Monday, December 20, 2010

Painting Sunlight & Shadow with Pastels

Posted by Maggie

I received something really wonderful in my email: the final image of the cover of my new book, Painting Sunlight & Shadow with Pastels. Published by North Light Books, it's due to release in April 2011. Seeing the cover made me even more eager to see the design and appearance of the inside of the book, but I'm trying to be patient. (That noise you hear is me patiently tapping my foot and drumming my fingers on the desktop.)

As you might guess from the title, this book explores the subject of sunlight and shadow in depth: how to understand the way these elements work together to describe form, and how to paint the effects they create. Of course, there are lots of reproductions of my own work, and I wrote most of the text. But in order to give you examples of different approaches and styles, I enlisted the aid of five wonderful artists. They are (in alphabetical order since they are all on the top of my list of artists): Phil Bates, Liz Haywood-Sullivan, Kim Lordier, Richard Lundgren, and Colette Odya Smith. Their stunning artwork and concise explanations of their methods added depth and richness to the book, and I'm grateful to all of them for their contributions.

The book can be pre-ordered (at a very nice savings) from North Light Books, and later when I have them in stock, you'll be able to order signed copies directly from me through my web site. And of course, they'll be available for sale at the IAPS Convention in June 2011, and I'll be doing book-signings there as well.

Writing a book is a long process, and the journey to publication of this book began over two years ago with my first proposals and outlines. I'm very excited that my part of the task is completed, and can't wait to see the printed results!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Finishing a painting

Posted by Maggie

When I get close to "done" with a painting, I like to let it rest for a few days or a week. It gives me time to move away from the outdoor subject or the photographic reference, and when I come back to look at the painting again, I can judge it based on its own merits without comparing it to nature or a photograph. Usually, whatever's wrong with the painting or whatever could be improved becomes obvious after a little cooling off period.

I do a lot of demonstration paintings in my workshops, and I frequently don't have time for this last analysis and completion of a painting until I get back home days or even weeks later. In mid-November, I presented a demonstration for the Pastel Society of New Mexico, in the facility where their annual National Exhibition was held. About 40-50 people attended this demonstration, and since it only lasted a little over an hour and people had lots of questions, I didn't finish it. The photograph at the left shows what the painting looked like when I stopped.

The following day, I flew to Cincinnati to film two instructional DVDs (they'll be released in February). After returning home, it was time to prepare for Thanksgiving and a family reunion. So it wasn't until a couple of days ago that I was able to begin studying the painting with an eye towards finishing.

The first thing that really bothered me was the shape of the hill. I'd moved the position of the hill over from the photo reference, so that I could see more water. But the shape no longer worked; too rounded, too unnatural. Then, while I was happy with the foreground colors in the weeds, there were too many horizontal strokes, rather than vertical strokes which would imply upright grasses and weeds.

Finally, colors and shapes in several of the trees, including the dead scrubby trees at the far left, needed to be adjusted. At the time I finished the painting, I wasn't sure I'd like the effect of the roughed-in distant mountains, but as time went by, I decided they were just fine as they were. I didn't want them to draw too much attention, but wanted to imply that the trees on those far-away hills also displayed some fall color.

Above, Fall Palette, 16x20 pastel on Richeson Black Sanded surface, ©Maggie Price.

Now it's time to give it a few more days in the "holding zone" to make sure there are no serious problems. There's nothing worse than noticing a fatal flaw after you've framed the painting!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Value of Organization

Posted by Maggie
Yesterday I cleaned and reorganized my travel set of pastels. I do this every now and then, but they really need it after a series of workshops in a short time.

I’m picky about the system which I use to organize them, and like to have each stick in its proper section. But in the rush of doing demonstrations, sometimes I put them back in wrong places, and later that will bother me, so I need to rearrange. This time I was surprised at how many sticks had been worn down to little nubs and needed to be replaced.

For travel, I use the backpack size of the pastel box made by Heilman Designs. I like the way it protects my pastels from breakage, and the fact that skinny little sticks can go next to fat ones and both are embraced by the memory foam and held in place. At home, I have a large box divided into the same six-section format.

Some people arrange their pastels by type (hardness or softness), some by brand, and some by hue. I arrange mine by value and temperature. The divisions are as follows, left to right: darkest dark, middle dark, lightest dark, darkest light, middle light, lightest light. Each value section is arranged with warm colors at one end and cool at the other.

Whatever system you use, I think it’s important to be consistent. When you’re painting, you don’t want to spend a lot of time searching for the right stick of pastel. Rather, you want to know where it is, just as you know where the keys are on your computer keyboard, or as a pianist knows where the keys are on the piano.

The reason I like this system is that, when selecting a pastel, I want to think value first, temperature second, and hue last. Getting the proper value and temperature of a pastel is critically important. When those are right, almost any hue will do.

Most beginning artists have some understanding of value—the relative lightness or darkness of a color—but many have trouble with temperature, the perception of a color as warm or cool. Basically, you can analyze the temperature of a color by breaking it down into components. In the three primary colors, red and yellow are warm and blue is cool. So, you put blue at the cool end of the arrangement and yellow and red at the other. Orange is composed of yellow and red, so is warm.

The difficulty comes with colors that are made from both cool and warm components. Purple is made of red and blue, so you have to look at the color and decide whether it’s more red than blue or vice versa. I put the red-purples towards the warm end and the blue-purples to the cool end. Greens are quite ambiguous, so they go in the middle.

I’ll write more about color temperature and simultaneous contrast in another blog.

Organizing your pastels by this system will take a couple of hours. It’s important to remove all the wrappers and break the pastels into pieces an inch or an inch and a half long, so that you can use them on their sides as well as using the tips.

Once they are organized, you’ll begin noticing immediately when a stick is in the wrong place, especially if it’s off by more than a little. The daily exercise of putting the sticks back in the right place and learning to reach to the right section for appropriate value and temperature will improve your perception of both. As your perception of value, particularly, improves, you’ll see it more quickly in the arrangement of pastels, in nature and in photographs, and place it more accurately in your painting.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

At the Alhambra Palace

Posted by Maggie

On Thursday we spent the day at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. We had pre-arranged artists' passes, so we were able to wander where we wished and avoid the long lines and timed entries we would have had otherwise. In a previous year when our workshop group went to the Alhambra, we were able to paint, but apparently, they decided at that point to not allow easels to be set up again. (If you're interested, you can read about that painting day on the Pastel Journal blog.) So we packed our sketching materials and our cameras, and set off to see what we could see.

The Alhambra Palace perches on a hill overlooking Granada, which looks like an interesting city to visit in itself. Parts of the buildings date back to the 9th century, but it has been continually added to, expanded, revised and remodeled over the years. It was abandoned for a number of years and then further restorations began in the 19th century. At present the restoration of the Lion Court is under way, as it has been for some years. The lions and fountain were placed in their original position in the 14th century, but had deteriorated over time. The restoration has revealed many interesting things about the lion figures, and the ground beneath the fountain contained architectural remnants as well. The lions are now on display in a special room (where no photography was allowed). Once thought to be all alike, the restoration has revealed quite a few differences between them.

The intricate decorations of carvings and tile are fascinating, but do not obscure the underlying architectural structure. I love the arches and doorways, the reflecting pools and the palms and other foliage surrounding them. I like photographing some of these complex architectural elements, though I wouldn't try to paint them!

After we walked for some hours, we went to a wonderful little restaurant for lunch, then walked some more. It became quite a hot day/ we were all tired by the time the bus collected us and the ride back to the hotel was very quiet.

Time passes so quickly in these workshops. We are all trying to absorb as much as possible, and it goes by too fast. But the paintings, photographs and memories of Spain will stay with us for years to come.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Take me to the river

Posted by Maggie

Much of what we paint in Spain is architectural—whether it's the white walls and red rooftops of the pueblos blancos or bridges or other subjects. So it was a nice break to go out for a day in the campo, or countryside, and paint natural subjects.

The River Genal runs through the Genal Valley and Júzcar, and while it is not a large river, it has some very pretty spots. The place we went to paint also has ruins of an old tin factory, and while that's still an architectural subject, at least it's falling down stone walls and not white villages. In the area around the ruins are orange and lemon trees, and one tree with odd fruits that were finally identified as persimmon, though they didn't look like the persimmons we know at home.

In the morning I painted a demonstration on how to paint moving water and rocks, which was quite fun after all these days of painting buildings. The river was quite shadowed when I began, but as the day went on it got more and more light. It was cool in the morning but as soon as the sun hit, so did the flies. There's always some problem when you're painting outdoors—if it's not too hot or too windy, then there are probably bugs. Or, sometimes, you get them all. But if the painting comes out well, it's all worth it. Left, my demo, Rio Genal, 9x11, Pastelmat, ©Maggie Price.

What makes a plein air painting a success? Well, first of all, I try not to call them paintings, but rather field studies. Calling your work a field study removes the pressure of trying to create a finished, frameable painting, and lets you just get as much information about value, temperature, color and form as you can get before the light changes. And sometimes, if you're lucky, it's also a painting.

Late in the afternoon I took a few minutes for a really quick study. Working on a dark gray-black, I did this little study of the ruins in about 35 minutes. My goal was to get as much as possible about color and value onto the page in that short time, without worrying too much about composition or drawing. I wanted to keep it loose and free and imply more than state the form of the walls. I'm pretty happy with the resut, Ruins, 9x11, Pastelmat, ©Maggie Price.

It was a nice day and a nice change of pace. We went back to the hotel for an early night and preparation for a very early departure the next morning for our trip to Granada and the Alhambra Palace, the subject of the next blog in this series.


Posted by Maggie

Each year so far in our Spain workshop we've scheduled a night to go to Ronda for a flamenco performance. Some people don't like the late night and don't go, but most are excited about the chance to see a traditional performance. The group who've performed for the last few years that we've been here are no longer performing, so this year we went to see a different group. Like the other one, there were three "band" members, a drummer, guitarist and vocalist, but this one only had two female dancers and no male dancer.

Flamenco music is not what I had thought it would be, before I ever attended a performance. Our hotel host David describes it as the Spanish version of American country & western. The songs sound quite sad, but the beat is insistent and energizing. The energy level was important since the performance did not star until ten p.m., quite late for Americans and particularly those of us who had been up early to paint. 

Generally, the dancers change costumes for each dance. The whole performance lasts about an hour and a half, with a short break in the middle. I like the costumes—the group we used to see had traditional costumes for each dance, but this one had a more modern approach. Nevertheless, the dancers were very good.

Our chef at the Hotel, Ivan, is multi-talented. In addition to having trained at Cordon Bleu in London and being creative in the kitchen, he is a painter, working in a number of mediums. On the bus ride into Ronda, he mentioned that he had been taking flamenco lessons at the school run by one of the dancers. He's studied flamenco previously but the recent lessons have challenged him to do more. To his, and our, surprise, near the end of the performance, one of the dancers went off the stage, into the audience, and grabbed him by the hand and took him up onto the stage to dance with her. It was great fun to see "our" Ivan dance, and he's quite good. He danced with each of the women, but unfortunately my camera disk filled just after he began. I'm going to have to beg for photos from some of the other people there.

All in all it was an exciting evening and made it hard to go to sleep, what with the music and the sound of flamenco feet racing through my head. I am looking forward to a chance when I get home to paint them from memory and photos.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Painting in Alpandeire

Posted by Maggie

Today we went to another one of the pueblos blancos in the Genal Valley. Alpandeire is one of my favorite villages. It's sometimes called the "forgotten village," as it has not been modernized as much as some of the other white villages. You often see people riding or leading their horses through the village, and life has not changed much in the last few years, or perhaps dozens of years. The village is a little bigger than Júzcar, having a population of around 200. Today it was bustling as they prepared for a celebration of Fray Leopoldo which will happen tomorrow. It was also a market day, so there were tents with clothing for sale, and a clinic day, which meant the doctor was visiting.

We painted in spite of the unusual traffic and activity. My demo this morning was on aerial perspective and how to make tree-covered hillsides recede or come forward. It is a challenge to see the subtle variations between the mountain ranges and to paint them. To make it more complex, the farthest mountain had bare rock which was somewhat pink in the morning light. Two of the valley's white villages were in my composition, though they were quite some distance away. I am happy with the way the painting demonstrated the concepts I reviewed for the group. Left, White Villages, 9x11, pastelmat, ©Maggie Price.

By the time I finished the morning demonstration, the chill had turned to warmth and we began shedding layers. Most of the painters went to take photographs and explore the village, and I moved my easel a little to paint a closer subject of a white building, tile roof and chimney. I was not able to bring this piece to a point I really considered a finished painting, but it's a good color and value  field study. The tile roofs could use some more attention, but at this point I was in full sun and the light had changed. Left, Chiminea, 7x10, Pastelmat, ©Maggie Price.

We enjoyed a packed lunch and painted until 4 p.m., then headed back to Júzcar. On the way back the bus paused for us to take photos of the village from a good vantage point in the later afternoon light. I love the view of the village from this perspective; you get a good idea of its placement in the mountains. We're having an early dinner tonight and then heading into Ronda for a flamenco performance, which should give us all a chance to get some great photographs. I'll post some tomorrow.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Day in Ronda

Posted by Maggie

Today we took a day trip to Ronda, which is a larger village in Málaga Province. It is another white village, but has a population of about 40,000 people, which is huge compared to Júzcar with its current full-time residents of 140.

This morning we painted the bridge called El Puente Nuevo (the New Bridge) from a vantage point below the bridge. I love the bridge from this viewpoint. It is great to be up on the bridge looking down at the valley below, but for painting, there is nothing better than being in the field below. The huge rocky cliff face extends from both sides of the bridge, and I've painted compositions looking away from the bridge as well.

Drawing the bridge correctly and carefully is not easy when your time is limited. We had a little less than two hours at this location this morning, and the light was changing rapidly as the clouds moved across. I sketched the subject quickly, and then painted the sky and clouds as fast as I could before the formation changed. As I worked on the cliff formations and the bridge, I watched for the chance to catch the light as it hit specific areas, and incorporated it into the painting as I could. Eventually I had to just go with what I had in the way of light and shadow patterns, though, and not make any more changes. After just at an hour I finished my field study.

The class scattered across the field, and while most of them painted the bridge, some chose to paint the rock formations or the olive fields below. All too soon, the bus returned to pick us up, and we went up the narrow winding road to the village of Ronda. We found a wonderful tapas bar for lunch, and then explored the town, some people shopping and some hiking or finding subjects to photograph. After a while some of us stopped for a cup of coffee. It was a great day and it was enlightening and educational to see all the paintings after we returned to the hotel and set them out for our daily review.

It's challenging when you go to a new place and try to paint a totally unfamiliar subject and landscape. It forces you to really observe, to paint what you see since you don't necessarily know what everything  is. It pushes us out of your comfort zone of familiarity into something new, and hopefully that will energize our paintings long after we leave Spain and return home to paint familiar landscapes once more.

Left,  El Puente Nuevo, 9x7, Pastelmat, ©Maggie Price.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

First workshop day in Juzcar

Posted by Maggie

It is Sunday afternoon and we have just finished the first day of the workshop here in Júzcar, Málaga Province, Spain. We started the day with threats of rain, so stayed close to the hotel, but happily the rain never amounted to more than a few drops.

I gave a demonstration this morning, and then the painters scattered to various locations, mostly staying close in case the rain materialized. Hotel Bandolero has terraces and patios where people can spread out but still stay close to shelter. People painted throughout the morning, then took breaks for lunch or walks, and most went back to paint again in the afternoon. Painting the white buildings and red tiled roofs typical of the Genal Valley is not easy, and the changing light of the rapidly-moving clouds only complicates matters.

Nevertheless, every plein air painting is a learning experience, and each of the painters gained understanding of the subject as the day progressed. During the coming week, no doubt this subject will become more familiar and the paintings will improve, though in fact they were amazingly good for a first day.

After a little rest we will review the day's work, and then have another wonderful meal prepared by Chef Ivan. It's already a wonderful workshop.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Day at the Alcazar

Posted by Maggie

We had a very full day yesterday. We began with a short river tour on the Guadalquivir, from which we could see many interesting buildings and bridges. Then we went back to the gardens at the Parque de Maria Luisa, as we had not seen nearly all of it the day before.

The park is a beautiful place, with a number of really interesting buildings on its outer edges, including the beautiful Plaza de Espana. Inside the park itself you would not know that you're in the middle of a busy city, as all you hear is the screeching of parrots and songs of other birds. We enjoyed exploring more of the park, and found some possible painting locations if we bring the group here next year.

After a late lunch we decided to go the the Palace of the Alcazar. We had explored the area outside the palace, and we thought it was not likely that we could take the group inside for painting, as there would probably be crowds and we might not be allowed to set up easels. Still, we thought it could be a good place for sketching, photography, and a good addition to the tour of Andalusia.

I had read that there were gardens connected to the Palace, but as always the photos and descriptions don't necessarily tell you what to expect. I actually enjoyed the gardens far more than the palace itself, as there was a wonderful combination of trees, bushes, palms, flowers and buildings. There were also fascinating arches and structures that weren't quite buildings but incorporated into the gardens in a way that could make wonderful compositions for painting. There were more colorful buildings and structures in the garden or visible from the garden, which could be really nice elements in a painting as well.

Some of the buildings in the Palace itself reminded me of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, where we took the group on our last Spain workshop and where we will go next week with the group. There were a lot of similarities in the architecture, but overall the Alcazar is not as crowded and not as large, so it would be possible for people to see more of it. I think it will work out well to change our itinerary for 2011 to have a day trip to Seville instead of to Granada. We'll have a shorter bus ride, and more time to explore and paint or sketch, and to see a little more of Andalusia.

By the time we left the Alcazar, we had walked for hours. We walked a little further to a restaurant that we had noticed on the other side of the river. The outdoor seating area was on the second floor terrace overlooking the water and with a view back towards the city. Because we arrived at the unfashionably early hour of 8 p.m., we were able to get a table right at the railing, and watched the sunset change the colors of the buildings and the lights beginning to reflect in the water. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful day.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sevilla Continued

Posted by Maggie

Our second day in Sevilla—the first full day—was wonderful in spite of some local problems. There was a general strike, which meant that no buses or taxis would operate, and many businesses were closed. Initially we thought it might create some difficulty but it did not interfere with walking and looking, so we were fine.

In the morning we walked to the area of the Alcazar and the Catedral. We encountered demonstrators, marches and speeches en route but never could quite comprehend what the strike was about. We enjoyed looking at the architecture, though finding potential painting locations was not easy. I am not happy about the idea of setting up a dozen or more easels in crowded areas, but I had thought it might be possible near a particular fountain (above right). However it was far too crowded, and I decided it might be a place for sketching and photography, but not easels. We walked to the entrance of the Alcazar but did not go in; we plan to do that on Friday.

Our guide book had mentioned a park and botanical garden so that was our next destination. It was a wonderful place, definitely on the list for potential painting spots. No admission charge, and broad streets closed to all vehicles except horse-drawn carriages and rented pedal cars, it would be comfortable for painters to spread out. There are abundant fountains, small pools of water, a small lake, and at one end a beautiful building for those inclined to paint architecture. The area in front of that building is being remodeled so was full of equipment and workers, but it looked near enough to completion to think it might be done by next year when we return.

After hours of walking, we found a tapas bar for lunch. I could happily live on tapas. I enjoy having a small portion of several different things to create an interesting meal. We still weren't quite recovered from the trip and jet lag, so the Spanish custom of afternoon siesta seemed a very good idea. When we went out once more, the late afternoon light was incredibly beautiful. The buildings that had been a dull beige or orange earlier glowed in the sunlight, and I took dozens of photographs.

In the evening we met friends for dinner. We walked quite a way in search of a tapas bar with some specific menu items, and while we never did find exactly what we wanted, we had a nice meal. It was fully dark by the time we headed back towards our hotels, and the walk beside the river was great. Some buildings which had not been very noticeable by day were spectacular at night, with beautiful lights and reflections.

Now it is morning in Sevilla and we are heading out to meet our friends and take a river cruise to see even more of the city by water. It is sunny and beautiful, likely to be very warm once again, and likely to be another wonderful day in Sevilla.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Exploring Sevilla

Posted by Maggie

We arrived in Madrid this morning (though what they claimed was 7 a.m. felt like midnight to us) after a long journey. We had several hours to wait in the Madrid airport before we could get our flight to Sevilla, and we spent most of those hours trying to stay awake. Finally on the airplane, we were able to relax and sleep until our arrival in Sevilla. Our bags arrived as well, we were lucky to get a friendly, courteous and careful taxi driver, and we liked our hotel the minute we got here.

After a little time to recuperate from the trip, we headed out for a short walk to see what was nearby. Our purpose here is to see if Sevilla would be a good option for a painting day trip for next year's Spain workshop, and we have a specific list of destinations to check out tomorrow and the next day. But, in an effort to stay awake until evening local time, we walked for a while this afternoon.

We are staying near the river Guadalquivr, and walked along it and across an interesting bridge. The architecture was interesting as well, even though we did not get nearly as far as the Catedral, the Alcázar or any of the more dramatic and distinctive structures we will explore tomorrow and the next day. Bill commented on the frequent use of gold and yellow trim on the white buildings, different than in the Genal Valley where the roofs of the white buildings are almost always red. Like some of the other cities we visit during our workshop day trips, there is a definite Moorish influence in the architecture. 

I wasn't expecting palm trees here. Our workshop location is in the village of Júzcar, Málaga Province, in the mountains. So I hadn't really thought about the fact that Sevilla is a lower altitude and farther south, and thus a bit warmer year round. The palms are wonderful, though, and so are the abundant flowers. I found a number of places along the river where I could be happy painting.

Facilities are important when you're picking plein air painting locations for a group of people. There has to be room to set up easels out of the way of traffic and pedestrians. It's nice if there is shade. And of course, we always try to find places to paint with nearby bathrooms. The people in Spain are remarkably accommodating in that regard—any restaurant or bar will let you use the "servicios" without question, although they are always happier if you buy a bottle of water or a snack.

After a couple of hours of walking, along with a stop for ice cream to rest and to cool off, we headed back to our hotel to rest. It's a bit too soon to decide if this beautiful walkway along the river will be a possibility for next year's painting workshop in Spain, though we might try it out ourselves if we have time. There was certainly no shortage of subjects in today's exploration—but we're off to explore further tomorrow, and who knows what other, even more wonderful things we might find!

Pastel Society of America's 2010 Exhibition

Posted by Maggie

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Bill and I were in New York to attend the reception and banquet for the Pastel Society of America's 2010 exhibition. It's always exciting to see the paintings—the amazing and wonderful variety of style, subjects and techniques demonstrated by the artists whose work hangs in the exhibitions. And it's fun to see the award winners. Like all artists, I don't always agree with the judges' decisions, but this year I applauded their selection of Rae Smith's painting (left) for the grand prize of $5,000, given by Jack Richeson in memory of Flora Giffuni. Its moody, mystical feeling caught my attention as soon as I saw it, and well before I knew who the artist was.

Rae Smith (left) is the President of PSA, and she spoke about some of the things the society has been doing since last year. One important project is carrying on Flora Giffuni's plan to get pastel teachers into the public schools to teach pastel, since art programs are so often the first thing to go when schools cut budgets.

Rae also presented the PSA Hall of Fame award to Richard McKinley (left), who is well-known in the world of pastel for his teaching and his Pastel Pointers blogs on The Pastel Journal web site. Richard is the 34th artist to be awarded the Hall of Fame designation; the award has been given annually since 1978.

Hearing about PSA activities, seeing the art and watching the artists receive awards is great, but another reason to attend this event is to see artist friends. It seems there are some people that I only see at the PSA banquet or the IAPS convention—though I'd love to see them more often, it just doesn't work out. It was great to see so many friends this year, and enjoy visiting with them before, during and after the banquet. In the photo at left, Jimmy Wright (Treasurer of PSA and a long-time board member of PSA and recently of IAPS) and Richard McKinley and I are visiting in the entry hall of the National Arts Club.

In the photo at left is Jack Richeson, with Rae Smith on his left, taken during the banquet. The banquet is held in the hall where the paintings are hung, so it's possible to continue enjoying looking at the beautiful art while enjoying dinner.
A final event at the PSA banquet is the raffling of a number of paintings donated by artists to help raise money for the society. Bill and I buy tickets, though we are both quick to explain that we never win anything, and just purchase tickets to support PSA. This year, though, to our great surprise, Bill won the painting Juicy Apple by Sangita Phadke (left).

I guess this means that either I can't continue to say we never win anything, or it's the beginning of a change in our luck and we should start buying lottery tickets! I'm hoping it's the latter, although we still won't win the lottery if we continue to forget to buy tickets.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A lesson in light

Posted by Maggie

Today we visited the museum of the Hispanic Society of America, having heard that the large paintings by Sorolla had been re-installed.

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923) was a Spanish painter whose work I have long admired for his handling of natural light on the subject. While I don't often paint the subjects he painted—figures, boats, etc.—I am inspired by the way he handles the light falling on and describing the subject. Part of my inspiration for my "sunlight and shadow" underpainting technique which I teach in workshops (and illustrated in my book, Painting with Pastels) came from observation of Sorolla's handling of light and shadow— that objects he painted in full sunlight tended to be warm yellows and oranges, while objects in shadow almost always contained some blue.

The large paintings at the Hispanic Society museum are stunning, and their placement lower on the wall since the remodel of the room in which they are displayed allows the viewer to more fully enjoy them. The fourteen large canvasses are about 12 feet tall, and range in width up to the largest one which fills an entire wall. Each painting deals with a specific region of Spain, and all but one were painted en plein air, despite their enormous size. Photographs taken on my camera cannot begin to do them justice; I hope you will find better images in books or on the Internet to enjoy them. But even with these poor images, you can see some of the wonderful color he used to describe light. In this photo at left (The Tuna Catch), the men on the far right are clearly dressed in white, but when you study the painting, you see that no white paint was used. The lights are described in pale yellows and oranges; the shadows are blues and lavenders, with bits of orange indicating reflected light. The only true white in this painting appeared to be the sparkles on the water.

A closer view of a detail of another painting further illustrates how he used colors to indicate light falling on a white object and his depiction of related shadow colors. There is so much to learn from studying these paintings, no matter what medium you work in. In this detail from the largest, most complex painting, what appears in the photograph to be white fabric is actually pale yellows. The shadows are exquisite blues and grays with wonderful bits of reflected light.

After we spent a considerable amount of time with these large works, we went upstairs to another gallery, and were pleased to find a few more paintings by Sorolla. One of these was his portrait of Louis Comfort Tiffany, painted in Tiffany's garden at his home. A little later, the curator of the gallery was preparing a presentation on a painting by Goya (which we attended and very much enjoyed) and, while waiting for the audience to arrive, he talked a little about the Sorollas. He pointed out that in this painting of Tiffany, there are only two areas of pure white paint: on the right sleeve of Tiffany's shirt, and on the edge of the sail in the harbor. All the other areas interpreted as white have color—Impressionistic color, he called it. 

After our visit to the Hispanic Society museum, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for a few hours. It was truly visual overload, and by late afternoon, I could not absorb any more. I love the Met, and took the time to visit my favorite paintings there—but I think I will dream of the Sorollas.