Thursday, October 20, 2011

Autumn Workshop

I've recently returned from an interesting and fantastic trip to Nova Scotia. I am in the process of writing about that experience and it will become my next post. This past weekend, I taught a plein air workshop in my hometown of Woodstock CT and I want to write about it today.

This workshop is an annual one to paint the Autumn color. This year, apparently due to Hurricane Irene dropping a ton of rain on us, which had a lot of salt in it from the ocean, the color is not as spectacular as I had hoped for. As a painter though, I am not really interested in a cacophony of bright colors all competing for a place on the canvas. A little bit of intense color goes a long way. We as painters, have the opportunity to tone down the color a bit to create harmony and we can brighten color where it is needed to help to create a focal point. If a painting is all full of bright color, nothing gets heard over all that loud noise. A canvas like this is hard to look at. For the person who is taking a scenic drive or walk, the bright colors can be cheerful and fun to take in. Hand that same viewer a painting done of this same scene done verbatim and he won't feel the same about it.

Harry Ballinger said in his landscape book that the peak of Autumn harmonized better when painted on an overcast day or could be better unified when painted in a back-lit situation. These are excellent points to consider. I personally prefer to paint the early Autumn color or late Autumn when the trees have lost a lot of their leaves and I can see through the foliage. A scene like this attracts me because their is still some bit of Autumn color that plays off the beautiful purple tones that make up the distance.

This was a three day workshop. Students were given the option of participating  for one, two or all three days. Everyone liked having these options and I am considering doing more of this. I would love to hear feedback. It appears that everyone has such busy lives these days and although someone may want to register, they can't always make the commitment for the full number of days. Students who came for just one day of this Autumn Workshop were very pleased with this option and confided that they got a lot out of the one day. One student said that she was taking home a lot of new ideas.

On the first day we had an extremely rainy day and I brought everyone into the studio for the day. This makes the most sense on a day like this. There are plenty of points to discuss about the painting process and an indoor demo is always well received by students. I chose a photo reference of a complicated scene that had a lot of potential for a good painting but needed some thought behind the final idea. I am reminded about a James Whistler quote: "To say to the painter that Nature is to be taken as she is, is to say to the player that he may sit on the piano!"

In the name of 'simplicity' I made some changes as I composed the painting. As part of the 'less is more' belief system that I have, it is my sincere hope to get at something in the simplifying of a subject that will say and feel more about that subject than the subject itself. It doesn't always happen, but when it does it is special. It's why I paint. Here is another quote, this time by Thomas Eakins: 'In mathematics the complicated things are reduced to simple things. So it is in painting.' And Albert Einstein said, 'Out of clutter, find simplicity'. And the kicker of them all is this one, also by Einstein: 'Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.' Eureka! Now THAT is what painting is all about!

I'm putting up some images of the indoor demo and also one of the outdoor demos. In the first demo you can easily see the changes compared to the photo reference. I played up the size of the larger building and played down the size of the barn to the left. I did this for the sake of balance. If things are too similar in size, they cancel each other out. The big describes the small and the small describes the big. Emile Gruppe was a master of this idea. I avoided some of the clutter of the hodgepodge of trees to the right and gave the viewer some room to see beyond. I exaggerated the angle of the shadow to the left and also the dark shape near the stone wall, all for the sake of getting the viewer into the picture. I toned the linen canvas with raw sienna and then I blocked in the painting with raw sienna and a hint of purple. I wanted to show the relationship of the big shapes and to strike a well composed balance with my dark and light pattern. This my 'big idea'. I always think about someone saying..Hey! What's the big idea? ..The big idea in a painting is what makes the painting work. It holds it all together.

Here is an outdoor demo that I painted on Sunday morning. This was a quick one and I really stressed the importance of the big relationships.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Maine Experience - Part 2

I have been travelling for weeks, teaching and painting in Maine and in Canada. I've had no real access to the Internet, so my idea of keeping up with my blog in real time has just been impossible. I apologize for such a delay in posting, and now plan to get caught up and post on a regular basis again. Thanks for being patient with my travels!

Here is part two of my painting trip to Stonington Maine. It includes good info about making the most of a painting trip and I hope you find it useful.

Pacing myself on any painting trip is important. I think there is a logical rhythm to it that if adhered to will make for a successful time. I used to go on painting trips and try to paint EVERYTHING. Then after a few days, I was exhausted and would find later that I could have done better if I had slowed down the pace and had spent the time to think more about my subject matter. In the book, A Sense of Place: The Artist And The American Land, by Alan Gussow, there are wonderful essays that explore the complex relationship between the artist and the landscape. I highly recommend this book as a way to understand how important it is to connect with whatever it is you are painting.

Here is a link.

For me on this trip to Deer Isle, I arrived late on a Monday night after an 8 hour drive. I had six full days to get work done. I had to talk to myself and resist the urge to jump out of bed that first morning and attempt to  try and paint everything and anything under the sun. I have learned to pay particular attention to spending some time just looking and thinking before diving into painting. Armed with a decent digital camera and a sketch book, I like to rise early and spend time photographing and making thumbnail drawings of what I am seeing. It is all part of becoming familiar with a place. Doing this, I get a sense in this particular case about how really big this harbor is and how many boats are always coming and going. I learn that the lobster boats head out about 4:30 A.M. and start returning to unload their catch around 11:30 A.M. This goes on all day until around 5 or 6 P.M. Lobster boats return and unload at 4 different docks. As the day goes on, it becomes a real dance. One boat comes in, while several others weave and bob while waiting their turn and so on. After they unload, the lobstermen head back to their mooring spot to tie up their boat and then come back in on their skiffs. It all becomes part of the big dance. On the docks, several men are helping to unload the catch. Here is a picture that I think will help get the point across about how dance-like this all is.

All the while, I am snapping picture after picture and making some quick drawings. I'm excited by all that I am seeing and I really can't wait to paint. All day long I have painted numerous ideas in my mind. Seeing a painting in your minds eye is half the battle and can produce some well executed paintings. I'm like a hunter/gatherer. I want to come home with some good paintings but I also want many more ideas for future paintings that can be worked on later on in the studio.

On this trip I had a weather forecast that called for an entire week of sunny weather. The tides were also in my favor and my trip was planned with the tide charts in mind. I want to paint the docks and the boats when the tide is at it's lowest or at least somewhere inbetween low and high tide. Painting at the highest tide would be of importance if my goal was to paint surf, but for this subject matter, painting it at high tide would not excite me. All week long, I had a low tide in the early morning and then again in the late afternoon or very early evening. It was picture perfect.

With that being said, let me reiterate a point here. I came home with many paintings. I came back with numerous drawings and a lot of photo references, but I mostly came back with IDEAS. Now I am looking forward to spending the time to paint a cohesive body of solid work from what I've done out there.

George Carpenter used to tell me that I should hold onto more of my outdoor work in order to make more and better work from them. Especially with the idea of going bigger. This is precisely what I am doing more and more of. I spend about half my week painting outside and the other half hunkered down in my studio.

Here are a few of the quick paintings I did on location. These images will give you an idea of the varied subject matter and the feel of Stonington Maine.