Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Paint Along with Ron Guthrie

Oil on Masonite
9 x 12

I painted with my friend Ron on Sunday. It was wonderful to paint with him. I looked forward to painting with him so much that I was having nightmares about things going wrong. I dreamed I showed up, and forgot all my paints and brushes. Then I dreamed that Alan and I were trying to go to his house, and people kept showing up at my house, so I could not leave.

Ron paints mostly landscapes of rolling California hills with oaks and eucalyptuses on them. They are really breathtaking. Ron has many paintings selling in galleries, and you can view his website at http://www.guthrieart.com/. Together we painted a picture that he made up, so he could show me some of his procedures for the various parts. This is what I learned.

Ron uses a limited pallet, with a couple of special colors.

Regular colors
* Ultramarine Blue
* Cadmium Yellow Light (My CYL was a bright yellow, like a lemon peel, but his was darker and oranger, like orange juice concentrate. This made his greens more muted, so I switched to Cadmium Yellow Deep.)
* Alizarin Crimson
* Yellow Ochre
* Payne’s gray
* Titanium White.

Special colors
* Cerulean Blue Thalo. I had Cerulean blue that was not the “thalo” type. Mine was a nice, cyan-ish blue, but not bright. Ron’s Cerulean Thalo was more neon. Ron said once he was trying to do the highlights on the leaves in a vineyard, and a marine artist that he admires recommended using Cerulean Blue Thalo to get the effect.
* Indian Yellow. I had a hard time finding this, but I found it at Michal’s in the Windsor Newton display. It was not with the yellows, but with the oranges, because it is kind of a pumpkin-y color. When I used it, it behaved like a transparent, golden yellow ocher. I really like it. Ron said that his marine painter friend uses Indian Yellow in his seascape rocks.

Ron paints on Masonite boards that he cuts up himself and glues his own canvas to, using Elmer’s white glue.
Ron uses Copal Medium because it makes the paint tack up pretty fast. He thinks that linseed oil just makes things slurpy and runny. Then you wind up with a lot of mud. Every time we mixed a puddle of color, we put a drop or two of Copal in it. Ron said that Copal makes the paint coagulate, and I found that to be a pretty accurate description. When I first would mix the Copol into a color, it would feel thick and buttery, and went down nicely on the canvas, but very soon, it would get sticky. We put it into EVERY mixture that we created. It really made a big difference in the painting surface.

We did not tone the canvas, but just put a few faint pencil lines on for major shapes: hill, tree, foreground, etc.

We mixed up a puddle of light blue with the cerulean and white. It was so pale, that it was almost white. With a BIG hogs hair bush (about #10 or #12) we randomly (and thinly) blocked in the sky. We left space towards the horizon to leave room for the clouds. We made another pale puddle of Indian Yellow and white and bushed that in the cloud area. Then we took a fan brush, and as gently as a feather, blended it all in. We blended it in with diagonal strokes one way, then diagonal strokes the other way. The Indian yellow blending with the cerulean made it a little green, but that was okay.

We did this two more times, each time adding a little more cerulean or Indian yellow to their respective puddles, and began to shape the sky. Each time we used the fan brush to softly blend it. I found that the Indian yellow gave the clouds an antique-y look.

We made sure to save some of the sky color on the palette for the sky holes at the end.

Distant Mountains
We made a light blue with Ultramarine Blue and white. It was a little darker than the sky, but still, very light. Then we added a tad of Alizarin Crimson to make it a cool lavender, and a tad of Payne’s-Gray-mixed-with-white to make it duller. Added the copal. Then we put this on the mountain area. We were careful to keep the top edge of the mountain very soft. For the distant dirt, we very lightly dragged some Yellow Ocher over the mountain.

Bottom of the Mountain
We mixed some ultramarine blue with come of the sky blue made with cerulean, and dragged a line of that under the mountain. It looks like distant something to me.

Eucalyptus Tree
The dark part of the eucalyptus tree needed to set up. We mixed a dark green, with mostly ultramarine blue, a tad of cadmium yellow light, and a tad of alizarin crimson. I was trying to get, specifically, a dark green, but he said we were really just going for “dark”. He said that people looking at it will assume that it is green. I think the color I wound up with was closer to Navy Blue. We used a medium filbert brush and scumbled (random dry-brush pouncing and smearing) into the darkest part of the tree. I was taught by someone else to put the dark shadow in the whole silhouette of a tree, but he recommended leaving it bare where the lightest part will be. So basically, we darkened about ¾ of the tree.

Distant Ground
We made a medium green with equal parts of ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow light, and a tad of alizarin crimson, and bushed it thinly into the distant ground area. Then we mixed some gray with Payne’s gray and white, and gently brushed it over the top of the green, thicker towards the “back” of the scene, and almost none towards the “front” of the scene. That helped push the green back into the distance.

Distant Trees
We mixed up a dark green with lots of ultramarine blue, some cadmium yellow light, and a tad of alizarin crimson to dull it up a bit. It was dark brownish green of an ripe avocado. We scumbled that in. then we took Payne’s-gray-mixed-with-white, and mixed that into the green, and scumbled that on top of it for the highlights. That made the highlights cool and pushed the trees back. I am so used to using blue to push colors back, that using the coolness of gray was new to me.

I was very mystified by the foreground. What about all that detail in the grass, and the weird color of dirt? We mixed up some more green, a little yellower, and laid it in for the foreground grass. For the dirt, we mixed up yellow ochre and white, until it was light enough, and we laid that it with a knife. I had never use a knife before, but I just did my best. It worked fine. He said for dark dirt or grass, you just add more yellow ochre. For shadows in dirt, use ultramarine blue and yellow ochre. When I finished putting in the dirt, it looked to me like a cheese 1960’s knife painting, but Ron said it looked great.

Then we took the fan brush, and with the tips, pulled up grass in the green part. We did it like this: we held the brush aloft by the handle, so the fan part hung down like a pendulum. We grabbed a bit of the paint with the very tips of the bristles, and pulled it up in short strokes. Of course, this has to look random. The grass can be varied with other greens and browns, and shadows can be put in by dipping the fan brush into the ultramarine blue and doing the same brushstrokes at the root of the grass.

For the individual blades of grass, those were done with the knife too. We held the knife, also upside down like a pendulum, and loaded the side of it with paint, and drew the side upward through the grass and the dirt. When the grass was done, it looked terrific.

Finishing the Eucalyptus Tree
We mixed up some more very dark green: lots of ultramarine blue, some cadmium yellow light, and a tad of alizarin crimson. It was barely lighter than the Navy Blue color we laid in for the shadow. Since the tree is closer, it is darker and has more detail than the far away trees. We scumbled that in the top part of the tree that we left blank (facing the light, and the rest of the tree, but leaving the navy blue layer exposed on the part of the tree that was mostly in shadow. Of course, don’t make this solid, but random, like clumps of leaves. I did not like mine, it just looked like a big blob. I even thought I could see a face in it. But Ron said it was fine.

Then we added a little more yellow, until we had a medium green; not very light at all. We scumbled that in for the highlights on the upper left hand corner of the tree, where the sun would be hitting it the strongest. Ron said to go easy on this part.

Mine still looked like a blob when it was done. Ron said it was fine. Now he said to put in the sky holes. He explained that the leaves on “eucs” (eucalyptuses) in clumps, like cotton balls. So you need to describe the cotton balls by putting the sky holes between them. I used a tiny sable brush, and put a few dots of blue on, but it did not seem to help. I looked over and he was putting in more and more sky holes. Every time I thought I had enough, I noticed that he was putting in more. So I put in more. Hey! It was starting to look like a eucalyptus tree!

For the trunk and branches, we used some random light gray, and put them in broken lines. Where the top of the branches disappeared into the foliage, we cooled it with a little light ultramarine blue, and then some dark at the very top. Then we popped some bright highlights of light yellow ocher onto the exposed branches.

When the painting was all done, I could not believe it. I was so happy with my painting and everything that I had learned. I learned something new in every step.

Here are our two paintings together. Ron's is on the left side.

Plein Air: Adobe Arch

Oil on Canvas Board
6 x 8

It is usually difficult to find a good place to do a plein air. I had no more jobs left for the day, so I wanted to find a good place quickly. I had a newsletter in my car with a schedule for the plein air group, so looked at the locations. One place listed was the Olivas Adobe. That was nearby.

The adobe was closed, so there were no cars or people. But the grounds were open. It was so pretty: interesting architecture, bougainvilleas tumbling over all the walls, eucalyptuses, a beehive oven, a rose garden, and a fountain.

As I was painting this, I was thinking, “I will never have to look anywhere again for plein air subject matter. I will just come here every time”.

Plein Air: Clubhouse Landscaping

Oil on Canvas Board
6 x 8

I was going to do a notary signing in this senior complex, but I was there an hour early. I had all my equipment in the car, so I just painted the landscaping in front of me at the parking lot. I had one hour to set up, paint, and clean up. No time to ponder values and colors. I had to just make it work.

I want to make all of my plein airs a fresh and spontaneous work of art, but I am learning that it is hard enough to get the canvas covered with things in their proper places. What I liked about this scene was the ficuses trimmed into cylinders. They were bright green and really popped against all the other colors. I tried to capture that.

The painting turned about better than I hoped.

Glazing Exercise on a Rose

Oil on Canvas
6 x 8

This is an exercise about glazing. The old masters used glazing a lot to make skin glow in portraits. I want to learn that, so I did this exercise out of a book. The book is “How to Draw and Paint what You See”, by Ray Smith. It has lots of demos in it. This exercise was on page 68.

First I copied the drawing of the rose. Then I painted it in using black and white. The black was made from Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna, but really, any black will do. When it was dry, I thinned some Alizarin Crimson with linseed oil, and I brushed it on the rose. Alizarin Crimson is a transparent paint, so it worked just fine. The book recommended a green made out of a different yellow than I had, so I just used what was on hand: Cadmium Yellow. That was a mistake. Cadmiums are very opaque, so it covered up the subtleties in the leaves. I learned a lesson there: when glazing, make sure your colors are transparent. Thinning down opaque colors will not do.

The black background looked flat, so I mixed up some more black with Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna: both transparent colors. That final coat of thin black really made it dark. It looks lighter in the picture because of the reflection of the light.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sycamore Tree, after Ron Guthrie

Oil on Canvas Panel
11 x 14

I have an artist friend, Ron Guthrie, whose work I admire. He paints lots of pictures of the California Coastal region, with rolling hills, dry grass, eucalyptus and oak trees. I decided to copy one of his paintings as an exercise. Here is a link to his website:


I chose this picture because it looked particularly difficult, and beautiful.

When I copied the tree, I had to make my darks much darker than I usually do. I kept mixing up a dark green, but when I held it up to the reference painting, my green was still bright and light, in comparison. I practically had to make a black-green to get it dark enough. I mixed purple with burnt umber, then added a touch of green. I also had to make black-brown and black-purple. I did not use black at all.

When I was doing the lights, I had the opposite problem: I could not get it light enough. I wound up using a lot of white and just a touch of green for the reflected light on the leaves. The grass and the sky were also much lighter than I am used to making. I could barely see the blue, yellow and green when I mixed them with the white to get the correct value. I realized that the reason is that it is so easy to make a whole painting in medium-value colors, is because a medium value shows off the hue of the color so well. It is too tempting to make things blue, green, brown or yellow like when we were in kindergarten. But if I am going to get good, I must also make things extremely dark, and extremely light.

Also, though I do not have green on my palette, I whip it up all the time. It starts out the color of a park bench, so I add some cadmium red light (which is the intense color of a fire engine) to dull it up. I fool around with it some more to get it like it is in nature. But when I was copying this painting, I needed to add a ton of yellow ochre. I kept thinking if I added any more yellow ochre to the my green, that would make it brown. But I kept adding and adding, and it stayed green, while getting closer and closer to a realistic color of the tree.

Another thing I learned was about my brushes. I somehow got hooked on flat brushes. They do the job for me. But I could not get the strokes on the tree in my reference painting with my flat brushes. I had to get out the filberts, hold them sideways, and drag them in a jaggedy way to make the leaves on this tree. Then they looked more like clumps of foliage than all those polka-dots I made with my flat brushes.

In summery:

Make darker darks, make lighter lights, use a lot more yellow ocher in my greens, and learn to use filberts.

Pink Trees

Oil on Canvas Board
11 x 14

A while back, Alan and I went to the Huntington Library in San Marino (near Pasadena). If you have not been there, it is a phenomenal botanical garden with art museums. They have a Sergeant, a Constable, a Turner, some Impressionists, and lots of Gainsboroughs. They have THE Pinky and THE Blue Boy (which are not the same size, and painted 100 years apart). They also have an Audubon and a Gutenberg Bible. Holy Ground for sure. Whenever I go there, I dress up a bit and bring my camera. There is no point in getting your picture taken by a beautiful plant if you are in your hiking clothes, but be sure to wear your walking shoes.

Anyway, I snapped a picture of some blooming cherry trees. They did not look exactly like this, but I was trying to loosen up my brushstrokes. I got a big brush out and started sloshing around the paint. I was intending to just do the background in bold strokes, but I was having so much fun, I decided to do the whole thing like this. It’s not perfect, the trees being dead center for one thing. But it was fun, and I learned some new things.

Plein Air: Carpenteria Salt Marsh

9 x 12
Oil on Canas Board

I found the Buenaventura Art Association in my neighborhood. I am thinking about joining, so I asked for some flyers. They handed me their newsletter, which included the plein air paint-out schedule for September. It’s free, so I went.

The group meets on Tuesdays, from 10:00 to 3:00, so mostly retired people showed up. I could make it because my own workload is down. I liked finally meeting other artists in my area, and I also now have a list of places to go for plein air subjects.

This was my best rendition of the view that we had. It was overcast that day, and I was nervous about painting a gray sky, so I put a little blue in, but I am not so happy with this either. After I got the sky and hills in, the sun came out and started to burn my neck, so I decided to wrap it up and not put in too many details. I also still don’t have the hang of suggesting foreground grasses.

Like most of my plein airs, I was dazzled by what a great job I did in the sunlight, but when I got home, it became all dull again. I must remember to bring my umbrella next time so I can get the colors more accurate. I also going need to bring sunscreen and maybe stitch a bandana to the back of my hat to protect my neck. I don’t care if it looks silly; people are staring at me anyway.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Napa Vineyard with Mexican Primroses

This took many sessions to paint. I altered the colors and the values of the trees, the hills, and the grass many times until I felt it was just right. I used many different techniques. It was a very instructive painting.