Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Our Lady of Sorrows" 14" x 11" Oil

Our Lady of Sorrows is located 1.5 miles southeast of downtown Taos on Witt Road. We passed it daily as we returned to the San Geronimo Lodge, our headquarters. Of course, that meant we had to paint it and I did two paintings in its vicinity. This one was from the back of the church looking at a brilliant tree across the street. I counted a total of 7 crosses on the church and in its yard and couldn't resist one more (the one carried by the priest).

Evaluating the painting, which had been smeared as I put another piece into the wet painting storage box, I saw that the shadow on the side of the church was too neutral, giving the area a "dead" look. Also, there was no good center of interest. The tree wasn't enough to pull together the tower of the church and the large tree on the right. The crosses did not stand out enough and the main tree needed more definition. The tree on the right was not substantial enough and the cast shadow from that tree was too dense. Boy, this one was a mess!

Unfinished painting after plein air session

Going to work, I warmed the cast shadow on the side of the church, accounting for lots of reflected light and warmth. I defined the crosses by cooling the shadow side and painting the edges that caught the sunlight. To give the distant tree more substance, I enlarged it and added more brilliant foliage. Using the technique of marbled paint - not-fully-mixed pigments - I worked on the right-had tree and added some branches. Knowing that shadows have light reflected from the sky, I adjusted the overly-dense shadow at the bottom right.

The center of interest was still not strong enough to carry the work, so I added two figures turning the corner as they went to mass. The priest's standard gave me the chance to add another cross. Saved! Appropriate for a painting of a church, I think.

Finished painting

"Our Lady of Sorrows, Taos"   11" x 14"  Oil

Monday, October 28, 2013

"Taos Casita" 11" x 14" Oil

This is one of the first paintings I did on location last month in Taos, New Mexico. Evelyn Boren, a member of Alla Prima International as I am, showed us these charming casitas in downtown Taos. This one had an especially picturesque garden and the morning lighting set it off. I wanted to show the effect of the light on the adobe where the bouncing light intensified one plane and left the color perpendicular to it cooler. The colorful door and window were pleasant, as well.

Unfinished painting after plein air session

I saw, when I evaluated the work later, that there was some confusion in the foreground about what was in light and what was in shadow. (I'm baring my soul here.) I spent some time perking up those flowers and even added dark centers to the sunflowers behind. Just a little work on the door, window, and treetops finished it up.
Finished painting

""Taos Casita"   11" x 14"  Oil

Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Bridge to Faith" 11" x 14" Oil

Continuing with the series of paintings started on location in Taos, New Mexico....

After I had finished working on site on "Delivery" (see previous post), the day was heating up and I looked for a shady spot for my next attempt. I found it by the rickety old wooden bridge that lead to the near-ruins of what was once a thriving parish near Taos. I liked the mysterious nature of the building showing beyond this wild cluster of bushes that had grown up in the streambed. The scene had further depth because of the field and mountain beyond the church.

Unfinished painting after plein air session

The first thing I wanted to do, when I was back in the studio and evaluated the work, was to solidify and enlarge the grouping of shrubs, serving almost as a barrier to faithfulness. I used a large brush loaded with dark green and dipped in other pigments as well. The result was a riot of color. I added similar notes to the tree on the left, but subordinated them.

Next, I eliminated the long shadow on the bridge since it combined with the shadows in the streambed and pointed out of the bottom of the canvas. I softened the far edge of the bridge and made the surface cooler like weather-worn timbers gone silvery with age. Then, I repainted a few shadows on the bridge.

I needed just a little correction on the bell tower to finish up.

Finished painting

"Bridge to Faith"   11" x 14"  Oil

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

"Road to Arroyo Seco"

After our day in Arroyo Seco (see previous post), we wanted to paint one of the scenes we had seen along the road between Taos and Arroyo Seco.

This long view included a stalwart mountain and an ancient house or shed whose near walls had given way and the roof that had partially fallen in. The backlit trees were nearly haloed when we arrived and were further along in their seasonal change. Chamesa and sage dotted the foreground.

Unfinished painting after plein air session

When I returned to the studio, I knew that this painting needed only a bit of work. The top of the structure was the focal point, so I made sure the sunlit boards contrasted well with the dark tones below and the trees nearby. I unified the treetop foliage and boosted the foreground blooms. I added holes the color of whatever was behind the trees and drew in a few more branches. Lastly, I added small color accents like those already in some spots, mostly red or blue, so they were distributed rhythmically around the painting.

Finished painting

"Road to Arroyo Seco"   11" x 14"  Oil


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"Old Hotel in Arroyo Seco"

Another day of my recent trip to Taos, New Mexico, we ventured to Arroyo Seco, a quaint hamlet that has colorful shops, cafes, and hotels on the main street and a church and adobes on the lanes to the north. Since this day was pretty warm, we looked for shade first, as I often do. If I'm comfortable, I paint better. I set up my easel just off the main road in the shade of several trees and it as foreground in this view of an old hotel. Its crisp white trim and adobe walls were nicely lit and there were trees on the near side that were morphing into autumn hues.

The first thing I discovered was that I was out of 11" x 14" Raymar canvas panels, but my dear friend Geri Acosta loaned me one of her Gessoboards. The surface of these boards is much more absorbent and the paint won't move around as well as I am used to, so I knew that I had two choices. Either paint broad and thin or paint thick enough to overcome the absorbency problem. I did a little of both. The foreground shadow was painted thinly and the building and trees got a heavier dose.  

Unfinished painting after plein air session

When I looked at the painting back in the studio, I felt the purple shadow was too strong and detracted from the rest of the painting. Additionally, the spot of light within the shadow jumped out too much. The dark accents were not well distributed and the work lacked contrast in the architecture. The tree tops on the left lacked interest and form.
Finished painting

""Old Hotel in Arroyo Seco"   11" x 14"  Oil

Working in the studio, I reinforced the lights and darks. I put darker lines at the eves and clearer and more carefully drawn shadows on the columns, downspout and balustrades. 

I wanted a better "storyline". A storyline is detectable in most strong works and is a line that leads the eye from side to side in the painting. It must not create a painting with two halves, but should traverse in an interesting way, letting the viewer's eye pass over it in places to explore the entire scene. I used this device from right to left along the front of the low adobe wall, by the front and side of the building, and through the shrubs and trees to the right.

I softened the top edges of the trees on the left, changing the value and color slightly to add form. Since the foreground shadow of the tree would have more blue reflection from the sky the farther it went from the base of the tree, I used that to temper the strong purple. Lastly, I darkened the light spot in the front shadow so it no longer grabbed the eye.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A New Series

Hi everyone. I've had a break and am happy to have something new to offer.

I have been painting on location more this fall, in Taos with Alla Prima International, and elsewhere, so I have a pile of partly finished paintings. I thought it might interest you to see the changes I make as I take a fresh look at the works and make changes to improve and complete the paintings.

To do this, I first look for faults in the composition. All the refinement in the world won't help if the composition is weak. Also, it is easier to make myself make big changes at this stage than after I've labored over its details.

Now, let's look at the first one.

The "Alla Prima Donnas", as Rose Hohenberger dubbed us - it's an all-female group, after all - went to the site of an old mission in Taos on this October day. I set up my easel for the first painting of the day near where we parked with a view of the back of the decaying structure. I was attracted to this tree just screaming its joy in the cooling weather, though only part of the tree was yellow. A single-rail fence marked the boundary for the parking area and a dip was between me and the yellow tree. This dip had tall weeds in shadow close to me and a railing for an unseen deck of the house that was out of the picture on the right. This railing would add structure to that area.

Unfinished painting after plein air session

As I evaluated the composition of the plein air work, I felt there was too strong a diagonal across the piece and decided to counter it, somehow. The yellow tree was painted as it was, with only the branch in its fall color, while the rest was still green. This looked as if the tree was unbalanced and about to topple to the right. The wall of the building had no windows or doors and offered nothing of interest for the viewer. Most of the lines in the composition lead to this building, but why go to a blank wall?

Finished painting

"Delivery" - Oil - 12" x 16"

To reconcile the leaning tree, I moved the calendar forward a bit and painted the entire tree yellow, the left-hand portion in shadow. I darkened the yellow leaves at the top of the painting and softened those edges. Since the big gap in the trees over the building looked improbable, I extended the foliage over that area. 
To describe the dip as a slope, I placed a figure of the correct size for the scale of the distant building as if he were walking up a path. His vertical form also broke that severe diagonal. Lastly, I added a window to the building, giving it more depth and interest.