Saturday, December 28, 2013

Moving with the Weather

Wickford December, Oil on Canvas on Board, 12x12
  Plein-air painting in New England is certainly a challenge , particularly in winter.  This oil sketch (left) was accomplished two days after the "wintry mix" including a little snow had hit.  I fortunately found a muddy but sheltered spot behind the local library which boasts some of the most scenic views of Wickford I've seen.  On this partly sunny day I spent less than two hours before catching the chill that warns this painter to retreat.  The challenge of the composition was the frontal lighting.  As an impressionist painter I could have resorted to some of the techniques I learned at the Cape Cod School , techniques taught by Henry Hensche, but I was, after all , interested in a study , a study of the patchwork quilt presented by this scene.  Besides, the subject matter was a bit complex for me to employ impressionist techniques of the Cape Cod School effectively.

  The oil sketch to the left was done just yesterday at a small marsh in Wickford.  I tried to indicate the remnants of lingering snow , the cold that hung in the air, and the subdued coloring of winter.  Such a location deserves repeated visits to master its interpretation in any artistic medium.  I left when my fingers became numb on this breezy day.  But I'll be back!

Mums, Oil on Linen, 9x12
Finally when the plein-air artist is forced to remain inside, due to the weather acting up, there is always still life composition.  The same habits are required (squinting to ascertain value structure, comparing values and colors, noting temperature and intensity.)  The limitations are all in the light source.  If we are lucky enough to have north light on our studio subject, we can do the same visual/mental analyses we use when doing plein-air work.  If not, our work is harder.  In any case, it is good to exercise the skills a painter always needs -- such as basic drawing skills.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The New and the Old

The Park, O/C, 6 x 6
The small oil on the left was actually sketched on location at Goddard Park after a snow event last winter.  The scene was never shown to the public since, like most of my plein-air work, it is in need of correction and refinement.  Indoors and after the fact, I can view the work at my leisure to determine whether a "second pass" is in order.   I can see now that I waited too long for an opportunity to go back to this site and begin anew the process of refinement.  At my indoor easel I hope to correct some blunders that are apparent; for example, (1)  a sloping horizon line that is a unsettling to view and (2)  figures that could be better defined, placed, and integrated with the scene.  The danger of revisiting a plein-air scene is always the loss of the initial excitement .  So, even after obvious and not-so-obvious correction, I will need to keep it on the wall to be sure that the painting retains an element of interest before its eventual release to other and (perhaps more critical) eyes.

 This painting (to the left) is a 9x12 Oil on Canvas of the Gilbert Stuart Birthplace in North Kingstown.  Again, this work is a past oil sketch, never framed and shown to the public.  I also see the need for some (minor) corrections, but I do like to preserve the joy of this summer day .  The feeling of the painting is paramount and can only be squelched through overworking.  Incidentally, the Gilbert Stuart Museum includes this property and allows artists to paint any of the subjects on the grounds during an "Artist-in Residence" period each summer.  At the end of the summer the museum offers an art show which helps with funding.  Perhaps this piece may show up on the walls of this show next summer!

Pond by My Door, Oil on Wood, 8x10
And now for the "New".  The painting on the left is a brief (under one hour) oil sketch of the small pond outside my apartment door.  The snow was fresh but fast disappearing as the temperature rose.  The rough sketch shows in the middle ground a white birch reflecting weakly in the pond.  near the foreground there is a fallen tree that provides one edge to the pond.  The foreground shows a large tree adorned with several thick vines.  To add interest there are two geese in the water.  The spot gave me the feeling of a cozy hideaway, made more interesting by the new-fallen snow.  More finish needs to be brought to the distance, among other corrections/ refinements.  Indeed, the sketch is only a few days old and will need more time to "ferment" in the vat of the artist's mind.  Again, I would like to retain as much of the spontaneity as possible since that is part of the joy transmitted by this painting.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Wednesday Afternoon in Wickford

  Weather and other factors permitting, I offer plein-air painting lessons in the scenic village of Wickford, RI, every Wednesday afternoon.  Normally I and my drop-in students park at the lot at the end of Main Street.   The lot has several fishing boats tied up along its edge and a wonderful view of the harbor.  There are still sailboats moored in the harbor and, as the weather worsens (i.e., turns wintry) , the boats will start disappearing.  Yesterday was a winderfully sunny day but with a bite at the edge of the wind.

   So, instead of setting up along the edge of the lot to capture in oil a harbor scene, I decided to offer my drop-in students an opportunity to walk along the more sheltered streets.  Leaving my own car in the lot by the fishing boats, I lugged my gear one block up Main to Bay Street where I set up on a street corner which offered a wonderful view of this old New England Street.  The main attraction was a red house .  Here's a (crooked!) snapshot of the oil sketch:

Off Bay Street (Wickford), Oil on Linen, 8 x 10

The sketch , although small, had its complications compounded by a sun that refused to be consistently strong-- clouds were building up as the afternoon progressed.  At least I have an idea of the corrections I must aim for when I prop the sketch on the studio easel.  But I may actually "bypass" the so-called finishing phase in favor of revisiting the basic elements of composition and design.  I will visit the same scene again, perhaps before next Wednesday to do another sketch.
   In any case it was great fun to play with color undisturbed on this rather quiet street in Wickford.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Indoor and Outdoor Activity

The Pink House, 12x16, Oil on Canvas
The day in Wickford was a gray one with the ever-present threat of rain.  The cool weather also puts the "edge" on painting efforts, forcing the painter to lay in the scene quickly, to record perhaps too much lest the information be scant when the gem is brought back to the studio.  I have painted this location before, and titled previous efforts with "Wickford Front Yards".  The houses are indeed colorful and give "spice" to a gray day painting.

Chondra, 8x10, Oil on Board
  That same evening I dropped by Kate's Studios to get practice indoors with figure drawing.  The painting at the left was a 40-minute oil  sketch done using my pochade box.  Since I do occasionally "people" my landscapes, I find these studio sessions employing live models very helpful in reinforcing basic knowledge of anatomy.  In fact, as the weather becomes less friendly outside, studio work, including still life as well as figure and portrait painting, becomes a necessity for maintaining painting and observational skills.

Valerie, Oil on Linen, 14x18
 On Monday evenings, Kate Huntington once again is offering opportunities to portrait artists to hone their skills by providing a live model from 7 PM to 10.  The three-hour session offers the classically trained artists time to develop a basic starting point for a portrait head.  The rest of us bring larger supports (14x18, 16x20, 18x24) to experience freedom in swinging the brush as well as the chance to develop backgrounds, patterns, and costume.  I use the session primarily to focus on variations within the flesh color.  The challenge is to link such variations meaningfully to the setting or surrounding atmosphere-- and still achieve a credible likeness.  I rarely work on these rough portrait sketches in my own studio space since , although the painting might improve, the likeness would vanish. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Another Paint-Out

Adams Farm, Oil on Linen, 11x14
Last Saturday I participated in the Adams Farm Paint Out in Walpole, MA,  for which 26 other artists were involved.  The painting on the left indicates the typically beautiful scenery available at the site.  As usual in setting up the landscape on canvas, one has to simplify.  The meadow between the barn and myself was rich in its wildflower display, requiring some generalization of color areas in the middle plane.  There was a small pond in the foreground and, happily, the shadows cast by nearby trees.  After a lunch break I began a second canvas.

Path by the Milkweed, Oil on Canvas, 11x14
The scene before me, dappled shadow on a trail, with milkweed, and an old tree by a bend in the path off to the left, suggested a looser treatment for its development.  there were distant figures (barely discernible)  which I added to the painting appearing beyond the bend, but the painting was rich in texture, showing much use of my trusty palette knife.
After completing this painting, I framed it to display in the barn for judging by the eminent painter Robert Douglas Hunter.  No prize for this one, but it was certainly fun to paint and to hone one's skills in plein air.

Off  Beavertail, Oil on Canvas, 11x14
 This painting (left) enabled me to get back to my favorite subject, the sea.  I had to exercise simplification even here.  There were many more rocks than shown here, but I retained the most noticeable boulders.  (In fact, I hope those students who painted with me at this spot last month will recognize the large rock formation on the left!)

At Save the Bay, Oil on Canvas, 8x10
This small pochade was done as I sat along a trail on the upper Narragansett Bay in 35-mph gusts.  With pochade box on my lap I reorded the scene before me.  No one would guess that this is Providence territory!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

More Summer Activity

  The two small paintings above (both 5x7 in) were accomplished using my pochade box, a useful device to have on hand especially when weather is threatening or your time constraints are too tight.  The box I use is a wooden one made for size 6 x 8 paintings, a more common size found overseas than here.  I prefer painting on the slightly larger 6 x 8 surface, but finding frames for that size is not as easy as finding 5x7 (plein-air) frames.  Paintings this size can be a delight to do since the painter is more likely to take risks with this rather than larger sizes.  (As one painter once told me:  "Small painting, small mistakes; big painting, big mistakes.)  More practical is the time element. A painter can complete these in 20 -45 minutes.  Moreover, as the first painting suggests, we can keep to the poster effect if the intention is to use the 5x7 as a reference for a larger studio work.  In any case, it seems like a good idea to keep a 5x7 plein-air gold frame handy just in case -- just in case the small study turns out to be a keeper!

This 11 x 14 oil is a study done in the local park of  trees and rocks.  As you can see I was fascinated with the play of light, the dappled shadows on the rock.  I may have gotten carried away by dappling the trees too much!  But the painting did serve its primary purpose as a study and a practice for this painter to compare values and achieve realistic coloring .

The painting on the left, an 8x10 oil, represents the dunes by Crane Beach.  While at Crane Beach a week ago, I took the opportunity to sketch some of the beauty in watercolor.  The watercolor became the prime reference (next to memory) for the painting shown here.  The painting is quite juicy., mostly palette-knife work in which the foreground show creeping afternoon shadows.  The Ipswich area is rich in painting venues and I hope to be up that way in the fall.  And it's right next to Plum Island and Newbury Port -- both fair game to the plein-air painter.

     I have some small works being shown at Java Madness at Salt Pond in Wakefield, RI until mid-September.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Pace of Summer

Beavertail Rocks, Oil on Canvas, 11x14
At left is a plein-air oil done from a vantage point on the rocks at Beavertail in Jamestown, RI.  It was done on a day early in July after a spell of dreary weather.  This one I left as is-- no studio touch-ups or corrections (yet)-- because I think it successfully communicated the joy I felt in being at my favorite painting spot on a perfect day.  Hardy noticeable is a fishing boat. It's green and hardly visible there in the upper left.  Perhaps I would work to call that out a little more boldly; after all, it could contribute to the balance of the pictorial design.

   Such a picture symbolizes the joyous freedom experienced by this plein-air painter , especially as the pace of summer picks up with its demands for shows, paint outs, and even commissions.  Having just completed the show called Art Alfresco in Bristol, submitted paintings for the Gilbert Stuart show called Paint the Town, started teaching plein air painting through the auspices of the South County Art Association, and beginning preparations for shows and paint-outs in Massachusetts, I confirm what I tell many about this vocation.  With the rather inconstant weather,  New England plein-air painting is seasonal work and one must travel during the winter and early spring months to keep the activity going.  My challenge presently is a scheduling one to keep all the activities programmed for August and September free from conflicts.  For example, I have been offered a chance to participate in a plein-air auction event to happen in Bristol on the same date (September 7th) for which I am already committed to doing the Adams Farm Paint Out in Walpole, MA.   Musicians scheduling their gigs have the same issues about scheduling.  Mathematically speaking, one could say that the events we are interested in tend to cluster together (Poisson-like) rather than spread themselves uniformly over a time line.

  Whatever the level of activity, the artist must choose those which offer him the opportunity to hone his skills in observation, memory , and execution .  Each painting event, whether demonstration or paint-out, presents this opportunity through challenge and, sometimes, competition.  This latter factor (competition) is an external goad urging the artist onward.  More important, however, is the internal exhortation to go one step further in the quality of his or her production.  In reality there is no competition for the well-trained artist, since each artist offers their own perspective and unique expression in interpreting the scene before them.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Five Summer Pieces

At Gloucester Harbor, Oil on Canvas, 16x20 
The painting to the left was actually begun last summer on location in Gloucester, MA, and had been hiding in my studio, incubating.  After applying retouch varnish to get the surface receptive to new paint, I started in on deepening the contrasts.  I think the painting gained from further application of paint.  I put the painting out where I must see it on a daily basis.  Slowly it is suggesting other refinements, perhaps another addition.  I must be careful; one can easily be seduced from the initial simplicity of the painting and, as a consequence, spoil a particular mood inherent to the piece!

At Dutch Harbor, Oil on Canvas, 11x14
 This next painting is much more recent and is fresh from the outdoors!  Evening was beginning its descent into the harbor on Jamestown and the sun with the touch of Midas, turned the white-hulled boats a mellow tone.  In the distance a farm also shared this solar blessing .  One can even see the creep of shadow up the piling in the left corner.  Dutch Harbor is indeed a magical place this time of day -- my favorite time of day, despite the brief painting time allowed before the sun has stolen away.

At Second Beach, Oil on Canvas, 8x10
 A third painting done in the last two weeks was this small one painted on an overcast day in Newport.  Second Beach is, of course , famous for its view of St. George's on the hill which lends a pastoral quality to the scene.  The ocean was a restless grey-green, and the life-guard posts were a bright blue.  These overcast day scenes are real challenges to the painter in making local color behave.  Local color is more obvious on such days but , still, objects must be made to recede with distance.

A Narragansett Afternoon, Oil on Linen, 9x12
The fourth painting was an effort to capture the glow of the sea as the light turns mellow in the company of the beach-goers.  There were several mind-based activities going on, the most prominent being the conversation of the two women.  A third person seems lost in her own world, perhaps mesmerized, as this artist was, with the light of the waning day.  Still others were occupied with finding treasure in the sand.  These people, elements in my composition were selected from many more lost in their own mini-worlds  on the beach at the time.  Selection.  It goes with our artistic license.

Jamestown, Oil on Canvas, 18x24
This last painting, again unfinished represents my personal celebration of a painting view not known to me before a week ago.  One comes to this at the end of a path just before the entrance to Beavertail, a frequent painting spot of mine.  This spot, I thought, really portrays the ruggedness of the shore that surrounds Conanicut Island.  The sun, beginning its descent in the west, was to the right of me.  As the light moved behind the cliff, shadows crept along the rocks .  The day was not entirely sunny as I've indicated with some clouds in the sky.  I find such "partly sunny days" a challenge to paint.  I'm returning to this spot soon!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pre-summer plein air sketches

  Despite quite a few days of dreary weather, summer is definitely on its way.  I have been exploring the usual local plein-air spots between arrivals of tourists and rain squalls.  For much of my sketching I use small panels, usually 9x12 in size.  These fair well in the wind and can be become records of what I see in less than two hours, the interval beyond which the light threatens to change too radically.  Lately, most of the panels are made from luhan board with linen glued to it, primed often with acrylic gesso or occasionally are oil-primed.  The resultant surface is tough enough to take the rigors of scraping with a palette knife.  The paintings shown here are exceptions to the usual panel supports.
Belleville Pond (No.2), Oil on Canvas, 10x10
 The painting shown on the left is from one of my favorite painting areas at Ryan Park, North Kingstown.  It was a  moody day with a pervading violet and soft color.  The waterlilies are an additional attraction and one must be careful not to launch into doing them too soon.  There are two types of blossom at the pond: the usual white waterlily and a yellow bloom that appears on a stem that keeps it above the pond water.

Storm Surf, Oil on Linen, 11x14
   Next, of course, for the Rhode Island plein-air enthusiast are the beaches.  This one, on the left, is a sketch of Scarborough Beach.  The painting was sketched in only a few days ago -- Saturday, a day for which a recent storm churned up the water.  The red flag indicates a warning to potential bathers.  (when the lifeguards left, people actually ventured into the riotous surf!)  A day of changeable light.  I thought of one of my teachers, Ted Jacobs, who warned us to take two canvasses to paint with--one for the sunny condition and one for the cloudy day.  Unfortunately,  I had only one, but the local color registered wonderfully.

Narragansett Beach Afternoon, Oil on Linen, 14x18
And who can resist painting at beautiful Narragansett Beach, particularly at the" artist hour" (i.e., whenever beach parking is free)?  Again, this is merely a sketch and needs some improvement before it deserves a frame, but I paid close attention to the values and color choices here.  The view was one of looking north towards the Dunes Club.  This was a little larger than I usually work outdoors, but the conditions , including the wind, were favorable.

I am preparing to carry along my Gloucester easel which will greatly assist me in painting the larger outdoor work I hope to accomplish during July and August.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Transition into New England Plein Air

This portrait study represents the last in a series I had been painting at Kate Huntington's weekly portrait sessions.    Due to problems with the availability of studio space there will be a hiatus in this activity at least until next September.  These sessions not only keep up portraiture skills for those of us interested in portraying people, but provide mutual encouragement and (unofficial) critiques from fellow artists.  To me they also allow me to continue development of  my painting skills while awaiting the more acceptable outdoor painting weather.  yes, perhaps this season I was a little soft on myself.  An outdoor painter must not develop the bad habit of being too comfortable outside!

          I had gone off to Florida in April to participate in Bradenton's Paint the Town 2013.  Every day  except perhaps one or two of my two-week stay there was a painter-friendly day.  It is understandable why there are so many good outdoor painters there; they can get plenty of practice -- and practice is the key to honing our skills!

The Rites of Spring, Oil on Linen, 6x20

When the lily pads started to appear in a nearby pond (North Kingstown, RI), I faced the challenge of painting them including some turtles who perched themselves on fallen branches.  The presence of the turtles and yellow pond blossoms inspired the title "The Rites of Spring".

                   At the same pond, I took an old painting, an 8x10 done on linen to paint over.  These "used panels" are great for experimentation or trying different beginnings to an old theme.  I recalled a lesson from Charles Gruppe in which he would layer a canvas in ultramarine blue, raw umber and white-- so that the mixture , heavy with white, was really an off-white with tone.  Using the same mixture, but with little if any white, I outlined the basic forms with a small filbert (no.4).  Next, I attacked each outlined area with pure palette-knife work, resulting in a heavy impasto.  Here is the canvas as I brought it from the pond:
By the Pond, Oil on Linen, 8x10                                                                                                                                               

           The painting was really fun to do, but (in general) I prefer more definition in my work.  A previous outing in Wickford gave me practice in portraying the scene more realistically:
Wickford Waterway, Oil on Canvas, 8x10 .    

    For the latest work in oils I painted near the train trestle at Arnold's Neck in Warwick, RI.  I had painted the trestle before but what attracted me this time was the serenity of low tide at this intimate cove beloved by shore birds, especially the snowy egrets .
By the Trestle

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pre-Spring Activity

    Approaching springtime in coastal New England is hardly ever a "smooth transition" for a plein-air painter.  Although we are within six or seven days of the official date for spring, there is the wintery chill enhanced by a brisk wind that encourages the painter to forage among his images -- painted or not.  These older images bring with them the memory of more blissful than blustery times outdoors.  The "Play of Light"  (painting below) is the result of one such reminiscence as well as an homage to the great seascape painter Frederick Waugh.

The Play of Light, 12x12, Oil on Board

My apologies to the memory of that great painter who would never carelessly spill his ocean off to the right!   In actuality , the horizon in the painting is level, but the photographer of the painting (me) was a bit askew.

                 Another benefit of being driven indoors for a painterly experience is the opportunity to develop portrait skills.  The last session at that weekly portrait session run by that outstanding Copley Society Artist Kate Huntington employed an interesting model.   Interesting features surrounding a model are always a mixed blessing.  They arouse interest in the artist who struggles for a likeness, but also distract the artist from paying attention to essential aspects of the portrait as a painting.  In short, the artist is tempted to spend too much time on these fancies and not enough in the evolution of his corrections -- of drawing, value and color!
The portrait below, then, can be considered as only a sketch and one in which I show my yielding to these blasted yet wonderful distractions.

Monday Portrait, 14x18, Oil on Linen,

    The distractions which I found fascinating in themselves were the textural and colorful ones arising from the patch in her hair, the full-bodied hair itself, and the crimson scarf -- each of which would require more time to develop in a realistic manner.

  Finally, I did manage to run out one sunny afternoon to a local beach and sketch the scene below:

Shores of Goddard Park, 6x6, Oil on Board

Friday, February 15, 2013

More Winter Work

  In January I had visited the North Kingstown Library which has stunning views of Wickford as seen from the lower level of the building.  Looking out one of these windows I could see an old familiar rock, a favorite of many waterfowl, and, beyond the rock, the buildings of Wickford.  I couldn't resist taking out my small set of "traveling" pastels and jotting down the colorful scene before me.  The sun was offering frontal light in the late afternoon, a time which on a sunny day offers more mellow tones.  When I reached home I quickly sketched the scene in oils:

Wickford, From the Back, Oil on Canvas, 11x14     

  The scene was an especially charming one due to a recent snowfall.
  But after the most recent snowfall -- what has become known as the Blizzard of 2013-- I drove to Goddard Park which has a collection of old trees and sketched this one directly:
Late Morning Trees (Goddard Park), Oil on Linen, 9x12    

                               I put a frame on the sketch and it is now part of a show of my recent works hanging at the East Greenwich Free Library on Peirce Street, East Greenwich.

         Part of  "Winter Work" is going over old paintings, correcting them, perhaps heightening their effects in color and tone, making them more stimulating to look at.  Winter work also includes going over some photos I had taken over the last year or so.  I found one of my favorite spot, Beavertail, and worked the theme, which includes the Lighthouse in the Impressionist manner here:

Beavertail Light, Oil on Linen, 9x12         

         But such a painting is a rare occurrence for me since I love to work en plein air!

        Winter work will continue on Saturday, 2 to 4 PM, when I perform a Portrait Demo at Galeria United at 200 Main Street in Pawtucket.  Please come by and enjoy the fun!  Galeria United also displays several of my seascape paintings.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Winter Practice -- January

  January has so far been a fickle month, a usual state of the climate here in New England.  A few days have allowed this plein-air painter to at least sketch a scene briefly and work on the "rough draft" back in the studio.  Here is a photo I took at low tide in Apponaug, RI:

Photo taken at Low Tide

  Several days earlier I had stopped at the site with my oil set-up and painted a rough picture which I later touched up in the studio:
Low Tide, Apponaug , O/C 12x16

  The motivation behind the painting -- besides this outdoor painter spending too many days indoors!-- is the range of color, the brightness, the reflections in the muddy foreground, a painter's delight.

   Another photo I took was of Wheeler State Beach last week:

 The beach is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy and it is a favorite summer painting site for me during the waning light of day.  My memory of beautiful late afternoons spent at Wheeler as well as this reference photo helped yo create a "virtual" plein-air state of mind.  The result is the 14x18  oil shown here:
Wheeler Beach Afternoon, O/C, 14x18.