A Painting Facelift

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Funny how paintings can change over time. One gets completed; you live with it for a while and seem to enjoy what you created. Then, some time down the road, you realize a few nips, tucks and tweaks can make a stronger image.

The painting above is the current result of an image I’ve changed a few times. The image below shows the former look. The orange tree poking up through the forest just became annoying.

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I knew I had to do something with that tree, and the photo below shows what I did – I got rid of it! With acrylics, that’s easy to do.

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I mixed the sky color which was Ultramarine Blue, Titanium White and a touch of Indian Yellow and brushed into the sky, over the offending tree and down into the tree line a bit.  I didn’t adjust anything in the bottom half of the painting but did soften the tree line, made the highlight on the grass a little thinner and less intense and move the tree into the front of the forest.

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I built the tree with layers of ultramarine blue and yellow creating values of yellow-green. Then I just kept adding color and switched the hue, and the tree, to blue-green, which I liked better. I added a few more touches of the blue-green throughout the image and I’m calling this painting done!

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Watercolor Sketches

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My morning start. If I work small, if I work quickly and loosely, I can stir up whatever creative genes I possess to pump up the excitement, pump up the skill set for a day of painting.

This is my current sketchbook. It’s filled with watermedia sketches created in a matter of minutes once I turn on the lights in my studio each day.  I start with watercolor and often add casein. The watercolor is transparent; the casein helps me resolve the image with some opaque color.

I use a coil bound Field Series Watercolor Journal with 140 watercolor paper. Although I haven’t tried this Iexpect the journal would also work well with mixed media technique. The size I use is 6″ x 6″ but it comes in a variety of sizes and different cover colors. Here’s mine:

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I use Qor watercolor paints from Golden Artists Colors and Shiva casein available from Richeson Art. And today, I seemed to be extra enthusiastic so here a couple more sketches from this morning’s start up session.

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Red and Blue Can Make Green

aftertheraiinlowres

I’m not fond of the color green. As a landscape painter that can be a bit of a problem. I’ve tried mixes of warm and cool yellows with warm and cool blues and I use some of those mixes in my paintings. I can’t say they make my heart sing.

So my challenge is to create peaceful, soft landscapes using as little green or yellow-green as possible. I push my greens towards blue-green ( or yellow, or orange, or…)!

A few months ago I painted a blue foreground that seemed a little strident. I toned the blue with a glaze of transparent red iron oxide and a whole new world opened to me.

Using red and blue (Transparent Red Iron Oxide and Phthalo Blue (green shade)) I get a somewhat transparent green that can range in value from very dark to soft and light. It’s a green that makes me happy. Add a little more blue to the mix and the color becomes blue-green, add a little more of the red oxide and the green becomes very dark, add white and it’s a softer, lighter green. Mix with other colors on my palette and it holds its own. It’s a rich color mix that keeps me interested.

Using this red and blue combination with some bit players added for contrast, I built the above painting, “After the Rain”, 12″ x 16″ on cradle board. And in the photo below, I present my latest palette for landscape painting.

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Plein Air From Inside My Window

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There’s something about winter that’s quiet and comforting. Several feet of snow deaden any sound and there’s a pristine, untouched look to the landscape when you live in the country.

That’s why I’m enjoying painting winter landscapes – both the process and the effect are calming.

My studio has a north-facing window. I set up my easel facing west and I see the image above.

I turn my easel to the east and I find the source material for “White Pine”, below.

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Then I move the easel a little to the right and I can paint “Backyard Winter”, below.

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I like to call these plein air paintings, but I’m looking through the window, I’m not actually outside. But hey, it’s minus 35 out there…and I’m no fool!!

Next on my list of projects is a version of the image below. And I can take my time. It looks like the snow won’t be going anywhere soon.

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A Quick Look at Painting with a Knife

Look quickly. This video will take you through a painting from start to finish in three minutes. I only wish I could paint that fast! I wanted to show you how I paint several of my images using a palette knife and shop towel, and I wanted to show that process from start to finish.

I painted the background an all over red-orange to begin, thinking the color would glow through in the final product. It doesn’t, but I learned long ago not to fall in love with any particular color or shape in the painting process. It’s all subject to change.

The video shows how I work back and forth between foreground and background and how I soften some of the sharp edges using a shop towel (with a little water if I’ve left the paint too long and it starts to set up before I can manipulate the color).

I mostly work from light values to dark values. I mix the color value with the knife then just kiss the surface of the painting with the knife to apply the paint. I work wet in wet when I want the colors to blend on the surface but I’ll let the colors dry when I want crisp, clear color changes.

The painting is an 8″ x 8″ acrylic painted on cradle board that was sealed and gessoed.
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What’s Left on the Plate

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Monoprinting is offset printing. You apply paint to a substrate (in this case, a gel plate) then lay some paper on top of the substrate, apply a little pressure, and transfer the paint to the paper. Repeat this step many times and you have a layered, multi-colored original print.

Some residual paint is almost always left behind on the plate after printing a layer of color. And I like to use that residual paint to my advantage. What’s left on the plate becomes a guide for subsequent color layers. I’ve broken out some of the steps for this 3″ x 5″ print (above) to show you how I can start, with just one overall color and no plan for a final image, and allow some of the residual paint to guide my design.
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The image above shows what’s left after I printed a layer of Quinacridone Magenta. By the way, I use Golden Open Acrylics, both for my monoprints and my acrylic paintings. The paints are slow drying – so they won’t dry on the surface while I’m slowly thinking of what the next step should be.  The paints also give me the freedom to mix colors directly on the plate (and often on the paper as well). I try to use lighter, brighter, transparent colors for the first layer.step1

 

The photo above shows the sky left on the plate after printing. I brush mixed a few colors to make the sky and those colors mixed with the magenta on the plate to create a violet cast to the sky.
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With a small, flat brush and some Transparent Red Oxide I created the mid ground – and this is what was left after printing.  With the remnants of the sky paint still on the plate, I could see where to place the Oxide to let some of the magenta show through at the top of the mid ground.

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With an old bristle brush and a little Sap Green, I added the foreground. The image above is what’s left after printing the first layer of the foreground. I used this color to register subsequent foreground color layers without having to guess about placement.

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It’s All About the Process

Process, process, process…if you don't like your painting process then there's no point in painting.

Sometimes the process can be quick; other times it's slow. At times, the process can fail you completely. But the minute by minute, day by day approach from a blank canvas to a completed painting should be, simply stated, a creative nirvana.

Here's American artist Mel McCuddin demonstrating his process…from a random application of paint on canvas to finding and refining images in that random surface. 

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Drive-by Pix

Out from the Dark

Bits and pieces of quick photo grabs were combined to make this composition.

My wife and I share driving along Hwy 401 into Toronto. When I'm the passenger, I have my smart phone or ipad at the ready to capture any drive-by scenes that might have possibilities. Sometimes the photos are blurry; sometimes I question why I even took the photo, but other times I'm delighted with an image or piece of an image that I can use in a painting.

This painting, called "Out From the Dark", 18" x 24" and painted in oils, has several sections from several photographs. I cropped elements from various photos, added them to a page in Photoshop and manipulated until I found something I liked. My Photoshop cropping is pretty rough so once I'm happy with a composition I do a small sketch either in a paper sketchbook or a digital sketchbook. And that becomes my composition.

Next step was to decide on concept and color. The foreground of a couple of the original images I used as resource was filled with construction equipment. I wanted something a little more pastoral and I discovered a photo I took of a large shadow on grass – just a shadow; just some grass. Weird, but the pic was in my files. Turns out that shadow became the reason for the painting.

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Three Colors; Two Looks; Many Values

Red Green

Here's a little exercise I did using one limited color palette, the same design and a complementary color scheme to create two different looks.

 I used an acrylic palette of Hansa Yellow Medium, Napthol Red Medium and Phthalo Blue (green shade) along with Mars Black and Titanium White to create these two paintings.

 The top painting is a red/green color scheme, the bottom painting is red-orange/blue-green and I created both using various mixes of the yellow, red and blue palette mentioned above. This is a great exercise in value control. Since the palette is limited, the focus needs to be on creating a range of values and a range of color temperatures that will adequately create the illusion of space and tell the story. Values that are close tend to flatten the area (see the sky and lower foreground in the top painting) and values that offer greater contrast separate the shapes and make some of them stand out (see the tree line in the above painting). 

 While I used white to create lighter values, I only used a little of the black to create darker values. Black tends to deaden the color  Instead of always using black, I prefer to mix the two complementary colors to create some darker neutrals that are much richer than they would be if I used black.

Red Orange Blue Green

And finally – well, this actually should be an early decision in the process – I decided on overall color temperature of the painting. Should the painting be cool or warm? The top painting has a dominant red appearance making it a warm painting; the bottom painting is obviously much cooler with only a little of the red-orange used in the mid-ground.

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Inspiration from an Image Transfer

At Dusk

"At Dusk", acrylic and image transfer on a 12" x 6" cradle board.

Somewhere beneath the layers of paint is a photograph of my backyard.

And what started as an image transfer became something else.

I wanted to create a soft spring look so I covered the surface with pale greens and yellows. But the image I transferred to the top third of the surface was a copy of a winter shot of my backyard; no snow but lots of bare trees and darkness. So I changed direction, changed color palette and moved the feel of the painting from spring to autumn using lots of Sap Green and Transparent Red Oxide.

The image transfer contained evergreens with a centre focus of birch trees. It was the birch trees that attracted me to the scene and it was the birch trees I wanted to save. But I felt the rest of the image could disappear. I kept some of the birch trees from the image but decided to expand upon what attracted me in the first place. So I covered most of the transferred image with painted texture using a painting knife and I built the birch trees out from the image and into the painting making them the subject. 

Only a small part of the original image shows at the top of the painting, buried under paint and texture inspired by the image.

 

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