Monday, November 11, 2013

Mont Saint-Michel (A Step-by-Step "Pocket Painting" Demonstration)

An part of this winter's "training" regime I'll be adding small scale (usually no larger than 5"x7" or 6"x8") plein air painting to my usual routine of sketching and journaling.

From time to time I'll post the results of my pochade box adventures here in a new series of articles called "Pocket Paintings" -- beginning this week with a brief step-by-step visual description of my current working process. And, if there's any interest, I'll try to post a video of a painting from beginning to end, at some point in the series too.

So, someone cue up the Black Eyed Peas, and "Let's Get It Started!"


It's late afternoon and the autumn sun is low in a clear blue sky -- casting bright warm highlights and long, cool shadows. But the light won't last long and, oh yes, my wife just reminded me that the lower level parking lot will be flooding soon. (No pressure there, right?) So, I'd better get started.

my N0. 12 Bloc Rhodia is perfect for thumbnail comps

A quick value and sketch in my small Clairefontaine pocket notebook establishes my composition.

I pre-tone my 5x7 panel with burnt Sienna applied with an old sockand establish the dark 
areas with a mixture of Dioxazine Purple, Cad. Red Med., and Cad. Yellow Dark  

I begin to rough in the shapes and establishing the dark areas.

blocking in sky and haze is done with Cobalt Blue and Flake White Replacement 
(a warm white produced by Gamblin Artist's Oil Colors)   

As I block in the sky I continue to refine the iconic silhouette of the island village and fortress-like monastery.

The cools of the shadows, warm middle tones of the walls, and grays of the exposed sands and causeway blacktop are established -- again, as I continue to refine shapes and positions.

beginning to rough in the parked vehicles (residence above the high 
tide level, daytrippers below) and pedestrians

Areas of foliage -- little islands of greenery amidst stone forms (manmade and natural) are introduced.

The eastern end of the village is blocked in, shadows are strengthened, and the causeway's low east wall is added.

I complete the parking areas, add a few wispy, high altitude clouds, tweak the shadows and buildings, finish the two pedestrians and sign my initials -- we're done! (And with a little light to spare.) 


A few thoughts over a well-earned cuppa tea --

There are many ways of approaching plein air painting and quick sketching in oils and I I've shared just one of them with you this week. I hope you find it useful and maybe even decide to try it yourself. But please keep in mind; if it doesn't work for you, no worries! There are plenty of other options for you to try and sooner or later you're bound to find the medium, technique and subject(s) that are of interest to you.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Pochade Boxes, French Easels... and Thou

"A book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread -- and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness --
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!"
-- The Rubáiyát, Omar Khayyam

If you've become aware of my artwork within just the past few years -- say, since I first became active on Facebook or, even more recently, since the creation of this blog -- you are familiar with my fondness for journaling. (Flora, fauna, people, and places -- I love to sketch it all.) And you may have even noticed that I'm quite keen on sharp-edged studies, sometimes complex compositions, and detailed note-taking. But you probably wouldn't know that when I first came to art my first passion was for oils done all a prima. Nor would you have any way of knowing that I like to mix things up from time to time; when one thing starts to feel too routine I like to go off in a completely different direction (artistically speaking) and explore something that gives me a fresh outlook on things.

I generally find standing more comfortable (and less restricting) 
than sitting when sketching al fresco

For example, when I was producing studio oil paintings on a monumental scale (as in 20 foot tall figures) I would sometimes grab my French easel and head out into Nature for some fresh air and a bit of on-location sketching in paint.

Lakeside, another painterly (Boneless Method) landscape (5x7, oils on panel)

Of course, with nature and travel journaling I can manage all the fresh air I want. But recently I've been thinking that it might be time to get some of the rust out of my artistic system. So, I decided to get out one of my pochade boxes, shift mental gears, and do a little plein air work.

Impression, evening cloud study (5x7, oils on panel)

The first (and perhaps biggest) "shift in gears" involves switching from the working on paper approach (i.e., generally working from the white of the paper toward the darkest darks) to that of working in oils. This is necessitated primarily by the drying qualities of oil paint. That is, dark colors generally dry faster because of lower oil content while light colors (with their higher oil content) generally dry slower. (Putting dark layers over light ones can frequently result in surface cracks that can threaten the longevity of the painting.)

The second "shift" is giving up detailed underdrawing; to add to the immediacy and freshness of the experience I work directly in paint.

Luke, a linear (Bone Method) portrait (6x6, oils on panel)

Ste. Mare Eglis, Bone Method landscape (18x27, oils on canvas)

And finally, the third (and forth) "shifts" are a switch to wet-in-wet technique, the adoption of softer, more painterly edges (being fascinated with Chinese art, this correlates for me with a switch from "Bone Method" to "Boneless Method"), and greater focus on form (less on detail.)

Kerry, Boneless Method landscape (5x7, oils on panel)

All of this is done to maintain old skills (and maybe develop a few new ones), to force myself to work differently and to think carefully about what I'm doing -- and, hopefully, to see things with a fresh eye. 

Sunset, Normandy (5x7, oils on panel)

And you never can tell when the portability and convenience of a pochade box will make a sublime experience possible. For example, our first evening in Le Pre, Normandy we popped out to the nearest grocery store (in Saint James) for some provisions... and we greeted by the scene depicted in Sunset, Normandy when we exited the store. (Our kids were kind enough to put the groceries in the trunk while I took my portable sketch box out, and dinner was only a little later than expected.)


I generally prefer to keep the legs shortened on the 
French easel for stability on windy days

My very first plein air kit was a French easel -- a beautiful piece of woodwork, plenty of space for paint tubes and brushes, and the most versatile when it comes to working with larger stretched canvases and panels. But it's heavy and can be a bit wobbly if the legs are fully extended.

...seated on a camp stool...

...or in your car (where the solar effect can make it shirtsleeves-comfy, even on a nippy autumn day)...

...or (with the use of the thumb hole on the underside of the box) cradled on your forearm

the Julian pochade box proved itself an extremely useful tool for cabin and trail 
during my 10-week wilderness adventure in North Cascades National Park

My second plein air sketching kit was a Julian "pochade" box (pronounced pō•shā) -- another beautiful piece of woodwork (Do you see a pattern emerging here?) and bare-bones small: just enough room for a single 6"x8" uncradled panel in the lid/easel, a few dollops of paint on the built-in palette, a few brushes, a capped cup of medium, and a rag for clean-up.

the Julian's simple design harkens back to its 19th century origins as a modified cigar box

And my third (my wife says, "final") plein air oil sketch box is a 6x8 Guerrilla Painter ThumBox (Version 2.0).

built like a tank (for years of worry-free painting afield) and, with an adopter 
plate installed, can be mounted on a standard camera tripod

the Guerrilla Painter box offers an ingenious adopter that allows me to work with 
6x8, 5x7, or 4x6 panels, stretched canvases, or even watercolor blocks

a Guerrilla Painter bag is available that turns the pochade into a piece 
of light weight carry-on luggage weighing less than 2 pounds


Smaller pochade boxes are too short for regular length brushes. So, the plein air painter may opt for a separate brush carrier, or s/he may look for short-handled alternatives.

Guerrilla Painter short handled filberts and a painting knife 
(this one with 3 convenient painting edges)

The folks at Guerilla Painter offer a nice set of 4 brushes (in your choice of flats or filberts, sizes 2, 4, 6, 8) or (if you want a more personalized selection) you could opt to make your own.

after shortening the handles and rounding the tips with sandpaper you can dip the end in enamel 
(i.e., fingernail polish) to seal the wood(I also sharpen and clearcoat one of the leftover handles 
as a "signature stick" -- for fine lines and inscribing through multiple layers of paint)


Add, maybe, a picnic basket filled with antipasto, a crusty loaf of bread, a little cheese, some fruit, and a small bottle of wine and you just may be set to enjoy the perfect day out.