When painting and sketching in the field, I am taking notes from nature. These little sketches are meant to be fast. Though the response is quick, observation should take time. Some meditations usually occur before the rapid action of painting begins. This morning I read a short passage in a book that refers to Psalm 104:24 which reads,
“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creation.”
I can meditate on that and be reminded of a concept introduced to me as a painter several years ago. When painting nature in the field, one must take notes from her lessons directly from the source. The study of the landscape, the situation of the landscape, the little compositions that are happening here and there; her secrets reveal themselves and inform your future work, either in the studio or out in the open air. So many times the point of the work is the essence of the thing, not the thing itself. Continue reading “Painting Notes from Nature”
Painting in the straight up overhead sun is arguably one of the most difficult times to paint outdoors. Sometimes, even a friendly invasion of space makes painting a little difficult. I went to the gardens and I was intending to go for a shady spot under a tree to get this view of the trellis there. A family, walking next to me had their eyes on the same spot. Continue reading “A Friendly Invasion of Space”
As a way to honor veterans and those currently serving, here is a painting by American artist and illustrator, Norman Rockwell. Most of us know that Mr. Rockwell provided nearly countless images for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, a magazine especially popular during the years of World War Two.
Interestingly, the title “War Hero” seems to be shrugged off by the expression of the soldier who has returned home. The Japanese flag is symbolic of the fact that he has returned, perhaps still processing his service to his country. Somehow, Rockwell was able to convey the soldier not so much in a posture of victor in battle but as one with a wider perspective of purpose and integrity. Clearly, he is held in high regard as the gathering of his friends and family admire him gratefully for his selflessness.
Rockwell’s images are sometimes knocked for being too “sepia toned” in their bucolic orchestration of sentiment, yet he remains as one of the greatest American artists for his ability to render and intrigue viewers with a visual narrative. Our civic respect still carries forward, as again today we pause to reflect on the men and women who serve for our security and our maintenance of peace.
Many times we may have heard about an artist looking for that particular “quality of light”. This may prompt us to ask what in world that might mean? I often think of the caricature artist in a blue smock and beret, sporting a Van Dyke beard running around and framing everything with his hands and saying, “Ah-HA!” every fifteen seconds. We might whisper to someone to explain that he is “looking for the right light”. Light is typically everywhere, and daylight especially is beyond our control in the larger sense, so what is there to possibly “search” for?
Well, talk to any photographer and he or she will most likely say that twilight is the “golden light”. The shadows are long and soft, the form of things are readily defined and the sunlight has a flattering amber glow. It’s this “amber glow and soft shadows” that are often referred to as light qualities. A lot of times, painters (and photographers) rib each other if they always work at twilight because it is argued that it is hard to fail if working at that “golden hour”! Although this is a familiar joke, light quality always seems to play a role in artworks.
Consideration of light quality may determine the success of a painting or may even be subject of the painting. Consider the light quality in this painting at Medrona Marsh. The sun was almost a little bit past overhead, the day was hot and frankly, the location was dry and somewhat barren. Like the caricature artist, I actually was walking around framing everything with my hands when I found this natural arrangement of brilliant afternoon light contrasted with the cool under canopy of the shade tree. The light quality was so stark and the location so resilient in the pounding sunlight, that it resonated a kind of silent perseverance – (defined as: persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success). In a way, the shade was an invite from the harshness of the hot fields. I hope that this painting may cause a few viewers to squint momentarily while looking at it and perhaps, sense a place to simultaneously stimulate and rest their thoughts.
Sometimes, the surprise of color shows up out of nowhere. It may catch you off guard, looking for one thing and then finding something other than what was being searched for. This occurred while visiting a site nested in the hillside north of Burbank, California. The day was very hot, but the place was on the visit list for some time. While exploring up a small trail, from behind branches of small oak trees, this explosion of color presented itself as a glorious surprise among the otherwise dry grasses surrounding it.
Fortunately, some shade was available from a nearby tree and I got to work very quickly as the inspiration had set itself up as excitement from this happen chance!
I believe most of this painting was done with applications from the palette knife. I may have used a brush here and there. That was another surprise, since I don’t often use the palette knife throughout the entire process of working. The deliberateness of this process was enjoyable. It caused me to lay out the facts of what I saw as it also invited an expressive interpretation as well. This painting was done in June, so it was really amazing to still see a whole hillside of poppies still in bloom.
The great academies of art produced men and women capable of the highest pinnacle of achievement in oil painting and sculpture. Mythical and immortal status befell some of these Masters, producing our idea of them as being ordained by a higher being with talent beyond that of normal humans. True, some of us bend towards facility in some areas easier than others, such as art, science, business or sports for example. As it is said often though, talent will get you nowhere, therefore established academic training made those that excelled in painting even better and we now enjoy the fruit of their labors. This was true particularly from around the 1400s through about 1850. During the middle 1800’s, the so-called Impressionist movement revolutionized the way we make and appreciate pictures.
While resting from a little hike to do some landscape painting, I sat down with Roz to do this casual (and spontaneous) portrait of her sitting under a grand oak tree. I found us both thinking of just exactly where to be seated and how to pose. While I set up my kit and started placing colors, I noticed she was already seated on a boulder, waiting until we got started. I liked the casualness of it so I just started and Roz patiently remained in position with a few breaks in between. I began to realize a little bit that even in this most informal setting, a balance was being struck between so many considerations when it comes to making a painting.
When looking at early Impressionist or Barbizon paintings, it’s evident to me that the academic training is still under the surface of all that loose handling of painterly ease. It had to be! The composition, value relationship and range, color theory, harmony and tone, and the outdoor quality of light providing color in the shadows, form modeling and anatomy, the emotional content, the comfort of the sitter that requires fast work, all in the ever changing light due to the movement of the sun! No wonder outdoor figure painting is often considered the most difficult thing to do. It is also inspiring to pull out the full bag of tricks, take a deep breath and do one’s best to utilize them with at least the hope and attempt of that elusive mythical ease and virtuosity. I take comfort from a quote by the French painter Renoir, who at age 78 famously said, “I’m finally learning how to paint.”
In painting there are sketches, studies, and full paintings. This one would is definitely classified as a sketch. This unplanned painting was done within a half an hour to forty minutes in the early evening at a Summer retreat camp called Lazy W. There are several cabins, creeks and trails among the camp grounds.
I went to do a fast sketch at one of the creeks, but while walking towards my intended location, I spotted two fellow campers, a father and son enjoying a little lingering sunlight in their outdoor chairs. Immediately struck by the scene, the thought occurred to me, “Your real subject is right there with the father and son”. My plan for the creek was abandoned.
I didn’t want to intrude or bother anyone, so I kept walking past and quietly began setting up to paint. The casualness of them seated there was a primary nuance I wanted to capture. I also liked the structure of the main subjects weighted to the left side, which is why I switched the canvas from vertical to horizontal at the last moment before I started painting. I knew I only had a few minutes and therefore quickness was important. Sure enough, after about ten minutes, the two got up to get ready for dinner! The son bought the painting, and family will be able to enjoy this painting, hopefully, for years to come.
Summer seems to be a time of heightened awareness. Everything is out in vibrant display. The light is brighter and seems to glisten and burst forward, as if a giant volume knob is, (to use a reference from the movie, “This is Spinal Tap” ) … turned up to “eleven”.
So, painting here at the wild edges of a California forest, I found that the intensity of the washed out color in the brilliant midday sun was in contrast to an equal amount of silence and tranquility. The sunlight, warm, steady and bodacious, mingling in the leaves and rising from the dry grass, shares the space with the cool and quiet shade under the branches.
It occurred to me, that the presence of this scene will be as it is for some time, regardless of anyone to witness it. The center of the scene seems to draw some curiosity deeper into the vegetation but also suggests that the visitor has ventured far enough. I came away with the thought that it was like a wild whisper.
At times, nature can be very humbling. Especially, during storms and cataclysms. Though, it can be just as humbling when one has ventured into a place so tranquil that a sensation of solemnity takes hold of you, quiets you and produces within, a desire to tread only lightly. Do this and nature will be glad to demonstrate her quiet beauty in resonate fashion. At this Creekside, there is beauty among the poison oak, oozing muck at the waters edge and at times, wild animals. There are rays of sunlight and shelters of cool shade. An isolated sound of a single bird, the background of a constant gurgle of water, the smell of damp leaves, the feel of a mild breeze. When sitting long enough to observe a place or moment such as this, personal importance disappears. Slowly the easel is raised and its wooden legs extended, a fresh canvas placed upon it. Colors are applied to the palette, a brush is selected and is ready in hand. Internally, a question is asked; where shall you have me begin, what shall you have me see?
“I Discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” – 1 Corinthians 9:27 NKJV