Friday, January 25, 2013

A surprise and a lesson just around the bend

After living here in New Mexico for about two and a half years, I figured we had explored most of the area around here. Especially considering that we do take excursions when the mood strikes and we have nothing better to do than jump in the car or on the motorcycle. Wrong. There are gems all around this place.
This week a neighbor showed me the most delightful canyon, less than 7 miles from our house. It is hidden away and a local favorite of off-roaders, be they motorized or hoofed and saddled. If you feel like backpacking (not in this lifetime) there is actually running water further up from the canyon entrance. But the road farther in is very soft sand and treacherous to vehicles unless they are ATVs or the saddled variety. This canyon is called Saddle Rock, because there is a formation that looks very clearly like a saddle.
Saddle Rock and two riders
It was a delightful place to paint, one that is both secluded and having some recreational types around that seem to want to keep to themselves as well. So it was a major find in my book.  And though I don’t have 4 wheel drive vehicle, prudent driving keeps me safe and makes the most delightfully dramatic canyon views accessible.
Clock in of Saddle Rock area
Oil 8x10
I painted with this new painting friend. That is we are new in our acquaintance and she is new to painting. It takes a couple of shake down forays to work the kinks out and figure out what a body needs, so this was her virgin cruise so to speak. There was lots of frustration on her part, coupled with more than a few exasperated sighs, and flying paper towels. But she took home a painting that had a decent beginning and learned the value of wiping out and starting over. She also left with a list of a few items to take with her the next time and a major adjustment to her palette for stability. It’s the little things that make painting en plein air enjoyable, chasing down a palette and picking up dumped turps cups, not so much.
Finished study of Saddle Rock
Oil on Linen Prepared Board
It strikes me that painting is so very much like life itself. If you don’t like the results, you change your path, your plan, your mode of operating. There is no shame in that. It simply makes basic good sense. I told this friend of a workshop I took with David Leffel, who many consider one of our great living master painters. We watched David wipe out a very decent painting block in four times before he was happy with it. He refused to proceed until the beginning matched his concept. It didn’t come right away, he had to work at it. David Leffel, master painter, had to work at it. Even now in this stage of his career. That is one powerful message. And it was a revelation to me, to never be satisfied until the imagery matches the concept. That lesson alone was worth the price of the workshop.

I doubt I’ll have a new painting this week, as I am preparing for teaching a pastel workshop this coming Friday and Saturday. This workshop will be taught from a setup as well as a photo, and there are still the logistics of the studio to figure out and set up. This dual approach is for those who attend and work slowly, to enable them to finish the piece at home, while the setup will not be available to them. If there is any interest in this, I might blog about it. So tell me if you want to see it, I’d like to know.

Favorite quote:
‎"You will always get into trouble unless you design all the time when you are painting. Stop designing and you are in trouble. You are so fascinated with painting, with making the things to look like reality that you forget to design. The things themselves should be made only at the very end..."                                 (Frank Benson)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Painting in 27Degrees F

How do you know when a painting is done?
Some of the most well spoken, deliberate painting teachers I have ever known have stated, in effect, that a painting is done when you have realized the concept that drove its creation.
So obviously, I need to have a concept. What is this painting about? Is it a reaction to, and therefore my interpretation of visual input that lay before me? Or is it more the realization that I have followed and completed a self imposed series of tasks, in the creation of this work? If the work completes the concrete vision of its imagery in my mind, then it is done. Or is it?

January Morning Light
Oil - 8x10
Linen on Prepared birch board
I painted this past week, en plein air, with a set problem in my mind. I imposed a task that I try to do more with the temperature of color rather than its value. I depend quite heavily on value, and many painters do. There is a saying that goes “value does the work, but color gets the glory”. It is well known amid painting circles and widely remembered. Many teachers go so far as to say that as long as you get the value right, any color will do and the painting will read right. Value is the underrated workhorse that pulls the wagon. But knowing how a thing works makes you wonder if anything else would work as well. I have noticed that I am admiring paintings with a tighter value range than my own paintings have. I love when the artist keeps the value close but turns the object with the warmth and then the relative coolness of the color of an object.
So I tried that with this painting, ‘January Morning Light’. This is my attempt to do that in a landscape study. I think I might be more successful in a still life where the shadows are not so fleeting, where I can control the lighting. Plein air does not lend itself so easily to slow considered color judgments, when value is so nearby, a steady and trusted work ally. Especially as you try so hastily to capture the wandering lights and shadows as the sun races across the sky.

Again, how do you know when a painting is done?
I say it’s when you cannot feel your toes and you have been out in 27 degree temps and the painting looks close to darned well finished.

Fav quote:
An artist is not paid for his labor, but for his vision.                                                                                      (James Abbot McNeill Whistler)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

January Can Brace the Soul

Beginning Burbling Brook Trail
January usually has a thaw about mid month. We had ours for two days this week. So a new painting friend and I went down into the canyon and up the far side to a lovely secluded spot. There were very few vehicles, but we did meet one resident walker, who was very interested in what we were doing. My friend did not paint. It was her first time out and she observed. She will be painting in the house tomorrow and I anticipate a call about the time she gets either totally excited or totally frustrated. Its fun watching a newbie take their first steps. And we got to hear donkeys and mules braying at the early morning light. You can’t hear that in midtown San Diego!

Blocking in color areas
While we were out, I did get one painting done. It’s a view looking West from the top of Fleming Tank Road. It took me much longer than I normally paint as there were lots of questions about the process. This sight is on Burbling Brook Road. Show me the brook. I never saw it. There are water related names out here and sometimes you just have to wonder what these people were drinking when they named something. Now Whiskey Creek I understand in a mining town. But, Burbling Brook, when the closest water is over 800 feet down?

Trying to catch the light - Shadows are moving about very quickly
I think that I did a good job covering the surface and in some places chose to let the toned canvas be the surface even at finish. And I tried to use pigments that I normally don’t. I used a brilliant turquoise and a rock your socks cadmium orange to get some mixes, and I did get the far greenish yellow hills spot on in value and color. The recession is good even with the darker range of the far Burro mountains. They are darker, covered in pinions, even though experience tells me that aerial recession is usually lighter and bluer. Sometimes nature hands you unexpected surprises, like that far dark mountain range. So I painted what I saw.

Burbling Brook Trail
Oil 11x14 Available on my website
I did find that talking my way through a painting made me remember stuff that I ordinarily do just by habit. And the ‘why’ of it. Having to explain my working methods made me pause and find the right terminology and give reasons why I do things in a certain order or at all. Her questions are making me validate, in my own mind, my process, and that is a good thing.
We are back to temps in the teens, and it is darned cold if you are standing in the wind. Our only snow is in small patches left in areas that do not get the afternoon sun.

I am now engrossed in setting up a studio still life for the pastel workshop I am doing in February. That will not be plein air and I need to do a pre-stage drawing. It will need to be simplified and dramatically lit. Should be fun.  It’s good to mix it up. 

Favorite quote:
An artist is no bigger than the size of his mind.                                                                 (Jack Shadbolt

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New Year - New Site!

New Years brings with it a host of good intentions, that we will do something positive in our lives. It also makes us take stock of what we need and are in a position to change. It is important to many of us to use this milestone as a mile marker on our journey that here, with intent, we altered our course.
I did that today. I finally put up a new website. My old one had ceased to function, and seemed to be a portal for enhancement products that I would never try or need. I tried to filter the allowed messages from that site, to no avail. So I had not updated it in a dog’s age. It was an embarrassment in an age where we are often judged by our digital selves. My kids thought it was good, but hey, they have never had a purely dispassionate view of what I do anyhow.

So I took some of my paintings, a few that didn’t turn out too horrifically, and populated a canned website, rather than going through the ordeal of making another flash driven site. How on earth did I ever find the time before to do all that? My blog will continue to talk about the process, and to dismember the efforts and to discuss the trials of painting, especially plein air. But this new website will be a window for most of the world to see, and through it, maybe own one of my pieces. It’s really a showcase rather than an artist’s ramblings, as is this place. Now I had to look at them in a body. The better to compare them?
I find I paint things predictably the same. I am now making a new New Year’s vow (having fulfilled my first one with the creation of my new site) to try to mix it up some. To not paint so safely, to take more chances and be willing to trash more than I keep, so I can GROW as an artist. That has always been the goal. To have someone look at one of my paintings and appreciate it emotionally, is a real bonus, one I never expect. For someone to really ‘get’ what I am saying in paint and canvas is the ultimate compliment. I often use painting as an affirmation of my appreciation of life itself, and a way to say thank you for that life. 

To consciously try to change one’s painting direction is not the same as trying to alter one’s personal style. I really have never tried to achieve a style, (says the lady who wears sweats to the point where I forget where I put my regular clothes). I think that painting is as personal as handwriting, that the message distilled by our brains is hardwired in a certain way. And because it is unique, it is translated very specifically as our own. I believe our own styles advance as we mature as artists. We find our own vocabulary and phraseology in this language of art. I am still learning to refine the message. I hope to never feel the consummate communicator. To feel that way would be to die artistically.

Rage against stagnancy. Revel in the mystery and opportunity. These are resolutions 2 and 3. Happy New Year!
Favorite quote:
My role as an artist is to be honest with myself, so that I make Art that is solely mine. I have no illusions that what I do does or will matter to anyone other than me in the end. Not to slight those who collect it, and compliment me on it, that’s an honor that I never discount. When Art is your life, however, you live it, breath it, are up and down with it. If I stay true to myself and honestly evaluate what and how I’m creating it, then all of the other factors will fall into the place that they belong, whatever that may be.
(Marc Hanson) during an interview for OPA(Oil Painters of America)