Monday, October 26, 2009
This weekend, I gave a demonstration for about 15 pastel artists in Pollock Pines, California. My subject was how to effectively use an underpainting in the first stage of developing a pastel painting. I like underpaintings and use them frequently. They accomplish several things at once: covering a white surface, creating a simple value and color study, and giving me a "road map" to follow as the painting progresses.
Some subjects benefit more from underpaintings than others. This subject included several elements that really utilized the colors placed on the first layer. In the background, where the trees are in strong sunlight, I underpainted a bright yellow. In the deep greens of the water, I underpainted a rich green. And in the left foreground, I painted the underwater rocks with oranges and browns. Various shades of lavender were used where green foliage was intended to go, and the above-ground rocks were underpainted in purples and oranges.
The painting was just fun from there on, and I enjoyed creating it and explaining the process as I moved along. The final result, left, is River Rocks, 16x20 on white Richeson Gatorfoam surface, © Maggie Price (private collection).
The following day, I had an opportunity to be a student rather than a teacher. As followers of this blog know, I've been working in oils again after many years in pastel. While I've always painted in oils primarily with a brush, I wanted to learn more about painting only with a palette knife. My friend Urania Christy Tarbet teaches this technique, and gave a lesson and painting session to Bill and me.
It was challenging, frustrating, interesting and finally fun. The finished painting (right, Rose Garden, oil/palette knife on canvas, 16x20, ©Maggie Price) has several areas I'd handle differently if I did it again, but for a first effort with only the knife, I don't think it's too bad. It's certainly a technique I plan to explore further, and hope to improve with practice. And maybe the best part of all was that when I was done, I didn't have to wash any brushes.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
This painting is done on a small, black Richeson Pastel Surface on Gatorfoam. I like using black, and consider John Singer Sargent an ally in that.
Usually, my favorite part of a painting is the finishing highlight touches, and when working on black I can start with the highlights. The tricky part is that you can't brush anything off the black surface and get back to a strong black; all you get is various grays. Of course you can use a black pastel to get back to black, but layering on the black pastel will get muddy.
You might wonder why that branch is green. It's covered with moss. Moss won't grow well on a vertical surface like the trunk but grows quite well on the more horizontal branch.
I tried to paint this tree on location when we were at Blair Castle in Perthshire, Scotland, this last summer. But I lost the battle with wind, rain and cold. However that plein air experience taught something about moss, from its colors to how it grows on the tree trunks. Without that experience, I probably would have looked at the photo and decided it was too weird.
Above: Mossy Tree, 5x7, pastel, ©Bill Canright, $75
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
One of the great things about teaching workshops, especially plein air workshops, is that we get to go to beautiful places.
For years, ever since I first saw pictures of its coastline, I'd wanted to go to Maine. This past summer, I finally got there, to teach a plein air workshop for Pastel Painters of Maine. Unfortunately it was one of the wettest summers on record. It was raining when we arrived, and raining off and on when we checked out the painting locations. It rained the first day of the workshop, so we painted indoors, which wasn't a bad thing as we had a chance to work on techniques.
Then the sun came out and we went out for the next few days. It was like a different world. The blues of sky and water were brilliant, the greens were vivid, the seaweed was ochres and oranges. We even got a little sunburned one day.
I painted this spot in pastel as a demonstration for the class, and I thought it would be interesting to return to it and try it in oils. I think rocks are easier in pastel, or maybe I'm just more used to painting them in that medium. But even though they were a bit of a struggle, it was fun painting these in oil, and the finished painting feels like the place.
Above: Tidepools, 6x8, oil/panel, ©Maggie Price, $95
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Working together seems natural to both of us. We worked together for years in our graphics/advertising business. We worked together on The Pastel Journal (Maggie in editorial and art; Bill in advertising and art). In the pastel workshops around the country, while Maggie does most of the talking and demonstration, Bill handles a lot of other details, and it's still a partnership.
When we first began sharing the pastel studio, left, it seemed a natural extension of the way we've always worked. Just as we have our own desks and computers, in the studio we each have our own easel, our own supplies and our own set-ups. We recently remodeled the space and refined the organization of supplies, but the arrangement is much the same, with each of us having a separate area. (Of course, that doesn't prevent the "borrowing" of a particular color, stick of charcoal, etc.)
Now that we're both working in oils as well, we've set up a separate oil painting area in the adjoining room. This large room was once the office of The Pastel Journal. Now, it holds Maggie's desk, the framing area (with a long worktable and mat cutter), and at the other end, the oil painting easels. We're just finishing rearranging things to accommodate Bill's new Richeson easel, and it's becoming a comfortable workspace. Like the pastel studio, this room has lots of light (six windows and a sliding glass door), and a tile floor.
Working together gives us companionship, when we both happen to be in the same room at the same time. And at any time, it gives us the opportunity for a helpful critique when we need it. "Tell me if I'm done," or "what do you think of this?" or even "What is wrong with this?!" brings either of us an objective, usually gentle, but always honest response.
We enjoy the arrangement, and yes, we do know how lucky we are.
Monday, October 12, 2009
This lazy river in Central Arkansas was overwhelmingly green. Green water, green tree reflections, and green algae. Although the warm, yellowish green dominated the scene, I was able to work in enough cool greens, dark greens and some blues to make it interesting. (I hope.) Of course, without the reds and browns in the foreground and on the shoreline it would have been, "Yuck, too green!"
Above, Forest Reflections, 6x8, pastel on sanded paper, ©Bill Canright, $95
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Having lived most of my life in areas where the forest is dominated by evergreen trees, I was fascinated by the forest floor in the mountains of Northern Georgia. This scene was just a few yards from the highway and presented a typical forest floor--dominated by fallen deciduous tree leaves.
While painting it, I chose a few pastels that seemed to represent the main colors of the landscape and limited myself to using only those sticks. The final touch, and the exception to the limited palette, was the blue in the water.
Above, Georgia Creek, 6x8, pastel on sanded paper, ©Bill Canright, $95
Saturday, October 10, 2009
This year, in addition to the wonderful colors of the fall aspens, the scrub oak has been unusually beautiful. Some years it goes quickly from green to a dull rusty brown, and then to a dry and unattractive brown. Perhaps because of the unusually heavy rain this summer, though, the scrub oak is simply gorgeous.
The hillsides about halfway up the mountain road (probably at an altitude of 7,000 feet or so) are spectacular. The colors ranged from a few leftover greens through a spectrum of rusty red, pinkish red, oranges and yellows, in an incredible tapestry blanketing the hillside. A few rock formations and an occasional deciduous tree, still green, broke up the mass of oak.
You wouldn’t want to try to work your way through this foliage. Waist-high, it is dense and unforgiving, ripping at your clothes and skin. But from a distance, especially in a fall like this one, it is a thing of beauty.
I decided to paint it in pastel, so I could take advantage of the rough surface (Richeson Premium Pastel Surface, on gatorfoam, terra cotta color) and layer many different colors. I am not sure I could have achieved anything near this effect with oils, though perhaps I’ll give it a try at some point.
Above, Fall Oaks, 5x7, pastel on sanded surface, ©Maggie Price, $75.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Our views of the Sandia and Manzano mountains include an amazing variety of cloud and light effects. This is one of those hard-to-believe, "oh, he just made it up" sunset effects. The wind provides some dramatic cloud effects as the thunderstorm comes to an end and the sun reflects on them as it sets in a clear area to the west of the mountains.
Of course it was an effect that lasted just a couple of minutes, so I barely had time for a quick shot with my camera. The photo didn't do justice to the scene, but I went to work before my memory of it faded, and I think I captured the dramatic colors that caught my eye.
Above, Cloud Magic, 5x8, pastel on sanded paper, ©Bill Canright, $80.
Here in New Mexico, fall comes in stages. We live on the west side of Albuquerque, and look across the valley where the cottonwoods are beginning to turn a lovely golden yellow. Up on the mountain, though, it's been fall for quite a while. Most of the trees on the mountain are evergreen, but the aspen turn yellow and the scrub oak turn red and then brown, making a wonderful mix.
We hiked a little ways on the 10-K Trail, so named because it stays generally around 10,000 ft. in altitude. In some areas, the aspen were already losing their leaves, but in more protected areas they were stunningly beautiful. Mostly yellow, there are occasional trees that turn dark orange or even acquire a red tinge. Mixed in with the evergreens, they are sometimes so brilliant they appear to be lit from within.
Painting this small study was a challenge. I could not get the bright tree as bright as I wanted it until I remembered a "rule" I often mention when I'm teaching: if you can't get a color bright enough, darken the colors around it, and if you can't get it warm enough, cool the surrounding colors. A few touches of a slightly darker ultramarine in the evergreens beside the aspen solved the problem.
Above left: Aspen Glow, 5x7, oil on panel, ©Maggie Price; $75.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
We've been home from Scotland for some weeks now, but it's still on my mind. This small painting is the view of Loch Tay from the other side of the bridge, opposite the hotel we stayed at (the Kenmore Hotel, built in 1572). The early evening light scattered across the hills and illuminated the heather while silhouetting the small island on the right.
It's always a challenge to teach a long plein-air workshop, as weather is the one thing we can never control. We had more rain during this workshop than the previous one in Scotland around the same time of year; the locals told us this year was very unusual and it should have been dry. The good part was the dramatic clouds, and the unusually vivid and plentiful heather which bloomed across the Highlands.
I love painting clouds with oils, even more than with pastel.
Above left: Loch Tay, 6x8, oil on panel, © Maggie Price. $95.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I started my art career as an oil painter, more years ago than I care to remember. Over many years, I worked in oils, and later in acrylics. But by 1990, I felt my work was no longer progressing. I was just repeating—-repeating what worked, and repeating my mistakes. I needed a fresh start, and I loved the look of pastels. Once I got over the hump of the learning curve with pastels, I was thrilled with their brilliance, luminosity and versatility.
I’m still in love with pastel, but now and then I’ve itched for a brush, and wondered what it would be like to go back to working with oils. I decided to give it another try, and have been having a lot of fun with them.
One interesting thing has been that, aside from the annoying necessity of mixing colors and waiting for paint to dry, I’ve worked pretty much as I do in pastel. I feel that everything I’ve learned about color, value and composition in the years of paintings landscapes in pastel translated fairly easily to oils.
I’ve always thought that understanding values was easier in pastel than any other medium, and working in oils has confirmed that. It’s a lot easier to select a correct value than to mix it. On the other hand, achieving aerial perspective seems a little easier—you just add some blue to make a color recede. And while I’ve enjoyed the ability to mix what seems to be an infinite range of colors, it’s frustrating when I get it wrong and have to throw it out instead of putting a “wrong” stick back in the box.
I’m determined to paint at least two or three oils a week through the winter while I’m not traveling to teach, and will post them here.
Above left, After the Rain, 8x10, oil on panel © Maggie Price (SOLD)