Thursday, June 30, 2011

Painting on the Plateau

It was a great day painting on the Santa Rosa Plateau.  Because the majority of us managed to get lost, we did start later than hoped, so the sun was already high and the colors a bit flat.  There was so much light that the paintings were high key.  However, we were there and I told everyone to go for the color spots and paint what they saw.  Everyone did great.  Our biggest problem was umbrellas blowing over in the wind.  Painting on location is addictive!

Tim and June on the Plateau with proper art gear!

My painting mid-point; light changed; time to stop.

Mary's idea; Gene's execution.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Are You and the Light on the Same Page?

I went to San Juan Capistrano twice this week.  One morning was overcast and almost foggy.  The other morning had brilliant sun.  

On the gray morning, the flowers stood out.  They were fluorescent against all of the grays.  The flowers were all I saw.  The Mission architecture faded into the background.  There was no way to paint anything but the flowers.  They were the focal point.

On the sunny morning, I took my mother because I specifically wanted to show her the flowers because they had been so beautiful.  They were still there but, amidst the brilliant light reflecting off the Mission walls and the pathways, the flowers were lost.  They didn't dominate the scene.  The light on the white-washed walls made the architecture dominant.

As much as we are the master of our paintings, sometimes nature dictates the focus.  It would have been difficult to make a painting about the Mission on the overcast day, and also difficult to make a painting about the flowers on the brilliant day.  

Look very closely at the light and the weather when painting on location.  A painting is a story, but some of the story is written before the artist arrives. Some ideas might succeed better on a different day.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ralph Love Plein Air Competition June 24, 25 and 26

The City of Temecula with The Arts Council of Temecula Valleys has announced the 4th Annual Ralph Love Plein Air competition and auction.

The competition takes place within the boundaries of Old Town Temecula. Artists may register at 6:00 p.m. on Friday evening, June 24th, at Main and Mercedes Streets; or at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, June 25th and 26th.  Paint to dusk on Friday and Saturday and until 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. The auction and award ceremony is at 4:00 p.m.

For information, call City of Temecula at (951) 506-5100.  Registration is $15 per day or $25 for both days.

Saturday, June 11, 2011


Idyllwild was great!  I could see something to paint in every direction.  I'm thinking ... WORKSHOP!!!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Plein Air Supplies

Plein air painting requires the usual painting supplies, but pack as lightly as you can.   I usually squeeze out plenty of paint in the Masterson palette and leave all tubes except white at home.  Or try something smaller like the pill boxes with a limited palette.   Every plein air artist has a personal plein air equipment solution.  Here's what I bring:

TV tray 
     Not needed if easel has a palette rest.
chair or folding stool
     If you like to sit.
     Bristle filberts #2, #4 (two), #6 (two) and #8
canvas panels
     6 x 8", 8 x 10" or 9 x 12" 
palette knife
palette scraper
     To check that canvas is level.
odorless mineral spirits
paper towels
sketchbook & pencil
black glass and color isolator
plastic grocery bag for used paper towels
bungee cord and masking tape
cart to carry all of this stuff

A word about umbrellas.  They are a bother but really do make a difference in your ability to see color.  I have been through half a dozen and have yet to find one without a hitch.  The problem is the wind. If the umbrella can't be pushed into the ground, it requires a weighted base.  I try to find a place in the shade to paint, so I don't need an umbrella.  The cloisters at the Mission provide shade.  I painted from the shady side of the street in North Park. If I must paint in the sun on a hard surface, I improvise a support for the umbrella - hence the bungee cord and tape.  You can tape it to your cart handle.  At University Heights I bungeed the umbrella to a parking meter.  

As to the umbrella itself, some artists prefer white and some black.  I prefer black.  Sargent and Sorolla used white.  Sergei Bongart recommended a cheap beach umbrella with the underside painted with black house paint.  It required replacing every year.  Both white and black plein air umbrellas are available through online art stores.  Most clamp to the easel which I have found to be a dangerous proposition.  Think Mary Poppins.  Start with anything you have available and devise a solution from experience. 

Kevin MacPherson's Limited Palette

If you are looking for a smaller palette to take on location, try Kevin MacPherson's:

cadmium yellow light (CYL)
cadmium red light (CRL)
alizarin crimson (AC)
ultramarine blue (UB)
phthalo green (PhG)
titanium white (TW)

While limited to five colors, this palette is very flexible.  You can mix high chroma and toned versions of the secondary colors because it includes both a warm and cool red. Phthalo green adds the ability to mix high chroma greens and ultra darks and blacks.  Phthalo green also makes mauves and violets when mixed with AC.

Another limited palette is the one we used for the color block exercises:

cadmium yellow lemon (CYLe)
cadmium orange (CO)
cadmium red light (CRL)
alizarin crimson (AC)
ultramarine blue (UB)
phthalo blue (PhB)
titanium white (TW)

CYLe adds the ability to mix very cool greens; PhB adds the ability to mix high chroma greens and blue greens - because red bias has been eliminated. You have to mix warm yellows, however, because CYL has been eliminated from the palette.

You will develop your own system for working on location.  Last week June used a pill box to carry a limited palette, putting one color in each compartment. Look for a pill box that has a separate lid for each compartment.  Jo-Ann's carries them in the craft container section.  The pill box moved around while painting, so attach it to the palette with several Velcro dots.  Between painting sessions put the pill box in a Ziplock bag and store it in the freezer.  The paint will keep indefinitely.  The pill box eliminates having to bring the palette seal and paint tubes.  Tape a piece of palette paper or freezer paper to a smaller board for a palette, open the pill box and you are ready to paint.  

Remember, we are looking for color notes and painting color comps, not large paintings, on location.

Sorolla in San Diego

The San Diego Museum of Art exhibition "From El Greco to Dali" will include ten paintings by Sorolla.  The exhibit runs from July 9th to November 6th, 2011.  All of the paintings are from the Pérez Simón collection and not previously seen in San Diego.  

Joaquin Sorlla, "At the Beach" 
Pérez Simón Collection
San Diego Museum of Art

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hey, Carlson Off the Top of My Head!

Rather than take the time to dig this out of John Carlson, Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting, let's remember what we've talked about before.

On a sunny day, the light from the sky passes through the sky and lands on the earth.  The horizontal ground plane is very bright.  It is hard to look at. You have to squint.  But, you can easily look at the blue part of the sky (not into the sun) because the light has passed through it.

On an overcast day, the light from the sky stays in the sky.  The horizontal ground plane does not reflect a lot of light.  You can easily look at it.  However, you squint when you look at the sky because the light is still in it.

So, what does this mean?  On a hazy day the sky is very bright and the ground plane has lower values than you would expect.  It is a gray day, but there are still darks and accents.  Don't mistake overcast for foggy.  Those are two different situations.  An overcast day can have dark shadow values.  A foggy or misty day has dark values more in the middle value range.

Also, on a hazy day, the light source is cool.  It is the sky and not the sun.  The shadows have a lot of warmth in them.  This morning the rose garden, the sky was very cool - and I saw crimsons and oranges in the foreground shadows. On a sunny day, the warm light from the sun overpowers the cool, secondary light from the sky - and the shadows appear cool in comparison.

Today, I didn't use an umbrella.  I've learned my lesson.  My paintings are darker than I thought.  There was so much light in the sky, I could see colors very well in my painting.  But, because of that light my eyes closed down. Indoors, the paintings look much darker and less colorful in the shadows. Oh, that dratted umbrella.  It is a must.

The Value of Plein Air Painting

I have been plein air painting, in North Park, University Heights, Temecula and my neighborhood.  I was  immediately reminded how valuable it is.  The location has more information than a photo ever shows.  It is true information, not manipulated by the camera's limitations.  The answer is always there, as close as correctly observing the color spots.  There is an immediacy and trueness to plein air work that studio painting, no matter how accomplished, never attains.  Plein air painting is a bother, with equipment problems, weather difficulties and carting mounds of stuff. Worse, there isn't always a bathroom.  The gains, however, far outweigh the difficulties.

Information about the paint-outs will be on the blog.  The class is in hiatus while I assess what next, after the closing of the gallery.  In January, I changed the class to a learning intensive format, with less time for individual projects.  The results were rewarding.

I will have several on locations classes, in addition to the paint-outs, in the next few months.  The first is on June 29th and will be at the Santa Rosa Plateau.  Your interest level directly affects my decision to continue teaching. 

If you are serious about becoming a better painter, painting on location is a learning laboratory.  It is always easier and less intimidating to go out with other painters than it is to go out alone.  Jump in!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Plein Air Painting, Day 1

The first day of my new painting life ...

I get up at 5:00 a.m. to be at University Heights for the early light.  I get up this early about twice a decade, but this is my new life.  The car does not start.  AAA arrives, eventually, and jumps the battery.  The dome light is on, but we can't turn it off.  AAA has a solution - rip it out.  It is in my ash tray.  I arrive at University Heights at 10:30 a.m.  The sun is overhead, the light is flat.

There is nothing but parallel parking in University Heights.  The spaces are five feet long.  I don't parallel park.  There are parking meters in University Heights.  I have two pennies and a 1 Euro that Jen gave me in my wallet.  I find a spot in front of a garage driveway, but the drive has a trailer parked in it that has flat tires. They are more than flat; they are vented.  I figure no one is going in or out.  

My parking spot is at the bottom of a very long hill.  The rest of the California Art Club is painting at the top of the hill.  I decide to paint right there, in front of my garage.  After all, a good artist can make anything work.  The light is flat anyway.

Wind.  Wind, wind, wind.  I tape; I weight; I bungee.  I hold the umbrella with my left hand while I paint with my right.  My umbrella is vented, but I realize that the only venting that would work in this wind would be to slash the umbrella to bits.

I paint; I isolate; I relate.  It's working.  The painting looks great.  I feel great.  I am finished in time for the critique.  The wind is not finished.  My easel rises two feet into the air.  The palette flies one way and slides down the front of me.  The easel somersaults backward into the street.  The turp jar spouts like a geyser and empties on my painting.  Poor easel.  It is ripped in two at the hinges.  Poor painting.  It is a meaningless puddle.

I skip the critique.


All of you should paint en plein air more often.  It is good for you.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

San Diego Art Institute C-Note Sale June 4th

San Diego Art Institute's C-Note Sale
June 4th - 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Preview June 3rd & 4th - 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Runs June 3rd to June 19th, 2011
Admission $3

Twice a year the San Diego Art Institute holds a fundraiser and art sale of work donated by their artists.  All art sells for $100, $200 and $300.  50% goes to fund SDAI's educational programs and 50% to the artists.  The video below is from a previous year, but the C-Note looks like a lot of fun. To have your pick, the preview and opening night look like the way to go!  I love seeing the little girl so excited about buying a piece of art.

The SDAI is located at 1439 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101.  Their phone number (619) 236-0011.