Sunday, June 28, 2009

Oak Tree

Oil on Canvas Board

This was a photo from the Wet Canvas Image Resource Library. Thank you to whoever posted it. I am afraid I did not do justice to it.

I chose this picture because of the subtle, glowing sky. I am happy with my progress on that. Since the Susan Sarback exercises, I am getting more confident about carefully laying down layers of paint. I learned that I have to be gentle, not scrub the paint around like a broom.

The tree looks like a kindergartener painted it. I think I will stick to trees that have mass.

Topa Topa with Snow

Oil on Canvas Board

This is from a photo I took myself, and this it the perfect spot to get this view. Every time we have a rain storm up here, you can bet there will be snow on Topa Topa. Sometimes I rush up in the morning after a storm, and all the professional photographers are right HERE taking pictures for post cards, calendars, competitions, whatever.

On this painting, I learned that when the paint dries, the wonderful contrast that I was very careful to include, goes away. That’s because oil paint is translucent, and when it dries, the lights and the darks fade. The solution seems to be either:

1. Glaze in layers.
2. Put it on THICK.

I have learned that I can’t timidly dibble-dabble and expect it to come out looking good. So I redid the trees a couple of times, and I put the snow on thick. I will do this picture again sometime in the future on a larger canvas when I am a little better.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Avocado and Tomato

Oil on Canvas Board

This was my second attempt at the Susan Sarback 4-Step technique. I should have overlapped the tomato in front of the avocado.

These are the steps.

1. Lay in all the shadows in different, random cool colors right out of the tube, and lay in all the lit areas with different, random warm colors right out of the tube. It almost does not matter what crazy color you pick.

2. Go over each color and add a different color to bring it closer to the “real” color (value, chroma, temperature, etc.), but you have to stick with tube colors only mixed with white.

3. This is the longest step: in each color, look for bands of variation within those colors and bring out those differences. This is what brings it from flat to 3D and gives it sparkle. The more mistakes you make, the more sparkle it gets.

4. Finish up the highlights, darkest darks, and edges.

And you have to do it all with a knife.

I used so much straight cad yellow, cad red, and ultramarine blue when I started that it looked like a circus. What a mess. But I plugged away at it until it looked right. It was a lot more like frosting a cake than painting. The background was too bright and happy, so I put yellow ocher all over it. Then it looked like baby poo. So I scraped up some lavender and dull green off my palette, and that looked better.

My stepson came in the room and I said, “Did you ever think there were that many colors on an avocado?” He said,”I think you’re making them up”. Yep, that’s pretty much it.

In the morning, I showed it to my husband, and I guess I was reflecting the morning sunlight off of it. I said, “Does it sparkle?” He said, “I can’t see anything – it’s faceted!”

Purple Trees

Oil on Canvas Board

This was a photo from the Wet Canvas Image Reference Library. Thanks to whomever posted it. The colors were this unreal in the photo, and the picture was pixilated, so it had an extra sparkle. I painted the picture the best I could, but when it dried, it looked dull. I added highlights and more depth, but when it dried, it looked dull again.

Then I read on someone’s else’s art post that when oil paints dry, they become somewhat transparent. The lights get darker and the darks get lighter. This was an “Ah-ha!” moment for me. I had heard that oil paints become transparent when they dry, and this is exploited to the fullest in the 7-layer Flemish technique, but this same principle works against beginners. Beginners (like me) want to be very careful with the paint, so we use just a TEENSY-WEENSY bit with each brush stroke. It looks so good wet, but when it dries, the lightest lights and the darkest darks are all somehow the same medium value. That must be why the advanced painters use such thick, juicy brush strokes! Then when it dries, it retains its color.

When this was all dry, I went back over it, and I tapped on lots of little sparkles of highlights, and I added subtle broken color in the back ground. Finally, it looked like the picture that inspired me. If it does not hold, I will do it again.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Susan Sarback Demo: Cobalt and Oranges

Oil on Canvas Board

This was a from a Demo tape by Susan Sarback. I am interested in how she gets her glowing colors, so I bought some of her books and her demo. I watched the demo, and then I painted it myself. Susan recommends to do your still life in true sunshine, but I was working from a small photo that came with the DVD. I think there are a lot of problems with this painting: the shadows are going different directions, the orange slice in front is too small. However, I DO think I got the hang of her technique, and I think my painting has the sparkle in the light that I was trying to achieve.

In Susan’s books, she uses vague sentences that I found difficult to understand, such as “restate the value masses”. But when I saw the video, I she would say, “Now I am going to restate the value masses by . . .”, and then she would DO it. Ah-HA!

Susan also recommends painting with a knife, which was very tricky for me. It is like trying to paint with your other hand: I could barely control it. But I learned something about handling a knife, and I got the hang of her four steps.

This is my understanding of her four steps.

First, you sketch in the drawing with charcoal. Just outline the shapes and the divisions of light and dark. This is not really a step.

Step 1: Lay in the initial paint. Using bright colors straight from the tube, paint in all the masses. Paint the shadows some kind of dark, cool colors, (like green, blue or purple) and the places in light, paint them a warm color, like yellow or pink. It almost does not matter what color you use for each area, but just make them all different. Be careful not to paint up to the edges, because you will be putting on many layers and you don’t want to sart by making a muddy mess at the edges. You cannot mix any colors on the palette, but you can add white to it. It should look very flat with no modeling. To me, this made the light colors chalky, but I was trying to learn her method.

Step 2. Adjust the colors. Look at each area that you painted in, and ask yourself, “How does this area differ from what I see? Is the mass too light? Too dark? Too warm? Too cool? Too bright? Too dull? Then go over each area with some sort of color that will bring it closer to reality. Again, you cannot mix on the palette, but allow the colors to mix on the canvas. If you are not happy with the color, then put another color on top of that. It’s okay, because the more colors you put on, the more shimmery effect you get anyway. It should still look flat when you are done, with no modeling. Mine looked like a flat, muddy mess.

Step 3. Start the modeling. Look at each shape you have created, and look for bands of variations within each shape. Every shape is not really flat, but has gradations. So in EVERY shape, look for further developments of light/dark, warm/cool, bright dull. If you don’t see any variation, you are not paying attention. Susan says not to look directly at the color, because your eyes will start to see it’s complimentary over it. Therefore, you need to scan your eyes back and forth to look for the subtle color variations. Bring trhe edges very close together, but don’t worry about them yet. When you are done with this step, it should look more 3D.

Step 4: Finish. Add highlights and details, and adjust the edges to soft, hard, halo, fuzzy, whatever.

I do recommend Susan’s books and tapes, and I have signed up for her workshop on October. I am going focus on this technique for a while, until it comes naturally to me.

Mountain Color Exercise Improved

Oil on Canvas Board

This was the same picture that I posted before, but I put the sycamore in it. When I was first painting this, everything was going great. But then my boss called and I HAD to leave to take care of something. I was upset about that. I snapped a picture before I left and popped the tree in when I got home. I know it looks a little strange to have the Fall leaves and the Spring leaves on the same tree, but we have mild winters here, and I just think that no storm came along to blow off the old leaves before the new ones came out. Overall, I am happy with this one.

Plein Air: Sycamore

Oil on Canvas Board

I am not too happy with this picture. I like painting at this spot and it was a very pretty afternoon. The sun was in front of me, and there was afternoon haze in the air that lit up the mountains. I wanted to paint that. But things were going wrong and I was getting frustrated, so I hurried through it, packed up and left. But this is how it came out. I will try this again sometime.