Monday, February 22, 2010

The Importance of Light in Our Lives

The subject of light is vast. How to interpret different sources of light, angles of light, tones and colors of light. There's even the subject of how light, or better yet the lack of sunlight, effects our moods and health. And then there's the light that's in your studio (or kitchen or in the room where you write or play your music) and that's the light I'm struggling with today.

I currently paint in the "eat-in" section of my kitchen. It has just about the right amount of room and while it's now a complete mess at least there's a small counter area in the kicthen that blocks most of my art clutter on this side from view. Well, some of it anyway (oh okay, it's a mess just give me 30 minutes before you come over and I will throw a sheet over it all and say I'm redesigning the place).

And living in a condo the windows on this end of the house do not face out into direct light, they face out to an open but covered corridor so we keep the inside shutters closed for the most part. So I paint in a combination of artificial light sources.

There's the ceiling fan light directly over me with one 100 watt bulb covered a white glass globe. Then I have two clamp on spotlights each with 75 watt bulbs - one clamped above the painting area and one clamped to the small table where I mix my paints. And a small table lamp to the side with a 60 watt bulb. Since I've only been doing this for a little over a month I wasn't too concerned about it but the more I'm painting it's becoming a bit more challenging.

As is always good to do for multiple reasons I often step away and take a look at what I'm painting. Lately however I'm learning to pick up the painting and take it to a room with natural light and sometimes even take it outside. It is amazing how something can look so bold on the easel and then die on the vine outside. And just the opposite - sometimes when I think the colors may seem too weak I take them out and vavoom it's a completely different painting.

How do you handle this? Has anyone purchased one of those indoor floor lamps that are supposed to imitate natural light and if so would you recommend it for this purpose?

I took down a picture that was hanging in our dining room area that gets fairly good light and use it to hang up my paintings throughout the process so I can look at them not only in more natural light but also from a better distance and sometimes with the distance of a few days.

For example, here is a painting I am currently working on. The first photo is taken on the easel and the other two are taken while it was hanging on the wall (one with sun out, one with sun behind clouds). My exposure is due east and these were taken before 9AM this morning. I also have difficulty getting the right colors to translate with my digital camera (that's a whole other topic) so I've enhance as best I can while looking at the painting to try and convey as accurately as possible. Take a look (and remember if you click on the photo they enlarge):

Above: On the easel
Above: On the wall - a) left, with sun out, b) right, sun under clouds

As I look at the painting and these three photos the one with the "sun out" is probably the closest to what it really looks like but the dark mid-tones are more like the studio painting.

Another benefit to this type of light challenge exercise is that you see different things in the painting each time. And once I think I have my opinions in order and my next steps list complete I take it outside and it changes yet again. While we always hear it is best to paint in "north" light sometimes I think it might be best to just get outside and paint plein air. At least for us landscape types. 

Okay, I gotta get more coffee and get back to the "studio" so please let me know how you've been handling light sources and challenges in your creative workshops. Java!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bleeding from My Brush

I think it's starting to sink in that even the simple paintings are never simple yet you have to work at simplifying to get there and that's not simple! So yesterday I played around with painting an interpretive and more expressive version of an ocean scene. I also played around with various brush strokes in order to add action, movement and interest (see above). When it came to the sky I started painting with my watercolor brain and used a very loose oil and terp mixture and just went at it. Same for the below. Then I started building from there. I tried to keep the original loose feel of the sky and decided to leave it. Then today, while I was out watching the ocean waters through high powered binoculars with a full heart from spotting a whale (yeah!) a few more things started to sink in. Literally.

I see that there are few if any straight lines or pure colors in nature. Every color is merging and emerging with another. Be it reflective from above or revealing more from below there is no such thing as a solid large area of the same color. Even when the sky is blue, even when the clouds are white, even when the water is green. Look more deeply. The sky isn't blue. There are hues of blue, white, purples, violets. The clouds aren't white. There seems to be an unlimited number of colors and tones in the clouds and they are constantly moving. And then the water. Certainly where the waves are moving you'd expect various colors. And yes, under the clouds the shadows move under them. But every inch of the water is a different color or tone as well as various shapes. And none of them are straight or pure but at the same time they are. Pure I mean. 

How do we capture and share these purest of natural images? Is it better to exaggerate the colors of nature or minimize them? What about the shapes? What is the best way to evoke an emotion. How is it that a very simple grouping of shapes and colors in a very abstract way can make us feel the same as when we view a very well painted traditional landscape? 

Sometimes I just want to lie in the grass and absorb them, just like when we were kids. And think more about this until it just starts bleeding out of my brush. 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Is It Finished?!

   yellow bird 8 x 10"

I decided to paint from a photo I had taken of birds on the shore. I thought it's complex composition would be fun to try and simplify into a contemporary oil painting.  I started by painting the outline shapes of about nine of them, paint-sketching directly on the canvas with indigo. When that was done I thought one bird really stood out for me and I decided to paint over all the others. I loved the raw, drafty feeling of this bird and the yellows were working so I walked away from the above painting for a few days.

When I came back I thought about what I'd been learning, about the importance of a paintings "history" and decided to work on it some more. I gave the lower brush more detail and color and put blue up in the sky. I left the bird for last and decided to leave it white and then added a few highlights. While I liked the overall painting better than the yellow I put it behind a frame and hung it on the wall so I could look at if for a few days and decide if it needed more work. Here it is below.

So which do you like better? Is it finished? How do you know when it is?

I brought both of these photos into my class to show my instructor and get his input on next steps and ask his opinion on if this was finished and how you know when you're which he said, "You just know." Sigh. More learning that takes patience and time until you can truly trust your gut instincts as well as know how to complete a piece and what it needs between the middle and end. But first, you just gotta start, right? Java!

P.S. Oh! And what did he say about the above paintings? He loved the first, yellow one. Said it takes courage to leave it showing the back painting and keeping it white like that. He thought it was much more interesting than the second. Oops! 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Painting from Within

At Monday's class I started a new project and will be learning more techniques and textures on a 48" x 48" canvas!  I put on a pair of plastic gloves and after spreading out an even coat of wax medium, and knowing I wanted this project to be more organic, I took some browns and ochres and started "painting with my paws" using my entire body. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!! I then backed off and loving the images and marks I created I wanted to call it finished! Well, not really but it was expressive, alive and while lean I could visually see the definition of painting from within. What a way to loosen up!

I sat for a bit and looked over my textural seashell surface images and a few landscapes as well as an image of one of my old watercolors I had brought in as ideas for this project but then I looked back onto the canvas. I still have the geography of the upstate New York countryside as well as the Florida coast and The Hammock in my soul however the storyline and the connection has yet to be developed in a manner that I can communicate yet just before leaving class I decided to put these photo images to the side and let the painting lead me. I will post as I progress.

In the meantime I came home empty handed, only able to work on such a large piece at the gallery's teaching studios location, and was itching to get back to work. I played with a few small pieces I had started then put the largest canvas I had (24 x 30) on the easel and with no real idea of what to do I attempted to try to make oils work like watercolors. I began by putting the wax medium only in certain locations on the lower part of the canvas to act as a resist and then painted straight terp over the top area. I then loaded my brush with paint and attempted an oil wash and watched the paint drip down the canvas. It was lovely. After some drying and more dripping I started painting and was lost for a few hours (see above).  After more work on Monday I'm either calling it Landscapes on the Brain or A Rainy Night in Georgia but it has opened another door in to The Hammock Land storyline I'm working on so we'll see where it leads. 

Which brings me to this weeks topic. Because the larger painting really puts you out there I find myself struggling between the concepts of "painting with intention" versus "painting from within." And now I think each painting has to start with some structure and then for me, at least at this stage, I want to see where it takes me...oh, and then learn how to paint myself out of a corner!  Brush on!

P.S. Here's an interview that I LOVE about painting and finding your own way - it delves more deeply into the process and is 7 minutes long Interview with painter/professor Harry Ally also check out his great website at


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lesson Five: Keep Peeling Back the Layers

“It has been too many days since I have written of the sea...” 
-David Whyte
I have found that when you are not writing you are actually still working at your head...thinking about the moment, mulling ideas and reciting sentences. This is also true for painting and I’m sure the same is true for you and your passions. You can step away from it for awhile but you never leave it. During these last few weeks I have now found that once you really jump into the creative zone and start the work it takes you along with it vs the other way around. So where have I been?
First I was on Flagler Beach at a two hour acrylic plein air workshop. Here I was shown, one-on-one, acrylic layering techniques and how not to be afraid to paint the ocean or to be afraid of using bright color and lots of paint on my brush. I had a hard time letting go at first as I tried to capture what I was seeing but soon, looking out over the ocean, I began to see shapes, colors and patterns on the surface and within the waves.  The main take away was again the the need to simplify. To use fewer and more confident strokes, to not fall in love with one color or one mark and repeat it all over the place but instead to build up a painting allowing the history of each layer to become part of the new image. I think this can translate into almost everything we do. Don't over think it. Don't over do it. And trust your instincts.
Then there was the all day watercolor on canvas workshop. The room was filled to capacity and here I learned that canvas (buy the ones for oil not for watercolor) is a really enjoyable surface for watercolor as the paint sits on top and can easily be moved, mixed and removed. We painted flowers (sigh) and during the critique session I found I was the only one that went my own way vs trying to imitate the instructors work. While this painting won’t see the light of day again I was very proud to see a glimmer of personal style showing through. Just before the workshop was to end I started a second canvas where I loosely painted a landscape using bright colors and various shapes to give the impression of the image. Leaving it "unfinished" taught me again the need to walk away from your work and how important white spaces can be, especially with watercolors.
Last but certainly not least is what is going on with my current weekly oil painting class over at Hollingsworth Gallery under the eye of J.J. Graham. Here, here is where the real work is happening. I have seen small, emerging glimmers of the artist within being born again. I am trying to learn patience as I build up the surface. I am seeing that the history of the painting makes for a better story and a better painting. I am learning to stop and walk away from my paintings. And I am learning again how to see. Shapes. Tones. Light. Perspective. And I am practicing how to paint from within, to tap into that spirit and uncover my own layers and see what emerges. Yesterday, for just a few minutes, I arrived at a new, deeper level within the creative zone and it was amazing.
So how best to wrap up theses past few weeks?  Well putting it all together I have found that there is more to the creative life when you start fully living it. It goes even deeper than I thought and takes more work as you peel back the layers. Not that I thought it was going to be easy but when you begin to put yourself out there and start to feel your own vulnerability this is when you actually start getting to it. And to do that you have to look further within yourself and tap into that part of you so that it eventually reveals itself in your work - be it painting, writing, music what ever your passion. And then, truly you will find the joy. 
“I feel that the greatest marks come when I have released my mind and analysis and simply let the immediacy of the moment come through. In the end a great painting emerges almost in spite of the painter and once finished, cannot be repeated.” - Stephen Quiller