Monday, July 26, 2010

Composition and Process

During the past 2 months, I've been spending more time developing prelim studies. Focusing on mostly larger formats, I needed to eliminate any unforseen composition problems, really clarify the value relationships, and play some with the color. Thoroughly enjoyable. The first painting, "Valley Afternoon," was developed after a photo shoot in Sequim, WA during the annual lavender festival. I created an ink sketch, blocked in values with some warm and cool gray markers, and finally scribbling over the values with some colored pencil odds and ends. The placements of intersections, masses, and important lines were keyed to Golden Mean measurements which are visable as red lines.

As the painting progressed, I chose to open up the background trees/land mass as it was feeling too closed in. I fought to keep the mowed contours of the mid-ground pasture, but found them to be a bit too powerful in this painting. "Valley Afternoon." 30 x 24"

The other painting is based on some sketches I made while at Antietam National Battleground in Maryland a couple of years ago. I was so interested in the relationship between the old farm house and the gigantic tree in the front yard, that I did a couple of smaller scenes of the large barn at the back of the house, as well as a strong vertical of the tree and house alone. This time I wanted to put more of the existing scene into the composition, and play with the shapes. Since the vantage point condenses everything into a somewhat flat plane, I thought it might be interesting to go with it, using the hay bales as a way to move the viewer up the hill to the homestead. The process of placing the shapes, horizon line, strong verticals, and hay bales, is absolutely determined by the G.M. You'll notice a bale at a major intersection in front of the house, and another on the same vertical in the extreme foreground. This helps make the amount of foreground pasture less obvious, and helps guide you (with mostly open space!) to the farmhouse. As the painting unfolded, I made some changes to the area behind the house--again I felt the need to open the area up. (Do I have claustrophobia issues?) This felt better to me, and brought a stronger connection between the house and another structure. "Big Shade." 30 x 40."
Until next time....

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


I know it's been a VERY long time since my last post. The past 6 months have been busier than usual, and although I've not had much time to write, I've been thinking about posting! With a two month hiatus from teaching and traveling, my studio has seen more of me than my husband has. This uninterupted stretch of drawing, painting, thinking, experimenting...and rethinking has been huge for me.

With more time to develop ideas, the paintings I've produced this summer have flowed with less effort and more enjoyment. I've enjoyed spending more time developing compositions and value studies in advance of the painting part. A wonderful luxury--time!
I'm including a couple of recent paintings that I will talk about in my next posts. I've photographed stages of development for both, along with some new ways of approaching the preliminary block in for the composition. The past 2 months I've focused on producing a body of large format paintings: 24 x 30, 30 x 40, and 36 x 48 sizes. So spending more time developing the composition, more consideration of value and scale, have opened up interesting ways of playing with the idea long before I touch a pastel. I'll share this with you, too.
Another painting is beckoning from the easel, so I'll close for now. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Seasonal Changes

I thought I'd share a painting I completed this week. I had a photo with some pretty unusual lighting in it--very early spring: cold, dark sky in the background, strong sunlight in the foreground, and all of the vegetation either bare or muted in color. I did like the shapes.

Soon after taking the photo I developed my composition, and produced a small color study. This process brought more familiarity with the subject, and solidified ideas about color and value balance. (I was also thinking I might want to change the season to something with a bit more color.)

The photos I have posted here represent the compositional sketch/pencil block-in on a panel, the preliminary color masses of the major shapes, and the completed painting.

As the painting progressed, early spring gradually became warm early autumn. I've been experimenting again with surfaces, and this panel had enough tooth for many layers.
Moving away from the local color allowed me the freedom to develop a color relationship that doesn't allow any one thing to become dominant. Subtle temperature shifts help to unify the colors in the painting, while embedded shared color exists throughout the painting.

Although I love the power poles, they dominated what was becoming a more peaceful scene--so they'll have to wait for another painting!

The Intersection.
10 x 8.

By the way, check out my new website. The address
is the same, but the look is new.

Until next time...

Monday, January 4, 2010


I woke up this morning thinking about simplification--creating the feeling of the place without actually providing a lot of detail/things in the painting. Working in my studio today, I decided to revisit a quick compositional study, drawn on location in Colorado this past summer. I've been testing a new batch of textured gel, so I was stocked up on 8 x 10 panels that were ready to go.

The block-in on the panel is done with a pencil, and is slightly different than the sketch. I also included horizontal and vertical lines representing the Golden Section calculations for the most advantagous locations for stacking shapes or creating intersections.

The sloping shapes of the land masses leading back to the mountains were the reason I did the sketch initially. As the composition developed, I became interested in the intersecting relationship of the fence line, top line of the pastures, and the grouping of trees just beyond. I placed that intersection at the top right GS intersection, balancing the strong vertical of the fence line with the horizontal shadow pattern in the foreground.

The finished painting viewed from several feet has a solid feel for the values and depth. The details and specifics are implied, so it's much more loose and abstract up close. (Try squinting at this photo, and you'll see what I mean.) This was my idea--to simplify the information, relying most on accurate values and a cohesive color pallette.

Having fewer big chunks of time in my studio the past year, I've been thinking and painting more along the line of color studies. An 8x10 or 9x12 provides the opportunity for a bit more experimenting and spontaneous painting--and still be able to get it finished in one session. These little guys are the trial runs for some large format studio paintings.

I'll be teaching in Springfield, OR early February. Since it will be a studio class, I'm hoping for some snow on the ground--sketch it quick, and paint where it's warm!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Creating Balance

I thought I'd start the New Year off right by posting again--very aware that it has been seven months since my last entry. I've had lots to write about this year, but setting aside the time to sit down and write has been my challenge. (I think that's referred to as procrastination.) Teaching has kept me on the road quite a bit this year--so catching up with family and friends, and spending as much time in the studio while home, has been my excuse. With my resolutions for the New Year being "Balance and Organization" I am getting started again.


I took a drive this week up to Mt Vernon for some shopping at Dakota Pastels. It was a day trip with a good friend--a great time--and I brought back a big bag of pastels. I spent the day today completely reorganizing my medium Heilman Box. The contents had sustained a significant amount of damage this summer during a flight home, so it's been sitting around the studio waiting for help. I emptied and cleaned the box, then rearranged my color columns to suite my current thought process. The colums from l-r are blue violet, blue, cool green, warm green, red/orange/yellow, and red violet. (Keeping the color wheel flow while separating the blue and red violets was the idea.) This arrangement has worked really well for me during the past 6 months of painting, so I transitioned this box that way, too. I will discuss the color choices in the next section.


One thing I've been increasingly aware of this past year, is the importance of balance--in my work and in my life. As an artist, I'm finding more fullfillment and pleasure from having a bit more balance of luscious and neutral color choices in my paintings. The beautiful lively colors become more interesting when balanced with muted and subtle versions. I spent a couple of months this year trying to use the most greyed color I could, getting comfortable using them, and developing a way to incorporate the neutrals into a more integrated color palette. Balance. This way of thinking about color as 3-dimensional--value, hue, and chroma--has provided some pretty exciting painting adventures this year.

The newly revised pastel box contains a balance of warm/cool, light/dark, and high/low chroma color. The primary and secondary colors are well represented with all of their variations.
So back to my New Year's resolutions:
I've always prided myself as being sufficiently organized, but there's always room for improvement. Finding the balance in studio & plein air painting, reading & writing more about painting, and fending off the tendency to procrastinate with my blog, are my goals for 2010.
Speaking or writing one's ideas make them tangible. Sharing them make them meaningful.
Next time I'll be posting some new work. Until then,
Happy New Year!