Friday, April 30, 2010

Having a blast in Napa Valley

Well, this venture into Napa wine country began with an invitation by Don Hatfield to visit his home and studio. Then, since Terry Miura was teaching a class last weekend, we thought we would crash it. Behold, Terry was kind and welcoming, not the least intimidated by our antics and we all met for dinner Friday night. Allan Beribault, a collector and friend, finds these amazing places to paint and, tucked away up in the hillside is Coyote Vineyard with great vistas. The site is amazing, designed by Swedish artist, hand built with tiles and curves everywhere. I preferred the vistas doing the above painting, 16x20 on location en plein air. Quite fun. The class did lots of good art while Don and I ventured up into the hillside to paint. Don got frustrated and drove off not finding a spot and Terry taught his class till I had to leave to go to a show in Alameda. (it bombed cause they charged 60 at the door and only sold 25 tickets). I took some photos and did some smaller studies on my way back on sunday.
If you ever get to Yountville, I am in Heron Gallery, a very nice location run by Dennis and Betty and have some nice pieces of art in there. The light is unusual and, the early and late day, quite extroadinary. Silverado Trail has numerous sights where good composition unfolds yet, near stag's leap vineyard, there are quite extraordinary vistas. Kudos to Don for inviting me and Terry M for having both of us to dinner and paint on Saturday. Both of their blogs are terrific, especially Terry who articulates wealthy tidbits of painting info. Last Tuesday, had a great time at my demo at Folsom Art Association where I explained how I completed the above painting. They had great questions and we laughed so hard, it became impossible to be serious. We covered important aspects of the painting process and had good laughs as well. Thanks to Lori Anderson and Betty for inviting me out there.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Plein Air Painting Made Easy

I am doing this blog on making painting easy. When I was getting my doctorate in grad school, my profs kept saying," son, KISS ", when doing my thesis or ,"keep it simple stupid!". Why were they telling very bright adults this admonition? Because the human being tends to complicate things they don't fully understand. The other thing is that painting is hard or complex, but broken down into key elements, we can simplify things. Yesterday, with my beginning oil painting students I wanted to make things simple so they could understand the process. Here is oil painting in my step by step by step method.
Above, Sailboats, Sausilito, Ca. 9x12, $300

1. First, look around you and find what is interesting to paint. Ask yourself why? Is it the color, light, emotional impact or drama. Keep it simple by having only two, maybe three major elements in your painting. For example, a tree, bridge, and some flowers. Some of the greatest paintings of all time are very simple. Take Andrew Wyeth's painting of a women in the lower left corner reaching toward a barn in the upper right corner. Powerful, yet simple. Have a vision of what you want to paint in mind. Borrow from past masters. You don't have to reinvent the wheel. Become a student of art history.
2. Second, do a pencil or value sketch. In this phase, you do more that just find three values or lights and darks. You also arrange the masses and design. The later element too big to go into in this blog but I will address later. You paint from this basic pencil sketch, perhaps THE most important phase of the painting.
3. Third, block in. Get the canvas covered with the approximate color and value.
Spending too much time or adding detail in wrong. You can go back in and alter things later. I like working from back to forward, dark to light, and thin to thick. After my darks, I establish my lightest light, probably the sky but could be elsewhere. Then make adjustments within that value system.
4.Fourth, modeling stage. Here I come in and add detail, adjust lights and add more darks. Try for three values in all major shapes. Don't forget grays, ( they help the colors to jump out) and mix for the correct color by trial and error. My friend and teacher Don Hatfield has a complete mess and overworks his colors to the point of mud and falls apart for hours, but in the last ten minutes he pulls out a beauty. Have sparkle by looking for tics of light. Randy Sexton calls them "Blings".
Did you capture the light? A good painting has a feeling of light in it. Everybody has their own way. Yesterday, one student wiped off her canvas and repainted most of it and came out with a winner. Don't be afraid to wipe off, or come up with a looser the first time out ( or twenty times out). Ask yourself what did you learn? Be patient with yourself, take a break, eat and drink lots of water. Get the help you need. Good painting is a product of miles of canvas ( experience) and skill acquisition (learning ). Good luck!!
See my website for workshop days and fees at

Monday, April 19, 2010

What is painting? Rendering whats there or changing things?

This is a tough question, one that I have debated over in my head so I would appreciate your ideas on this matter. I think there is so much beauty out there in the landscape or figure, so why change anything? Just capture what is there. On the other hand, What nature has to offer often doesn't yield it best result. I like Paul Strisik book written in the late 90's where he was painting a river but the tail end was boring. He creatively took it down, swung it to the right and had a beautiful design. At times, nature give beauty and pristene, harmonious landscapes but other times we must be creative. I know various excellent painters who came up with beautiful paintings and didn't approach what was in front of them. I think the artist needs to have in mind an image of the painting before they ever start. If there are design problems, fix them immediately, don't say I will get to that latter, let me paint the things that work. That is not to say you can't paint in one location to do a foreground, then move over thirty feet to do a background but have that in mind at the outset and save yourself some torment. Basically, my best advice is use what is in front of you as a starter but don't be locked into rendering exactly what is there. Be creative and move, add or subtract elements to arrive at a good composition. The Napa Barn painting above illustrates this well. The barn and vines were there but the foreground was not interesting, big bushes with tiny flowers. I did away with them and put in some big irises I saw at the next house door and had a better painting, opening things up and adding interest-a way for the viewer to enter the painting. Be flexible, use what is there for inspiration but change things as needed.