Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Grand Canyon Celebration of Art - Day 3

Storm Over the North Rim

It was another early dawn with the elk calling somewhere in the Park. This morning, I headed over to Mohave Point. Amery Bohling and I had talked about how it might look in the morning. It's always been a great evening painting spot, so we decided, based on a number of arcane calculations and formulae known only to master plein air painters, that it would be a great morning spot, too

Well, the light on those beautiful cliffs came - and went. Fast.

I wanted to paint my largest size this week, another 18x14. By the time I'd gotten the shadows all blocked in, they'd changed dramatically, thanks to the restless sun. There were numerous details I could still get from the scene, but I had to resort to memory and my knowledge of how light and shadow work in the Canyon. Amery and I both agreed that this particular scene should be labelled, "Not For Beginners."

Mohave Point, Morning 18x14 oil

All that said, I was pretty happy with my piece. I may head back to Mohave the next morning just to double-check some of my facts. (I also have some reference photos, but we're not supposed to use those for this plein air event; if I were painting on my own, I'd have no qualms about referring to them.)

Amery asked if I was going to paint another, implying that she was going to. Guilt is a great motivator among us painters, but I resisted. Instead, I drove up the West Rim Drive a few miles, and just past the Abyss pull-out I spotted a picnic table along the edge. And it was in shade! I spent an hour or so pulling out paintings and evaluating them, and adding a tweak here and there. It's worthwhile doing this earlier than later. Rather than spending a full day agonizing over these paintings at the end of the week, I like to nibble my way through them. Plus, this year we are being asked to deliver paintings as we complete them, starting Tuesday.

After a short walk along the rim, I headed back home for lunch and to figure out my next plan. For the afternoon, I noticed we had some nice thunderstorms popping up over the North Rim. I always like these monsoonal storms. From a distance, they are lovely to see. I don't particularly like them overhead, though; the lightning can be dangerous. I drove over to the Visitor Center for a treat (ice cream sandwich) and walked over to Mather Point to get a better view of the weather. It looked like the South Rim would be safe from storms, so I drove east toward Moran Point.

Moran Point, as many Grand Canyon painters will tell you, is named for the Hudson River School painter Thomas Moran. But research shows this might not be the case. The Arizona State University's website on the history of Grand Canyon says:
Many people erroneously assume it is named for famed American landscape artist Thomas Moran, but it is probably named instead for his brother, Peter Moran, an accomplished artist in his own right. Peter Moran traveled to the South Rim in 1881 with explorer and Army Captain John Bourke, who probably named the point in his honor. Thomas Moran never saw the South Rim until 1892 when he visited as a guest of the Santa Fe Railway. 
I've always disliked myth-busters for stomping on my buzz. Well, it doesn't matter - it's a beautiful scene, anyway. I got there about mid-afternoon, just in time to see a large storm dissipating over the North Rim. I really had to push on this painting, as it was a 16x12, the sun was hot, and some lady had left her two Westies barking in her car with the windows rolled up. I'm sure the dogs were only in there for 15 minutes, but they worried me and it seemed a lot longer.

Storm Over the North Rim 16x12 oil

It wasn't quite sunset yet, so I drove back slowly, looking for spots that might have artists painting. I didn't see a one, so they must have all been back on the West Rim Drive. I ended up at the Market Plaza and grabbed a sandwich for dinner.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you are at Grand Canyon today (Tuesday), I invite you to watch my hour-long painting demonstration on just outside El Tovar on the rim at 4 pm. The painting I make will also be auctioned off at the end. You can get educated and get a great painting all in the same afternoon!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Grand Canyon Celebration of Art - Day 2

Another Postcard Sunrise

Morning came early with the bugling of elk. This is the start of their mating season, and at 4 a.m., it was an eerie sound to have with my morning coffee. Speaking of coffee, my hosts use an espresso machine for theirs, and I treat myself to a double while waking up. Who thought life could be so luxurious at Grand Canyon?

As dawn was breaking, which is around 5:30 here, I drove on the West Rim Drive to Hopi Point. There I was to meet up with ML Coleman for a little quick sunrise panting. When I got there, he had already parked his LazyDays RV and was sketching out his first one. When you want to capture the sun, you have to work fast, so I didn't dally over design. I did a little 5x7 just to capture the sense of light.

After that and a cup of coffee in ML's motor home (again, who thought life could be so luxurious?) I decided I was ready for one of my big ones and pulled out a 14x18. I had pre-toned it with yellow ochre, so it was perfect for a sunny day scene. I ended up staying right in the same spot. You don't have to move to get a half-dozen paintings out of one location.

West of Hopi Point, 14x18 oil

Before I knew it, it was lunchtime. But I stopped for one quick 9x12 near Maricopa Point.  I love these twisted junipers.  This one looked something like a snake coming out of the ground.

Maricopa Mambo 9x12 oil
After five paintings the first day and two before lunch this day, I was beat. Plus, the sun was getting very intense and things were warming up. I headed back to the house for lunch, shower and a little Web time.

Around 3, I headed back to Mohave Point to re-evaluate the 12x16 I'd painted the day before. I needed more information from the scene and wanted to bring the level of "mark making" with the brush up a notch. This time, I pulled out my French easel rather than my tripod-mounted pochade box, which let me use the umbrella. (Still, I had to use a bungee cord to keep the umbrella from sagging under its own weight. If you're going to use an umbrella, make sure you get one you don't have to wrestle! I like the Best Brella - www.bestbrella.com.)

About that time, Amery Bohling wandered by, looking for a painting spot. I lost track of her. Quick on her heels was Carl Ortman. He likes to paint figures and asked how long I was going to be there. I thought he wanted my painting spot, but all he wanted was to know if I'd be there long enough to paint me. I wasn't totally sure of my next move, so he, too, moved on.

Next, I pulled out a 9x12 I'd worked on that morning and made an adjustment to it; one branch of the juniper needed to be lopped off for the sake of design, and I didn't see that until I'd taken a photo of it and was looking at it on-screen. I often find that looking at a photo of one of my paintings gives me a fresh look at it.

Now it was 4:30. Sunset was coming. I decided to hang it up and head back. Plein air painting all day is, in many ways, like digging ditches, and it is just as tiring. But as I was driving down the hill toward the Village, I saw about a half-dozen cars pulled off - each of them had the "Event Artist" placard in the window. What's one more painting? I thought, so I joined them. Amery was there, along with ML Coleman, Bill Cramer, Dave Santillanes, Julia Seelos, Hai-Ou Hou, and Jim Wodark. We had a great time, and then came the sunset. It was a real Curt Walters moment, if you've seen any of his magnificent Canyon paintings.  I don't have a good photo yet of my painting, so I'll take that today.

How many painters does it take to photograph the sunset?

Our Curt Walters sunset - and it just kept getting better!
We all decided to head to the Bright Angel Grill for supper. But after making two passes through the Village looking for a parking spot, I decided to call it a night .

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Grand Canyon Celebration of Art - Day 1

A Beautiful Sunrise for Saturday

Friday evening was Orientation Night and Canvas Stamping for the 25 invited artists. After getting our panels stamped with the official stamp, hobnobbing with other artists and a sumptuous catered supper, we all settled down. Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga welcomed us, and then we got the details for the week from GCA staff.  And what a week it will be! This year, we'll have an extra painting day. We'll paint from Saturday through next Friday - that's seven full days - plus the Quick Draw event on the final Saturday.

I got to bed early at my hosts' house, seeing as I had agreed to meet some of the painters at 6 or 6:30 a.m. at Yaki Point. Saturday morning, I was up at 4. That sounds early, but when you consider the preparation that goes into getting ready for a day of painting, it isn't. I just barely made it to Yaki Point by the scheduled time. ML Coleman was already there, and we were soon joined by Bill Cramer, Jim Wodark and Hai-Ou Hou.

Jim Wodark

Bill Cramer

ML Coleman

One of the great things about this event is that the artists get special permission to take their cars into places where only the shuttle buses can go. Yaki Point is one. It's one of my favorite spots because the variety of views from the point make great painting from sunup to sundown. Speaking of sunup, we had a fantastic sunrise. A few clouds made for an interesting sky, and they continued to build throughout the day, giving us some really nice shadows to paint.

Although I've brought some big canvases with me - 12x16s and 14x18s - I wanted to do a little warm-up first. Because the last workshop I taught was all pastel, I haven't painted in oil in about three weeks! So, I started with 9x12s. I painted one looking west and a second, looking east. I was happy enough with these that I went out to lunch with Jim, Bill and Hai-Ou at the Market Plaza.

Yaki Point, West View 9x12 oil

Yaki Point, East View 9x12 oil
My Office for the Morning

By the time we'd finished lunch, the day had really started to warm up. Even in mid-September, the sun at 7000 feet at this latitude is very intense, and I'm sure we were pushing 80. (Well, it certainly felt like it!) The middle of the day isn't a great time to paint, anyway, since the light in the canyon is very flat then, so I went back home and did a few chores on the computer.

At 3, it was time to head for Mohave Point. Located on the West Rim Drive - another route that requires a special permit - it's a wonderful location for late in the day and sunsets. I'd agreed to meet Bill and some of the others there. When I arrived, it still felt hot, so I found some shade and whipped off a little 5x7 of cloud shadows. (These 5x7s sold really well the last time I was here, so I am making sure to do a few for the sale.) The shadows were lovely on the canyon floor.

Two hours before sunset, it was time to pull out a big one. Well, I still held off on the 14x18s - I chose a 12x16 instead. I had a great view of the Colorado River and the cliffs to the west, but the sun was starting to angle down, and I was fighting it the whole time. The angle was such that my shirt was casting a glare on the paint; and the sun was in my eyes. I'd brought along an umbrella from some online art supply store - it doesn't have a brand, and I got it a few years ago and never used it - and immediately discovered it is utterly useless. I tossed it aside. (I wish I had brought my Best Brella, but that is back on Campobello Island.)  Once I got the block-in done, though, I felt comfortable enough with the progress that I felt it was okay to seek shade, even though that meant changing my viewing angle.

Mohave Point, Toward Sunset 12x16 oil

I'm still undecided on this piece, but I may feel differently in a day or two. I don't think it's a "scraper" - not yet, anyway. Sometimes it's pretty obvious when a piece has gone into the ditch. But sometimes there's something about a painting that was a struggle that stays the executioner's hand.  (The photo doesn't do the painting justice, by the way.)

It was almost sunset by the time I finished. I was packing up, but then I saw one of the other painters who asked if I was going to do another one. The light was indeed beautiful, and we had maybe 45 minutes of day left to work by. I pulled out another 5x7 and painted a little abstraction of the sunset. I like this one.

The images I'm offering with my blog posts this week have gone through some hoops to get here, so I'm not sure how they look to you. They go from my camera SD card to my Chromebook; from Chromebook to Google Picasa; then, because Google is Google and has its own reasons for what it does, they go from Picasa to Google+ for editing, where I crop and tweak them a bit; then they get downloaded to Google Drive (which, as far as I can tell, isn't on my Chromebook but somewhere in the "Cloud"); then they finally get uploaded to Blogger. It is a long journey, and I am sure these images have little adventures on the way and thus look a little travelworn. When I get back to my studio, I'll look at them again and replace them as needed. So, please keep in mind that these paintings look a whole lot better in person!

Now it's time for bed. Tomorrow, several of us will hit Hopi Point at dawn.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Back in Arizona - And My Studio Painting for the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Winter - 18x24 oil/panel.  Available at the Grand Canyon
Celebration of Art Exhibit, Sale and Auction.

As I type this morning, I am back in Arizona in my winter studio.  I don't often get to see the Southwest during what is called "monsoon season" - that time of summer when thunderstorms rake the deserts and mountains daily with spectacular lightning and heavy rain.  I've never seen Arizona so lush!  My little community looks like Ireland, it is so green.  There are many wildflowers blooming, too.

I've sorted out my plein air painting gear and have loaded up the rental car for the drive up to Grand Canyon.  Frames, framing tools, extra Gamsol, plenty of painting panels - it's quite a list.  It won't do to forget anything, since the nearest art supply store is in Flagstaff, a good 90 minutes from the Canyon.

I plan to head up mid-day and deliver my studio painting this afternoon to the Kolb Studio.  If you've never been to Grand Canyon before, the Kolb Studio is a house perched on the rim with a gorgeous view of the Canyon.  It served as a photography studio, shop and living quarters for the famous Kolb brothers.   The story has it that, back in the early days of the National Park, the Kolbs would take photos of tourists sitting on mules just before being guided down into the Canyon.  Then Emery Kolb, who must have been quite the athlete, would run down to a darkroom the brothers had built at Indian Gardens, about 4 1/2 miles down the trail and 3,000 feet below the rim.  Indian Gardens was the only clean water source in the area.  After developing the film, Emery would run all the way back and have the photos ready for the tourists when their ride was over.  Today, Kolb Studio serves as an exhibition space for the Celebration of Art.

At the top of this post, you can see my studio painting:  "Grand Canyon Winter," 18x24, oil/panel.   (Although it's a plein air event, artists are allowed to include one studio painting in the exhibit.)  It's an unusual painting for a Grand Canyon piece in that, first, you don't often see paintings of the Canyon with snow, and second, the Desert View watchtower is rarely depicted.  I wanted to create a painting that is a little different from all the rest.  What I like particularly about it is that it contrasts the human element - the watchtower - with the raw energy of Nature.  And, despite the cold snow, you can feel the warmth of light as you look across to that sunny patch in the distance.

When I took the reference photos for the painting, I had to clamber down through the snow on a rather slippery slope - but the view was worth the trip!

The painting will be on display starting next week at Kolb Studios and will be up for auction and sale.  (Starting bid is $2000.)  For full details on the event, please visit https://www.grandcanyon.org/arts-and-culture/6th-annual-2014-celebration-art.

Monday, September 8, 2014

When is a Painting Finished - And Grand Canyon-Bound!

At the 2012 Grand Canyon "Celebration of Art"

I'm in the midst of packing for the Grand Canyon "Celebration of Art" plein air event this morning.  Fortunately, most of the art gear is in my Arizona studio in a tidy pile that I made back in May, just before leaving for my summer studio on Campobello Island.  Even so, there are odds and ends to remember.  Plus, I'm now in the process of shutting down that summer studio in preparation for the cross-country drive.  It's a crazy life, this back-and-forth.

But of immediate concern is the Grand Canyon.  I'll be flying out Wednesday.  Then, after spending a couple of days in Sedona to acclimate - I have to remember I'm going from sea level to a gruelling event at 7,000 feet - I'll drive up on Friday.  We have an orientation that evening, and then the starting pistol cracks Saturday at dawn, and we are off.  This will be my third time participating as an invited artist.  I'm really looking forward to visiting with old painting buddies, to making some new friends, and to talking with folks who might like to take a piece of the Canyon home with them in the form of a painting.  The goal of the event is to raise funds for an art museum on the Canyon's South Rim, so I'm hoping all the artists sell a lot and at good prices.  I will try to blog daily while I'm at the event.

I've seen the Park's art collection, which is being stored in a cramped warehouse.  There are some amazing pieces by Thomas Moran, Gunnar Widforss,  and other artists of note.  A proper museum will allow the public better access to this collection and give it the space it deserves.

For a full schedule of events, please visit https://www.grandcanyon.org/arts-culture/celebration-art/5th-annual-celebration-art-event-schedule.

Now - how do you know when a painting is finished?  This is a question students often ask me.  To be honest, even painters who've been working at the craft all their lives still ask themselves this question.  The standard answer is:  When you've accomplished your goal (or achieved your vision), the painting is finished.

That doesn't help us much, as quite often the goal or vision is ill-defined at the start.  Sometimes it becomes clearer as you get further into the painting.  But sometimes not.

In my workshops, I teach about capturing the moment.  For me, the moment can be defined as the quality of light in a scene.  To take it further, and to get a little more technical, it has to do with establishing an accurate relationship of the color temperature between light and shadow.   I can get this all established early on in a painting, though - quite often right at the end of the block-in and adjustment stages.  If you've taken one of my workshops, you'll have heard me speak of making your "best guess" in the block-in and then going on to adjusting that "best guess" in the next phase.  (I also talk about this concept in my new painting instruction videos.)

At the end of this adjustment phase, I may stop, if I wish.  Or keep on going.  Basically, at this point  I have a very simplified - yet very accurate - painting of the scene.  If I want to take it beyond this, I am moving from the simplified toward the more detailed, like this:

Where a painter stops on this line is completely up to him.  It's a personal choice, usually defined by one's comfort level with the agony of creating detail and the point at which one gets totally bored with the piece.

An example of someone toward the more simplified end is Wolf Kahn; at the other end, we have Rackstraw Downes.  You can pick your spot anywhere between them.  My own zone is somewhere along the middle.

Wolf Kahn · "Heavy Haze of a Hot Summer's Day."
1979 ca, Oil Painting, 27.50 x 37.5 inches.

Rackstraw Downes, “Under an Off-Ramp from the George Washington Bridge”
2011. Oil on canvas, 26 x 56 inches

Monday, September 1, 2014

September 2014 Newsletter

New Videos Available for Pre-Order!  Read on!

September 2014 Newsletter from Michael Chesley Johnson

Labor Day, September 1, 2014
Friar's Bay, Campobello Island, NB

I can't believe another summer has flown by. It seems just the other day we were watching the apple trees bloom, and now the apples are falling. Crickets are singing, and the goldenrod is already fading. We had our lowest temperature yet over the weekend - 49 degrees. Frost will be on the pumpkin sooner than you think.

Regular hours for our two galleries (Artist's Retreat Studios & Gallery and Friar's Bay Studio Gallery) ended on Saturday. Thank you to everyone who stopped by! Now we are open - for a few weeks - by appointment or by chance. And in a matter of days, I will be off on my annual trip to Grand Canyon, for the Grand Canyon "Celebration of Art" plein air festival.

I am happy to announce my three new DVDs for Artists Network TV are now available for pre-order through NorthLightShop.com. As you may recall, I spent a week in Cincinnati filming these back in the spring, and I am very excited to see the final product! Here are links to the three videos (my book, Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil & Pastel, is also available through these links as a download.):

The Secret to Oil Painting Wet-into-Wet with Michael Chesley Johnson
The Secret to Oil Painting with Light & Color with Michael Chesley Johnson
The Secret to Pastel Painting En Plein Air with Michael Chesley Johnson
Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil & Pastel

Plus, you can get all four plus a bonus e-magazine of my articles for The Artist's Magazine in one bundle. Click here for the Michael Chesley Johnson's Secrets to Oil & Pastel Success Collection.

Now, on to some important events.

This will be my third time as an Invited Artist for this important painting event. Thirty artists from around the US and Canada will converge on the South Rim for a week of intense painting September 13-21. I can't tell you how much I look forward to this. It's a great sales event for me, but what's more important is that I can reconnect with other professional painters. This year, I'll be doing something new. On Tuesday, September 16th at 4 p.m., I will be giving a public demonstration on the lawn of the El Tovar resort. The painting will be auctioned off at the end of the demonstration. As always, 50% of sales goes to funding a new art museum in the Park. Having seen the Park's wonderful collection and the cramped warehouse that currently houses it, I am very happy to support this worthwhile effort. For more details, please visit www.GrandCanyon.org.

After the Grand Canyon event, I'll be flying back east to pack up the summer studio. Trina, Saba and I will head out on our twice-a-year journey across the US. This time, I have two plein air workshops along the way. First, I'll be in Southwest Harbor, Maine (September 29-October 2), for the Acadia Workshop Center, followed by another in Westmoreland, New Hamsphire (October 4-5) for the Monadnock Area Artists Association. Both workshops still have room, so if you're interested, contact either the AWC for Southwest Harbor or MAAA for New Hampshire.

Once these two workshops are complete, we will arrive in Sedona, Arizona, just in time for the Sedona Plein Air Festival. This marks my seventh time as an invited artist. Again, thirty artists will converge in "Red Rock Country" for this fall spectacular October 18-25. Sedona has become "home turf" for me, and it'll be great to be back to do some focussed painting and to reconnect with other artists. For more details, visit www.SedonaPleinAirFestival.org.

Following this event, I'll launch into teaching my Paint Sedona plein air workshops. These will run throughout the winter and into April 2015. This year, I've added more "all level" weeks. Also, if you and three others can sign up for a week, I can make that a customized workshop. If you want all-pastel, we can do it! But you will need to arrange it soon. For details, visit www.PaintSedona.com.

By the way, in addition to my plein air workshops, I've scheduled a three-Saturday pastel-only studio-only class for November 15 and 22, and December 13. Cost is $200 for the three afternoons (1-5 pm). If you're interested in this, please let me know.

I should mention that, if you are in the Sedona area and want to see my paintings, you have a couple of great options. You can see several pieces at the Phoenix Airport Museum (Terminal 2) until November 30 as part of its Verde River Exhibition. But you can see much more at my studio gallery, Pumphouse Studio Gallery, about 10 miles south of Sedona near Page Springs. You will need to set up an appointment to visit, but I am happy to do this at any time I'm available. Just give me a call or send me an e-mail.

And don't forget that all of my books are now available at Amazon! You can visit my Amazon author site here to buy the books: http://www.amazon.com/author/johnson.

That's all the news. I'll write again once we're in Arizona. Have a great fall!


Prepare for Plein Air: Not sure how to go about painting outside?
Check out my online course! Great for beginners. Visit www.PrepareForPleinAir.com

2014 Workshops
September 29-October 2: MAINE, Acadia National Park. A very popular workshop, and Michael's 8th summer! Price: $595. Sign up: http://www.acadiaworkshopcenter.com/MCJohnson.html
October 4-5: NEW HAMPSHIRE, Monadnock Region. Price: $160 members, $185 non-members. Monadnock Area Artists Association. Download registration form here. http://www.michaelchesleyjohnson.com/docs/Johnson20142.pdf
October-December: ARIZONA, Sedona. Paint Sedona resumes! www.PaintSedona.com

2015 Workshops
January-April: ARIZONA, Sedona. Paint Sedona continues! www.PaintSedona.com
May: NEW MEXICO, Santa Fe. Painting Retreat. www.PleinAirSantaFe.com. FULL - WAITING LIST.
May 6-8: WASHINGTON, Gig Harbor. Pastel-only workshop for Northwest Pastel Society in conjunction with judging the National Exhibition. Details to come!
October 6-9: MAINE, Acadia National Park. Price: TBA. www.AcadiaWorkshopCenter.com

2016 Workshops
June 12-18: Scotland Painting Retreat. Details on this painting trip to the Highlands are available now. Let me know if you are interested in this trip of a lifetime! I already have several people going, so don't delay. Details at http://www.michaelchesleyjohnson.com/scotland/scotland.htm

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Plein Air Sketch to Studio: Revisted

"Quiet Cove" 12x16 oil - Sold

For me, painting on-location is very straightforward.  You go out, pick something to paint, and then you paint it.  Simple.  But taking that sketch to the studio and creating Art out of it, well, that is a different matter.  I haven't done a great deal of this, mostly because I just love plein air painting, but  when I do, I often end up scratching my head in puzzlement.  Where do you start?  What's the process?  How do you avoid ending up with just a boring copy of your field sketch?

Recently, I was commissioned to paint the view from a patron's home, perched over a rocky cove.  I felt pretty confident going out and taking reference photos and creating my field sketch.  But when I returned to the studio, I realized that, after all these years, I still didn't have a process for turning that sketch into something bigger and better.  When do you use photos?  When do you refer to the color sketch?  And what about re-designing?  I've always fumbled my way through it.  This time, I decided to figure it out.

So, here's what I found worked for me.  It's rather simple, especially if you aren't doing a lot of  scene editing.  (I did add some rocks and a shadow, but that was easy.)  Here's my process for "Quiet Cove":

  • Using a reference photo, create a design that works.  (I used vine charcoal on sketch paper and worked my way through some "notan" studies.)
  • Transfer the design to the painting surface.  (I used a 3x3 grid and 2B graphite pencil.)
  • Referring back to the photo, refine the design.  (I used the pencil and looked for dynamic lines and rhythms, and then I gave the design a quick spray of workable fixative.  I also added the extra rocks and shadow in the lower left.)
  • Now, put away the photo and take out the color sketch.
  • Referring only to the color sketch, block in the simple shapes with your "best guess" to approximate the colors in the sketch.  (I used a big brush and my split-primary oil palette.)
  • Go back and adjust your "best guess" - and keep adjusting it until is either as close as you can get it to the sketch or you find yourself in a place with a better color scheme and harmony.  Don't be tempted to go the photo!  Don't add detail!
  • Once you're happy with the color, now pull out the photo.
  • Use the photo as a reference for refining the profiles and contours of shapes.  Also use it for establishing any lights and darks that may have gotten away from you.  (I used a smaller brush for all of this.)  If there is an important "detail" that you need - and make sure that you really do need it! -  make a note of it in paint.  (For example, I used it for placement of cracks in the rocks.)
  • Now put away the photo for good.  You're done with it.
  • Referring to your color sketch, revisit your colors and make any color adjustments.  (They should be very minor at this point.)
  • Finally, sharpen or soften edges, add highlights or accents.  As my friend Albert Handell says, "Orchestrate the painting."  Make it sing!

You'll note how little I actually use the photo.  Basically, it's for the initial design, for refining shape contours and adding any important details.  I don't refer to it at all for color.  I found it very useful to understand when to use the photo and when to use the field sketch.

Below are a variety of photos to help explain the process.

9x12 color field sketch

Reference material ready to go

Notan sketch

The setup

Palette close-up
Design transferred to 12x16 surface (toned with Gamblin FastMatte Indian Yellow)

Initial block-in - "best guess"

Continuing the block-in

Adjusting the "best guess" and refining color choices

Finish - Quiet Cove 12x16 oil

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Upcoming Introduction to Pastel Class in November

I don't teach my Introduction to Pastel workshop very often, but I have scheduled a three-Saturday workshop for November 15, November 22, and December 13 in Sedona, Arizona, at Gandolfo Studios.  If you are in the Sedona or Verde Valley area this fall, here's your chance!  We'll be covering pastel basics, starting with materials (paper and pastels) and moving on to a variety of techniques to get the most out of pastels.  In the studio, we'll work initially from photos and move on to the still life.  Weather and time permitting, we  may go out to do a little plein air painting. Cost of the workshop, which runs 1-5 on Saturdays, is $200.  For more information or to register, contact me at mcj.painter@gmail.com.

Pastel is the medium that got me back into painting.  When I picked up my first pastel stick, it was like seeing for the first time.  Pastel is an immediate and tactile medium, and each stick is filled with luscious color.  It's a perfect cross-over medium from drawing to painting, so if you've always drawn but have never painted, you'll be a natural!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Choosing the Right Dimensions for your Painting

Some Common Painting Sizes and Their Proportions
(Please excuse the hand-crafted artisanal chart; I realized that neither my Photoshop nor Excel skills are good enough to create the chart through software.  Sometimes the low-tech way is more efficient.)

As a plein air painter with an always-ready-to-go painting kit, I sometimes get locked into a particular size for my paintings.  Usually, I keep my kit packed with 9x12s.    But this isn't necessarily the best dimensions for a landscape.  It's great if I want to get a quick sketch or color reference but often, some other size might make for a stronger design.

For a broad landscape, such as ocean vistas, deserts or canyons, a panoramic format will do a better job of conveying the breadth.  These landscapes are packed with horizontal elements, and so  emphasizing the horizontal will enhance the feeling of "being there."  A double square (12x24) or even a triple square (6x18) can be much more appropriate than the 9x12 or the more squarish 8x10.

If I'm in a landscape that doesn't offer a vista, such as densely-wooded interior Maine where you have to fight the trees for a view, I look for a closer, more intimate scene such as a cluster of dead snags gathered at the edge of a swamp.  In this, verticals and horizontals seem to have equal weight, just as they do in a square.  Choosing a squarish format will help you convey the same sense of intimacy (or perhaps claustrophia.)  But I do think a square is the most difficult format because you are already at a disadvantage at having all the sides boringly equal.   Still, you can get some very exciting results with the square; all the paintings in my "Fifty for the Fiftieth" project are squares, and I enjoyed both the challenge and the results.

Moving beyond the square, there is the vertical.  Just as a more horizontal format conveys breadth, the vertical conveys height.  Anytime I want to show the magnificence of a tree or the depth of a canyon, I aim for the vertical.   Looking down into the landscape - as with a canyon - can be dizzying, though.  Looking up, I feel a little more sure of my footing.

When I have a choice, I will make several thumbnail sketches and try out different possibilities.  Why get trapped in the same old 9x12?  I have cut down both pastel paper (with scissors) and painting panels (with a utility knife) to get the dimensions that best fit my idea.  To be sure, you may end up with a custom framing job, but you are more likely to recoup your expenses, since the best fit will be more attractive to your buyer.

At the top of this post is a chart.  I thought it would be interesting to show the more commonly-used dimensions and their width-to-height ratio in a graph.  This will give you a better idea of where they sit with respect to the square.  I have calculated out the ratio by dividing width by height; that is, a 9x12 is 12/9 or 1.33.

Below are a few of the different dimensions I use.  (All are for sale!  Contact me for details.)

SQUARE: Duck Pond Fog, 6x6 oil/panel

DOUBLE-SQUARE: End of the Road, 12x24 oil/panel

TRIPLE-SQUARE: Head Island, 6x18, oil/canvas

VERTICAL: Water Street, 12x9, oil/panel

Thursday, August 21, 2014

New Exhibition Space for Artists - Google Open Gallery

Recently, I was invited by Google to be a test user of Google Open Gallery.  (Along with probably a million other people!)  Google has taken its Cultural Institute platform, which it's been using to present high-resolution images of museum collections, and tweaked it for individual artists to use.  I  decided to upload the fifty images of my "Fifty Paintings" Kickstarter project.  Here is a link to my site:  https://pleinairpainting.culturalspot.org/

I found the interface extremely easy to use, and although the system permits uploading images that are up to 50 megabytes big, I chose to upload much smaller ones.  I don't know anything about the download capabilities of the system - that is, can a Chinese sweatshop download my high-resolution images and then set about mass-producing paintings based on them? - but it would bear investigating if you are concerned about copyright.  I've had a few people look at my site, and they seem to find it a pleasure to use.  You can also really zoom in on the images to see the fine brushwork.

If you would, please take a look.  I'm eager to hear your thoughts.  Here's that link http://pleinairpainting.culturalspot.org

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