Thursday, November 29, 2012

Transitioning to Winter Ops

Smithfield Orchard, O/C, 12x16
Fall is one of my favorite seasons since , in the early part of the season, there are numerous comfortable and luminous days that beckon the plein-air painter.  The painting on the left was an effort to capture the feel of the orchard in early-to-mid September.  I had originally painted a large tractor with an apple gatherer attached, but the painting then defeated my intention; it became the portrait of the tractor.  So now you see the rock grouping which has its place in the rocky New England soil.  The rocks become merely several of the denizens of the space with as much right to be there as the apple trees themselves
    One of the challenges associated with this painting was the fickle nature of the light.  It started out a cloudy day, but with frequent interruptions of sunshine.  One of my teachers (Ted Jacobs) had warned me to take two canvases out to paint a single scene.  The first canvas upon which you begin your painting can be set aside for the second if the light changes significantly.  If you persist with the same canvas, you risk making the contrasts too feeble -- or (and this is what I had attempted) you can use memory to freeze the scene mentally and proceed to paint.  

An Old Dutch Port, Oil on Linen, 11x14
And as the days become more frequently uncongenial to those of us who are spoiled by modern comforts, there is opportunity to exercise
studio skills.  The painting on the left is an example of this.  I used an old (circa 1930) photo reference and some memories of my painting harbor scenes to pull this one off from the comfort of my studio seat.  The painting was done in two sessions of probably two hours each.  During the first session I pretended that I was out at the scene and began in typical plein-air fashion (blocking-in, etc.).  The second session at the easel began with a certain amount of "oiling out",using a small amount of retouch varnish.  This brought up the colors that were beginning to sink in and enabled me to treat only those sections which I felt needed correction/emphasis/de-emphasis.  While I was pleased with the result of these studio efforts, it does not compare with the joy experienced in the experience -- of being there to register in the mind and soul the subtle hue saturations, contrasts, and surprises of nature.  Incidentally, this painting now hangs at Galeria United (200 Main Street, Pawtucket, Rhode Island) which has a Grand Opening on December 12 at 5 PM. (Who can forget the date, 12/12/12?)

Jessica, O/C, 14x18
   Also, I have been more active in portraiture as the days darken early .  At left is the most recent portrait I painted at Kate Huntington's Studio.  Again this represents an effort completed in under three hours and so finish is, as usual, lacking.  It is always inspiring to paint a model like Jessica whose hair cascaded in curls and twists, picking up highlights and darker accents as well.  In addition, she wore an interesting fur hat which offered a variety in texture. I simplified the background considerably, biasing its colors to agree with the hues and tonality of the model's flesh tones.
  Of course, when there is no live model available for a portrait , then I resort to still life which can still exercise those seven principles that C.W. Mundy talks about: drawing , value, color, edges, design, composition, and paint handling! 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Plein Air and Portrait

Wickford Front Yards, Oil on Canvas, 16x20"
In between the rain storms, a plein-air painter is able to tackle more complicated scenes such as this one painted from a viewpoint afforded by a seafood shop.  It was an afternoon with uncertain light, but the scene before had actual elements in place that drew attention to the tranquil scene.  First, of course the dinghy, moored where it was.  Such an element is not only inviting, but assists in adding dimensionality to a scene containing distant horizontal elements.  Note the presence of verticals that help here: the pilings supporting the dock, the tall trees, and the (lucky) appearance of the sail returning at the end of day.  This October painting was also blessed with some accents of autumnal color.

Becca, Oil on Canvas, 14x18"

 I paint portraits not only because I enjoy doing so, but also because they exercise many skills that are necessary for all painting, whether still life, landscape, or seascape.  Again, the process of painting a model in under three hours is akin to plein-air efforts in that (1) there is a time limitation, (2) subtle changes in the model must be detected before corrections can be applied, and (3) The value structure and preliminary block-in stages are very important.  The major differences in approaching the subjects of landscape and portraiture are the following (1)  The portrait demands for its completion a good likeness of the model whereas the landscape is more forgiving on that score to the artist, (2)  adherence to the nature (hue and temperature) of skin tones in shadow and light is required both to aid likeness as well as help convey the mood of the model , whereas in landscape these elements may be "designed in" to convey mood.  I find both landscape and portraiture, however, demand strong drawing skills -- at least for the representational lean of my own work.  Personally, I find both landscape and portrait wonderful exercises in the management of color and tone.  So the painting of a three-hour portrait can be likened to an etude on the piano, keeping the color and tonal senses sharp!  My thanks to artist Kate Huntington for hosting portrait and figure sessions on Monday and Wednesday nights in Providence!