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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sycamore Shadows

I went to Irvine Park because I got a late start and I wanted to stay close to home so that I would not have to beat traffic later in the day.  The sycamores and their shadows seemed like a striking subject to paint for me.
I have been going through a lot of iced tea this summer.  In the past, I would get so engrossed in my paintings that I would forget to drink.  I would set back from a completed painting and realize that I had not even taken a sip.
The color and shape of the sycamore trees are something I never tire of.  The shadow patterns as a contrast to the open space in the background and the vertical vs horizontal contrast between the trees and the shadows appealed to my sense of design.
The shadows and trees were the first thing to go down.  I really wanted to capture the shadows as they were when I decided to paint this subject.
I added the grass and the dirt to better define the shadows on the ground.  The complementary color contrast between the shadows and the board project a energetic feel to the painting.
Adding the lighter colors to the shadows and grass in the background were intended to accentuate the feeling of distance.
The challenge for the foliage in this painting was to strike a balance between representing the characteristics of the trees and   eliminating unnecessary detail.   
When I started this painting I wanted to capture the jewel like feel that I saw in the contrast between the shadows and the light on the ground under the trees.
All the elements were in the painting but needed to be evolved and balanced with each other to build strength between them within the painting.
Working the temperature of the color was important to the development of the painting.
Finishing the ground with the shadow and light sets up the rest of the relationships to be finished.  I want everything to relate to what I did in the foreground.
Pushing the background with the development of the furthest most tree is key to creating the feeling of distance within the painting.
Building the strength of value and color in the leaves in the tree on the left further builds balance within the painting.  
Knowing when you are done with a painting vs. knowing when the painting is done, is an important distinction.  Knowing when you are done with a painting insures you do not overwork your painting.

The finished painting 24"X32".  Soft pastel on board with pumice gel and acrylic paint.  "Sycamore Shadows"
The value shot.  It seems that the value contrast is a little flat.  It would have made a better painting if I had created more distance between the lights and darks within the painting.  With that said, this is one of my favorite paintings from my recent efforts.

The detail shot.  One of the things that I like about this painting is the quality of the mark making.  In particular the size of the marks as they go into the background of the painting really help to create a sense of distance.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Divers Cove

It was a great day to paint at the beach.  Inland the temperatures were in the mid 90's.  I could see the edge of the coastal haze threatening to be burned off.

This is such a great place to set up.  The bench is usually available to lay out all of my pastels.  The bench this morning was tied up by some homeless guy who had slept here.  No need to drag my stuff all over the place.  There is parking right in front of this spot.
I have gone back to sketching to get the composition where I want it.  I really like the process of doing a quick sketch.  Taking a couple of minutes to get my painting organized never hurts and it is something that I enjoy.
This summer has been filled with orange underpaintings.  For whatever reason it is what I am feeling when I get ready to paint.
There are so many options for starting a painting with pastels.  I have been favoring a more painterly approach.  Instead of drawing or sketching the elements within the composition, I have been blocking in, refining, and defining the shapes. 
Another current focus is working to get the background to lend to the depth in distance within the painting.  My paintings tend to be too close in value from the lightest to the darkest values within the painting.  
The advantage of emphasizing the lightest parts of the background is that it makes the darks seem darker in the foreground.  This gives the painting the aerial perspective that creates the illusion of distance within the painting.
I worked primarily from back to front to insure that I made the right progression in values.
The other focus for the painting was to insure that all of the elements were included in the painting.  Making sure to get all the shapes right within the painting while getting the values right.
From this point on it is about small balanced adjustments to keep everything in tune with the mood of the scene.
How much of the underpainting is left to express the landscape is an intuitive thing.

The final element was adding the wave crashing along the rocks.  I wanted to include this because in all the times I have painted this scene I have never seen the waves line up like this before.
I felt like this was a good representation of the scene before me.

The finished painting.  Divers Cove.  24"X36" plein air soft pastel on board treated with acrylic paint and pumice gel.
The value shot is the real test for me.  If the values and the shapes read true then everything falls in place.
The detail shot reveals the texture of the board and the underpainting.

Friday, July 22, 2016


I thought these flowers were striking.  I was not sure what they were but I wanted to paint them.  It had been a while since I had done a floral.
Every painting is different.  There is no formula.  This painting started with a big focus on the underlying colors that I wanted to show through.
Because of the crazy amount of detail within the pencil cactus it was necessary for a slow build up from the back to the front.
The changing light was going to be an issue with this painting because where I chose to set up my gear.  The cast shadow on the plant was fast moving.
The orchestration of the different elements to the painting are building.  The values start to become more concrete.  The background colors are well established.  The details are starting to emerge.
This painting is now the progression of all of these elements.  Furthering the different components of the painting without overwhelming the balance between them and building for a strong finish requires focus, patience, and decisiveness.
As one aspect of the painting becomes dominant, I must balance it.
At this point in the painting I must rely on my memory and sense of what the painting was meant to mean.  All of the observations that I have made up to now will aid me in the completion of the painting.
In some paintings you reach a point where there are difficult challenges to your intentions.  In this painting that moment is how to approach the infinite detail of the pencil cactus behind the flower.  The limitations of your skills will never progress if you do not push to overcome them.  It is moments like these that I become energized with the possibilities.  Instead of fearing this moment, I embrace this moment.  In the face of obstacles you must be able to just go for it.
The following shots are detail excerpts from the painting.  If you were to view them independent from their context within the whole of the painting they would appear to be abstract.
When all the abstract elements add up you get a painting that approaches some level of representationalism.
The freedom of expression necessary for this to work is mandatory.  There is no room for second guessing it.
Doubt can not creep into your mark making.  Rigidity will make the abstract nature of the painting seem contrived.  The flow throughout the painting must be natural.

Now take a look at some of these photographs of the plant detail.  If you were able to imagine these as pure shape and color and not as photographs would you be able to see the abstract nature of the detail within the context of the whole?
I believe that every abstract painting has some base in reality.  I think the difference is the level of consciousness you are painting in.
At some point you must accept what you have done.  The beauty of plein air painting is that there is no time to keep working it until you are satisfied.  The satisfaction of accomplishment comes when you have put everything you can into a painting without regrets.  Growth is accelerated by the limitation of time.  It forces you to keep moving, keep making decisions, and to keep solving problems.  How many good decisions can you make in a row in the course of the painting.  That is the measure of skill.
The finished painting 24x36 soft pastel on board with pumice gel and acrylic underpainting.
The value shot.
The detail shot.  To me the beauty is the balance of detail.  Simplification is a given.  In three hours how could you possibly capture the detail of this scene on a 24x36 board.