Thursday, April 28, 2011

Elements of Design - Color

In my outdoor workshops, I often find that students are overwhelmed with the details before them.  And often times they try to match the local color of the spot. That will sometimes result in a lack of unity and harmony, as colors remain isolated and disconnected from the rest of the painting.

My suggestion is to limit the number of colors which will force a repetition of colors over the whole picture plane.

These two paintings were done with limited palettes.  One was done entirely with thalo green and alizarin crimson.  The other was painted with a warmer palette of burnt sienna, ultramarine blue, and purple.
Depending on the mixture, one color can dominate.  The midtones tend to lean towards neutral grayed, broken colors while the lights tended to be purer. Alizarin and thalo green make a fabulous cool black value. Burnt sienna mixed with ultramarine blue makes a warmer dark value.

Here are some other limited palettes to try:

Yellow ochre, burnt sienna, Payne's gray

New gamboge, cadmium orange and cobalt blue

Cadmium yellow, burnt umber and ultramarine blue

Pick a familiar subject and paint it several times, each attempt using a different limited palette.  It will teach you a lot about glazing, mixing, and painting values.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Elements of Design - Gradation

A long time ago in Maine, I decided to concentrate on one or two elements and a couple of design principles when I went out to paint on location.  Then, when I returned home, I would set the painting up in a trial mat to evaluate how I had done.

Here's an example.  Gradation, the gradual proceeding from one thing to another in any shape, can be seen in the gradation of color in the sky and the gradation of value and texture in the buildings. 

If you don't have some elements and principles in mind when you set out to paint, you're doomed to fail.  Instead of thinking about painting things (i.e.trees, buildings, water and mountains), concentrate on the the elements and principles you want to use to portray those things. Get your check list out when you evaluate how your design  succeeded or not in each of your paintings.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Paint What You Know

Last week I had a visit with a friend from New Hampshire who was in St. Louis to talk to the students of Parks Aviation College.  Betsy is a retired pilot who flew 757's for UPS.  She brought along the sketchbooks that she's been making of her workplace for the last few years.  There are sketches of the planes on the tarmac, her co-workers, and from the cockpit of the clouds and weather formations she observed.  It's all accompanied by wonderful explanations and descriptions of what she's depicting, and makes for a fascinating look at aviation from the pilot's point of view.

I've said it before:  Drawing is essential, no matter if you are a realist, impressionist or abstract expressionist.  Sketching and drawing should be a regular and routine part of keeping your hand and eye ready.  Sketch your daily surroundings, your workplace, and the people around you. 

Here are a couple of Betsy's sketches.  Thanks for sharing, Betsy!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Impressions of Maine

Maine has several well known towns, but because of a certain family, one community is known by the rest of the country better than the others.  Kennebunkport is a quaint seaside village whose most notable residents are George and Barbara Bush.  I imagine curiousity about their residence on Walker's Point has pulled more than one vacationer off I-95 to see what the place has to offer.

It's also a magnet for artists of every stripe.  Here's my take on the town square, very loosely represented.  I have a second version on the drafting table as I write. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Painting From Photos

Sometimes it is easy to become a slave to a photograph.  More often we overlook some photos as not having enough in them to make them candidates for painting source material.

In early June last summer,  I stopped briefly at Old Orchard Beach on my way to my summer place in Boothbay Harbor, Maine. 

It was a gray, rainy day, and very few people were in this honky tonk amusement town on the beach.  But I took some photos anyway.

Here is one I took from the beach looking back at the amusement park.  You might not think that it would inspire me to paint the scene.  No color, no people, and the rides weren't even open yet, so there were very few people around.  However, there are enough suggestions of the carnival atmosphere to build a painting.  And the gray scene meant that I wouldn't be tied to local color.

The problem in the photo is the lack of subject matter in the upper left hand corner.  I solved that by raising the roller coaster and inventing signage.  The straight unbroken line of the fence also presented a problem.  I changed it by including figures about to enter the park, and slightly curved the fence to repeat the curves in the ferris wheel and the halfdome building.  One figure breaks the line of the fence and the bottom edge of the paper.

You can also detect the linkage of white shapes to lead the eye through the painting. 

One last suggestion.  As you discover motifs that you have used in the past, draw upon those to help solve the empty space problem.  I have often included signs in my paintings, and they certainly came in handy for this painting.  By making them slightly oblique, they were also a useful element to "point" to the focal area.

So don't eliminate photos just because they are not ready-made compositions.  They might just be the motivation to think about the elements and principles to add to make the composition your own invention.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Secondary Triad

The secondary triad is becoming a favorite these days.  Here's a scene of the Old Orchard Pier in southern Maine done in purple, green and a hint of orange.  I'll be trying it again soon in another combination....Maybe analogous colors. 

Try limiting your palette selections for a greater sense of harmony, unity and dominance.