Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Hunter Gatherer of Light and Color" Part 1: Values

When I am out plein air painting I consider myself a "hunter gatherer". I am looking for bits of information, value relationships, light, color etc.. I "hunt" these things and I "gather" them.
In this post I will talk about gathering of values.

These images are from a painting trip to Maine that I took with some friends. I actually got a lot of painting done which is good, because I don't like to leave my family and travel thousands of miles to come home empty handed. It was my first time painting in Maine and it really took me out of my comfort zone of painting blue sky and things that, for the most part, don't move. Some days I got up to six paintings done. Other days did not yield as many, but I feel that even on the frustrating days I came away with something useful.

I will try not to ramble on here, I hope that these sketches speak for themselves, but I will try and give brief descriptions of why I am choosing these particular sketches to share with you.

"Misty Maine Sketch", 11" x 14" oil on linen, 2006

The weather was changing constantly it seemed. In this painting all I had time to get down were the basic value relationships of the main shapes. Then the sun came out and completely changed everything. By going for the important stuff first and not getting caught up in the details right off I got some solid relationships down and even though it is an "unfinished" painting I think that it stands on its own and is actually a nice piece. It gives a little insight into how I start a painting.
Since the light changed drastically, I set this one aside and started on another painting. To keep working on a painting when the light has changed so much would be a mistake.

Two of the most frustrating things about this trip turned out to be two of the best learning experiences of the trip. Here is what I mean.
#1 Boats move. Even when they are moored the turn and shift, especially on windy days.
#2 Maine lobster boats have a unique shape, their lines are not the same as other boats, and I needed to learn this.

Pencil Sketch #1

I don't do that many pencil sketches before I start a plein air painting. I am usually too caught up in the moment and want to get right to it. However, these boats were giving me trouble. Boats turning on their moorings and the changing light of partly cloudy days was getting me frustrated. At times I just had to take a step back and do some pencil sketches. I was trying to capture the lines of these boats in simple sketches of three or four values. On the left are three views of the same boat turning. On the right are also three views of one work skiff. I drew what I could and when the profile changed I moved on to the next sketch. These were just a few seconds each. I tried to get the basic shape down and added some values when I had time.

Pencil Sketch #2

Here are some more drawings done very quickly. In a few of them you can see how I adjusted my original lines. There was a man who rowed a boat out to the work skiff to turn on the water pump. In the drawing in the middle you can see the boat alongside the skiff. In the drawing on the right he is talking on his cell phone. These are just quick gestures, but valuable nuggets of information for future paintings.

Pencil Sketch #3

Here are some more examples of working quickly and hunting and gathering of values. It is not the details that were important to me but the relationship of a value compared to the values around it. Most of these have just been three or four values. The white of the paper being one, then a light gray, a medium and a dark. Look at the sketch at the top left. There is not a lot of "drawing" of the boat. It is really just a collection of shapes of different values. When these spots are put together in the right place it reads as the little boat against the dock.

I hope that some of you found this interesting. I'll talk about other things that I hunt and gather when I am out plein air painting in a future post.


FCP said...

Thank you for sharing this. This is an "aha moment" for me because I can see the importance of stopping the painting process when conditions are changing. Doing the little sketches would help to re-group and organize my thoughts --as opposed to chasing the light (or the boats in this case). It would be different from doing an initial thumbnail sketch (for me)because the value would lie in making that switch from painting to sketching. A right brain/left brain thing? Maybe, but whatever it is, I think it would be a valuable reminder to re-focus my original intention.
Also, thank you for your kind words, and for visiting my blog --I am honored.
Faye (a recovering light chaser)

Mike said...

Hey Frank . . .these are the bones of what makes paintings work! As a watercolorist, we don't have many second chances at getting values correct unless it is to make something darker. . . . certainly NOT lighter. Value sketches are the absolute necessity for watercolorists. Planning planning planning, as the saying goes. It makes all the difference in oil painting, too. Good on ya for doing it! I also find that my sketchbooks are FULL of subjects to work with . . .and a terrific journal of growth over time.

Anonymous said...

Hey Frank,

Painting boats can be a real pain. I live and paint where you were working in Maine, and the boats do have a tendency to change direction ALOT. Plus weather changes, like wind or clouds, effect colors in the water drastically! Everything is so variable in a coastal scene that it feels like the ultimate test for a plein air painter. It looks like you were really getting the shapes of those boats down. My favorites are in pencil sketch #3. I like when the lobster boats are sitting with the bow up high and the stern is long and low. It also looks good in the skethc with the guy on his cell phone.

Talk to you soon,


Frank Gardner said...

Hi Faye, Thanks. It always helps to re-focus if you find yourself straying.

Frank Gardner said...

I'm glad that you visited Mike. My sketchbooks have more good ideas in them than I will ever be able to paint. I like that one about the bones.

Frank Gardner said...

That's for sure Colin, the weather up your way changes from fog to sun to clouds and back with some wind thrown in, and the next five minutes it does it again.
Your right man, the water changes color too doesn't it?
Thanks for the approval on the boats. Long and low. I figured that out after a while. The bow kind of comes straight down too.
You do a pretty good job on those boats yourself.

Anonymous said...

Misty Maine Sketch - love that!!!! - when oil has the transparency of watercolor!!! Without even looking at the title, I could see the mist/fog - temperature, smell, humidity all come through instantly!!! (And, you can't laugh at the Nathan Fowkes reference with THIS one!!!)

Your pencil sketches grabbed my attention when I first looked into your site and blog. (Back when I used to draw/paint, there was a day when I wandered around to see the work of others in a life-drawing class. This girl's sketches - her face and work are emblazoned in my memory.... - in an instant, I knew she "had it" and I didn't - I could see how great and easy and masterful her sketches were, and I had NO "bridge" to get myself to that place. I knew I should pack up and go home.) Even in quick thumbnail sketches, mastery is revealed. I love looking at these sketches - your quick ability to lay out form and value with the briefest, autopilot strokes ....
Even in books about famous painters, their sketches draw my attention - maybe even more than the finished work.

Really nice!!! Thank you!

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks for all of the thoughtful comments Solveg.
I guess you are saying it is similar in simplicity to Nathan's work. I had not seen his work when this was painted, but will take that as a compliment.

Ha, ha. not everyone can sketch the same way. There are many artists who I feel sketch better than me, but that is just style as much as talent.

Anonymous said...

skteching.....there are so many things one can see in sketches. maybe it's a bit like listening to the way a person warms up on a musical instrument, prior to a concert - you can hear the way they approach different issues. it's not exactly the same...

Anonymous said...

and, the n.f. reference....it's just that in those watercolor sketches his skill and understanding of his materials is transparently revealed. i see the same in your sketches and paintings - i just love seeing that......choices that are abundant because of understanding, knowledge, skill, study, practice.......i really admire it and am drawn to it.
that's the reference point.


Frank Gardner said...

Hi S.
Interesting comparison on the sketching to a musician warming up. I like that. Similar in many ways, but like you said, not exactly.

Oh, that is where the N.F. reference comes from.
I get it now.