Thursday, April 26, 2012

Evolution of a saffron alley

I've been wanting to get more comfortable with saturated color and better at dark shadows and this one was a nice challenge. I started with a value drawing, to sort of force myself to see the patterns of the darkest darks. I used a fabulous new pencil on this: a Cretacolor Monolith 8B. It's a solid, woodless pencil of Austrian graphite with a lacquer finish on the ouside (instead of wood). Soft & buttery...

Next, I mixed up a new tube of Winsor Orange PO62 with some Gamboge Yellow and just went for it (some of the overwhelming chroma was later toned down with a light wash of ultramarine)

I don't have any shots of the in between stages, but here's the scene at the kitchen table:

  Hard to see, but on the left is a quick wet-on-wet study painting I did of a rock to try some techniques of mixing ultramarine, raw sienna and burnt sienna. It has splashed clean water and splashed paint for texture, some dry on wet layers for detail... all sorts of interesting things that I mostly then proceeded to ignore when it came time to paint the column of rock/stones in my main painting! Here 'tis:

la Spezio, Italy

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

MGM's plein air kit

Here is the travel watercolor kit that belonged to my grandmother, Margaret Gardner Mitchell. It looks to be something she picked up on a trip to the UK, probably in the late 1970s or early 1980s. George Rowney and Company, of Bracknell, Berskshire is the manufacturer, and is/was one of the more famous of the UK watercolor outfitters. It was a family owned business from 1783 until 1983 - Turner was apparently a family friend. When the heirs ran dry, they were acquired by Daler, makers of artist's canvas boards and the company is now called Daler-Rowney.

Anyway, this one is tiny, with a built-in water flask and detachable lid that doubles as a water well. I'm pretty sure most of the paint wells are filled with the original paint (or what's left of it). The brush has a detachable handle so it will fit inside, there's a thumb-ring on the bottom to hold it in place and the mixing surface as nice deep wells for a thing this size. Gaba very sensibly added a 1/4 pan of violet in a plastic well that she had tucked inside (not shown in these photos) - this is a great innovation for mixing darks and painting shadows. She always wanted things "just so".

I've not used it much, but tried the colors out to see how they looked (perfectly usable, but a bit weak). The whole could be refurbished with fresh colors easily...but it's also tempting to leave it just as she left it.

Monday, April 23, 2012

More alleys... another in the Greek Isles

The biggest technical hurdle in my painting has been getting a firmer footing with shadows and darks for many months now. Shadows are not gray, and they aren't black. Surfaces reflect the colors around them to varying degrees, but some are hard edged, some are soft, some are fairly uniform in color, and some vary as they radiate from their source and interact with the colors around them. Then there is reflected light, that washes them out.

That all sounds good in theory. But there's that word again: theory. It's been the bane of my life with guitar, art, life. Any study of "theory" plunges you into a world of prevailing laws and rules that help us understand the illusion of art or music, help us hold to convention, help us all get along as members of a community. They guide our behavior and our perception - sure - but they also (or so I always imagine) hold us back. They're barriers to innovation some of the time.

But for me they're just fundamentally different and antithetical to the sorts of activities that draw (pun intended) me to creative endeavors. I don't think I'm some wild-eyed dreamer who wants to be "free". but I do think I have a problem with theory, with rules, with conventions.

Anyway, here are the results of today's struggle with those forces. Green and yellow shadows? They work, but I just need to find them myself!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Learning From Alleys

I've been painting a long series of vertical "cityscapes" of alleys. They're really more "villagescapes". This started after looking through old vacation pictures of a trip taken with Jill, Martha, Margaret and Pat to Portugal many moons ago. A shot of a village street in Evora around the corner from the Mr. Smart Bar seemed to have lots of painterly possibilities that I'd been avoiding in my landscapes of hillsides, trees and shrubs. This was a built space, with all sorts of angles, shadows, textures, colors, and lots of perspective drawing challenges.

One thing led to another, and soon I was scouring the web looking for reference images of other alleys. For a while I painted alleys in the Italian Riviera (somewhere I've never been):

There were a few others that might actually be France...

Then I was off to Morocco and Tunisia for more (amd a new high water mark for these):

And then I took a bit of a wander through Santorini, sometimes straying from alleys:

This has all been quite useful and instructive for me because of those built-in challenges but also because they're fairly easy to find, which means more time painting and less time looking for something to paint. But I have definitely learned that not every interesting photo makes for an interesting painting (at least in my hands), and that I still haven't eliminated the problem of unforced errors (like the problem sky in that last one).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Flickr slideshow of my paintings in reverse chronological order

And then there were.... less than 20!

I have been working towards accumulating enough good work to debut a print-on-demand site for prints of my paintings, and thought I had reached at least two dozen paintings that I could proudly stand behind as being representative of my talent - such as it is - as a painter.

But then I suddenly did something much better than the work that had come before. The thing about breakthroughs is that suddenly you're standing at the top of a ladder, poking your head through the roof. You've got to find a way to drag your whole self and everything you've learned up on the roof. And in doing so, you end up leaving a lot of your earlier work behind. Not because you don't like it, but because you're done learning from it. It's no longer up to the level you now know you're capable of achieving. Your mythical list of two dozen paintings now stands at.... one. And that creates a paradox.