow patterns, you gotta stick to it. If you chase the light, you'll never finish the painting!





Snow is white. But not quite. If you want to emphasize the glare of the white patch of snow, lowering the values of everything else is a logical way to do it, including that of the sky. (if the sky is in your picture, that is)





I hiked farther in for my next painting. I could see Morgan Peak to the East, with an interesting juxtaposition of boulders in the foreground. From where I was standing, the peak was weirdly symmetrical, so I shaved a little bit off the right side.





By now, I was starting to see some cloud activity. I tried painting them in but it seemed to take away from the foreground busy-ness, so I took them out, opting for a simple, passive sky.






The amount of clouds seemed to increase rapidly, suggesting, perhaps a change in the weather. In the mountains the weather is unpredictable so a sudden downpour wouldn't be surprising.

The afternoon remained dry, fortunately. I debated whether to do a painting featuring clouds but wasn't quite inspired to do so. A headache started brewing, too. May be the altitude was affecting me.





I tried napping in the shade, hoping the headache would go away and also to wait for a better light / shadow pattern on these rocks across the lake. An hour later, the headache wasn't better, but it wasn't worse either. So I got up and started painting. I couldn't focus on the task at hand so this one was sort of done on auto-pilot. Consequently, it looks a little bit indecisive in some areas.






Hiked back to the base camp, took some motrin, drank a lot of water, and watched the clouds roll by. A pretty good painting day, I'll say. Wine never tasted so good. Dinner was fabulous.

I was exhausted though, and went to bed early.