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. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

Santa Rosa Plateau, New Year's Day

The Plateau on January 2, 2015. It is closed for the next four or five days because of dangerous paths and damaged trees. As you can see from the last photo of the day, taken at the top of the Plateau by the vernal pools trailhead, there will be plenty of water in the vernal pools.

The Plateau on New Year's Day

Monday, December 22, 2014

Painting from Photographs

One thing that you hear from every good landscape painter is that you have to paint on location because photographs never contain the colors and values the human eye can see. I have found this to be true over and over. I paint on location and snap a photo for further reference. Back in the studio, the photo is always inferior in information compared to the plein air sketch.

This photo is a good example. It was taken by a friend walking in a field I often walk myself. I have seen this sunset sky and colors dozens of times. What doesn't the photo show? The camera pushes the values to the dark end of value scale, because the aperture on the camera has closed down to give a truer value to the sky. The camera always compensates to retain the color and value in the area with the most light (the sky), to keep it from being burned out. That looks great in a photo. But the mid and mid dark values are pushed into a tighter value range than they actually were. The distinction in value between the horizontal plane (the ground) and the inclined planes (the hills) is almost lost. Having walked here at this time of day, I know that the horizontal ground plane was lighter in value than in the photo. It most directly faces the light from the sky.

Another problem is that the temperature play between warm and cool has almost totally been lost in the photo. The light was coming from the left and the left side of each tree was lighter and influenced by the pink light. You could see the temperature variation on the green hill, between the areas in light and the areas where the trees blocked the light.

Also, the dark vertical planes of the trees have very little color in the photo. They are almost black. To the eye, I could see the warm toned green of the trees. They were dark but I could see the local color. The further trees were distinctly bluer. The photo doesn't show this.

If you have painted on location a lot, it will be easier to work from photos ... because you will be aware of what is missing and what has been changed. You can make adjustments that correct the shortcomings of the photo.

It is a lovely scene, though. You can imagine what is was to walk through it.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Those Other Pigments

Burnt Umber
Burnt Sienna
Raw Sienna
Yellow Ochre
Cadmium Yellow Lemon (or Permanent Yellow Light)
Cadmium Yellow Medium (or Permanent Yellow)
Cadmium Red Light 
Alizarin Crimson
Ultramarine Blue
Cerulean Blue
Sap Green
Titanium White (large tube)
Ivory Black (for black and white exercises only)

This is the basic palette that I start students on. But, as you have seen, we have used other colors. They are not necessary, but they are occasionally useful.  We've mentioned so many in the past few weeks, here's a list. 

Additional Hues:
  • Cobalt Blue - a true blue, cooler than cerulean and warmer than ultramarine. I put in on my palette for landscapes, especially overcast days. It is a very weak color and grays quickly when mixed with white.
  • Napthol Red (Winsor Red, Grumbacher Red) - a true red, cooler than cadmium red and warmer than alizarin. I don't usually put it on my palette unless I am painting red things.

The dye colors (high chroma, high tinting strength - meaning they hold up to white): These colors do NOT add to the number of hues in the basic palette, only to the chroma strength.
  • Permanent Rose - Useful for florals, portraits and when you need a strong pink.
  • Permanent Magenta - Useful in florals, portraits and plein air shadows.
  • Dioxazine Purple - Not useful as often as Perm Rose and Perm Magenta. A mix of Ultramarine Blue and Alizarin Crimson will usually get you there.
  • Phthalo Blue - Same hue as Cerulean, useful for creating darks, turquoises, purples and painting the deep blue sea.
  • Phthalo Green - Same hue as Viridian, useful for the same things as Phthalo Blue (well, deep green sea).
  • Transparent Red Oxide - Useful for warming darks without lightening them. I have replaced Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna with TRO. Harder to handle but gives me the option of transparent earth tones.
  • Indian Yellow - Useful for warming darks without lightening them. (The cadmiums, ochres and siennas are opaque and lighten while they warm.)

Convenience Color:
  • Phthalo Yellow Green - the only color on my palette that is not single pigment. It is a mixture of  viridian or phthalo green and cadmium yellow. I use it so often, it's nice to have at hand, for when I need something cooler than yellow. It's great in shadows.

I am in no way saying you need to go out and buy these colors. They increase the range of what is possible to mix, mostly in the area of chroma. But what you are learning to do is to relate, and you can always relate color spots within the palette you are using. Sometimes, more colors make it more confusing. 

Remember, my limited palette for beginners is simply a double primary palette of a warm and cool of each primary: cadmium yellow lemon and medium, cadmium red light, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, cerulean blue and titanium white. Kevin MacPherson's palette is cadmium yellow light, cadmium red light, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, phthalo green and titanium white. Whatever you have on your palette, you still look for the relationships between the color spots in your painting. More colors of paint do not change that basic task.