Wednesday, July 28, 2010

"Lilacs and Twilight" -- revisited

"Lilacs and Twilight" - Oil - 11" x 14"

"I'm always attracted to a tranquil scene and this fit the bill perfectly. All was in cool shadow and backlit by the evening sky. The rough condition of the barn synced with the profusion of lilac shrubs left untended. Their chaotic condition added just enough action and texture to draw the eye." --- SFG

NOTE TO ARTISTS: I remember a comment by Bill Reese years ago to a suggestion that a just-completed painting was ready to go on a gallery wall. He said, "I like them to hang around the studio for a while." I took that to mean that it takes a while for the artist to see the work with a fresh, unprejudiced eye in order to see the painting's strong and weak points.

If you look back to my blog on October 9, 2009, you'll see this work in progress. Still, over time, something just didn't look right to me, like the color of the roof and the way the driveway was such a strong diagonal that it led the eye up too fast. Today, I put the painting back on the easel and made some changes.

The before and after:

Adding the reflections from the part of the sky that would be behind me adjusted the color of the roof and related it better to the areas no longer lit by the sun. By adding the bush in the lower right, the shape of the driveway was changed considerably and negated the harsh diagonal movement.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"A Walk in January"

"A Walk in January" - Oil - 11" x 14"

"This unusually warm day took me to a nearby neighborhood. Though it was sunny, the light was still cooler than that on a summer day. The light and the almost-bare trees testify to the season." --- SFG

NOTE TO ARTISTS: Here is another work that was painted primarily on location, but finalized in the studio. Here are the before and after for you to compare.

The contrast in the unfinished work was a bit too wimpy, though, to stay true to the scene I kept it within bounds. By punching up the white trim on the center house, the architecture is more solid. I added shapes to the plantings to break up the blank walls and reduced the background house on the right to closer values, so focus would remain on the center of interest. I added the mail box on the right to stop the eye and return it to the painting. Otherwise, the sweep of the sidewalk accelerated the movement and swept the viewer off the canvas.

Monday, July 26, 2010

"Doghouse in Harmony"

"Doghouse in Harmony" - Oil - 12" x 16"

"Here's another version of this oft-painted scene. (I've lost count of the paintings I've done there.) Harmony is a charming, very small town near the California coast. It's buildings and occupants are as unique as the town's name. " --- SFG

NOTE TO ARTISTS: I'm often asked whether a work may be called "plein air" if the artist works on it after returning to the studio. In my opinion, if the concept and majority of the work is done on site, it is a plein air work. Still, I'm careful to conform to the rules of any event or website.

Here are the before and after versions of this painting:

Back in the studio, I evaluated the plein air effort. I felt that the trees were spotty and disorganized. Also, the direction of light on the roof of the building on the right was unclear. After unifying the trees on the left, I lightened the roof. To increase the effect, I darkened the hill in the background slightly and reshaped it to support the composition.

I removed the dark spot in the foreground on the left at the edge of the shadow (I had to use my palette knife to scrape the blob of paint there and restore the surface so it could accept the kind of brush stroke I wanted there. (Sometimes, I use sandpaper to do this.)

I lightened the front of the doghouse to make it stand out a bit more and added more sunlit vegetation on the right to overlap the roof of the building and make the shape more interesting. I changed the dark shape of the shadow side of that shrub, too.

Adding blue hues and sunny clouds to the sky was truer to the day's atmosphere. Lastly, I added Fido, electing to place him in the shadow. This prevents him from taking over the scene.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"View Above the Lake"

"View above the Lake" - Oil - 16" x 20"

"This vibrant painting expresses California light on a warm... sometimes very warm... summer day. The dried grass of the foreground is broken by a pattern of trees and shrubs. The cooling colors of the atmosphere recede to the background that's made up of hills folding on hills." --- SFG


As I placed the trees, shrubs, buildings, and lake in my drawing, I paid careful attention to the diagonals I was creating. (I must be in my "diagonal period" since this seems to be a dominant part of my landscapes lately.) I broke with my usual practice of laying in the darks first in order to get the recession of the golden grass as the hills receded, which I felt was more important, and difficult.

Next, I worked on the darks, the trees and shrubs and their shadows, experimenting with the shapes and making them varied and interesting. The distant ones are lighter and cooler.

I eventually decided to eliminate the road in the foreground since it led too obviously to the center of interest, the buildings and the lake. I added color to the buildings and roofs and defined the light reflecting from the lake's surface.

To finish up, I added a bit more detail to the buildings and detail in the distance. I also fine-tuned the cast shadows of the foreground trees.

Monday, July 05, 2010

"Circling the Train"

"Circling the Train" - Oil - 18" x 24"

"Where I live, the annual rodeo is a big community event and fun, even for the city slickers in town. Before the parade that celebrates the weekend show, drill teams, bands, baton twirlers, city celebrities, and equine groups of all stripes assemble on side streets. Sometimes the wait is longer than expected. This rider with his mule team made occasional circles to distract the impatient animals. The canvas-draped packs flashed in the sun and made a dramatic visage." --- SFG


I'm sure that it has been 20 years since I snapped these photos. It was one of those scenes that an artist tucks away in his head until his idea has gelled and his skills are polished enough to handle it. I don't think any earlier attempt would have produced as successful a result.

After toning the canvas, I placed both the animals and the horizontal lines that divided light and shadow. I made sure that the bottom of the top shadow area was not in the center of the canvas and that the shadow in the foreground was more narrow than the lit pavement.

The figures themselves are roughly drawn. I will refine it throughout the painting process since these shapes are very intricate. If ever there was a painting that depended on "putting the right color in the right place," this is one. The interlocking shapes will be carefully drawn and placed.

I start with the darker animals and the shadow area on the rider's mule.

Next, I use a dark wash to create the background shadows. They will be slightly lighter than the darkest mules.

I also wash in the foreground cast shadow.

I've placed a light area behind the rider since he is the focal point. I developed him enough to keep more detail there as I work on the mules and packs.

Now came the fun. I worked shape against shape... positive and negative shapes... to draw the mules, packs, cast shadows under the team and the sunlit pavement. Almost miraculously, the individuals appeared.

What fun it was to do those characters in the back, peaking over the others and their forest of legs that broke up the space.

Halters, ropes, harness, and hat moved value and temperature changes across the line. Breaking up the foreground with a few accent spots and I was finished.

Friday, July 02, 2010

When a painting goes badly...

"Hydrangeas Near the Window" - Oil - 20" x 24"

"For a few weeks each summer, my three hydrangea bushes offer their color-drenched pom poms. The fully round ones bloom first, so if I miss painting them, I get a second chance with a new strain that has fewer petals and more interesting shapes." --- SFG


The night before I started this painting, I had given a talk on color that was delightfully well received, so I went into the studio full of vinegar and sure that I'd produce a masterpiece. The expectation and the reality proved to be far removed.

The setup was lovely and inspiring.

However, the composition that fell onto my canvas didn't work well.

That light behind the bouquet was distracting from the bouquet itself and when I put down the color, it was off. (Sorry, no picture survived at that stage.) The folds on the right were awkward, and the composition didn't balance.

When I returned to the studio the next day, the drape had fallen and the painting had not improved overnight. (Believe me, sometimes little gremlins come in and change things.) I felt that the darker color behind the left side of the flowers would work better, so I left the drape as it was.

Whether better or not, I wasn't sure, but I decided to run with this version. I've found that, when unsure, it's better to become more aggressive, making firm decisions and confident strokes, than to wallow in the mess.

I de-emphasized the folds on the right and changed the pink vase to another blossom. For better balance, I added the pear in the lower left.

I developed the blooms in the main bouquet and added the reflections in the glass vase. I was still struggling, but it was getting better.

In the final version, I had changed the pink book - it looked awkward before and did not sit well in that dark corner - and scattered a few more blooms and petals around. Accents and details keep the focus on the main bouquet as the center of interest, but there is a satisfying rhythm through the work now. In the end I got what I wanted, the cool light from the window and how it gives unexpected and appealing color throughout the scene.