For a few years now, I have been teaching a painting class where we go into the city and paint on location. It's always been a very fun class. And it's always been in the morning. This February I will be teaching it again, however, it will be in the afternoon. I thought I knew downtown Phoenix pretty well but this has forced me to find new places. More accurately, it has helped me to see old places in a new way. That's what happened with this painting. I've seen this church a hundred times before but never this way. I did this last Saturday afternoon looking west on Monroe. I think it is one of the locations we'll go to.
Here's a little break from my plein air work. I've posted before about the picture book I've been working on for almost 2 years now. I am finally getting it finished as the deadline is this weekend. This is the cover. This project has been a joy to work on. I'll write more about it later. The title is The Tomb Robber & King Tut.
Out looking for something to paint can be a frustrating thing. You know you are going to invest two or three hours so you want to find something to paint that assures your time will be well spent. I should know the the folly of that attitude by now. After wasting an hour driving & walking around in Charleston, Utah searching for a paint-worthy subject, I finally just got out of my car, lugged my traps out into a field and started painting. The house didn't really excite me but I decided to give it a shot. I took Hemingway to heart: "As long as you can start, you are all right. The juice will come." He was right. I began to see the quality of the mid morning light as a worthy subject.
Robert Redford once said, "Everyone in Hollywood has their therapists. I have Utah!"
Bob has it right. I've been spending time in Utah every summer for the last 50+ years of my life. I went to school at BYU in Utah. My parents both grew up in Park City, Utah. It is a glorious place. One of the fringe benefits of marrying my wife is their family cabin just behind Redford's Sundance Resort.
This photo shows an example of the therapy that Redford spoke of:
(Our cabin is a couple hundred yards behind me as I take this photo.)
Most years I don't spend very much time painting while there and spend time with my family. But since I have that Sonoma Plein Air thing coming, I decided I would try to paint a few pictures.
I've been trying to get out every morning and do a painting. It's not been easy as I am still in the final stages of finishing the illustrations for "The Tomb Robbers And King Tut" (the book I am illustrating for Viking Books). I often find myself in the position of having a finite segment of time with an infinite amount of things I would like to paint and wanting to make the best use of my time and not waste it on a lousy painting. I often thereby paralyze myself with indecision. Then I was looking through Kevin Macpherson's book and saw this little 3 x 5 color sketch he did. It inspired me. So the last few days I have been going out and doing 2 - 4 little color sketches/notes in about an hour. They are 4 x 5 inches. I am using a #6 bright for a brush, which is fairly large for that size of painting. This of course speeds up the process and forces me to really simplify.
Monday I went out to the Salt River basin just NE of Mesa. I arrived early and was all set up by 5:30 when the sun was beginning to peak over the horizon. This was my first painting. It had the moon getting ready to set.
I then drove down the road a ways where Red mountain was getting the early warm rays of the sun.
Turning about 90˚ to the right was this view of the layers of mountains.
On a whim, I applied to be a participating artist in the Sonoma Plein Air Painting event. This past week I received notification that I have been accepted. So in September I will be in beautiful Sonoma County painting away. I don't know too much about it and have never done one of these events before. However, I was just reading Terry Miura's account of his experience a few years ago which makes it sound pretty good. As a result of this, I will be doing as much plein air painting as I can over the next months. Here are a couple I've done this week.
This first one, I tried something compositionally that didn't work out so well; the placement of the post in the center. However, I do like the sense of light and atmosphere.
This second one is some silos in the early morning, not far from my house.
I'm wanting to take a break from the city work I've been doing. Just for awhile.b So here are some ink studies I've been doing to explore some ideas for paintings. In these studies, I am trying to break the composition down to about 3 or 4 main values. These first 2 are based on sketches and photos from a trip to Spain a few years ago.
In the mountains of Utah is the Heber Valley. My Mom was born there and then grew up not far away in the then mining town of Park City. We visited there every summer of my childhood. We now have a cabin in the same vicinity, thanks to my wife's family, so we continue to spend a week or 2 there every summer. For years I have thought, I need to paint this place. I'm finally going to start. This again is based on a photo from some time ago.
Another of my efforts to regain my head painting abilities. It wasn't really only 60 minutes. I did the first pass in 1 hour and then did a little work on the shadow side of the face. You can see how it is not as broadly painted as the shadow. I started with a palette knife, laying in large shapes of color and then refined it a little with brushes. The first lay-in was pretty good but a couple days later, I realized the shadows were not dark enough. That was when I got back into the painting and fussed around a little too much with the forms in the shadows. Nonetheless, I'm reasonably pleased with the outcome.
Observing light on a form and translating it into paint on canvas. It's not just seeing. It's grasping the the visual world in a way that you can understand it well enough to describe it on a 2D surface. Finding how to manipulate both the observed form and the paint itself to give an explanation of what you see. The stuff you have to work with is paint, brushes, color, value, shape, edges, contrast. Those are physical things you manipulate. Raw information comes in through the eyes. It goes out through your hand, brush and paint onto the canvas. In between, in the mind and in the heart is where the stuff really happens.
It's been awhile since I've painted from a model, I went to scottsdale Artist School last Saturday and painted a head. I know some artists who seem to never lose their chops. For me, if I'm not doing it regularly, I feel it. I had to really work on this. I painted a couple of hours at the school and then reworked it for a couple more at home. Although I see more I should do with some of the forms, it's now fairly satisfying. But I see I need to be doing this more often.
One of my favorite artists is Georges de La Tour. As a young boy I saw a painting of his at the LA County Museum of Art and was hooked. Of course, with his dramatic lighting he is easy to like, even for an unschooled young boy. But his work has stuck with me. When we went to Paris a number of years ago, I was again struck by the the beauty of his work. So, when I came to this part of the book I am illustrating, I was excited to borrow some influence from my old French Friend.
I'm working in gouache here. As I've mentioned before, it can be a little tricky because the light and middle-tone colors dry darker and the dark colors dry lighter, so you have to do a lot of your color comparison on the palette. Or, you have to lay down a small swatch and dry it with a hair dryer to see if you have the right value. But once you get used to all that, it's a wonderful medium. If you click on this detail, you'll see more clearly how I develop the form with strokes of color.
Yes, another bungalow. This on's on Portland in Phoenix. I've taken my city Painting class here a number of times to paint. I had to paint this house a few times before I was satisfied with the color but I finally got it.
Beginning this week, I have 11 new paintings showing at Scottsdale Fine Art. Most of them are small pieces done on location, including some of the bungalow paintings I have previously posted on this site. There is one larger painting, an 18 x 24 of Gordon's Grocery Store. Come by and take a look if you get a chance. They will be up until 15 Mar.
This is another older building, it is across the street from Gordon's. It was once a dull brown color but then was painted this bright yellow a few years ago. Good move for me as it gave me something more interesting to paint. The rich color of the stucco is enhanced by the warm light reflecting up into it. One of the things I like about painting in the city is the mundane manmade objects that become really interesting elements to paint. Anything, once you throw a light on it, is interesting to paint. In this case, the post, the traffic light and the one-way arrow all become interesting elements and create a fun companion to the palm tree.
I've mentioned before on this blog that I am in the middle of illustrating a book called Tomb Robbers. Here are a couple of color studies from the book. As always, the quality of light is one of my main concerns. The top image is interesting to paint because of the 2 very different light sources: the very warm lamplight that illuminates the father and mother and the cool moonlight coming in through the door and rim lighting the boy.
I'm using gouache (opaque watercolor) which I have a love/hate relationship with. I mostly love it but I hate the way it dries at a different value than when it's wet. Makes matching colors/values a little challengeing at times.
When I first moved here to Arizona, I began roaming around town searching for places to paint. It seemed a little harder to find what I wanted than it was in LA where I moved from. But then I came across Gordon's. It was a little neighborhood grocery store on Roosevelt and Third Avenue. It has long since been remodeled and turned into some kind of school. This little study, 6x8, was done from a Kodachrome (may you rest in peace) slide I took 30 years ago.