Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Painting in the Neighborhood

"The Gilded Age" 8x10

I have a yearly tradition that started in 2009: painting the neighbor's spring blossoms and ivy in the setting sun. I only have a small window of time to do this: for a few days in March, between 5:30 and 6:30 pm, and only if the sun is out (not blocked by clouds). So when that window comes around, I paint. There's almost always a white vehicle in the driveway, which adds a block of cool color to the flaming scene. This year there was also a set of lawn furniture, which provided additional shiny surfaces to catch the golden light. Painted plein air.
"Sunset in the Bonna's" 9x12

There is another scene that I repeatedly paint in the neighborhood: a hilltop intersection that has one of the best vistas in the subdivision, especially at sundown. I painted the sunset and roughly blocked in the trees, etc., en plein air. I smoothed out the sunset a little and added detail from a photo.

Once I had finished painting the sunset sky, I had very little time left to paint the trees, houses, etc. As the light disappeared, I was soon painting completely by light/dark values, and just guessing at color, based on the location of the colors on my palette. When I found myself painting by the headlights of a passing car, I knew it was time to stop! There was already a crescent moon and stars in the sky. I took a photo of the painting on my easel, as the flashbulb going off was the only way I could tell what my painting looked like.
"Noon Contrast" 8x10

One late morning in March, on my way to get some brunch, I saw the sun brilliantly shining on the neighbor's house and trees: an ivy-covered hackberry tree, and a snowy white Bradford pear tree. Even the leafless, still-dormant shrubs were glowing in the sun. Time to paint! (Well, after eating my pancakes, of course…) This is about 90% plein air, with some touch up afterward. Can you spot the chair?

Painting in the neighborhood is great...I love the familiarity of the finished paintings, and the zero or negligible amount of gas used to get to the spot. I've had three people with connections to the Bonna's inquire about purchasing these paintings, so there's another benefit! (All the streets in the subdivision begin with "Bonna," hence the nickname "the Bonna's.")

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Thicker and Faster, Featuring the Back Yard

As mentioned in the previous post, I started laying down paint thicker, and haven't been able to go back. I really love watching the different colors smear together on the canvas. I also get fun, 3D brushwork in unpredictable patterns and textures. I used to be a little nervous about appearing sloppy, but I'm going to put that aside so that I can get comfortable with thicker paint.

I also want to paint faster. I'm toying with the idea of taking a plein air painting trip somewhere. I feel I need to be able to record what I see quickly, so I can move on to the next scene, especially if I decide to paint as I travel. I also want to get higher numbers of better quality paintings in a short time, so I won't be overly disappointed with my work after returning from the trip. This need for increased skill motivates me to practice more. So I'm making things simple and painting my back yard fairly often. 

I painted this scene between 8 and 9 am. I quickly slap on the paint, and slap layer on layer when corrections are needed. I managed to finish in just over an hour. I was initially self-conscious about the roughness, but some encouraging comments from members of my art group helped me out. Thanks!! :)

Yup, there's fence damage to the right, and an abandoned gate from my ex's bygone plan to add onto the fence. But you can't argue, this is much more interesting to paint than a geometrically flawless fence. Besides, I hate straight lines.

Technical note: This photo above has warmer color than most of the other photos because it was taken in indoor light. The blue-ish bar across the top is a photo defect often added by my digital camera when I photograph art in indoor light. Most of the photos below were taken with outdoor light, which often over-saturates the blues, but usually creates a sharper image, and eliminates the blue bar across the top.
Painted with manic speed, at least by my standards. It's a strange experience; there is no time to think. I didn't fret much over the composition, which is why there's an extreme bark close-up to the left.  This scene was from about 2:30 to 3:30 pm. 
Painted from about 8-9:30. Too slow... I got overtaken by the shifting grass shadows. What started out as a single, thick, diagonal green beam transformed into numerous sprawling tentacles. I initially over-bleached the two side-by-trees, and ended up re-painting them using my camera LCD screen and a previous painting as a reference. Must paint faster without screwing up light/dark values. *gulp*
I painted this one from the view out my kitchen window. (The photo is nice and warm because I took it with indoor light.) The painting took about an hour, but it was a little easier because of the smaller sized canvas. I need to get that grubby little shrub whacked down—it blocks the base of the "twin" trees. I didn't want to paint it out, because that would require me to think and slow down.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Wintery Paintings

We're quickly moving into's time to wrap up 2011, and start posting some more recent paintings. All of these were painted from life/on location.

"Christmas Clementines" 6x6
Painted for a Christmas 6x6 swap party. The knife is a family hand-me-down, the plate and fruit are from Kroger, and ironically, the holiday "tablecloth" is a springy, rose-printed tank top I had recently bought on clearance at Macy's. You never know what could be used for a still life!

"Snow Melting Day" 8x10
Painted during a family visit. The wind was violently shaking my easel and blowing off my hat throughout the painting. Two passers-by commented that it was a bad day to paint. They don't know me! I was determined to get a snow painting before it melted away. You can see the bare ground creeping in from the right. The Colorado climate is not as snowy as you might think, at least in certain areas on the plains.

"Peaks Over Bear Lake" 8x10 Rocky Mountain National Park
Painted from life at Bear Lake. I snowshoed across the lake and into the woods afterward,
but the snowshoes fell off my feet after about 5 minutes. Luckily I was wearing rubber boots, which worked out well enough. I just had to flounder occasionally.

I'm standing by a sign near the Bear Lake trail, shortly before
starting my painting. This is why it's a good place for snowshoes!

"Autumn in the Subdivision" 9x12
I'm posting this one out of order. This is sometime in November, at
one of my favorite views in my subdivision. I love walking down
this hill, especially at sunset. This one is on 9x12 rather than my
usual 8x10. Somehow it doesn't seem so huge anymore. As a
matter of fact, painting larger feels a little easier in a sense, because
I don't have to use my brain to crop or scale down. I can paint
things closer to their actual size, and select the composition as is, the
way my view naturally frames it. The hard part is, I have more canvas to
cover, and the same speed of changing light to keep up with!!

"Still Time of Year" 8x10
Driving around Middle Tennessee in winter, I love watching how the sun interacts with the masses of leafless trees. Seen at a distance, a winter forest is like a fluffy, iridescent puff of smoke, shirting hues from light to shadow, and changing palette throughout the day. Up close, the leafless tree is craggy and moody, showing the intricate anatomy that is unseen in leafier months.

"Frog Creek" 9x12
I was painting this early February scene with Kevin Menck, when little piping sounds started coming from the creek. Kevin noted this was the first time the frogs had made a peep this year. This is a sure sign that my time to paint bristly, moody trees was coming to a close! It was a little disappointing to think spring was already coming, and there had not been one day of notably accumulated snow for me to get out and paint.

 Another interesting thing happened this day. Kevin pointed out the paint was really thin in some areas, and paint thickness looked best in an area in the center of the taller tree. (That was an area where I spent a lot of time making corrections by slapping on paint with a palette knife, so I was surprised to hear that area pointed out.) So for the next  paintings after that, and still counting, I have been applying thicker paint. I think the results are a huge improvement, adding texture and richness. You'll see more of the thick paint in the spring paintings coming up later.

"Stones River Overflow" 8x10
It's still early February...this is how the Stones River looked along the Greenway trail in Hermitage after a good rain. On the previous day, about a 100-foot section of the trail was submerged in murky water. So that's how I discovered what the trail looks like when you jog the other direction!

"Superbowl Sunday" 9x12
This is what I did on Superbowl Sunday, two days after the previous painting. You can see how much the water has receded, exposing a smooth, bark-less log.