January 16, 2017

The Importance of Nuance

Cold Day, Warm Light, oil on canvas, 9X12"

 Oh my great gosh was it cold out this day!    My fingers were freezing and I only got to take one shot before my phone said "no more - too cold to function".   I was cross country skiing in -23, and I was finding it too cold to function also.  You guessed it - this was NOT painted plein air.  Too cold, not just for me, but for the oil paint which becomes tar-like in these kinds of temperatures!  The reference was taken up Hudson Bay Mountain in beautiful Smithers BC where I am currently visiting my good friend Poppy.

  We have been discussing the importance of nuance in painting, and this piece seems like a good study in that, so I thought I would share our discussion with you.

The ability to see and to paint nuance in visual art,  is developed over many many hours of practice.   It comes after all the "big" information, like the placement of large shapes, drawing,  and value and color relationships in the large areas.  It  often makes the difference between a mediocre result and a much stronger result.

  In a painting like the small study above, the small distinctions between values and colors that are close together are pivotal in creating a strong sense of light.   Here, a slight bump towards violet, or gold, or blue to describe the relationships in the shadows and the light was important to translate; also the changes from soft edges to slightly harder edges were key.

Bounced light has to have a value that keeps it in the shadow family, although sometimes just barely.  It changes temperature every time it changes plane.  Edges get slightly softer in the shadows as they move away from the object that is casting them.  Little things, important things.  I love doing little studies to explore the possibilities and sharpen my perceptions.

In only a few weeks  I leave the frozen north and journey to the sunny climes of Santa Barbara, CA.  If you want to come painting with me in a warmer climate, please email me and I will send the details.   The sun is warm, the beaches and bluffs are stunning and the instruction should be ok too, lol.  I have four spots left as of today.

What:  Plein Air Painting in Santa Barbara
Price: $300 US for four days
Dates:  Feb 11,12, and 18,19 with a bonus paint out day Feb 15.
Contact: gayemadams@gmail.com

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
contact: gayemadams@gmail.com
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
Contact: gayemadams@gmail.com