Saturday, December 31, 2011

What have you learned in 2011?

Okay, I'll go first....What have I learned in 2011? I know - a daunting question. But I find it helpful to try to boil it down to the essence...just like a good painting! And, I always like to look back and find the leaps, and even baby steps, that I've made. After all, if life is a journey, I want to recognize forward momentum and celebrate it! Great motivation for the New Year...

Luckily, there are many possible answers that come to mind. But to keep it simple, my answer on the art front is...Composition. I concentrated a lot of effort on that concept in 2011. No, I didn't learn it all (with art you never do!). Can't check that one off and move on. But I do feel I made good strides by taking it to another level in my brain processing.

With my Yellowstone Squared project, I stayed conscious of focusing on good compositions  - and I did a lot of plein air painting which strengthens the 'composition muscle'. A sampling of my Yellowstone Squared paintings....

Sure, there are rules about good design that you can lean on, and that's a good place to start. But acquiring that innate sense helps immensely. Especially in plein air painting, where speed, along with a myriad of other aspects, are all calling for your attention. 

I've read many books on composition and the theories are vast - but the basics hold true through them all. Here are some of the basic rules to lean on as you exercise that "composition muscle"...

 - Look for diversity in spacing and shapes - same is boring and feels stiff. Every shape you create and place on your canvas makes both a positive shape and a negative shape, be aware of both as you try to create diversity and harmony.
 - Watch putting your center of interest right in the middle. (It can be done successfully, but if you choose to try it, go in with a plan.)
 - Don't put anything too compelling close to the edges of your canvas. You could easily lose your viewer. You want to guide your viewer's eye around the painting, not right off the edge.
 - Watch the strong shapes and lines within your painting - none should create an awkward tangent (meeting of the two), divide your canvas in half or take you right out of the picture. (Again, it can be done, but know the rules before you choose to break them, so you can make a plan to address the issues.)

Composition is vital - without a pleasing design, you cannot have a successful painting. Period. It's that important. It's hard to appreciate those great colors, when the composition is too awkward to get past. And rearranging major elements in your painting is not easily fixed later on.

So, with the importance of design in mind, I'll post a follow-up demonstration on composition tomorrow to kick off the New Year in a 'good composition' direction. Remember, a good design is the foundation of a great painting!

Take a moment to recognize (and celebrate!)
your leaps and bounds this year -
or even those baby steps.
They all add up...

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Warm snow?

Yes, to painters there is such a thing!

I thought I'd touch on a technical (and somewhat challenging) aspect of painting...warm colors vs. cool colors...color temperature.

The knowledge and proficiency a painter possesses of color temperature can make a HUGE difference in a painting. And this time of year, when I'm tackling snow, I'm thinking about color temperature a lot! The temperature shifts in snow can be subtle, but if you don't get them, snow and snow shadows won't work. It's definitely a leap when color temperature is assimilated into a painter's brain.

For a while, I remember understanding the concept on a rote basis. But it hadn't REALLY sunk in. Then, the 'ah ha' moment, when I realized - 'I got it'! It had finally sunk into the depth of my brain. It was working on a different level. Then, it was just a matter of practice. Now, I really enjoy the concepts of warm vs. cool in my paintings.

Here's a primer....
Many people understand that red is considered a warmer color than green. So in painter terms, viridian (a green) is cooler than alizarin crimson (a red). Okay, got that. BUT, alizarin crimson is a cool color when compared to cadmium red. IT'S ALL RELATIVE. You can't judge a color, unless you have something to compare it too. So that means...even a red can be cool. Or a blue, warm.

The quality of light also ranges from warm to cool - warmer light on a sunny day, cooler on an overcast day. A landscape painter must be sensitive to this quality in order to capture the feeling and mood of the day. And generally, a landscape also cools in the distance, so it can really complicate matters - or, make for a lot of fun - depending on how you look at it.

Below is a plein air sketch to illustrate my point. I was over near the Northeast entrance of Yellowstone the other day, following up of a tip from a friend. Three bull moose had been spotted hanging out together. She had photos, and I was hoping to get some of my own.

No sign of the moose (except LOTS of foot prints), so I thought I'd do a painting while I waited. Sometimes when I stand there quietly for a couple hours, wildlife passes by. No such luck this time. They never did 'show up', but I enjoyed my warm and cool practice....

plein air study - oil

detail of snow to show warm and cool color transitions
(Can you see the warmer blues and cooler blues within the shadows of the snow?)

my scene with my easel set up
Our Yellowstone Zoo -
Photos from out the windows of our gallery....
I missed some great eagle shots out the windows yesterday, but this elk cooperated.
a bull elk wandering through Yellowstone National Park
(notice the warm spots where the sun hits the elk and the cool of the snow in the shadows underneath him)

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Tribe

While we were out of town we went to see the Russian Moscow Ballet perform. Amazing - how singularly devoted to their art they are. To be at that level takes immense focus and effort - it permeates their life. I have the utmost respect for the effort they had to put in to become such fabulous dancers.

Also, while we were out of town, in a small coastal shop in Oregon, I saw a book published in 1929 by Borlase Smart. A painter (and plein air devotee) from Cornwall England - The Technique Of Seascape Painting. Had to pick that one up. I love some of those old art instruction books from the serious artists of the past - often having little hidden gems of knowledge tucked in the pages from another generation. And in this case, another nation. Can't miss out on that.

I appreciate an artists' effort to pass on their thoughts about art. Borlase Smart worked hard at his craft. Took it very seriously. And wanted to promote the creation of art based on art principles that stand the test of time. I admire that. I wonder if it crossed his mind that artists, across the ocean, in 2011 would still be affected by his words?

In Portland Oregon, we headed to Powell's Books - a really large bookstore that is a favorite destination for us in that area. Of course, we headed to the Art & Architecture section to peruse. much knowledge on those shelves. So many others who have gone before us, and taken a similar path.

From my last post, you know in Spokane Washington, we headed to the Northwest Museum of Art to see the Impressionist exhibit. (see my last post about that show).

Then I realized - that's my tribe! ALL of the above. I hear a lot about 'my tribe' anymore and this one is mine.

I, too, have art permeating my life. Just like the dancers and the artists of the past. I understand the devotion it takes and the hours of unseen effort. The permeation into your entire life - until you realize it IS your life. Yes, even on "vacation" - what do we do?...try to soak up art. Try to learn more.

I drag along my paints and plein air paint any chance I get - "on vacation". It's not a job. It's a skill that takes an enormous focus and effort to keep building and improving upon. And it takes a certain amount of sacrifice and a lot of hard work to do that.

No, it's not always easy, as it may appear from outside the tribe. The others that have gone before me and walked a similar path, spur me on. I hope I will do the same. They know the effort it takes quite well. They get it. You definitely have to be willing to do the hard work, even sometimes when you don't feel like it. And a lifetime isn't even enough.

We don't go "on vacation", since our job is always with us. The desire to improve and learn more, always deep inside churning away. Always driving me to set up my easel and paint.

So we're back home now, refreshed from new scenes and experiences. With renewed enthusiasm, I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and keep painting in the trenches - because that's just what my tribe does.