Friday, February 20, 2009

Matilija Chaparral

Oil on Canvas Board

This is from a photo I took while hiking in the Matilija Canyon. Matilija is pronounced “ma-TIL-ah-ha”. I tried to research the origin of the name, and it seems to be a Chumach Indian name, possibly a Chumash Chief. The spelling is Spanish, with the “J” pronounced as an “H”.

California is really a desert, so once you get out of the range of water, the landscape is dry and full of chaparral. This photo was taken in the winter, but before the January rains. Some of the brush was still green, some was brown and dry, and some had fluffy seed pods. In the distance, there were California oaks on the hills. A lot of people might have just seen dry weeds, but I could see colors, and that’s why I wanted to paint it: to show everyone the colors.

I am painting more slowly now, as I am getting the hang of what I am doing. Oil paints were intended to be used in layers, and it is only recently, (since the impressionists) that artists have attempted to do gallery paintings all in one sitting, “alla prima”.

I did an underpainting of burnt sienna, and blocked in all the darks with purples, dark greens and browns. I let it dry.

I went back and did all the medium valued colors, and let it dry again. I worked from the top to the bottom. At first, I started out blocky, because I like that style. But plants are really are not blocky and it was looking weird, so I tried to make them have soft edges, the way Ron Guthrie on Wet Canvas does it. I used a beat up #6 hogs-hair filbert that was trimmed with a raggedy taper on the sides. It worked like magic for getting random, scumbling strokes.

After the middle ground bushes looked great, I let it dry again. Then I had to go back soften the mountains so they would fit in. I also tapped on the lightest lights.

I saw a demo video from the library by a fellow named Bill Martin. He recommended putting a painting out where you can see it throughout the day. Then he says, “It speaks to you about what needs fixing”. I like getting feedback from other people about my paintings, but so far, I have found this to be the most helpful. If something needs to be tweaked, I begin to notice it each time I walk past it. So I set my pictures up on the couch (propped up in open pizza boxes) where I can see them clearly. I don’t consider them done until they pass this test.

I posted this on WetCanvas, and my artist friends recommended that I put more detail in the foreground. I took their advice, and it really helped.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Lake Casitas House

11 x 14
Oil on Canvas Board

I wanted to try a new technique. I wanted to make the painting loose with a vignette look to it. I snapped this picture last year while driving around. I knew I wanted to do it vignette when I felt confident enough to try.

I made an underpainting of burnt umber. I felt, in this situation, burnt sienna was too red, and raw umber was too green.

After I put the wash down, I used minimal strokes in burnt umber to lightly block in the picture. I had watched a demo by Richard Schmid, and he just would lay in the underpainting, and work from the focal point outward, with no preliminary sketch. After every stroke he would say, “Ah, perfect!”. I don’t feel nearly that confident.

When I applied the colors, I tried to make it look spontaneous, but really, I thought out every stroke very carefully. I wanted each stroke to look fresh, so I worked very slowly, so that each stroke was “correct”. It took me four hours. I know that if I had to fuss with any strokes, it would just deaden them.