Saturday, July 28, 2012

Memorable Moments en Plein Air

Posted by Maggie

Today I was going through photo files looking for subjects to paint as demonstrations for an upcoming workshop. I recalled a particular photo of a stream that I thought would be a good demo, and started going through files of photos from trips to Scotland.

I got lost in the memories.

One year we went early prior to a workshop, and spent some time on our own, painting and exploring. We spent a day or two in the Glen Coe area, which we'd visited before and loved. One afternoon we set up to paint along a stream in the middle of a glen with mountains rising sharply on either side. It was a good spot for a plein air study:

We were painting away, listening to the chuckling creek and an occasional bird, when suddenly there was a roar that sounded like it was right on top of us. In fact, it was—it was a fighter jet screaming sideways down the glen. My camera's always in my bag on my easel, and I grabbed it just in time for this shot as the pilot roared away.

It was a little hard to concentrate on the painting for a while after that!

That year, Bill and I also rented a small cabin on Loch Duich, near Kyle of Localsh and the bridge to the Isle of Skye. We spent a memorable week there,  exploring some fantastic places, and painting when weather permitted. This was our view from the cabin—it was mid-summer, and this photo was taken late at night, about 11 p.m. The view is of the mountains called the Five Sisters.

Some days it was hard to tear ourselves away from the window to go out to paint. But down at the end of our narrow, single-track road, was an old abandoned ferry house with a great view across the loch. This is the spot photographed looking back from the other side of the loch—the white building is the ferry house:

We set up to paint there one day. Bill was looking across the loch to the Eilean Donan Castle, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area. From where we were in our quiet isolation, not a tourist was to be seen. The castle was much farther away that you see here, but he could see it well enough to make it a focal point in his painting of the loch and hills.

As we painted away, enjoying our privacy at the end of this dead-end road, I began hearing a bagpipe playing far in the distance. At first I thought I was imagining it, given our idyllic surroundings, but I finally realized it was a piper across the loch, playing for the tourists at the castle. He played for half an hour or so, we painted away, and engraved the experience indelibly in our memories.

There are so many reasons to paint outdoors. We go out expecting and hoping to learn from the landscape, to better understand how light and shadows describe our subjects, and how to paint the constantly changing effects. And then there are these unexpected moments that add a little bonus to the experience of learning, lasting long after the paintings are filed and forgotten.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Painting with a Limited Palette

Posted by Maggie

One of the things I find intriguing about working in oils is the ability to carry a small set-up for painting outdoors. When I paint in pastel, my small set-up is a wooden Heilman box with 200-240 pieces of pastel (see this blog for information on how the box is organized):
My pastel set, arranged by value and temperature
When I paint outdoors in oils, I have generally worked with a limited palette so as to keep the number of tubes of paint down to 5 or 6. Last summer, I carried a few tubes of Cobra water-mixable oils for some plein-air painting in Colorado. My palette consisted of cadmium yellow light, cadmium red medium, ultramarine blue, sap green, titanium white and black. Here's an example of a painting done with that palette:

Colorado Colors, 8x10 oil, plein air, ©Maggie Price
A couple of months ago, another artist started a Limited Palette Challenge on Facebook. I thought it sounded interesting, and decided to participate. The challenge was based on artist Ken Auster's limited palette, which was cadmium yellow medium, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, white and black. I found that using cad yellow medium rather than cad yellow light was a challenge. It was hard to get a light enough yellow, and also hard to get a rich light green. However, I painted three pieces for the challenge, with the goal of learning something from using a different palette. Here's my favorite of the three:

Val di- Chiana, 12x16 oil, ©Maggie Price
One of the things I learned from this painting was something that I already knew in relation to pastel, and that is when you have trouble getting a feeling of light, it may work to darken adjacent colors. And to increase the feeling of warmth, it may work to cool other colors. These ideas helped me get the effect of late afternoon sun that I recall so clearly from the Italian countryside. And while the palette was a bit of a struggle, when I compare this painting with the one above it, I prefer the richness of color evident in the second one.

After a few of the entries were in, the organizer (artist Candy Crawford Day) asked Ken Auster to review the entries following a deadline and select a winner. He offered one of his DVDs as a prize to the winner. To my great surprise, this painting was selected. Ken's comment was: "After a weekend of continual review of images--and keeping in mind that it is a limited pallete challenge--the painting that I believe did the most with the least is Maggie Price #1--the best use of warmer and cooler and color harmony and light." 

I was especially pleased by Ken's comments as they focused on exactly what I had worked with in the creation of this painting. Color harmony is almost a given when you work with a limited palette, but getting the feeling of the light and balancing warm and cool colors was a challenge! 

Italy is a wonderful place to paint, rich in subjects and with a beautiful quality of light. I'm looking forward to some more limited-palette work during our October workshop there, and also in the workshop in Puerto Vallarta next January. I'll post paintings after we return!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Food & Flower Paintings

Posted by Maggie

I serve on the Board of Directors for the New Mexico Art League, and for the past few months we've been working on plans for this summer's Food & Flower Festival. There will be a month-long exhibition, but to kick things off, there will be a number of events on June 3 at the League.

In addition to working on some organizational things, I've been painting small pieces for the silent auction. The work, donated by instructors, members and friends of the League, will hang unframed and be auctioned off. My usual subject is landscape (with buildings occasionally appearing in paintings done in or inspired by European workshops) but I thought it would be fun to do some food and flowers. Here are the results.

Oranges and Blue Bowl, 8x10, oil on panel, ©Maggie Price

Tea Roses, 8x10, oil on panel, ©Maggie Price

Lilies & Bluebells, 10x8, oil on panel, ©Maggie Price

Hollyhocks, 8x10, pastel, ©Maggie Price

Peppers on a Glass Tray, 8x10, pastel, ©Maggie Price

I'm going to donate three of the above to the League for the auction. If you're in New Mexico, join us on June 3 and maybe one will go home with you!

It's been so much fun painting these, I think I'm going to add still life and/or florals to some of my upcoming workshops, or maybe teach a workshop now and then focusing on those subjects rather than landscape. So I've not only avoided getting in a rut, I have new and fascinating subjects now!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bella Italia

Posted by Maggie

In six months we will be in Italy. In a way, it seems a long time into the future, but in another way, it's very close. Time passes so quickly, especially when the schedule is hectic (and when isn't it?), six months is nothing.

So, in addition to thinking about Italy, reading guidebooks, and making plans, I've been going through files of photos from previous trips and workshops, and painting Italy. I am always amazed when I look at my photo files just how rich that country is, and how many photos I have. The location where I took the photos used for reference for this painting is one good example—I shot about 150 photos over two visits there, and many of them are excellent painting references.

This painting began as a demonstration for my Saturday class at the New Mexico Art League. Yesterday's class was Week #11 of the 12-week session, and our subject was architectural elements.

Readers of this blog will know that I am very fond of the Richeson Pastel Surface. When I want to start with an underpainting, I usually use the white surface. But I have also discovered that laying in the darks on the Terra Cotta surface and then turping them is a great way to begin. I leave the surface bare where the middle and light values will go. For a complex subject like this, I sketch with soft vine charcoal, then roughly lay in the pastel for the underpainting (mostly with a Ludwig "eggplant" color), and then carefully brush all the pastel down with odorless Turpenoid and an old brush. Once it's dry (either dried with a hair dryer, or in this case, left overnight), I begin with color notes all over the surface.

Because this was a class demonstration, I was talking and painting at the same time. I had intended to photograph the painting after the first color notes of the lightest lights—on the chimney, the light hitting the roof tiles, and some of the lighter greens in the foliage. But, as often happens, between talking, answering questions and painting, the camera was forgotten until I was much further along than I had planned. 

There were two rounded pots in between the rectangular ones, and the upper one had a scrawny, barely living tree in it. I decided to replace it with a geranium from another photo taken the same day on the property.

Behind these two adjacent buildings is a sloping hillside. There's a wall and a wrought iron fence, with a hedge behind that and some olive trees to the right. I blocked that area in very loosely, so that I could talk to the class about architectural elements (which was the subject, after all). I concentrated on the pattern of light and shadow on the roof tiles, and important questions like whether to include the bird droppings splattered all over them. (I decided they weren't important.)

I wanted to paint the plants loosely and freely, so I put them in place very quickly. The geranium got a little more attention, with some definition of leaves and flower bunches. I continued to work on it off and on through the afternoon, between visits to my students' easels and talking about their paintings, and breaking for lunch. And then the class was over and it was time to go home.

Belli Fiori, 20x16, ©Maggie Price
This morning, I studied the painting with a fresh eye. The chimney was crooked. When I'm teaching, I stand as far to the left of the surface as possible, so that my students can see my right hand and the application of the pastel. This often results in crooked lines.

I like painting buildings in Europe and Britain because they are often old, falling down, and have crooked lines. But the chimney bothered me. I straightened it up quite a bit (it's not perfect, after all, given its advanced age) and studied the painting some more. And I decided the olive trees behind the buildings on the top right had to go. The two tree trunks appeared to be growing out of the rooftop. With everything else going on in this composition, I didn't need the viewer's attention to be pulled up to the convoluted trunks and silvery leaves.

I turned the painting upside down and brushed them off with my foam brush. I replaced them with a lengthening of the hedge and some ambiguous grasses and trees. I wanted that background to remain soft and unfocused, to contrast with the business of the tiles, rocks and flowers.

I think it's done now, but every painting goes into the "holding zone" for a few weeks before being framed, in case something else catches my eye and I have to go back to fix it.

Painting this made me eager to go to Italy, paint plein air there as much as possible, and collect a few hundred more photos to work from. Want to join us? We still have two double rooms available. Details are on my web site. Noi avremo un viaggio meraviglioso!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Painting Moving Water

Posted by Maggie

This is another demonstration sequence from my Saturday class sessions at New Mexico Art League.

Our subject last week was how to paint moving water. Thanks to a student who took photos as I began the painting, I have images to post. (Thanks, Lin!)

As I often do, I began the painting with an underpainting of pastel, washed with turpenoid. Working on a white Richeson pastel surface, I knew I'd have plenty of tooth left after an underpainting.

Because this subject was fairly complex in the placement of the groups of rocks, I did a fairly careful and detailed sketch with soft vine charcoal the day before the class. This saved a lot of time for the demonstration itself. I blocked in large shapes of colors with a light layer of pastel, holding the soft pastel sticks on their sides. I washed each color section with turpenoid. The charcoal mingled with the pastel when I turped it, but since the charcoal was applied only in the areas that would be dark values, it didn't matter. Note that I left the area where the foamy white water would be untouched.

After drying the surface with a hair dryer, I had a good value plan for the composition. I painted the sky first, then the distant mountains. This subject is a stream in Scotland, and it was a misty "soft" day with rain coming and going. I wanted to make sure I got the feeling of the atmosphere on that day, so the value and temperature of the sky and distant hills was important.

Because this was a class demonstration about painting moving water, I skipped painting the trees and moved right to the water, so that I could show some important techniques. The water farther back is still, with lovely reflections of the left-hand bank of trees. As the water moves down over the rocks, there's a lot of action and color changes. When I paint moving water, I like to try to "feel" the water movement with my hand, letting the directional strokes of pastel tell the story. Note that some the rocks farther back are partially submerged; having painted them in the underpainting stage made it easy to retain just enough rock showing to explain the movement over that rock ledge.

Highland Stream, 16x20 pastel, ©Maggie Price
After I got the painting home, I studied it for a few days. Something kept bothering me about the rocks on the left. I finally realized they were just too bright, and took the attention away from the water crashing over the rocks. I muted their colors, moving them further into the shadow area. I kept the trees and shrubs simple; I wanted to indicate the presence of dense foliage, but it isn't the subject.

I'm not entirely sure this is finished. Sometimes I have to look at a painting for weeks before I decide to make further changes or decide it's ready to frame. I've found that it's risky to frame a painting too soon—I may end up unframing it to make one more change!

Painting Greens

Posted by Maggie

I've been teaching a class at the New Mexico Art League on Saturdays for the last six weeks. In order to make it work for students with varying schedules, each class day is a stand-alone unit focusing on a particular subject or technique, and people signed up for the sessions with subjects they wanted and dates that would work for them.

A couple of weeks ago, our subject was how to paint greens. Subjects that are predominantly green can be very difficult. It can be tough to make sense of a jumble of foliage, trees, grasses and shrubs. But one thing that works for me is to start with an underpainting using almost any color other than green.

I blocked in the colors loosely on the surface with the sides of soft pastels on a white Richeson Premium Pastel Surface. I tried to keep the shapes big, and to think about value as well as which areas are in sunlight and which in shadow so that my color temperatures were accurate even in the early stages.

Then I washed each color section with turpenoid, using an old synthetic brush and trying to keep my colors clean and separate. I dried the surface with a hair dryer.

Next I began moving into realistic color, using greens, yellow-greens, blue-greens, and so on, paying attention to the value pattern I established on the underpainting.

Back Road, 16x20 pastel, ©Maggie Price
As the painting moved towards completion, more and more greens were worked into the composition, but I tried to retain some of the colors of the underpainting as well. The result is far more exciting color than if I had begun the painting with greens. The variations in color help create depth, interesting shadows, and brilliant light. This painting is 95% completed; it's in my "holding area," where I will look at it over a period of weeks to determine if any further changes are necessary.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Further Adventures in Oil

Posted by Maggie

Satsuma Oranges & Blue Bowl, 8x10 oil on canvas, ©Maggie Price
It's often hard to pass by a display of beautiful fruit, especially in the winter. These Satsuma oranges caught my eye, not because I thought they'd taste good (which they probably will) but because I wanted to paint them. Even the whole pile of oranges in the bin at the store seemed paintable; something about those elegant arches of the leaves was irresistible. I picked out three and set them up on a stand to paint, adding a blue dish to raise one up and give some contrast to the orange. A blue cloth backdrop further enhanced the complementary color arrangement.

I'm still re-learning about oil paints, the types and brands of pigments and solvents. I have been trying to figure out which white I like best. Some whites seem too transparent, but I just got a new one from Jack Richeson & Co. I like their Shiva oil paints in general, but this new white is really great. It's a Titanium-Zinc White, and it's got a lovely texture and opacity. I like it better than the plain Titanium.

A friend of mine had recommended the Shiva color called Asphaltum, which is a wonderful color, a sort of dark umber with a subtle influence of ultramarine. It's a unique color, and I enjoyed using it and will definitely keep it in stock.

While I was cruising the color chart in search of Asphaltum I stumbled upon another interesting-sounding Shiva color called Leaf Green, and ordered it too. It wasn't at all what I expected; I thought it was going to be more green, but it turned out to be that magical mix of green and orange that you find so often in foliage. I used it quite a bit in this painting and can see that it, too, is going to become a standard on my palette.

I had so much fun painting this little study. My goal was to learn more about how to paint still life, so I was pretty relaxed about it and just had fun. I am enjoying working in oils again after so many years painting only in pastel. I think working in pastel taught me a lot about values, and painting regularly taught me a lot about composition and design. Now, I feel that working in oils is teaching me more about color. Mixing colors is fun and using a brush again is a delight. I like everything about the process except cleaning up when I'm done!

Friday, January 20, 2012

WAY Out of My Comfort Zone

Posted by Maggie

I love flowers. In the summer, I have containers and hanging baskets of flowers all over the patio, and there are rosebushes and hollyhocks, wisteria and trumpet vines. I take pictures of flowers when traveling, and never miss a chance to visit a botanic garden.

But I almost never paint them, at least not up close. I've done a few pastel paintings where flowers were incorporated, but I've never painted a vase of flowers. Until now.

One of the other instructors who teaches at the New Mexico Art League, Cynthia Rowland, paints wonderful flowers (and portraits, but I'm not going there yet!) in oils. Yesterday, she gave me a long lesson. I spent the day working on my painting, and could hardly sleep last night because I was eager to get back to it. Of course, since I had to wait for the sun to shine again, as I was using only natural light, it was pretty silly to lie awake thinking about it. But I was excited about the first day's work and looking forward to the next.

While painting in oils is not unfamiliar, changing both the subject and the medium was a push. It was just what I wanted, though, in order to break out of my normal patterns of painting.

Painting flowers from life had its challenges—when I went back to the studio this morning, one of the sunflowers had wilted and could not be coaxed back into position, so I had to revise the composition. I'm used to revising compositions in pastel, and was pleasantly surprised that I could make major changes in oil almost as easily. Next time, I'll remember to take a photo of my set-up in case I have a similar problem.

It's not perfect—I see quite a few things I'd like to change or would do differently if I started over—but in general, I'm very happy with my first attempt at a painting of flowers in oils. I can hardly wait until I can go buy more flowers and try another arrangement.

Sunflowers in Blue Vase, 14x11, oil, ©Maggie Price.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Painting Summer in Winter

Posted by Maggie

It's been cold here in New Mexico, though lacking in snow or rain. Still, one day I decided to warm up a little by painting from a photograph I took in Colorado last summer.

I decided to do something experimental, using the Pastelmat surface. I like this surface, though I'm still getting used to it. I began with a block-in, using only the sides of my pastels, and using very soft pastels throughout.  While I often exaggerate or change colors for an underpainting, in this case I stayed fairly close to the local colors, going a bit darker in some areas than what I intended for the final.

Then I washed over each area of color with alcohol. (In this case, I used ordinary rubbing alcohol. Denatured alcohol is a different thing, and I'll write about that later.)

Moving towards realistic color, I developed the painting, still using only the sides of the pastels, and working until I had covered every part of the painting surface with fresh pastel.

My goal for this painting was to keep it loose and lively, so I tried very hard to limit how much detail I added. It was difficult to define the edges of the trees without going to small strokes, but I continued to use fat soft pastels, hoping that would keep me from getting too detailed.

When I got to this point (above right), I wasn't happy with it. So I took the alcohol and brush and washed the whole thing again. I was careful to keep my colors clean and separate, starting with the lighter values and moving towards the dark at the end. The wash softened edges and mingled color (in spite of my best efforts to keep the colors separated). I liked it better, but felt it needed a fresh layer of pastel to liven it up and remove the muddiness created by the second wash of alcohol. (Left, the painting after the second alcohol wash.)

In the end, I still felt it could be looser, but I liked it. I think it was interesting to use a second wash halfway through the painting, and I may do that again with other paintings in the future.

The final painting, below: Summer Solstice, 12x12, pastel, ©Maggie Price.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Finding Time to Paint

Posted by Maggie

It's embarrassing to start every blog with the admission that it's been too long since I blogged last. So I'm going to skip that and move on.

Since I posted last, we have been away from home more than we've been home. We taught workshops in Scotland (with an extra week there for a vacation, which is pretty rare, since most of our travel involves teaching), in Arkansas, in Spain, in New York City, and in Georgia. We spent Thanksgiving with family in Massachusetts. There were some occasions when we had as few as three days home between trips. It was crazy, hectic, and mostly fun.

Scotland is one of our favorite places in the world. Painting there is wonderful; there are so many subjects everywhere you look. For this workshop we were on the eastern coast, and I fell in love with the harbors and fishing villages. My favorites were Crail and Pittenweem. As always in Scotland, painting outdoors is a challenge. It's often wet, usually cold, and then there are all the usual problems of plein air painting. But it remains one of the places I love most, and love painting.  At left, my partially-completed field study of the harbor at Pittenweem.

At our Georgia workshop, I did one of the demonstrations in oil. As readers of this blog know, I've recently returned to painting in oils, though pastel remains my primary medium.

I chose for my subject one of my favorite spots in Scotland, the village of St. Abbs. Bill and I spent a couple of days there before heading to Anstruther for the workshop. It's a place I hope to return to again and again. I have dozens of photos from this wonderful village and from along the seacoast on the walk we took to St. Abbs Head, and hope to paint many of them, soon!  
Above, St. Abbs Afternoon, 11x14, oil on canvas, ©Maggie Price.

After a whirlwind of activity, we arrived in Spain in October for the workshop there. We've held five previous workshops in the tiny village of Juzcar, which until just a few months ago was an unspoiled, undiscovered white village in the Genal Valley of Andalucia. Shortly before we arrived in 2011, though, Sony Pictures chose Juzcar as the "home of the Smurfs" to promote the smurf movie. With the agreement of the village, they painted the entire village, every single white structure, smurf blue. The village was overrun with overexcited children most days, and we took more day trips to quieter, white villages, to paint. The village was scheduled to be repainted white, but as of this posting, the villagers have voted to remain blue. So in 2012, instead of going to Spain once more, we're offering a workshop in Italy in October. If you'd like to join us, I believe I can promise a smurf-free zone.

I'd like to close by promising to post more often, but the reality is I'm on deadline for my third art instruction book, so who knows how the next couple of months will go. I thank you for reading, though, and wish everyone a wonderful 2012.