November 6, 2016

Keep it Simple !

My Croatia tour was wonderful!  The weather, the people, the students - I had an amazing time.  And painting wise, it was a target rich environment.

This little study was done on sight in Orevic, a small coastal village in Croatia.  We tumbled off the Korcula ferry and painted in this small village on two separate days.  Figures in paintings are not my typical subject matter, but the sun was very warm, so we sought out shady spots, and this is what presented.

I have always found it quite fascinating, this process of editing down when plein air painting.  Less IS always more.  To paint everything is not possible, but if you edit down to the essential elements, the eye and the human brain seems to take great delight in figuring out the details for themselves.

In a previous blog entitled "The Devil is in the Details"  I discussed this concept of editing down, particularly on location, because of having a very limited amount of time to paint.  In this quick study you can see how detail is suggested as opposed to being rendered literally.  Big shapes are accurate, small shapes are limited and abstracted - and it reads.

As fall sets in, my memories are taking me back to those sun - drenched shores, and painting adventures that included cappucinos, more than a few cold beers, and the company of some wonderful painters.  I'll post a few sunny paintings in the weeks to come to help keep you warm. :)

Meanwhile, back in Canada, I will be doing a warm, indoor painting workshop entitled "Oils, Fast and Fresh".  It will be all about making light filled paintings indoors, painting wet in wet oils.  The information is below:

What:  Oils Fast and Fresh
Where:  Gallery 204, Langley BC
When:  Dec 2,3, and 4th
Cost: $275
Class limit: 12
cell: 250-804-5295

Paint on pilgrims!

August 10, 2016

Capturing the Light

This is my most recent studio piece, a 30X40" oil of a scene captured in the Great Bear Rain Forest, northern BC. I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk to you  creating the illusion of light.

I often hear this question from students:  "Why can't  I get the light into my paintings?".  It is what many artists yearn for and often find baffling.  There is this wonderful alchemy that can created by the juxtaposition of paint mixtures on canvas that can create the amazing illusion of light.

 I have good news and bad news for those of you that pose this question.  The good news is that capturing the illusion of light in your paintings is really pretty simple.  The bad news is that simple does not mean easy.

Light dances, bounces and leaps.  It is the most ephemeral of elements in the landscape. It describes form, atmosphere, and surface within the structure of your painting.  Here's the simple part:  get the color, value, and temperature relationships right, and you have captured the light.  Viola.  Presto.  Abracadabra.

Here's the part that is not easy:  you have to get them VERY right.  Comparing the relationships between these elements and transferring those observations on to your canvas takes a good eye (which comes from practice)  and a great deal of focus.  If  the tonal value is not quite right, it won't read.  If color temperature is off, you will miss the mark also.

  Painting well takes as much effort and concentration as your best chess game.  If you want to get better at it,  you must bring your "A" game level of effort and concentration to your painting sessions.  And practice....a lot.  There is no way to escape the easel hours required.

  Hold the results lightly; if you get it wrong,  your eye will tell you.  Try to articulate what it is you got wrong and repaint  rather than indulging in self-deprecation which is a luxury you can't afford.  It will drain you of your mojo.

Pay attention to what you are seeing and what you are doing,  and the Force shall be with you. Always.


June 24, 2016

More Plein Air Advice....

Great Bear Islet, 8X10"

Boy, I just never seem to get tired of talking about my plein air lessons.  I hope you, dear readers are not yet wearied by my extensive pontifications. 

 When I say "my plein air lessons" I am not talking about formal lessons that I receive, but rather the informal lessons that mother nature doles out to me on a regular basis.  Every time I set up, there is the potential for a total  ass-whoopin'.

This is a scene from my amazing trip into the Great Bear Rainforest in northern BC.  Such rare beauty - and unusual conditions.

Here's a few things that this painting taught me:
1. Clouds change faster than the tide does
2. Clouds don't necessarily drift - they can go poof into non existense in the time it takes to mix your next puddle.
3. Tides change faster than you expect them to
4. Set up your gear where the sand is dry....that will give you an indication of where the high tide line is.
5. Arriving on site with a tidal schedule is a prudent move.
6. Reflective water surfaces can change in a nano second, depending on the wind (and the tide, of course)

Cloud were sketched in hastily with a few marks to show me the shapes as I initially saw them, because I know they would change within the space of a few minutes.  I painted them in a little later, but drew them immediately.

Next I drew in the islet and reflection, blocking in large masses quickly.  I painted the reflection first just in case a breeze rose and took that information away.  I thought the tide was going out - but alas, it was coming in.  I had to move my gear to higher ground TWICE.  That wasted some valuable painting time.  Still, my gear got a little wet around the edges.  When the beach slope is shallow, the tide comes in faster.  Waaaaaay faster.  Note to self.

I never cease to be humbled by how great a teacher these situations are, and the thrill of the chase engages me as few other things do. 

Next weekend (July 2,3)  I will be teaching plein air in the lower mainland, and I still have a couple spots left - touch base if you are feeling intrepid .  CLICK HERE for details.  Scroll to "Plein Air Essentials" and read all about it.

Till next time, then.  Keep that paint flying!


June 6, 2016

Extreme Painting

Look closely....see all those black flies?   These are the ones that didn't get to bite me!

Painting in progress - I will have to do some tweaking in the studio.

Facing into the wind as it kept the flies at bay.

The scene beyond the painting

Here are some photos from my painting trek yesterday.  I thought, seeing as we are heading into plein air season here in Canada, that you might be interested to hear about my adventure.

I am up in Smithers - and it is amazingly beautiful here.  My painting buddy Poppy suggested a hike to the top of this mountain (with full painting gear, of course).  Poppy is super fit - I am not, which became painfully clear as the hike progressed.   It was a slog for me, and I was drenched in sweat by the time we reached the top (bugs are attracted to sweat)  but the vista was worth it.  

Bugs.  OMG.  Hungry bugs. Not just mosquitos but black flies.  Typically when painting I search for a spot out of the wind - on this trek I searched for a spot where the wind was whipping, thereby making it harder for the bugs to find their target.  They like your eyes - I can't stand hair in my eyes while doing anything, particularly painting, but my bangs were protecting my eyes somewhat.  I thought about putting my sunglasses on, but I had already stepped on them with my hiking boots, so....

I couldn't set up facing my scene because of the angle of the sun.  My palette was in the sun, and support in the shade, which is not good.   Too windy to set up an umbrella, so I painted with the scene to my right, with the wind whipping in my face.  The wind was strong enough I had to weight my box.

The bugs kept landing in my paint - and although I respect all life forms, I chose to paint through.  The bugs are actually immortalized in my painting.  :/

The conditions were a huge distraction to the painting process, but dealing with those conditions forces a level of focus.  No time for daydreaming, get down the essential stuff as quickly as possible. The wind is howling and the bugs are a-biting.

Plein air adventures are not usually this challenging - and despite the bugs, wind, and heavy pack on a steep hike, I had a GREAT time.  How amazing to have the excuse to spend the entire day someplace this beautiful.  Arriving home I had a sense of having sucked the marrow out of the day - and a cold cider never tasted better.

I wish you all many such adventures!

Speaking of plein air adventures:


Where: Langley area
When: July 2,3, and 9, 10 ( two subsequent weekends)
Price: $350

April 14, 2016

Field Sketch vs. Photo Reference

Spring Overflow 36"X24" Oil

This is a studio painting rendered with the help of a field sketch and a photo reference.

Both the field sketch and the photo reference have their purpose.  And both present challenges.

The field sketch pros:  a sense of place is experienced that helps inform the studio painting; the water movement, the feeling in the air, the energy, the entire experience of standing in front of a waterfall for an hour or two with the light spray, the sound, the vibration.  In addition, the ability to use my eyes and record subtle temperature changes in the areas of extreme light and dark is invaluable.  The camera just can't do the same job.

cons:  the water just keeps moving....very hard to paint shapes accurately when they are constantly changing.  This was a narrow gorge and the light changed very quickly also, so no time to really finish rendering all that needed rendering. Also, I was getting cold.  brrrrr........

The photo reference pros:
A chance to really study the beautiful shapes that tumbling water creates.  Also, I have time to drink my coffee while painting and listening to music.  No changing light....

cons:  the tendency to paint a moment "frozen" in time....the temptation to paint a "frozen" waterfall - meaning hard edges where soft edges should appear to indicate rapid movement.  It would be doing this fine waterfall a disservice for sure if I were to paint it that way. Things that are in constant motion often look like they are painted from a photo reference when the photo reference is the only reference used.  Artists sometimes succumb to the temptation to put in waaaay more detail than is needed, just because they can.   It does take some experience and skill to avoid that look to your paintings.

I hope you will take some time now that spring is here to do some painting on location.

In service of shortening your learning curve, let me tell you what I have on the horizon workshop wise:

For info on any or all of these CLICK HERE

Plein Air Essentials, four days in the lower mainland in July
Painting the Landscape in Croatia, ten days in Croatia on the island of Korcula,  this Sept 13-22
Painting the Landscape in Oils (using photo reference), August in  Gibsons, BC

Also check out the Opus Art Supplies website for a talk and demo on plein air that I will be giving, coming up mid-May.

All the best, and happy painting.  Hope to see you out there - somewhere!