Sunday, May 17, 2009

Red Trim

I fully intended to add another post long before now. What can I say--IT"S SPRING! The flowers are blooming, there are berries coming on, and fruit developing on the trees--all outside my studio window. Add the occasional chipmunk, and you can see why it's been tough to stay focused on painting!
I've been working on another vertical painting--same tall skinny format--but this time I'm exploring the minimal light and abundant shade in this early morning scene. I began with the Golden Section again, placing the shapes to their best advantage--stretching, shrinking, and omitting as needed. The first image shows a reference photo, the compositional sketch, and the initial blocking in on a textured panel, primed with Pyrrole Orange paint. What struck me about this scene was the strong (although small) pattern of sunlight on the silos, roof, and some trees. The vantage point, in deep shade, also creates an interesting feeling of confinement--before opening up into the courtyard. These are the elements that will drive the painting. Although mostly structures, I'm trying to confine even the landscaping and vegetation to solid shapes.

The main challenge with this subject was fine-tuning the value relationships. Since there isn't all that much distance from the foreground slate pathway, to the top of the silos, a sound relationship of values is critical to making the lighting situation work.

Using the Golden Section as a way to organize the major shapes, helped create a composition that was pleasing to me. I thought that was going to be the hard part! Constantly checking and double-checking the values proved to be a much more difficult process--keeping the color as lively as possible without undermining the value patterns. With so much going on in the scene, it was critical that everything feel like it was part of the same lighting--the same quiet place.
Red Trim. 24 x 12". Pastel on panel.

As a side note, I was sent a sample of a new fixative recently, and was asked for some feedback. So I was testing the product on this painting. It worked great!--and I'm normally not a fan of fixative. Non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and no apparent changes to my color layers--I think it's a winner. It's SpectraFix from

Until next time...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Calculating the Composition, Part 2

As promised, here is the completed painting, "Tulips and Poplars," 24 x 12." The transition from the initial block in of color/value entailed an abundance of layering with the pastel. This network of layers makes it possible to soften or strengthen the color quality, lose or find edges, modify values, and unify or separate objects in the composition.
My original idea was based on having a large poplar shape heavily weighted on the right, along with the tulip fields. With the addition of similar groupings of poplars, the solitary (largest and darkest value) tree on the right is now part of a pattern that pulls you through the fields to the distant structures. Using the Golden Section really helped fine-tune the proportions and placement of these shapes--then it was easier to build the fields, foothils, and pathways to appropriately fit the trees.
The balance of vertical and horizontal shapes, potentially dramatic vertical format and a quiet feeling, and sunny but subdued (cool) light--this was the goal.
Now on to the next painting!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Calculating the Composition

I had a great idea for an extreme vertical painting a couple of months ago. After working out the composition in my sketchbook, I prepped a 24 x 12" panel, and got underway. As the painting progressed, I became increasingly aware that my enthusiasm for the idea didn't compensate for a flawed composition. I wanted strong vertical shapes heavily weighted on one side of the painting, but the other shapes were not providing the needed balance. Almost finished, the painting spent the next 2 months staring back at me from the studio shelf. This week, I decided to take another stab at my idea, but this time I was going to slow down, and think about constructing this with my calculator, a piece of graph paper, and the Golden Section. Try a different approach this time--it couldn't hurt.

Using my original sketch as the resource, I plotted out the dimensions of my panel (24 x 12), and began creating a grid that represented intersections and spacing based on the Golden Section, and that also related to the horizon line, major shapes, etc. in my sketch. By tweaking a bit, relocating slightly, and exaggerating some of the shapes, I was able to recreate the scene I wanted--but this time the composition was solid.

This isn't rocket science, and the Golden Section has been in use by artists for hundreds of years. What surprised me most was how calm and logical the solution was. With a refined composition, the work at the easel was a joy. I'm posting here the original sketch, and the G.S. sketch on grid, and the first blocking in of color/value.
This experience has reinforced the need to think smart, using cognitative problem-solving logic. Relying solely on inspiration and "feeling" doesn't work for me. Using all of my conscious and intuitive skills will insure the control that's needed to bring ideas to life.
I'll probably still work from an intuitive (internally KNOWN) process with composition, but it's great to have a reliable and objective silent partner in the studio.
I'll include the completed painting in my next post. It will take a couple of days to finish, so stay tuned...