Friday, September 30, 2016

Breathing Life Into An Old Subject

The building at the end of Sample's Boatyard pier is a favorite subject of mine.  I've painted it with boats next to it, as a silhouette against a colorful sky,  close up and far away.  This year I decided to get funky with it.  Eliminating any hint of background, I began with a simple wash of gradated colors.

Then I decided to tilt a few things to create a sense of movement and tension.  Throw in a couple of figures and some seagulls, and the painting was finished before I knew it!

The secret to a large wash is to have a very big puddle of color ready.  I also sponged the page so it was ready to receive the color.  Use a large brush to hold as much color and water as possible.  While the first wash was wet, I dashed in some other colors to provide relief from the primary color.  Above all, don't hesitate.  Paint quickly!  Otherwise, the paper will start to dry and that's when you get the proverbial "mud." 

A fresh interpretation of a familiar subject can revitalize your interest in the painting experience.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mixing Greens

In summer landscapes, knowledge of how to mix greens is essential.  Nothing is more boring than seeing sap greens everywhere in the painting. 

Mixing greens requires one basic fact:  blue and yellow make green.  I usually start by painting a wash of various yellows.  In this case I used cadmium yellow,  and yellow ochre. (Yellow ochre is an opaque color and does not work well when glazed over other colors.) I then painted varieties of blues and purples mixed with yellows and even burnt sienna on the palette and quickly dashed in while the first wash was still wet.  This wet-into wet process was especially important in the foreground where I wanted the grass to be softly out of focus.  Trying to recreate single blades of grass is a mistake many beginners make in an effort to be accurate.  Decide where you want your center of interest and avoid textures in places that would draw your attention away from that area.

The foreground greens are warm.  As the foliage reaches the shore further back, I switched to more grayed greens.

The foliage on the trees  transitions to blues which are grayed with burnt sienna or a touch of red mixed on the palette.  I kept the washes simple, only resorting to textures at the edge of the shape.  Painting individual pine needles is a futile exercise. 

Since I wanted the emphasis to be on the trees, I paid close attention to the following:  the intervals between the trunks,  the contrast in the values of the trees and the variety of straight and curvilinear trees.  Attention was paid to the light trees by painting the background tree shapes negatively.  And for goodness sake, please remember that most trees are not brown.  The birch trees are white with blue-gray shadows!  The tree on the far right is a grayed pink with blue cast shadows on the lower half.  The dark tree on the left is not straight brown, but a mixture of burnt sienna and ultramarine blue, with very little water.  Don't be timid with your darks!

One hint:  while you have a certain color on your brush, dance around the page with it.  This gives a color unity to the painting.

Variation is a must when painting greens. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Pleasure in Study

During the same exploration of Ocean Island that I mentioned in the last post, I spotted this group of trees.  What attracted me was the dappled nature of the scene.  I love trees, and the variety in this scene delighted me.  The sky and bay beyond created a perfect foil for the light and dark contrast of the trees.  Light against dark, and dark against the light. 

Here is the value study of the scene.

Monday, September 26, 2016


I had a real adventure yesterday when I was invited by the caretaker of Ocean Island to come over the causeway to explore the private island for potential subject matter.  It was a treasure trove of driftwood, rocks, trees, beaches, and tidal pools on a day with gorgeous cloud formations.  I took nearly fifty photos to supply me with subjects over the winter.

When I awoke at 3:00 a.m. today and couldn't get back to sleep, I decided to do a sketch of some driftwood on the rocky beach, and then couldn't wait to paint the scene.

First decision:  color dominance.  It was a sunny day, so I opted for a warm, yellow and orange dominance.  The orange rocks in the background are offset by the complementary color of blue in the water.  I grayed the foreground with some violets to again contrast with the yellows on the beach.

Second decision:  To simplify the shape of the beach and keep the focus on the textures in the driftwood, I resisted the temptation to depict the textures of the small pebbles and rocks on the beach.  This results in a smooth dominance with moments of textural interest to break the primary quiet of the beach shape.

And last, the tonal contrast.  The majority of the scene is dominated by the very light values on the beach to achieve the feeling of sunlight.  The dark cast shadows of the driftwood punctuate the areas that I wanted to emphasize.

It always comes down to deciding your center of interest and how to focus the viewers' eyes on that area.  Color dominance, textural dominance, and tonal dominance aid in directing the viewer to what you've decided is the important subject in your painting.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Color As Subject

While looking for something to paint yesterday, I found a photo I had taken in a historic village in Carthage, Missouri.  Since I'm in Maine, I decided to move it to the coast!  I also added some buildings that surrounded the main dockside shack.

When faced with beginning the painting, I decided that color would play the starring role.  The original building was very colorful, so I decided to exaggerate the rest of the colors as well.  I surrounded the outside shacks with warm, soft-edged colors to contrast with the cool, harder edged values of the middle building. 

Glazing played a big part in creating the colorful effects.  Some glazing was direct, painted wet-into-wet, while other colors were super-imposed on early washes after they had dried.

It was a lot to think about!

Friday, September 16, 2016

Limited Palette

In this painting of the Coast Guard dock in Boothbay Harbor, painted on 9/11, I chose to use a limited palette.  Using just ivory black, yellow ochre, and burnt sienna, I was able to concentrate on values. 

More and more lately, I will choose three or four colors and mixtures of gray tones made from them to relieve myself of the decision about which colors to use.  Instead of reaching for colors from all over the spectrum of colors or opting in favor of local color, I find that using mostly neutrals and a few spots of purer colors to punch up the scene alleviates the anxiety about color choices. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Adding and Re-arranging

This tiny cabin was owned by a local doctor for many years.  There is another cabin that hangs out over the water, but it is a big rectangle.  The main house on the property is set way back in the yard leading down to the water.

So I moved the main house up and changed the little house to the left by adding a shed.

Additions included the boat and fisherman to break up the straight line of the shore.  The onlooker on the porch was also added, featuring a bright red to contrast with the neutralized grays, greens and violets.

The stantion in the foreground was actually there, but I had to move it over to stop the eye from leaving the frame. 

P.S. Note that the pilings under the cabin were not painted dark.  Rather, I painted a wash in one pass, waited for it to dry, and then carved out the negative space behind them in neutral tones.  That way, the pilings didn't command more attention than the boat and fisherman. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Annual Subjects

At least once a summer, I paint a surf painting.  This one is the result of Hurricane Hermine which passed by out to sea.  It was a bright sunny day with only a slight breeze, but the surf was churning up at 4-6 feet. 

The study of surf requires careful observation.  Fortunately, the repetition of waves allows for looking at a certain part of the falling wave.   Watching the top of the wave, the curl, the bottom of the wave, the spray, and the aerated white surf can be studied separately. 

Also, the contrast of the warmth on one rock helps dramatize the scene.

Here is also a value study of the surf.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Paint Out

Giving life to a painting is something that requires some intention.  On the day that the Stroke of Art group and the Plein Air Painters of Maine joined forces to paint Grimes Cove, I saw a lot of paintings of rocks and water.  A few painters chose to paint the houses at the head of the cove.  But I wanted a bit more life in my scene.  I added a sailboat and some figures to the beach to animate the scene.  I also rounded the  cove more than it is in actuality.  I eliminated the windows in the house because I didn't want texture and details to distract the viewer and destroy the shapes.  The textures in the pine tree were also eliminated in favor of a tree shape.  Finally, the seagulls provided some life in the sky area.

  The quiet shape of the bay and the simplified shape of the cliff and the beach help concentrate the viewer's eye on the sailboat and the house. 

K.I.S.S., stupid.

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Axeman Cometh

I spotted this woodpile in front of a cottage near the Ocean Point Inn.  The axe and the flowerpot drew my attention. 

This is a problem of line direction, shape, values and warm and cool colors.  The overall shape of the woodpile forms a kind of vignette, with the foreground lawn and background trees kept deliberately without detail to preserve the focus on the woodpile.

Color variation is crucial to avoid repetition in the tree trunks.  The warm colors contrast with the cool colors and are spaced at intervals to lead your eye towards the axe.  The color of the flower pot rhymes with the cut ends of the wood. 

Study the lines and you will see that they all seem to lead into the center of the painting.  The angle of the axe  is also in contrast with the angles within the woodpile.

One further note:  the cut wood is less and less detailed when it reaches the edge of the shape.  Especially important is the first trunk in the lower left.  Had it been defined further, your eye would have gone straight to it.

This painting required lots of restraint.  The temptation to oversupply the viewer with details that would subtract attention from the two stars of the piece--the axe and the flower pot--was great.  Putting every blade of grass in the foreground or tree trunks in the background would destroy the shape of the woodpile.  Remember your initial idea.  Hold that brush in check!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

My Favorite Things

Since I said that I was going to paint the previous post's drawing, I felt obligated to wait until I had actually painted it.  I've done several other paintings in the interim, but wanted to be sequential.

Anyway,  this rock is one of my favorite things to look at while sitting on the dock every afternoon.

I decided to paint it with a very limited palette:  yellow ochre, burnt sienna and ivory black, which I've just recently added to my palette.  Neutralized primary colors: yellow, red and blue-black.  the yellow ochre forms the under wash and the light shapes, the burnt sienna is the midtone, and when mixed with black you have the darks.  Texture was kept to a minimum while tone and value changes were done wet-into-wet for a nice contrast between hard and soft areas.

I have some more paintings done, some in my sketchbook and some in my head.  This always happens in September.  I start seeing paintings everywhere, and love experimenting.  Perhaps it's the shift in the light which intensifies the shadows.  Maybe it's the realization that time is limited and I must make use of every day. 

Good luck to all my friends in Florida who are dealing with storm damage and flooding.  You're in my thoughts.