Sunday, January 22, 2012

I paint WHAT???.....

very old, dead fish in a jar - in discolored liquid.

frog skins and their storage box

An old rusty bucket

very old snakes in a jar - with ropes around their necks!

a dead loon with a tag

'cause I can - is how the saying goes....
But for me, 'cause I can, is because I do.

What that recent posts about warm vs. cool, the color of snow and shadow, the subtle differences in value, etc. etc. Whether I'm plein air painting a gorgeous mountain scene in Yellowstone National Park or dead snakes in a jar...It's all the same.

Yes, the above objects are all in the collection of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center. They have intriguing stories, interesting history and are part of Yellowstone's amazing heritage. But, they are also interesting shapes and colors - ripe for the painting...and learning.

What we are painting are shapes and colors. If they are interesting shapes and colors, or an interesting enough subject to you to motivate you to pull out those brushes - do it. It will all transfer. If you learn to really see and then record what you are seeing in paint, you can paint anything. (Yes, even metal, glass, water, a portrait, a plein air landscape....all those things that many people consider "hard".)

All we're doing is learning to see and translate that vision into paint on canvas. Do not have a preconceived notion of what you are painting. Don't decide a tree is green or water is hard, before you paint. LOOK at it as shapes and colors - NOT trees, grass, mountains, water, and snow...or even dead loons, snakes in a jar or rusty buckets. Different light, different weather conditions, etc. make objects appear differently. Wipe your brain slate clean and just look at it. Paint what you see.

It's all just shapes and colors. (I know I keep saying that - But that's the point I'm trying to get across.) If you can nail the colors and put the right shape in the right place on your canvas, it will appear correct - weather it's a person's face or frog skins.

Here's a recent painting I've been working on....
Pronghorn study - 6" x 6"

Just like our recent snowy landscape / plein air studies we discussed in earlier posts... Look at the white fur in the shadows. (Just like the white snow in those earlier discussions.) Compare the values of the white fur in the shadows to the light on the bushes. That white fur is a darker value than the bushes. It is NOT "white". And it's cooler. (Sound familiar from our snow discussions?)

Cool colors in those shadows, control the values when compared to the background. It's the same principles working here as the snow in a plein air painting. Learn to see that, and you'll learn to see it all!

So, why do I paint dead fish in a jar? Because it all crosses over to make me a better all round painter. I'm adding to my knowledge of painting shapes and colors. Honing that visual skill. The more I paint and the more variety I throw at myself, the better a painter I will become.

Paint the salt shaker on your table, your cat, your children, your foot, whatever hits you - they are all shapes and colors...notches in the rung of the learning curve. Keep a curious air of discovery and you will enjoy painting anything.

And if you keep your brushes moving... when you go outside to plein air paint, where the information bombards you and time is of the essence, the neurons will remember some of that shape and color information and translate it into the current problem solving on canvas. And "Wa-La", it got just a little easier.

Our Yellowstone Zoo
- photos from the windows of our gallery....

We see many pronghorn (often called antelope) out our windows. Fastest land animal in North America. Amazing creatures. (Hence the study above of "the neighbors".)

This photo I took a couple days ago. Not my best pronghorn photo, but it is a good example of light and shadow on them. Notice the strong difference of value from their white fur in the sunlight to the white fur in the shadow. If you can see that, all that is left is to translate that into paint on your canvas. Luckily, we have a lifetime to hone that one!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Snow is NOT white

At least to an artist - snow is NOT white. Remember our earlier discussion of warm vs. cool? Thought I'd reinforce the point, add a little bit to that discussion  - AND throw in some new points on VALUE (lighter vs. darker). After all, it's a great time of year to talk about painting snow!

A photo I took out the windows this morning at sunrise...
Sunrise begins on Electric Peak in Yellowstone National Park
(Yes, I really do get to see this every morning out my windows. And yes, we still appreciate it!)

Look closely at the colors of the snow - where the sun is just beginning to touch the mountain (Electric Peak) the snow is warm - NOT just white.

AND, the lightest VALUE in the image. VALUE has nothing to do with color - which can be confusing. Color can be pretty 'showy' (especially at sunrise!) and get in the way of judging value. Ignore the color and think of it as a black and white photograph. Squint if you have to - it helps. You'll see the lightest area is that sunlit snow. But it is not white.

White is the coolest color on the palette. Therefore, you cannot use just white if you want that sunlit area to look right. It needs to have a warm feel. You would have to add a touch (a very small touch!) of warm colors to white - something like cadmium orange would work.

Then look at the snow on the mountain where the shadow begins...cooler AND a darker value. Here I'd go to a purple...depending on your palette, something like cobalt blue and alizarin crimson with white.

While we're talking about VALUE....notice how similar the VALUE is of the snow in shadow and the sky. If you can't see that, use your finger to cover over the sunlit spot of snow. This one is very subtle - but to differentiate the two, look hard for a color variance to define each. Compare them. What is the difference??...DO NOT READ ON UNTIL YOU HAVE TRIED TO SEE THE DIFFERENCE FOR YOURSELF!!

What I see on my monitor....The snow is ever so slightly more purple (has more red - making it a bit warmer) and the sky is slightly more blue (cooler) when you compare the two. 

If we were painting this picture, not only do you need to get the warm vs. cool right, but you'll need to get the value right as well - so that it reads as snow in the sunlight and snow in the shadows. Then there's composition, and drawing, get the idea. Painting has a lot for your brain to assimilate all at once - remember challenging yourself is good!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hangin' with the bison...

Well, I was actually painting - the bison were hangin'. You can't beat an outing in Yellowstone when the weather is glorious and the bison are plentiful. And in winter, you get the place to yourself. A good day was had by all - myself and the bison.

Some photos from my painting excursion...

My chosen painting perch. I liked the aspens in the shadow and sun light.

More of the bison herd as seen from my 'perch'.

My painting on my easel....12" x 12" oil

The wind was calm and the sun was strong. The bison seemed quite comfortable too...
Winter plein air painting doesn't get much better than this.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Composition / Design

Since good design is the foundation of a great painting, it's the perfect subject to begin the year with. We definitely want to start off with a strong foundation!

So with that in mind, I thought I'd follow up with my latest painting from the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center...
My subject - a traveler's trunk in the collection on the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center.
If design is a pleasing arrangement of the elements - this one has a lot of elements to choose from! And that is exactly what I think is important when contemplating your design - the elimination of all but the essential components to make your statement. So what are my essential components??

First, I pay attention to what 'catches my eye' right off the bat. Shapes and colors are often what does it for me, and this subject is filled with them! It will definitely need to be a bold painting.

The details of the trunk were very interesting, but the whole was entirely too overwhelming to create a strong composition. I focus on what I'm interested in within the subject...I chose a corner with the metal straps and locks. That's what caught my eye - great shapes, color contrast and interest for the painting.

Then, what ideas do I want to convey in my painting? It's about Yellowstone, so the bold Yellowstone Park sticker would create a nice prominent contrast with the blue background.

To round out my design, I need some 'supporting players'...the other stickers offer different shapes and colors that would add to the whole without overwhelming the main characters. Maybe cut them off or subordinate them in some way so they don't compete too strongly for attention.

I remind myself to keep it simple, so it makes a strong statement. Don't try to say everything, it'll be too watered down.

Now that I've choose the elements that support my idea, I need to arrange those elements in a pleasing way on my canvas. (Following the basic compositional rules I laid out in my post yesterday.)

On my easel at the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center with the trunk in the background. At this point, all essential shapes are laid in and the tonal values are established.
For me, composition was what this one was about. I had an entire trunk to choose from, but I had to compose it down to my 12" x 12" canvas. Lots of decisions (and eliminations!), had to be made.

A couple compositional notes to point out:

The diversity rule in action (from yesterday's post) - Notice the black strap running behind the metal locks. Each section of the black strapping is a different length. I consciously planned those shapes to create diversity within the positive and negative shapes of the painting.

My 'supporting players' (the subtle stickers at the lower section of the painting), although not my stars, the painting would be much less interesting without them. Cover that section over with your fingers and see what I mean? So composition isn't all about the 'stars', you need those secondary players too.

After those decisions were made and the elements placed, it's all down hill from here....
My finished painting....

Traveler's Trunk - a detail from an artifact in the collection of the Yellowstone Heritage and Research Center
12" x12" oil