Saturday, June 8, 2019

Combs Ferry Farm

My pastel class will be doing plein air demonstrations during the reception for our exhibit at the Harkness Edwards Vineyards which is out in Clark County. When we drove out to see the vineyards I spotted on the distant horizon this farm and I loved the rhythm of the big barns as their roofs shone in the setting sunlight. When I work on a new piece I try to form in my mind what is it that attracts me to this scene when there's lots of land and fields in the distance - why this spot?

Reference photo - Combs Ferry Farm

Sketch in basic shapes with pastel pencil 
Block in lights and darks with NuPastels

Wash in pastel with rubbing alcohol. This will set the underpainting.

After alcohol dries, start blocking in shadow colors

Block in the light colors but keep the first layer darker than the expected later layers

Continue adding color keeping in mind the values as they appear next to each other, which is the only way to truly see colors - how they appear next to each other.

Final layers of lights and shadows. Is it successful in expressing what I was excited about when I first spotted the barns? If not, do another one, learning from the first one.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Peach House at Harkness Edwards Vineyards

The PeachHouse at Harkness Edwards Vineyards is a lovely old farmhouse which is now used for functions at the Vineyards. What a great way to repurpose an old house that has seen many years of life.

Architecture can be challenging but I divide the image into the basic format of 3rds and draw guide lines onto the reference photo. These lines really help with the placement of the basic shapes and once those basic shapes are placed then the details can be added within those blocks. When I work in plein air, I have piece of clear acrylic onto which I have also drawn the 1/3 lines and I look through that acrylic viewfinder to help with drawing accuracy. Then some basic knowledge of perspective helps which I can't go into with this blog right now.
The bottom of the house hits at the bottom 1/3 line. The roofline of the first floor on the left side of the house hits at about 1/2 of the picture plane and the roofline of the top roof hits at the top 1/3 mark. You'll see that vertical the side of the house where the evening light is hitting is at the 1/3 mark. The right side of the house hits at the vertical 1/3 mark on the right side of the photo. Yes, the photo fits nicely into the "1/3 Golden Mean" but I also cropped the original photo to fit the house into that 1/3 format. 

Sketch in the basic line and then for the underpainting I add dark Nupastels for the shadowed areas and orange pastels for the sunny areas. This simple designation helps me see the design of the piece.

After applying NuPastel I washed it in with rubbing alcohol to set the underpainting.

Once the underpainting is set I applied the basic color if the image paying close attention to the value change on the side of the PeachHouse where the setting sun is shining. The setting sun shining on the house is what interested me in the image. That setting sun is also illuminating the large tree which is looming over the house - that's kind of a secondary interest - nature challenging man made objects and eventually nature will win.

The point of interest is the light on the side of the PeachHouse. That color needs to be the brightest and although the light on the tree in the photo looks equally as bright as also the light across the grass it must be subdued so the light on the house remains the most important area. At the end I added the lawn chairs for added interest but you can see that although their shape could be distracting by keeping the value dark against the shadowed lawn the chairs do not get a lot of attention.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Happy Earth Day - Wildflowers

Wildflowers at Raven Run Nature Sanctuary
Spring is finally here and with spring comes wildflowers galore at the Raven Run Nature Sanctuary in my area of Kentucky. I love to get out and create plein air studies of the Blue-eyed Mary's - a very little but very prolific wildflower that carpets the forest floor. As you can tell by the above reference photograph they don't show up very well, so plein air sketches are essential.
Raven Run Wildflowers - plein air
This lesson starts with a sketch of the basic shapes and then watercolor wash for the underpainting. I actually did 2 layers of watercolor to control the color and the rhythm of the piece. If I like the underpainting I'm off to a much better start.
Watercolor underpainting on UArt 400 grit sanded paper
Next I add the first layers of pastel - keeping in mind it's better to start dark and go to lighter colors later. I like starting with the sky and background trees as that sets the overall color bias - in this case a slight overcast pinkish hue. 
I've found that with these little wildflowers it's best to create the under color of the flowers first - the greens - and then add the blue, lavender and white flowers later.


Continue building up the layers of color. The very tiny flowers give the impression of carpeting the forest floor so my approach is to not try to paint individual flower - that would be crazy - but add a layer of color to resemble a carpet of color. The best way to view the scene, while I'm actually there, is to blur my eyes and see the color shapes, lights and shadows.

More layers of color adjusting the shadow and light shapes to create the best impression of the scene. Blue-eyed Mary's look like tiny violets with the top 2 petals white and the bottom 3 petal periwinkle blue. At a distance they have a lavender tone. Also in the forest are purple larkspur, pinkish phlox and yellow wood poppies.
Final steps for "Raven Run Wildflowers"

Monday, April 8, 2019

Choosing Photographs and Cropping

Photograph of Raven Run Creek in early spring
What do I look for when choosing photographs as reference for studio paintings?
1) Does the photo "ring my bell?"
2) What's the essence of the image? Can cropping the photo produce a better focus for that essence?
3) What's the composition and can it be improved by cropping?
4) Keep in mind 
• Shapes • Values • Color • Composition

The top photograph is from Raven Run Creek in the early spring with the creek being the main focus. 

The next photograph is cropped so the main focus is light on the big sycamore tree with the little waterfall as a secondary focus. (Ignore the weedy brush overlapping the sycamore tree. It's not important and it takes attention away from the light on the edge of the tree.) 

Here's the plein air oil painting from my trip to Raven Run.

This is the studio pastel painting with the Raven Run Creek as the main focus. But there's strong light on the sycamore tree so the focus on the creek is diluted. Is that what I wanted?

This one is a pastel of the close-up of the sycamore tree and the reflections on the water. While working on this one I reduced the brightness on the waterfall and the reflections to keep the viewer's eye on the light on the edge of the sycamore tree.

It's not that one is better than the other, but that the focus is different and you, as the artist, need to figure out when observing a scene, "What am I interested in?" You can get multiple paintings from one photo by cropping.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Water Reflections and a Sunset

Version #1 on Uart paper with pastel and rubbing alcohol underpainting
In case my Tuesday night class quickly finishes the Red River Reflections lesson I need another "Water Reflections" lesson. This time let's add a sunset to give some strong color to the water.

I'm posting 4 versions of the same sunset. 

I took the reference photographs from sitting in my kayak. That makes the shoreline totally flat since I'm sitting right on the top of the water as opposed to maybe standing above the water on a bank or maybe a bridge. 

The first version was an 8"x11" on Uart paper with an underpainting created with pastel and rubbing alcohol wash. I used only NuPastel.

The second and third versions were 6"x9" sketches on Italian clay colored Pastel Premier sanded paper made by Hand-book Paper Co. In the rest of these versions I used the much softer Sennelier and Mt. Vision pastels. 

The last version was 10"x8.5" again on Italian clay colored Pastel Premier, but it was an older version of the paper and much more textured. Why do I mention that? Because the texture of sanded paper can very much affect how you deal with the layering of colors and the pressure you use to get the pastel to stick well and cover that texture, unless you want the color of the paper to show through.

I like to work in a series especially when I feel like I have not found the form of expression I was aiming for in the first version. Version 2 & 3 are more loosely created with more expressive marks.
Version #2 on clay color sanded paper - less uptight application of color
Version #3 also on clay colored sanded paper
Version #4 - clay colored paper. New format 
This version has a focus on the setting sun and the colors of the sunset. I like this more simplified version as it's focus is more apparent and I think the format more interesting. Because the paper is more highly textured I pushed much harder with the pastel to cover the clay color of the paper.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Red River Autumn Reflections

My Tuesday night pastel class wants to have a lesson on "water". This blog will be photo heavy since I think the progression of the demonstration is the most instructive.

The focus of my painting is not only water reflections but the play of light on the creek bank. The left side of the creek is mostly in shadow and the right side is in sunshine.

When working with water especially reflections I try not to have an exact replication of the scene similar to a Rorschach ink blot test. Reflections are also closer in value to each other than what is reflected. In other words the dark colors are lighter and the light colors are darker. That creates a closer value of colors in the reflection.

Also I create most of my reflection strokes as vertical strokes since what is being reflected is growing upward in a vertical direction. At the very end of the drawing I'll add horizontal stokes to reflect movement in the water.
Final for "Red River Autumn Reflectons"
Value study
Sketch in basic shapes
Watercolor underpainting
Start adding pastel - darker colors first
Close-up of sky colors. Add similar values but vary the colors
Continue adding more details with pastel
Add more specifics in sky and trees. Left side in in shadow and right side is in sunshine
Getting close to finish but reflection shapes are too dark and edges too sharp
Wipe out reflections using a paper towel to get a softer look to the water
final version

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Drawing Lesson 2 - Trees

My last blog was about drawing using a simple pear as the subject.
This lesson follows the same methods but I'm using a more complicated shape of a tree for the example.
Big maple tree with light coming from the right side

In this "edges" drawing I'm studying the general edges of the tree but not the very details of every in and out of the shape. I always measure the height and width of the subject. Is the general shape a square or rectangle? In this case the rectangle shape is taller than it is wide.
Study the edges of the tree. The outline edges show the character of the tree's shape

This drawing is a controlled contour drawing. I drew all the detailed ends and out of the edges but unlike a true contour drawing I looked at my paper and guided the drawing along the lines of the earlier "edges" drawing.
Controlled contour drawing.

After sketching the contour I added cross-hatching marks to depict value. The sun is fairly high in the sky but on the right side of the tree. The left side of the tree will be in shadow.

Contour and value sketch

If you can change the reference photo into gray tone you'll be able to better determine the shading.
Gray tone photo
Fun little sketch of the deer, mostly black and white.