Thursday, December 11, 2014

One Hour And Thirty Minutes

The goal: one hour and thirty minutes -- that's how long I have to complete an onsite painting before the light patterns shift to a completely different arrangement (maybe better, maybe worse, definitely different). For the upcoming adventure in Zion National Park I'd like to have that down to 60 minutes. (Canyon Country light can change very quickly, especially when it's at its most dramatic -- sunrise and sunset.) But, for now, I'll settle for an achievable 90.

The solution: get out and sketch and paint every chance I get till it's time to go. (I know, it's a tough job. But someone's got to do it. Right?)

Still Waters: Sunset, Ocean Springs, 12"x9", oils on panel, 
$500 unframed ($550 framed) plus S&H

This week's exercise finds us on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in the small (and oh so picturesque) community of Ocean Springs.

Composition -- a composing frame, either homemade or commercial, aids in quickly and accurately determining what to include (and what to omit) from the final image.

when the clock is ticking a linear sketch in graphite 
can be the fastest way to go

Identifying the prime shapes and plains -- a quick thumbnail sketch helps me identify the most significant shape/masses and their position in space. (Absolutely no consideration is given to detail at this stage.)

Yellow Ochre-toned gessobord with graphite underdrawing

Underdrawing -- many plein air painters will opt to do this with a brush (and I frequently do too). But, if speed is of the essence, a pencil is faster. (It doesn't require constant "reloading" from your palette and it gives me more time to identify the specific colors I'll want to squeeze onto my palette.)

blocking in the basic tonal areas -- initial stage (above), final "rough" (below)

Blocking in -- the priority here is the shadows, since they will be the first to change as the sun continues its journey across the sky (and the first lost if clouds move in). General shapes and compositional arrangements are also established at this phase.

refining the shapes and tonal shifts within the 3-4 spacial planes 

Fine tuning -- awareness of relationships (of shapes, colors, edges, and space) begin to become more accurate at this stage. Still working working rapidly (i.e., no details). Fine tuning form, shadows, middle tones, and introducing highlights.

adding the finishing touches (boldest highlights, core shadows, and fine-tuning gradations)

Finalizing -- identifying and placing the boldest shadows and highlights, adding a bit more variety to the pattern. At this stage I'm frequently spending more time observing and comparing, less and less time actually applying paint.

Polish and Details -- are reserved for the occasional (larger) studio works (and only a few of the plein air sketches will warrant that kind of special attention). For this one, however, I'm thinking maybe 24"x18". What do you think?

Monday, December 1, 2014


"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"
                                     -- Laozi (c. 604 BC - 531 BC)

In canyon land the most dramatic lighting is usually experienced in early morning and late afternoon. And -- if (either by accident or by fortuitous planning) you find yourself in the right place at the right time -- you may have no more than an hour to capture on paper, canvas or panel that fleeting delight.

Time (and the sun) wait for no man. So, it would be a dreadful mistake waiting it trying to find the right brush, or paint tube, or to figure out where your darkest shadows or lightest highlights are to be found.

So, well in advance of my actual departure I train: I train my eye -- sharpening my observational skills and increasing my perceptual awareness (the goal being to quickly and accurately capture the essential while editing or eliminating the superfluous); I train with my materials, till my brushes and pencils become an extension of myself and I know intuitively precisely what color combination will get me the specific hue, tint, or shade I'm observing.

During my upcoming adventures I plan on producing some step-by-step demos and time laps videos to share with you. And, since reshooting may not be a practical option, I'll practice creating a few of those now too. (Let me know what you think.)

I've used my View Catcher to select my composition and, starting with a 6"x6" gessobord panel toned neutral gray I rough in the shapes with graphite and begin blocking in the shadow areas (working from a cooler, less intense background to a warmer, more contrasty foreground).

With the shadows in place I begin to block in general areas of middle tone and light middle tone (but reserve my lightest lights and darkest darks for the final stages -- when I am most focused and my observations are most accurate).

I am still working on general relationships at this stage -- light/dark, cool/warm, dull/intense, shapes, and overlapping planes.

I haven't introduced the sky yet. But I am now keenly aware of my lights and shadows, five advancing planes, and the split complementary (red/green, orange/blue, purple/yellow) that dominates my subject.

As my awareness of my subject becomes more specific I continue to fine tune colors, contrasts and shapes -- particularly in the foreground.

Almost there. I now introduce the sky (to compete the color contrasts) and begin finalizing the highlights (reserving the boldest and brightest for the foreground).

Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly, 6"x6", oils on Gessobord

At this stage of the adventure prep I'm working on 6"x6" and 6"x8" panels. As my skills sharpen (and especially once I've shed some of my desire to include too many details) and scale up to 8"x8" and 9"x12" panels -- making sure to scale up my brushes too (and reserving my #2 round sable exclusively for signatures only).

If you'd like to see more of these step-by-step demos (with the occasional video demo thrown in) during the lead-up to our little road trip how about dropping me a line and letting me know what you think?



Looking for unique gifts for the holidays? Why not purchase a one-of-a-kind work of art and know you're also helping support my upcoming adventure too? (Spider Rock, Canyon de Chelly can be yours for just $250 unframed/$260 framed, plus shipping and handling (and you'll be billed via PayPal for added security). 

Email me for details or to enquire about other available artwork.