Friday, December 31, 2010

Cameron Bluff #2, Mt. Magazine, Logan County

Cameron Bluff #2
11X14, Oil on Canvas

I hope everyone had a happy holiday season and the upcoming new year brings happiness and health!  I've been on the East Coast so I have some new material to paint.  Those will eventually be shown on my other blog.  

This is a larger version of the plein air painting I did of Cameron Bluff on Mt. Magazine a few months ago.  I was working to emphasize colors I liked in the original while adding more dimensionality.  I see some possibilities for even larger compositions here but that will have to wait.

My New Year's resolution artwise will be to paint 2 paintings per week in the coming year.  Any size counts and I will also take occasional vacation weeks.  I also hope to try to have this project half done by the end of 2011.  I think that is totally feasible but just difficult enough to make it a challenge.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Columbia County Courthouse, Magnolia, AR, Columbia County

This post could be just as easily titled "How to Fail at Exploiting the Gray Areas."  By gray areas, I'm meaning the places where the "rules" we learn as painters seem to intersect and oftentimes conflict.  Basically, I took a very difficult composition and tried my best to work through it's pitfalls.  In this case, I made a beautiful failure.  The painting is nice enough in a way but it certainly isn't great.  I expended a great deal of time on it but it was not wasted. I learned a lot.  I learned that there is an order of precendence to some "rules."  Some we can break without much fear.  Others we try to work around to our folly.  And some times, the ability to bend or break these "rules" is dependent on a things such as our lighting!

The painting in question puts the viewer at the intersection of Main Street and Vine Street in Magnolia, AR looking eastward at the Columbia County courthouse.  This courthouse sits up on a small rise in a square.  The traffic on Main St. divides into one way segments around the courthouse.  The shapes of the courthouse are somewhat reminiscent of the the step pyramid mounds made by the Native Americans who lived in Arkansas.  It was precisely this that I wanted to emphasize in this painting.

At the corner of Main and Vine, facing south is a large church with 2 buildings, both of which have large steeples.  They are on the left as you face the courthouse and are very prominent.  This presents quite a headache.  How does one subordinate such structures relative to a building that appears much smaller only 2 blocks away?  How does one control the eye around a steeple that is not a part of the focal object?  Steeples are strong visual cues, commanding us to look skyward.  My courthouse, although beautiful in its own right had no visual elements capable of competing with that strength without playing some major games.  These questions formed major headaches.  I probably should have just bailed on this fight but that's not my style so I took it headlong, doing no composition sketches or notans or anything else.

My strategy:

1.  Remove one church building, at least this way I'm only fighting one steeple.
2.  De-emphasize the church by slightly skewing it's perspective so it's more sidelong than my reference (thereby moving the viewer more into the street than the sidewalk from where my reference was shot.)
3.  Further de-emphasize the church by decreasing its visual size slightly while at the same time increasing the courthouse in size.
4.  Emphasize the courthouse even more by slightly increasing the size of the rise on which it sits, moving it higher up on the visual plane.
5.  Provide a visual recirculation path from the steeple via clouds with multiple paths to both a copse of trees beyond the sidewalk on the left as well as back into the focal region itself.

I quickly realized that my cloud work just was not going to cut it for #5.  I have some technical issues with clouds as the size of the paintings increase.  It's mostly an equipment problem.  I'm a huge admirer of the use of flats.  I really like the look they can achieve when "stepping on" already applied layers of wet paint.  I have a wide array of flats but they are all synthetic bristle which means that the large ones behave like a wet biscuit until you get a nice build up of hardened paint deep in the belly of the brush so it has some rigidity.  Alas, none of my big flats have enough rigidity to make the types of marks I need to do large cloud work!  (I think some good big hog bristle flats are in order for Christmas!)  A sable bright might offer more give than a synthetic or hog bristly bright but I can't afford a 1" sable brush!  So in light of this, I opted to go a different route.  I changed the time of day to earlier with the sun just cresting beyond the edge of the canvas.  This let me put a large bright region right over my focal point and gave me lot so flexibility with varying colors in the sky.  I would instead use color and temperature variations, along with the stoplight horizontal to recirculate the eye from the steeple back into the painting.

Above is the finished product.  I think my sky became far too desaturated for the relatively dark shadowed areas on the side.  The courthouse is possibly far too prominent!   Even being a focal point, it feels quite assertive.  The hard edges are too focused.  It actually did not need the help I tried to give it to bring it to prominence!  With a more saturated sky, I could have taken out the stoplight.  It's very interuptive here I feel and does not fulfill it's planned role at all.  There's really interesting stuff going on in the sky but since the color is so desaturated, it's almost impossible to make out in a photograph and not a whole lot easier in person.  In addition, the trees on the right hand side are too dark relative to everything else.  I could have put a lot more light here.  I realy like the church and it's steeple, I think I did a good job there.  The red truck on the right was actually parked facing the wrong direction.  I liked that and left it like I saw it.  Some of the work on the cars is good too even if they are a bit distracting and bunched too closely across the middle of the plane. Maybe only three cars would have been better.

So there you go.  The moral of the story is that I overthought this one, totally overplanned in the wrong ways.  If I had done a couple of small quick notan studies I probably could have sidestepped the actual issues I had without introducing new ones by overthinking.  We artists do tend to be our own worst critics but sometimes that's a good thing.  I am, of course, disappointed in this one because I really hoped it would be something great.  I felt very strongly in this location and had what I thought was a great concept and plan of attack.  I doubt I will go back and adjust this piece but I may try it again cleanly.  This time though, I'll do a small study or two beforehand!  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder so if someone out there falls in love with this, it is available but I'm pretty sure I'll never enter it in any shows or try to display it anywhere.

I would also like to point out that this is not entirely a self critique.  I did post this to WetCanvas to get the thoughts of other artists.  Some pointed out items I had seen but I also got some additional things to think about as well which I have included in this post.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Workshop

I have a whole lot I need to blog about on both my blogs but at the moment, I am without a decent camera so I can't take any pictures until tomorrow night at the earliest.  I am in the process of writing a rather lengthy self-critique of a piece I spent a great deal of time on but which didn't turn out like I had hoped.  I don't think I'll make any corrections to it because I just feel totally spent on it.  But I think there is value at least to myself by writing about it.

In the meantime I wanted to post about a workshop I plan on taking this coming spring.  One of my favorite Arkansas artists, Bill Garrison, is doing a workshop in April.  Below is the flyer.  Perhaps someone out there is interested.  I'm definitely looking forward to it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Rattlesnake Ridge, Pulaski County

Rattlesnake Ridge
8X10 Oil on Wood

Here is the completed piece from this month's Arkansas League of Artist's paint out.  This ridge is part of the Pinnacle Mountain complex.  It is just west of Pinnacle Mountain State Park.  This marvelous view is right behind the studio of artist Bob Snider!  He also has a view of Pinnacle of which I got a couple of pictures in a great light.  Those may find their way onto the easel soon enough.

I've done more work on this in the studio than I did in the field so I'm not sure it still qualifies as plein air!  One very interesting thing about this one is that I made a shift in my yellows.  Usually, yellow ochre is the coolest yellow I use and sometimes I wonder if it really isn't actually warmer than Cad yellow!  But I usually use it as my cool yellow because it's lower in chroma.  However, I used lemon yellow here as my primary yellow.  My thinking here is that as the weather cools, the sun will be less intense and I can simulate that feel with a cooler yellow for my lights. 

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Little Red River, Cleburne County

Little Red River
8X0, Oil on Wood

Earlier this summer we took a trip to Heber Springs in Cleburne County.  I got several good pictures during that trip including parts of a quiant downtown.  The above scene shows Sugarloaf Mountain in the background and the Hwy 110 bridge.  This is a very popular trout fishing river.  There are actually two mountains around Heber named Sugarloaf.  The one shown here is the shorter of the two.  It has a dramatic, but small rock outcrop at the top.  The other is now in the middle of Greers Ferry Lake.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

ALA Plein Air Event

Yesterday, I received an email from the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Stephens, Arkansas, Mr. Stephen Suffron.  If you will recall, a few months ago I posted a painting I did from Stephens.  You can see it here.  Mr. Suffron kindly asked if he could use that painting and this one on the banner for his church's new blog!  I was honored and you can see my paintings on the Stephens FBC blog.  Thank you Mr. Suffron and I hope to get back down your way early on next year!

Today was the monthly Arkansas League of Artists plein air paint out. This was my first time attending. I had planned on going last month but just got lazy that morning. If I'd had known how great this group was, I'd have gotten my butt out of bed better and gone. I missed a great location last month but this month was probably just as good! This month, the paint out was held on the property of Bob Snider, another local artist who paints in both oil and watercolor. Bob's place is incredible! Just to the west of Pinnacle Mountain State Park, his expansive new studio has a remarkable view of a rugged outcrop of rock called Rattlesnake Ridge. You can see Bob's work on his website here.

Rattlesnake Ridge

Pinnacle Mountain

Bob's Studio

Inside Bob's Studio

Bob's Work Space

Most all of the artists who showed up this morning were working in watercolor.  Only myself and Bob worked in oil today.  I believe we had 10 artists which seemed to be a pretty good turnout but since this was my first time with the group I'm not sure how many they normally get (and my mental tally could be off too!)  I set up in the shadow of Bob's studio and started on the most obvious subject: Rattlesnake Ridge.  I have a thing for rock outcrops and this one is imposing.  I tried to convince myself to go with something different, something less obvious, but I was drawn to the rocks.  I only brought 2 surfaces: an 8X10 wood panel and a 5X7 canvas that's been recycled at least once.  I couldn't bring myself to settle on 5X7 for this!  After a quick oil value sketch I set about working top down as usual for me.  I set the peak of the ridge as my focal point and used the small copse of trees on the valley floor to the left as a counterbalance.  As the sun slowly marched across the sky, I found myself chasing the shade of the studio to keep the glare off my panel.  It turned out to be a great day and got something I think I can be proud of!  After a few touch ups in the studio, I'll get pictures and post it!  I also worked with headphones today which I think helped me relax and work at my own pace and more like I work in the studio.

My Piece from the Day with the Ridge

Caution: Watercolorists at Work!

Ruth Byrn's

Tom Herrin's

Our Gracious Host Bob at work

I regret that I cannot remember everyone's name I met today and that I did not get better pictures of everyone's work but I'll try to do better next month!

Oh!  I have a new county completed!  I just need a good picture of it and I'll get that posted!