Wednesday, March 19, 2008

More stuff from the workshop last week

"Jane and Elizabeth painting the three stacks and fields."

Everyone in the group was really into a good rhythm by Thursday. To make the most of our time, I began setting up with them to paint, instead of doing a demo while everyone watched and then painted. They still got to watch my process, and listen to me talk, but we got more done. Every fifteen or twenty minutes I would make the rounds and check out everyone's progress.
We painted in Atotonilco in the morning and had lunch there. By the afternoon it was getting pretty windy and hot, so we decided to move on to a greener spot. That is one benefit to working with a small group. We were very mobile.
We headed to a place that I really love to paint. I don't like to bring large painting groups there, but since there were just four of us it was just right.

We had a steady head wind here, but the view made up for it. You can see that we were all pretty close together, so I could paint and talk at the same time. I usually do that anyway, but this time I had someone to listen :)

"The four easels grouped close together."

All of the colors and values in a painting are relative to the other colors around them. One of the main things that I teach in my workshops, is the pre mixing of colors on the palette first, before any painting is done. Mixing colors like this has many advantages.
First I decide on my composition and lightly lay in a few lines of vine charcoal on my canvas. As I mix my colors, I have time to think about my design. If I could have made a better choice, there is still time to adjust when I begin to lay down the paint.
I usually pre mix five to seven shadow family colors and five to seven light family colors, or more, depending on the scene. I'll chose the darkest shadow color/value and the lightest light. Also the lightest shadow color. No light color should be darker than this. I'll mix colors to represent the main masses. Sometimes I will break those down into subtle color changes of the same value, or I may wait and do that later in the painting stage. I go back and forth between my mixed piles, adjusting and comparing. What does one color look like COMPARED to the others?
It is almost like having a little painting on the palette. I get to see how the colors that I chose relate to each other.
Once I have the majority of color choices mixed and adjusted for hue, value and chroma (or saturation) I can begin to paint rapidly. There is only a limited amount of time when painting the changing light, so with a lot of my mixing and left side of the brain stuff out of the way, I am free to dive in with the right side of my brain and just paint.
I will discuss pre mixing some more in upcoming posts.

I do not have just one method for how I start the painting part once I have my color piles. Sometimes I use a toned canvas. Other times I prefer the white color of the oil primed linen. Sometimes I block in big value masses first then break those up into smaller bits. Other times I'll paint the lines of a more complex scene with a mid value gray or even sienna type color and then go from there. Once in a while I'll start from my center of interest and work my way out. I think an artist should have many tricks in their bag to chose from. It is much more exciting to go with your emotions of the scene and vary how you approach the painting rather than just being a slave to a set formula.

Below is my painting from Thursday afternoon.

"Three Stacks, Afternoon", 6" x 8" oil on linen, 2008
Private Collection

We went back to the same location on Friday morning. Three of us decided to paint the same scene again, this time with morning light from the left. I like painting in series like this, with different light effects, so I was glad that they were up for it. I zoomed in my composition a bit on the three stacks of corn stalks, and eliminated the sky and the plowed field in the foreground.

below is one of my paintings from Friday morning.

"Three Stacks, Morning", 6" x 8" oil on linen, 2008
Private Collection

The farmers don't like you going out in their fields when they have crops in or have just plowed, so we chose a broad view. I think that it was easier to simplify and see the big masses and aerial perspective better from here anyway. We were elevated just a bit above the field. I have always loved how Van Gogh would chose a slightly elevated view of fields to catch the patterns like this.

I pushed everyone to keep working fast, and they were good sports about it. I had them work for about an hour and a half on the first piece Friday, and then we did a "sprint" of about 45 minutes, or less, for the last painting of the class.
After a late lunch, we put all of the paintings from the week up in my gallery and talked about them. A lot of the pieces had been quickly tucked away as we kept moving on to new paintings, so it was nice to be able to see them all together and share thoughts and ideas.

"Scott hard at work."


Anonymous said...


I love seeing this stuff and hearing about the workshop. I think it's great that you're pushing fast painting. It's really interesting to hear about what you have students do. It sounds like you teach all of the good exercises I wish I had the discipline to do for myself.

Bill Sharp said...

Good post, Frank. I like to hear how others work. Re: pre-mixing colors, I've tried pre-mixing colors before but found that I hardly used the pre-mixed piles once I got started and mixed as I went along.

I especially like the zoomed in landscape, btw.

Don Gray said...

Beautiful little studies, Frank. Full of light and atmosphere, and the immediacy of direct sensation, which is what good plein air painting is all about.

Kate said...

Beautiful colors, and interesting pre-mixing technique Frank. I would love to see a shot of your pre-mixed palette compare to a shot of the finished work.

Unknown said...

Amazing pieces, i love the "flattened" elevated view points. It sounds like a great adventure. I'm loving these pictures too.

Christine Mercer-Vernon said...

really good post frank. it's fascinating to hear how other artists work. it looks like you had a great workshop, the 'three stacks' painting really jumps to me, great colors, expressive brushstrokes. i agree with kate, it would be interesting to see a pic of your premixed palette and the finished painting.

FCP said...

Yes, I agree with Kate and Christine--please consider a future post showing your pre-mixed palette. And thanks for sharing details of your workshop for those of us who couldn't be there. I love what you said about how the pre-mixing allows you to switch from left to right brain, and go from thinking, planning, organizing, mixing to painting spontaneously.
Both the paintings are wonderful studies of atmosphere and light--lovely work, Frank.

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks for visiting everyone.

Colin, fast but deliberate is where it's at for plein air.

Bill, that happens once in a while.

Don, thanks. I appreciate that.

Kate, I will dig up a shot of pre mixed piles and a painting to go along with it. I was thinking the same thing, but don't like super long blog posts. Had to cut this one off somewhere.

Hi Eric. Some of my favorite views too. Thanks.

Thanks Christine. I'll work on continuing the pre mixed thing with some palette shots.

Faye I am glad you picked up on the left side right side thing. I think it is very important.
I'll post some more from the workshop soon.

Jennifer Thermes said...

Hi Frank-- I really like hearing about your process-- especially about pre-mixing colors.

Karen Cole said...

What a wonderful job explaining your process. I work much the same way when I paint....which hasn't been too often lately.

How often do you have these workshops?

I went to Tyler College of Art, part of Temple University, back in the day. I couldn't afford RISD at the time. I WAS a painting major.

Beautiful studies BTW.

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks Jennifer.
I have seen it said somewhere in the blogosphere that..."your comments feed my blog".
It is true. The more I know that someone is reading, and enjoying or getting something out of my posts, the more I want to post and try to make them interesting.

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Karen. I try.
I do a few workshops each year. This March I only had time for one. Easter vacation came early this year and Erin is out of school this week and next. I did not want to be tied to a class.
I may do one in Early October when there are a lot of wild flowers around here and things are still green.
Otherwise, I will be doing more next winter (Feb. or March)
Enjoy the skiing and apres ski scene in Telluride.

Jack Riddle said...

Frank--thanks for the detailed review of your workshop. I look forward to the rest. I found the hardest part for me was understanding that you should mix the true local color and apply it as a "finished" statement of that particular color. This, as opposed to counting on the effects of layering one color on another to achieve the effect as one would be more likely to do in a studio. You don't have time for that and you can only put so much paint down before you start to get mud. Once I "got" that, I was OK. But it became clear to me that there was a basic difference to painting plein air and painting in more detail in the studio. If some of your students have trouble with that, maybe my experience would be useful. Love the sketches, too. San Miguel Vieques, old church to your back, correct? Jack

virtual nexus said...

Thanks - found your comment on the different ways of approaching a scene most helpful; and think there's something in Jack's comment as well about there being variations in plein air and studio work.

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Jack, right you are on the location.
You are right about the difference in approach to plein air vs. studio too. At least if you are trying to catch the light in one go.
Especially for this pre mix exercise. The aim is to get accurate color blocked in fast and then adjust, add to it, or leave it.
Stay tuned.

Frank Gardner said...

Hi Julie. Jack is totally right about the difference in approach.
I am glad that you found some of my ideas helpful.

Barrie said...

As a non-painter, it's very interesting to read about the workshop and your techniques.

Frank Gardner said...

Thanks Barrie. It is nice to know that even non painters can find this stuff interesting.

kathrynlaw said...

What a great post, and wonderful paintings as always. The "left brain/right brain" distinction really resonates. When I read a similar description in Betty Edwards' book on Color, it was a revelation to me, never mentioned in art school. Your discussion validates that, and your approach is something I will try to incorporate. Thank you!

Frank Gardner said...

Thank you very much Kathryn. I never heard stuff like that in art school either.
This exercise in pre mixing color came from a desire to free my creative side up as much as possible. It is also a big help when you can compare color and make corrections BEFORE you lay them down.