Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Toning the Canvas

I've finally followed Richard Schmid's advice and toned canvases with Turps instead of Odorless Mineral Spirits. Unless I'm painting a snow scene, heavy on the snow, I like to tone the canvas a predominant color. Others tone their canvas the complement of the predominant color and that is fine, especially for highly sunlit scenes. 

The image above is from an OMS toned canvas, toned olive the day before painting (!) which I like for scenes heavy with foliage. It takes forever to dry, like days. A La Prima: this makes it necessary to lay on think paint especially on light skies, since laying on thin paint mearly muddles the desired sky color if the toned canvas isn't completely dry. You can see I used thick sky color just laying it on, no swishing the brush.

By contrast, this image shows a canvas toned with turps wash of olive in the morning and painted over the same day. No muddling of the sky color: Titanium White and Manganese Blue. The Turps stinks to me, so I lay on the wash outdoors. It drys so fast there is no stink to the canvas. Voila!

PS In each case I wiped out the sky area after laying on the wash.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Everything I know about Painting – Not


After painting a dozen years with many workshops and classes, I was getting dissatisfied with my work, especially the lack of variety of landscape subjects, e.g. thin trees in winter, dense summer overlapping trees and brush.

I invested in a mentorship of eight afternoons with a painter whose work I admired and whose approach was looser than mine, another direction in which I wanted to go. This was 24 solid hours of one-on-one instruction, demos, and critiques: in short, anything he recommended discussing or demo-ing and anything I wanted to cover.

Warm Spell 8x10 Oil

So far, I found out that:

·         I needed to do more detailed, larger preliminary pencil thumbnails before painting and really “nail” the light and shadow of objects like trees clearly

·         I could actually use black paint and put some intense darks in my paintings, “up the ante” in terms of drama; one can also mix in red and other hues into the black to vary it slightly

·         “Use more paint” has always been my shortcoming and have someone remind me again was important

·         You can paint think over thin, but also thicker over thick and it works. I was able to lay on thick paint with all sides of the brush, e.g. thick and sometimes irregular sky holes; really load the brush and with a light touch dab it on thick; this allows painting darks over lights!

·         I also needed to be reminded to preserve my four value planes while introducing different hues of the same value in each plane; this preserves the big, dramatic shapes which capture the viewer’s eye

·         I tended to paint in a high key, i.e. warm palette, and never noticed it. When you are painting, especially a winter subject, this needs to be a conscious choice not unconscious or accidental

·         Painting from his reference photographs was a stretch for me but his keen eye for a composition made for some well-designed paintings

·         I wanted to make sure I did some homework and had at least two paintings done at home for the next afternoon session; this was by turns frustrating or rewarding, depending on if I had grasped his technique the previous session. No lazy days here.

·         Painting “under the gun” of an instructor in the studio imparts an urgency to most of us which usually results in poor drawing, proportions, inappropriate hues, etc. Better to take your sweet time; it’s results that matter, not speed.

·         Coming to the end of the mentorship I realize that old habits die hard, still not using enough paint, etc. but some progress made.

Many thanks to my knowledgeable and patient mentor Kevin Menck; see his excellent work at