Monday, April 4, 2016

What Do I Hope for in a Plein Air Sketch?

Someone asked me yesterday while I was painting plein air at the Temecula Rose Garden, what do you hope to come away with from a plein air painting session?

Well, not a painting. Maybe it is because I am not a fast painter, but the day I let go of the expectation that I was on location to create a finished work, plein air painting became useful to me. 

What I hope to come away with is ... information. Information I can take to the studio and, perhaps along with a photograph, do a finished painting. I don't mean finish the painting. I rarely touch a plein air sketch after leaving the location. The sketch has firsthand, onsite color information that a photograph never captures. A photograph can record the scene to draw from. Color comes from the plein air sketch.

On location, I don't worry about details or even composition. I record relationships between the color spots. What is the color of the light? Which is the brightest green? Is that tree trunk in shadow lighter or darker than the shadowy undergrowth behind it? Record the relationships between the value, temperature and chroma of each color spot. If I come home with that, I have what I need to make a painting.

Plein air painting became a whole lot less stressful when I understood this. You can spend two hours maximum on a plein air sketch. Maximum! The light and color are changing quickly. In two hours you are looking at a different scene that is a different painting. Two hours? Near sunrise and sunset, the light will be different in only 20 or 30 minutes. Capture the relationships between the color spots in that 20 minutes and you are golden.

Here is a 4:00 p.m. oil sketch, 8 x 6", about 20 minutes. Boom. Done. Late afternoon light. Yeah!

Same tree, different day, different time.

April Oil Painting Class

Studio Oil Painting

Wednesdays, April 6, 13, 20 and 27;
     9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Class is for all levels. Enrollment is by the month. First time students may attend one class ($35) to see what it is like. Please check the week Class Notes blog post for the lesson plan.


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Class Notes for 3/9/2016 - Studio Oil Painting

Class Notes for 3/9:

We will be in class at our Fallbrook location but dipping our toes into plein air. I will have several small (two or three object) still lifes set up outdoors. One probably just outside the big garage door, so you can paint inside. There will be several outside for which you would need your plein air kit. You can also look in any direction and paint landscape.

The goal:

  • Become comfortable with painting outdoors
  • Make decisions about color spots quickly
  • Practice color relationships
  • Let go of the literal and the details. Find the structure of your painting.
We will be working small. Bring 6x8" and 8x10" panels. I want you to complete 2 or 3 paintings in one class session.

What to look for in color spots? The hue (temperature), value (light or dark) and chroma (bright or dull) of each color spot.

What is a color spot? It can be any size or shape. A color spot is the area that covers one plane of any object. In a cube, it might be an entire side. On an orange, it might be the up plane of the side of the orange in light. When there is a plane change there is a color spot change.

Here are three paintings by a Russian artist, Yuri Konstantinov. Notice how simple they are. The lilacs in shade are painted as one color spot - (since the bouquet is backlit). There is a very small color spot along the top edge of the large color spot for the lilacs - a narrow warmer, ligher, brighter strip. It is the top edge of the lilacs, turning toward the sun behind.

A more detailed painting could be built on top of this simple statement - but the original statement would not be lost. Everything that started in shadow would stay in shadow. Everything that started in light would stay in light. The color spots are a roadmap for the painting.

This looks simple to do, but it takes a lot of practice to get the hue, value and chroma relationships correct. If you do get them correct, even if you stop at that point, the viewer will understand what the painting is describing.

Yuri Konstantinov 

My Palette

I have used the same palette for most of my painting years. Sergei Bongart used a double primary palette - a warm and cool of each color, with some earth tones added. I have added a few of the higher tinting strength colors. This is a large palette, but I find I reach for all the colors.

Transparent Red Oxide 
Raw Sienna
Yellow Ochre (about ready to drop it, since I rarely reach for it)
Cadmium Lemon Yellow 
Cadmium Yellow Medium 
Cadmium Orange 
Cadmium Red Light
Alizarin Crimson
Quinacridone Violet
Dioxazine Purple
Ultramarine Blue Deep
Cobalt Blue
Cerulean Blue
Phthalo Blue (Red Shade)
Phthalo Green (Blue Shade)
Sap Green
Phthalo Yellow Green
Titanium White

Sometimes on location, to save space and weight, I eliminate some of the colors.

Transparent Red Oxide
Raw Sienna
Permanent Yellow Lemon
Permanent Orange
Cadmium Red Light
Alizarin Crimson
Quinacridone Violet
Ultramarine Blue
Titanium White

Kevin MacPherson's limited palette is my favorite when I really want to simplify. You can mix everything you need, maybe not with the subtlety of a full palette, but you can mix a complete range of colors from warm to cool, full chroma to toned.

Cadmium Yellow Light 
Cadmium Red Light
Alizarin Crimson
Ultramarine Blue
Phthalo Green (Blue Shade)
Titanium White

My medium of choice is Archival Oils Odourless Lean.