Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How Long Did it Take You to Paint That?

Last week I was able to get lots of quality painting time in the studio. There are some larger canvases in the works and a few small ones. I took a break from blogging so I could concentrate on the paintings and do some family stuff this weekend.

"Another Dusty Road", 30" x 40" Oil on Canvas
Frank Gardner © 2008
Private Collection

I have been working on this painting off and on for about a year and a half. That is about as long as I have ever worked on one piece. I had done a 14" x 18" painting of this scene two years ago and thought that it would make a great larger painting. This one started out strong and then I ran into some trouble. I moved some things around a bit, struggled with the light, etc. etc...It just wasn't looking how I could see it in my mind.
I decided to set it aside for a while and just live with it in different spots around our house. It has been back up in the studio several times over the past 18 months. Sometimes it came back downstairs looking worse than when it went up. Other times it came down looking better, but still needing a little work. After the talk about finish in my last few posts, I decided it was time to wrap this one up.
The first painting sold right away, so I did not have it around while painting the large one.

"Dusty Road", 14" x 18" Oil on Board, Frank Gardner © 2006
Private Collection

It is hard to keep a painting looking fresh when you need to keep making adjustments to get things looking how you want. I think that just walking away from this one once in a while kept me from overworking it. It is in a frame now and looks good. I may need to tweak just a few things now that I see it down at the gallery and posted here.
I like certain things about the small version better and some things about the larger one better.
The jury is still out on this one.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

WIP - The Finished Painting

"Put your brushes down and step away from the canvas"
The voice echoed in my head like a cop on a loud speaker.
"Who, me? Just one more thing."

"Untitled" , 24" x 30" oil on canvas, Frank Gardner © 2008
$3,100. Available at Old Town Gallery, San Jose del Cabo

With some painting time at home this weekend and yesterday, I was able to finish the work in progress (WIP) from the other day.
I shouldn't post WIPs.
This is the post with the first stages.

Oh, I also struggle with titles sometimes. I'll post a title for this piece soon. Can't think of an appropriate one right now.

Monday, April 21, 2008

"You can never achieve perfection" Emile Gruppe

So how does one know when to stop?
I often tell students that I would rather see something painted slightly wrong, but with confidence, than something painted to perfection but with a look of labored fussiness. It's just that I don't always practice what I preach.

There were a lot of really great comments and thoughts on my last post. Thanks to everyone for sharing your thoughts and opinions on this. I'd like to borrow a few bits and pieces from all the comments to share here.

"Fuss over the details."
"messed up something that was just fine."
Seems like a lot of us have been there, done that.

"Second Wind, Spruce Head", 11" x 14" oil on board, 2008
$950. Framed, Available at Galeria Gardner

Stepping away from the piece to come back with fresh eyes seems to be a common way to try and control the urge to over work.

Speaking of which, here is the other Maine painting that I started last October, but just came back to with fresh eyes to make a few adjustments. It is of the same boat, "Second Wind", that I wrote about before. Some old wooden lobster boats in Maine have a sail in the back that allows the captain to do all of the labor by himself. Steer and haul pots. Amazing! He is swinging into the same dock as in the last post to unload his pots at the end of the season.

O.K., back to the main point. I told you I get distracted.

Seeing the finished painting in your mind, before you start, is also a good idea. You need to have some sort of idea of what you want to achieve right from the get go.

Here is a good quote by Emile Gruppe, from "Gruppe on Color".

"When I paint outdoors, I've always liked to let the paint do some of the work. I go for the big effect; and when I get it, I let the rest go. Of course, I can still remember my father telling me "try taking it a bit further." But I always felt that if I did, I'd ruin the spontaneity and excitement of what I had in the first place. After all, it's possible for a thing to be well drawn and so systematically developed that the essence of the subject is lost.
Here's the important difference between tight and loose painting: tight, meticulous work can be copied- even a reasonably clever student could do it. But loose, spontaneous work is full of accident and inspiration. And great paintings done in this manner can never be duplicated- the painter himself doesn't know how he got some of his effects. All he knows is the he was outdoors. Something happened to him. He saw differences; he felt the shadows and the textures- and put them down. Such painters see their pictures even before they begin them- as if in a dream. The subject hits them hard. When they finish, the picture is better than nature, but never as good as what was in their minds eye. They worry about it, of course- but they also know that you can never achieve perfection. There's never and end to things. It's like the universe: where do the stars end and heaven begin?"

Two more things that I pulled from the comments on the last post.

"Wasn't it Picasso who said, "A painting is never finished--it simply stops in interesting places." "

"Everyone else has to judge the painting without the benefit of our internal dialogue and the hindsight of seeing the better versions that happened before we finally stopped."

Very good points.

I think that in the end you just have to be happy with where you leave off on the painting. If I am not 90% satisfied with how the piece looks I will cull it out and not frame it and show it. That 90% is an estimate. I shoot for 100%, but I realize that I sometimes have to settle for a little less.

That's it for now.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I get distracted sometimes

"End of Season, Spruce Head", 11" x 14" oil on board, 2008
Private Collection

I get distracted sometimes.
I am learning to use what could be considered a fault as a strength. In my own little way.
Example. This year I have had relatively small windows of studio time in which to paint. Sometimes I will start a painting then run out of time for that session. When I get painting again, I often prefer to start a new painting, since I may not be in the same mood or lack the focus needed to finish the work in progress. Hence, I have a lot of works in progress.

This painting was like that. I started this painting back in October. I worked on it for one session of about four hours. There were a lot of nice loose strokes that I was happy with, but it needed to be refined. There were times that I wanted to finish it up, but always felt a bit disconnected to it and I knew that I would mess it up by trying to make it perfect.

I finally got myself in the mood to wrap this one up last week. I think that by waiting and taking my time on the "finish" that I was able to leave a lot of the loose stuff that I really liked and bring it to a point of finish without killing the spontaneity and freshness of the piece.
You can click on the images to enlarge and see what I mean. Loose strokes, shapes and colors, suggested detail, just enough, but not too much. I don't want to spell it all out. There is a fine line between enough and too much.

Detail, "End of Season, Spruce Head"

O.K., so how does the being distracted help me? My tendency in painting is to want to keep going, trying to make it perfect, and in the process I kill the suggested detail that I like so much in a painting. I don't know how many times I have pushed a painting just a little further only to regret it. My distraction becomes an ability to stop painting, step back, and then either call it done or have the smarts to just add minor corrections or strokes to solidify forms etc.. More on this in a future post.

Detail, "End of Season, Spruce Head"

Painting on location is different. I have a limited amount of time before the light changes. This is good when I only have a short amount of time to paint anyway.
How many of you have done this? You come home from a painting session outdoors, on the spot. You look at your painting in the studio and think, o.k., with just a few more strokes I am going to make this painting sing. Ah ha, those strokes end up ruining all of the freshness and spontanaity of the plein air and you want to throw it across the room. I don't know how many times I have yelled expletives as I act like a lemming jumping into the sea, I ruin a nice painting even as I know that I shouldn't do it. I feel like a moth to a flame. Julissa, my wife, just shakes her head and says, "I told you not to touch it."
I feel so stupid, and in my quest to prove myself, put even more stupid strokes on the piece. I have a lot of them stacked in my studio to prove this.

I feel myself getting distracted as I write. There are so many little side tracks to take here. Time to stop for now, as I don't want to bore you. The next few posts might have a common thread of what is "finished" when it comes to painting. I am really interested in hearing what other artists think or do, when it comes to finish. When to stop, what is enough, how much is too much?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jacarandas - My Slow Purple Death By Allergy

There were never any purple trees where I grew up.

April in San Miguel means the blooming of hundreds, maybe thousands of jacaranda trees. Town turns into a fantasy land of purple. To me, purple trees are like a Dr. Seuss world come to life. It is a beautiful surreal sight.

Thing is, the past few weeks have been an allergy hell for me. Moving to this dry semi desert area of Mexico 18 years ago meant leaving all of my nasty allergies behind. However, for the last few years I seem to be developing an allergy to the jacarandas.
I walk to my gallery almost every day. It is about two miles each way. I pass under many of these purple beauties and walk across purple carpets of their fallen flowers. It is such a sensory rush. I wish that it did not affect me so much. I really want to love them more.
I felt like I was dying there for a while. My head felt like it would pop. I could not breath. My eyes were red and itchy.
I'm sure that you will be happy to know that this week has been much better.
So, now, I can happily post these two views of town for you to enjoy.
Maybe you don't have jacarandas where you live.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Work in Progress on a toned canvas

Back to my normal palette of colors for now.
I started two 24" x 30" canvases this weekend. For this painting I thought that a neutral gray toned canvas would work best.
I took all my leftover paint from the first start, added a little more red and yellow to get it warmer, thinned it a little, and toned this canvas.
Another great way to get this neutral toned canvas is to have a failed painting attempt and wipe it down.

The toned canvas was my mid tone. I started painting with my lightest lights, an off white on the warm side. I worked the negative space around the figures legs to get them positioned. The highlights on the hat and the scarves are enough to get the image to read. Then I sketched in a few lines and shapes of a darker tone. There you go, my main value pattern with a light, mid tone and dark.

I did not want to get into too much detail too soon. I am just putting down value notes and adjusting my drawing with paint as I go, working all over the canvas to avoid getting bogged down with the details. I pull the big shapes out first, trying to capture the gestures of the figures. This needs to be accurate before I can start to finish with details. I need to have the framework down so I can lay the details in with confidence in the right spot and leave them.

I continue to make slight value adjustments and begin adding more color. I make some adjustments to the gestures of the figures. I moved the arm up on the woman in the middle. I also moved the right shoulder of woman on the left just a bit to make her look like she is carrying a heavier load in that bag. I have not put the highlight back on there yet.
This is where I had to stop. I hope to wrap this one up before long and post the results.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Another Grab Bag Palette - "The Painting"

This painting was done with my second Grab Bag Palette. These colors were a bit harder than the first Grab Bag Palette that I picked last week. My colors this time were Raw sienna, Winsor Violet, Permanent Green Light, and Oxide of Chromium, plus White.

"Hard at Work", 8" x 10" oil on linen, 2008
Private Collection

I have a larger painting of this scene in the works, with my normal palette, but I wanted to give this one a try with the limited palette colors that I picked.
This gentleman was plowing his piece of this field while his wife walked along dropping corn into the rows. I usually don't take photos of people up close like this without permission. I asked this couple if I could shoot some photos to use for paintings, and I paid them for the privilege.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Another Grab Bag Palette - "The Grab"

I decided to try another Grab Bag Palette. I liked the challenge of the last one, but was looking for something a little more difficult.
Be careful what you wish for, right?
My pick this time was Raw sienna, Winsor Violet, Permanent Green Light, Olive Green, and Oxide of Chromium.
I guess my thoughts on greens came back to haunt me, or maybe it is just that all those greens were so lame that I never finished the tubes and that is why my paint box is full of them.
Actually the box is getting kind of low. These were chosen from about twelve or fifteen colors. I'll have to throw a few more not so bad colors in there for the next one.
If you did not read about my other grab bag palette see here and here.

The Olive Green was totally dried out, so I was down to four.
No loss.
I would have liked to toss out the Oxide of Chromium though.

All of the colors this time are similar in value. The Raw Sienna is my only "warm" color, so it will have to do a lot. See how those orange colors of the pure sienna plus white pop against all of the other mixes? The purple becomes my blue. What you have to do with a limited palette, is learn how the colors look when mixed, and in relation to each other. The last time I had two primaries to work with. This time the Raw Sienna is as close as I get to having one.

I made up another ten step value scale in black and white along the edge of a 6x8 panel. This is a good exrecise too. Don't make a bunch of them all at once. The trick is to get good at making them. I didn't get the scale perfect, but it is good enough for my color/value board. However, my darks got a little cramped because my #6, 7 and 8 grayscale values could have been a bit darker ( 10 being the black).
Here is the color/ value board, and the same board in grayscale.
Thanks for the tip Kathryn. I did not realize that "grayscale" would show my values differently than "black and white". I was closer on that last one than I thought.

I ran out of painting time today, so this is all I got done.
Tomorrow I should have time to attempt a painting with this "Grab".

Friday, April 4, 2008

Grab Bag Palette - "The Painting"

If you did not read my intro to the Grab Bag Palette, see here.
This one was fun. I was able to get much better color than I had feared when I picked my tubes. Purple Lake was out, so I had Magenta, Terre Verte, Cerulean Blue, Chrome Yellow and White.
Mixing lots of colors first, like I showed in my last post, was the way to go. That way I knew what I could do with what I had.
After making the value board, I scraped what was left into three piles of "mud" that were helpful to me in the painting.

My palette, with a lot of the colors that I will use in the painting, pre mixed. They are reflecting a lot of blue sky since I shot this photo in the shade.
That is some liquin in the bottom right corner of the palette.
The thing with an odd limited palette like this is that the mixes need to be seen RELATIVE to the other colors that you will be painting with. Perfect place for pre mixing some colors.

Below is the finished painting and a detail.

"Team Work", 6" x 8" oil on board, 2008
$500. Framed, Available at Galeria Gardner

Detail of "Team Work"

We are going to a Camp Out / Birthday Party for one of my daughter's friends tonight and tomorrow.
Have a great weekend.
As always, thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Grab Bag Palette - "The Grab"

Today I painted with colors that were chosen blindly, at random, from a box of paints that I had not used in a long long time. The exercise is suggested by Kevin Macpherson in his book, "Landscape Painting Inside and Out". He suggests setting aside all of the colors that you normally work with, and pick three to five random colors from twenty or thirty tubes of what is left of your paints. I had about twenty in an old paint box. You then have to do a painting with JUST those colors, plus white, no cheating.

Kathryn Law has been doing some paintings like this on her blog here, here and, here. We were swapping comments the other day, and I decided that I would give it a try. I told her I felt like I was about to jump into a lake where I knew the water would be really cold.

The colors I chose were Purple Lake, Magenta, Terre Verte, Chrome Yellow, and Cerulean Blue. I limited myself to five grabs, but one was an un marked tube that contained French Ultramarine Blue, which is a color I use all the time, so it was out. I also chose two tubes of Terra Verte, so I dropped one of those as well.
Gotta give myself some kind of chance you know.
The Terra Verte must have been from the days when I was still looking for the perfect tube of green. I tried em all. They all stink. Throw out your greens and just mix them. Terre Verte is stupid. It has no tinting power at all and I had to put tons of it into my mixes to change anything. Cerulean Blue is not far behind in tinting strength and it is not my favorite blue. My Purple lake was from so long ago that it was very dried up. I could not mix with it. Another one down. There went my darkest dark. Magenta is almost the same color though, not quite as dark and a little redder. It was going to be my "red". Chrome yellow was the lucky draw of all of them. I would have been sunk without it. The white was a given, so there I had my Grab Bag Palette. I was not that excited.

The grab, with piles of gray "mud" that were left over after some practice mixing.

I decided to see what they could do, you know, take them out for a test drive. I just mixed as many colors as I could come up with until my palette was full. Then, for fun, I layed them on a 6x8 board like my "Value Board" that I talked about in this post.
I had a ten step black and white value scale that I made with my workshop painters. The values were arranged along the edge of the board . I tried to line up the colors that I mixed using the new colors, by value, next to what I judged to be the value of each mix. This is actually a valuable exercise on seeing value. I also found that I was able to get a lot of good colors. That water was warming up.

In photoshop, I switched it to black and white to see how I did. There are some that are obviously off, but some were right on.
You may want to open another window and view the two enlargements side by side to compare. I am not an expert in photoshop or I would have put them together for you.

I finished the painting.
I'm working on getting a post together so I can share it with you all.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

"Fields and Yellow Flowers"

Here is one more painting using a pre mixed palette of colors.
This painting is from last Friday when I went painting with my friend Guy Corriero. I painted from a spot that was slightly elevated from where I shot this photo. That way I could get the receding fields read as larger shapes.

I focused on the stacks and middle trees and moved elements from the edges inwards for a better design on my 6x8 panel.

I sketched this design lightly with vine charcoal, then mixed.

A close up of the palette. The color of the yellow flowers is missing from this shot. That blue-gray pile near my cad. red and yellow was a missed attempt, but I later used it in other mixes.

With time to think about it, I changed my design a bit. Less foreground and moved it all to the right and a bit closer.

The finished piece. "Fields and Yellow Flowers", 6" x 8" oil on board, 2008
Private Collection

The scene again to compare to the finish.

Detail 1.

Detail 2.

I was happy with the result. There is a chance that I might paint a larger piece from this. I have a few ideas how I would change things just a bit, but I don't want to mess with this one and lose the freshness and spontaneity of the painting. I've learned that the hard way. I always think that I can just "fix" a few things, but almost every time I wish that I had left it alone.