Pumpkin Field

Pumpkin Field, 20" x 20", UART 320

Pumpkin Field, 20″ x 20″, UART 320

Source photo

Source photo

Smaller initial painting done as color study, 12 x 12, UART 320

Smaller initial painting done as color study, 12 x 12, UART 320

On Monday, I did a large demo–a 20 x 20. I had my framer mount UART 320 onto gator foam. I used to paint directly on gator foam and still have sheets of it from a case I bought many years ago. So now I’ve decided to use it for mounting paper.

This painting was important to me, given its size.  After looking at the source photo several times, I suddenly realized its potential.  I took the photo with my friend Sarah Brown in Tiverton, RI. She suggested we ignore the “no trespassing” sign and just drive in, park and take pictures, which we did.  Shortly thereafter, I woman road down the road and into the field and chased us out!  But not before I got this photo.  The others are all looking away from the sun and are much less interesting. I loved the light streaming through the trees and the way it hit the reeds and the tops of the pumpkins.

My initial thinking on this painting was that I wanted this to be a combination of blue greens and red oranges, and it actually turned out that way!  If you look at the photo, it’s all pretty much brown, including the ground.  But I thought there was real potential with the trees for multiple colors with the warm blues prevailing.  I also decided that this would be a good painting for a watercolor underpainting. None of the darks are as dark as they might be, given the profusion of light in the picture and the shapes are all pretty nebulous as well.  I used yellow in the sky. Then a combination of ultramarine blue, mars violet, and turquoise for the trees and grasses. I used warmer colors in the foreground.

I was worried about this painting and decided that doing a 12 x 12 study would be a good idea and I was glad that I did it. The first thing I blew was the sky!  I went too dark, then too light, and brushed it off, completely losing the yellow underpainting. When I did the big one, I knew exactly what I would use and I was able to leave a lot of yellow glowing through.

For the trees, my initial thinking was that I could do the trees solely in watercolor and then add some color to the top, and finally the streaming light.  However, I ended up using very light layers of Giraults, mixing different blues, greens, and warm reddish browns.

Compositionally, I made one change that I thought was important. In the photo, you can see that some of the grasses are taller and they are directly below the tallest part of the tree. I decided that they would be better on the right side. I used the bright green leaves to lead the eye into the picture to the grasses, then up to the bright orange at the top. I think this makes a better flow.

You’ll notice that the pumpkins are not all that visible, due to the warm color of the earth around them.  I loved the fact that they were primarily in shadow and I used a combination of cool green and dark red orange, first Girault and then Blue Earth, to give them form and depth. I used a peach Schmincke to begin with for the light on the top, then wen to my lightest Ludwig orange, which really made them stand out.

One of my students noted that in the 12 x 12, the color of the earth was lighter, creating a path into the picture, and asked if I wanted to do that. But we decided that the green leaves were enough.

I added a number of warm greens into the background trees on left and right, in the reeds, and in the grasses in front of the reeds. I think that this helps balance the color. I used a blue green for the darks under the leaves, to bring the color into the foreground.  I made final adjustments to the sky holes and shape of the trees after the class, but really enjoyed engaging my students in the creation of the painting. One person looked at the photo and wondered what the heck I was going to do with it!  And I did pass it by the first time I looked at it.  But working from photos is all about seeing potential.  I like working this way because it gives me time to think about the painting and where I’ll go with the color, what kind of surface and underpainting will work best, and how I might change the composition.  I wouldn’t always do the kind of detailed “color study” that I did, but because the  surface cost me money, I decided it was worth it.  Every painting is a new adventure and a change to explore!

Morning Light on the Bog

Morning Light on the Bog, 14" x 12", UART 320

Morning Light on the Bog, 14″ x 12″, UART 320

Underpainting, hard pastel and alcohot

Underpainting, hard pastel and alcohot

On Tuesday, I taught a group of three experienced oil painters who are interested in learning more about pastel.  In the first class, we used direct application of pastel on the brown Pastel Premiere. This class was about hard pastel underpaintings on UART.  I chose a photo that was primarily in greens and oranges. It was mid October and the colors were starting to change but there was still a lot of green.  I like the shapes in this composition and the way the raised areas of the cranberry bog lead the eye to the two small buildings that are in light and shadow.  The light hitting the tall grasses and strafing the foreground was particularly beautiful.

My initial thinking on the painting was to limit it with greens and oranges, a favorite color combination. But I thought it needed a little more punch, so I decided to add blue violets as well. I used a primarily warm underpainting with the dark violet in the foreground and in some of the shadows.

For the buildings, I began with a light aqua, then added very light orange on top and used a mid-value blue violet for the shadows. While I used Giraults for much of the background trees and the light and shadow on the bogs, the foreground was done with the turquoise and orange Blue Earth pastels.  Their range of values for cool greens is really nice and made it a real joy to lay in the foreground.

Cranberry bogs are a great subject for paintings and I’ve done a number of them.  In the winter, they are red and quite spectacular. But I really loved the colors of this autumn bog.  This was the first time I had seen this bog as it is in back woods, well off the road, but I grew up down the street for a bog that looked pretty much like this one!


Three Boats, Crescent Beach

Three Boats, Crescent Beach, 16" x 12", UART 320

Three Boats, Crescent Beach, 16″ x 12″, UART 320

Watercolor underpainting

Watercolor underpainting

stage 2

stage 2

This past week I had three classes and did three demos, two with watercolor underpaintings and one with hard pastel.  I’m going to begin the first of three blogs with the most recent one, which was done with watercolor.  All of the paintings are from my October trip to New England, so the subject matter is very familiar to me.  The purpose of the watercolor underpaintings was to show my classes a different approach to underpaintings and both worked fairly well.

This demo was for my small Wednesday class and I solicited a lot of feedback from my students on this one. My original thought was not to finish it all at the bottom, as you can see in the two small images. But my students didn’t like it, so I kept going!  I think that the resulting painting is overworked, but who knows!

When I took the photo, I liked the path, the triangle of water, and the fact that there were three boats and in different locations.  The boat in the foreground was dark green on the left, with light red on the top and then a lot of white on the right side. None of us liked it and I ended up with the reds and greens that you see in the final painting.  I had to keep toning down the top to keep it from being too bright and distracting. Probably still is!

The background areas were easy in this painting. The trees were just starting to turn red and the marsh grasses were turning gold. I liked putting in patterns of color around the two distant boats, and I added a small piece of beach to the right of the boat in the middle, that everyone thought was a great addition.  Then I got into the reeds in the foreground. I didn’t fill them all in and asked the group what they thought.  No one was particularly pleased with it, so I kept going. I added turquoise watercolor in the blank areas, then filled this up with oranges and greens, and finished with a few pieces of violet to indicate the shadowed areas.

Boats are challenging–particularly upside down boats, which tend to have the appearance of beached whales!


Around the Corner (Capitol Hill)

Around the Corner (Capitol Hill), 24" x 20", UART 320

Around the Corner (Capitol Hill), 24″ x 20″, UART 320

Underpainting, first stage

Underpainting, first stage

Underpainting, stage 2

Underpainting, stage 2

Painting in first color scheme (unfinished)

Painting in first color scheme (unfinished)

This past weekend was Open Studios Weekend at Artists and Makers so I needed a painting to work on.  I decided to do another alley picture, from the recent photo shoot. This is the same alley I painted in Back Alley Blues, but it was closer to the street and I found the shadow to be quite dramatic.

I spent Friday night working on the drawing and then adding it to the board. When I arrived on Saturday, I didn’t like it, and erased it all!  There was too much alley.  I finally got the drawing right, then proceeded to the underpainting.

The primary compositional challenges were the sizes of the two walls, and the height of the alley.  There was also a solid row of trash cans in the photo, which was REALLY boring!  In my drawing, I placed them more strategically — and I make them look like old fashioned trash cans as well.

Colorwise, the walls were dark red brick and the trees and bushes were all green. I just assumed that this was going to be a red and green painting, without giving a lot of thought to it (big mistake!!!).  Normally, I would use dark green under dark red for an underpainting, but for some reason, I went to violet and, as you can see, the whole underpainting ended up being kind of violet and yellow!  Not exactly what one wants under a red/green painting. Personally, I find this to be one of the least inspiring and ugliest of underpaintings that I’ve done!!!

I proceeded to add the reds and the greens.  However, I had real problems with the sky color, the color of the buildings in the middle, and the color of the shadow on the left.  I used a warm grayed reddish brown for the base coat of the alley, which worked with the reds.  But, I was not enthralled with this painting.  What you see in the third small image is the painting as I left it on Saturday.

I woke up at 3:00 in the morning (which, due to the end of day lights savings time, was actually 2:00!). I knew that I was very unhappy with the painting so I started thinking about it. I just knew that I wanted to use violets and yellows in it–thus, the underpainting, I guess.  So I started thinking through the various pieces of the painting. It took almost 2 sleepless hours to realize that it is now fall and I could change the green trees and bush to yellow oranges! And then I’d have a blue violet/yellow orange complement that might work rather nicely.

I got back to the studio at 9:00 AM and brushed off the sky and the green tree and shrub, as well as the color in the alley.  I left the dark red. The value was right and I just added violets on over it.  I then used light blue violets for the sky and the middle buildings and I was suddenly much happier with my painting!  As I proceeded, I added some blue greens and red oranges (particularly in the walls).  I used yellow ochre and aqua in the alley and a warm brown and blue green in the shadow.  So I ended up with a double complement: blue violet/yellow orange and blue green/red orange.  One of the big advantages to this scheme was that I could make the trash cans blue violet!!!  This wouldn’t have worked as well with the reds.

When I first filmed the painting, the building at left was too dark and did not relate well to its shadow. I used a deep blue green to lighten it, using a diagonal stroke to help lead the eye into the alley. I worked to lose the edge between the tree and the building, and I think it works much better.

The shadow of the tree at bottom was a struggle, and I’m still not completely satisfied with it.  I wanted it to be more of a suggestion.

But, on the whole, I am happy now with this picture.