Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Certifiable Guide to Tweaking the Beaufort Easel

Excerpts. You can download the entire document as a PDF if you want.

(Download the whole thing, all 2.8 mb, here).

I’ve purchased my last easel
That, of course, is a joke. Those who paint never could possibly purchase their last easel until (as Stapleton Kearns says) the death bunny comes hop-hop-hoppin’ along.

Anyway, my most recent easel is a Gloucester-type, made in China and sold by Jerry’s Artarama (and ASW Express). It's also known as the Anderson easel. 

Prior to early 2014, I’d only seen pictures of this design, primarily in Stapleton Kearns’s blog, http://stapletonkearns.blogspot.com/ . Then in January, I saw the design in person at Stape’s Snowcamp workshop in New Hampshire. At that point, I knew I wanted it. I played with building my own, but concluded that I had too few tools, too little skill, and too few hours to build my own.

The Beauport version of the Gloucester easel, photographed in one of its natural habitats, 32 inches of New England snow. (The other habitat? Planted firmly on granite shores north of Boston.)

The Gloucester - for real plein air painters

When you first meet it, the Gloucester easel is just a bundle of sticks. This bundle can be arranged into a 3-sided pyramid whose base is nearly as wide as its legs are tall. This makes it eminently usable (read: stable, not blown over) in the Cape Ann area, which often experiences high winds.

Because each of the legs is adjustable, you can set the Gloucester easel up on nearly impossible sites, including sea walls built from huge blocks of granite, wildly hilly countryside, or 24 inches of snowpack during a blizzard. The first two these physical features are found all over Cape Ann. The third is found in the colony’s Vermont and New Hampshire winter haunts.

Its size and features make it really good for
(a) Tall painters. You can use it to paint at eye level even if you’re in the NBA.*
(b) Real plein air painters (see previous 2 paragraphs; it sets up in all sorts of wild sites)
(c) Continuing your athletic development (lots of stretching and lifting in carrying and setup)
(d) Painting a very wide range of sizes, literally 4 x 5 inches to 4 x 5 feet or more.
(e) Fast setup (55 seconds to set up with the tweaks in this document; 1 minute 15 seconds to tear down and stow)
                *Most of the Gloucester and Rockport artists were 6 feet tall and over.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Been so long...

I had to guess how to create a new entry.

So, I figured it out.

New reports coming

While I was enjoying Stapleton Kearns's Snowcamp in January, for the first time I came face-to-face with the Gloucester easel. Stape of course had his, and fellow classmate James Cook had one as well.

There are two on the market. The first is a fine, hand-made version from Tobin  Nadeau, the Take-It-Easel, available from http://www.takeiteasel.com/index#nice6 Both Stape's and James Cook's were Take-It-Easels.

The second is a version in Chinese elm or beech from Jerry's Artarama (or ASW Express), the Beauport, available here

Finances dictated that I go with Jerry's offering. As many have said, the Beauport needs some tweaking to make it fully serviceable. I began with an excellent tweak first posted by Dan Corey... and then went mental.

Twelve tweaks later, my Beauport is a beauty. I finally ran out of things to hack, alter, add or otherwise allow me to bond with my new tool for painting.

I've created a full write-up of the flurry of tweaking that began with Dan's fix. The spirit of tweaking then drove me on and on. I'll post a summary soon. The full tome will be available as a PDF.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Good Old Walter Foster: How to Begin Painting for FUN

Back long ago, Walter T. Foster published a large number of 10 x 14 inch books -- really, booklets, since most were 32 pages or fewer -- that covered many a subject around how to do art.

Walter is gone. Worse, his art collection appears to be gone, which is really unfortunate, since he lived his latter years in the art colony of Laguna Beach, California, and had a number of really good artists as friends. His collection was made up of works collected from his friends and on numerous trips abroad. A sad loss, a minor repeat of the library of Alexandria.

There is some good news: Walter Foster publishing is still alive and still publishing how-to art books, some of which are top-notch. One of the latter, How to Paint Plein Air Landscapes by Frank Serrano, is on its lugubrious, slow-footed Media Mail way to me.

But, back to the past.

A certain number of Walter's selections were what in our era has come to be known as shovel-ware. Remember when CD-ROMs were first being published for computers? A lot of them were randomly-gathered crap shoveled into then-wondrously huge receptacle of the CD. Walter's shovel-ware can be safely ignored, as it can be a mix of any or all of the following: haphazard, baffling, inadequate, badly dated, or only of historical interest.

But there are a number that are gems. One in particular is truly outstanding: How to Begin Painting for FUN, by [Estelle] Fedelle. (Walter did a lot of messing with fonts to make points, especially in titles. "Easy," "fun," "simplified," "pleasure," and other highly positive adverbs and adjectives are featured in many titles.)

Estelle is remembered with fondness in the posts in the Fedelle discussion area of AskArt: http://www.askart.com/AskART/artists/bulletin.aspx?searchtype=DISCUSS&artist=11084549

Back when eBay was eBay, you could find this book(let) for 49 cents, or maybe 99 cents. Bookfinder.Com goes down only to $5.95, but that includes $4 shipping. Ah - I see one for 99 cents on today's ruined eBay.

I don't know if Estelle's nomenclature rhymed (esTELL fedELL) or whether it was esTELL fedELlee, but whichever, she's a mighty fine teacher. It would take you around a year to do all the exercises in the book, but it would be the equivalent of several years of art school.

Walter's organizational handiwork is usually either confusing, labyrinthine or just non-existent, so the tight progression of Estelle's book has to be her work.

It's a 2-part tome:
I. Drawing
II. Painting

Drawing
"Begin," she says, "with the big shapes." ("Most beginners start this way -- details drawn in too soon," she says. "Do big shapes first!")

She then presents composition of line, composition of values, composition of color, emphasis, and texture. Each has a little example -- and a strict, no-nonsense exercise for you to perform.

Covered are both quick-sketching and perspective -- the latter points to another of Walter's absolute top best books, Perspective Drawing by Ernest Norling, a name that students of perspective still mention in hushed tones.

Painting
After introducing us to the key tools, Estelle puts us through some tough assignments: smooth oil painting, looser landscapes, and yet looser palette knife, all in monochrome.

Finally, you get to color, and boy, are you put through the paces. From the 12 color wheel to color mixing, to color schemes, to which colors dry fastest... all the way through to styles from (again) smooth -- we'd most likely call this an illustrator's style -- to palette knife, limited color -- on to soft-edged or wet-on-wet knife, to realistic, stylized, traditional, non-objective, cubist, abstract, and collage.

Now, you do have to make allowances for dated things. There are a lot of Chinese figurines among the examples. Ethnic subjects, statues and figurines were a big deal from the 1930s through the 70s -- even much earlier, if you include the Impressionist adaptions of Japanese prints. In fact, you'd have to say that only three or four of the example paintings would seem contemporary to us. But, as Estelle would tell you, you aren't here for her art. You're here for your art.

The, the fact is, this thing is an art school jammed into 30 pages.

And if you think the following (the cover) is a simple-to-do color chart, just try to make that many regular rectangles with a palette knife!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Free PDF of Mike Rooney Demo - Interior Scene

You're welcome to download a 16-page PDF report that I crafted.... er, wrote.... er, got down somehow, of Mike Rooney's October, 2010 demo at the Rowley Gallery (Orleans, Cape Cod, Mass.).

Download from here.  <--- the word 'here' contains a link... this isn't very clear in the Foxfire browser.

The snappy title page:

Us, the audience, watching Mike at the gallery:
Mike adding some details:

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

One Fine Workshop


This is a long blog post. It’s about a 3-day workshop I took, 10/25-27, 2010…


It was absolutely outstanding... three years of art school packed into three days.

It’s never that fitting to openly fawn over a new hero, but I’m getting old and it’s time to shed a lifetime of vacillation over who or what to back, by coming out in the open: I have a growing admiration for one of the workshop presenters, North Carolina painter Mike Rooney.

The admiration began almost a year ago with, first, some free art lessons videos at Jerry’s Artarama, a discount art supply house in Raleigh, North Carolina.

In those videos, Mike had relevant and clear things to say in lesson after lesson. About simplifying. About color in general and how to gray out color in shadows. About drawing in preparation for painting. About values, light and dark.

Even about how to pack a book bag for painting outside.

That led to my purchase of my first Rooney DVD, “Impressionist Beachscapes: Topsail Homes,” part of the World of Art DVDs sold by Jerry’s.

I bought it because (a) his little free lessons had revealed a damn fine teacher and (b) I wanted desperately to learn how to paint Sanity’s Anchor, a beach house in Duck, North Carolina, where good family times happened and for many reasons could never happen again.

The DVD turned out to be about color and light, not beach houses, and rather than disappointed, I was astonished. For well over an hour, he took a canvas panel from blank to finished work along an amazing path that went from nearly abstract shapes of pure color down to (relatively) fine detail in realistic colors.

For the first time, time and age were driven home to me. Time might tackle and disable me, long before I could master this process -- see the abstract shapes, see the underlying bright color, work the palette to bring those colors down to a bright, compelling scene.

I recovered a bit and decided to push on. Maybe I could learn some of it, anyway.

After All This, a Chance to See the Man at Work
All this long-distance admiration for Rooney was cemented in person, at a 3-day workshop at the Portsmouth (Rhode Island) Arts Guild (PAG), October 25-27, 2010, “Painting Loose and Colorful.”

Mike taught two days of the class, with Rumford, Rhode Island artist Kathy Weber taking the last day. (A few days later, a Rooney demo in a little gallery in Orleans, Mass., further cemented my hero worship, but that will be another blog post).

The first day, mostly sunny and definitely warm and pleasant, was spent indoors at the Guild’s digs. The PAG home is in what appears to be an 1880-ish one-story building, all dark wood and art-background-gray walls inside, with a largish central room that had been turned into a little gallery.

It all began pleasantly enough, with Mike giving a little preamble that made values (dark, light and in between) absolutely, unmistakeably clear – tempting to say ‘in black and white,’ but the whole purpose was to see not just black or white, but several grays in between.

He gave us a memorable shower analogy: just as a shower head delivers more water to horizontal surfaces and less to oblique or vertical ones, so too the sun bestows more light on the horizontal. 



I found myself hoping that the Chinese kids who assembled these reflectors were paying attention to good UL manufacturing processes, that they hadn’t left some loose wires to short out across the metal....

Mixing 5 Different Shades of Gray
The next step was ours: create shades of gray from white to dark, and put some value studies down on canvas -- or, rather, practice paper.

We seven students, six women and I, burned our little brains – at least I did – trying to come up with five reliably different shades of dark color on our palettes.

The sixth, white, was easy, since we all had a tube of that. The first, darkest dark was easy -- just mix ultramarine blue and orange.

But the others! Add some white... too light... add some color... too dark.... add some white... too light....

A second challenge was to loosen up and squeeze out ample piles of color as raw material. I really learned that one by the end of the day – it being too hard to stop and try one more damn time to come up with five reliably different shades of dark…

Then we burned our brains further by looking at colored blocks and trying to determine were the darkest darks lurked, where the lightest lights, and what in between were the right values. I set my digital camera on B&W and did a bit of cheating:

Meanwhile, squinting into the sunlight outside whenever I came up for air, I inwardly seethed. The Weather Channel was quite clear that tomorrow was going to be foul and on Wednesday, we were going to be inundated with drenching rain. I wanted to do some painting outside with expert guidance.

The Red Plastic Look
At one point, we broke out our bits of red plastic (a tool that, looked through, strips color from scenes and helps reveal values) and subjected some of the PAG work hanging on the walls around us to an on-the-spot value study. There was quite a bit of good stuff.

But, the real work was ours. Below is my setup, complete with one of my monotone block studies. You can see my much-modified, ultra-cheap sketch box in its mostly finished form. The dark color (“black”) was a mix of the ultramarine blue and the orange that you see at 11 and 11:30 o'clock on the palette.
Four o'clock rolled in, it seemed, instantly, and we packed up for the day.

Day Two: Sunny - Forget The Weather Channel
And, of course, Tuesday arrived. There were a few clouds, but the day was in fact mainly filled with warm October New English sunshine and blue sky. And these conditions carried clear through until the last hour of the painting day.

So much for the Weather Channel (and my Monday frustration).

More dark / gray / white studies filled the morning as we lined up along the bay at Portsmouth’s Island Park. (The "island" is Aquidneck, nestled in Narragansett Bay. It hosts down-to-earth Portsmouth on the north; giddy and posh Newport on the south; and Middletown, just north of Newport, neither giddy nor posh).


The sun, by the way, coming up right at us straight across the water, was a darn near unbearable shower head of light, especially glinting off the bay waters.

Luckily, there were cool things to see along the left and right shores: homes and cottages, jetties and docks, good old New England summer-scene backdrops that quietly radiated back to us the necessary really-dark, gray1, gray2, gray3, gray4, and white.

Mike began sketching a scene to our right.

As Mike pounded into us, really-dark, gray1 and gray2 were reserved for shadows. That left white, gray4 and gray3 to be used for things in the light. “Everything in reality is somewhere in between, so your job is to
decide which value out there can be shoehorned into one of the six values available to you,” he said. "Think of it this way -- I'm giving you only six values to work with. It's as though I gave you a hundred dollars for lunch all week. You have to figure out how to spend that money so you can get something every day. Same thing here -- you have to decide just which values to place where, so you can tell things apart and give the story of the painting."

The exercise helped drive home the reality of oil painting: everything depends on intelligent decisions around simplification.

The First 'Aha!'
At some time during this second morning, I had my first moment of aha! It came in the middle of Mike’s demo. Right around here:

As he was putting in the white ultra-highlights (which he held off till the last moments of sketching), it finally dawned on me that good paintings were the result of a carefully orchestrated range of values. Oh, I had known that, in my head, but his finishing highlights for some reason made it all completely clear.

Rooney - Value Comparison, Photo > Sketch
Here’s most of the scene he sketched, taken in black & white:

And here’s Mike’s value sketch (note how he edits out several houses to the left):


The First Promise of Color
The sun held for most of the afternoon as we moved to a fishing spot close to the northern bridge off the island. Below, Mike talks again of values. He’ll do a value sketch, he says, then he’ll begin to lay in color. It’s the first we had seen color in the workshop and it promised to be a big moment.


Below, the value sketch is just about finished:



A few moments later, as the wind was rising, he began to add color. At this point, Mike pointed out that colors have values, but not always in relation to their ability to be discerned by the human eye. That is, you can and should get the value of a color right, but two colors of the same value (say, one blue and one red) can appear distinctly different by the eye.

Note the light blue especially in the following two pictures—also the blue and the orange:

In black and white, many of the values merge together -- add color, and you can keep the right value, but make strong differentiations at the same time.

Enter the Clouds
A few minutes later the wind brought in storm clouds, and the Weather Channel was partially vindicated… but, it never rained until a tiny drizzle began an hour or so after we broke.

Below is my take on the same scene (after Mike – twice – urged me to lighten the sky… I finally took his advice. The dark spots in the sky are not attack helicopters, but bits of the Providence Journal that stuck to the painting on the way home):



Day 3 - Kathy Weber Handles Bad Weather and Jurors Jurying
Kathy Weber’s day, Wednesday, dawned -- or rather didn’t dawn -- with heavy cold drizzle and very dark clouds. But, once again the Weather Channel was knocked off kilter by our New England coastal forces. It was supposed to dump 2 inches of rain, but it never progressed beyond windy, irritating, heavy drizzle and cold.

The darkness of the day is reflected in the blurring in the following photos, where the shutter speed is too slow for either my subject or my hand. I didn’t want to use flash... too disruptive.... but should have.

The weather itself was enough to give Kathy pause – we all were hoping to paint outside again. On top of that, with us incarcerated, several PAG members appeared, intent on judging submitted work for an upcoming major exhibition at the Guild. Kathy soldiered on above the constant voting and sotto voce discussions muttering in the background. I don't know about the others, but it wasn't long before Kathy's presentation and the act of concentration on painting had me tuning the jury out completely.

Palette Expo
First, she gave demos of various types of restricted palettes (minimalist colors, yet capable of many mixed colors from those available).

She began with that of Anders Zorn (1860-1920), consisting of yellow ochre (an earth color), cadmium red light, ivory black (really, a very dark blue), and white. The result is a subdued palette, very reminiscent of the old Dutch masters.

She then demonstrated more traditional limited palettes, culminating in one with a cool yellow, warm yellow, cool red, warm red, cool blue, warm blue and white.Respectively, that's lemon yellow, cad yellow light (or medium cad yellow, more orange-y), alizarin crimson, cad red light, Prussian (or thalo) blue, and ultramarine blue.

The range of colors she drew from these limited hues plus white was amazing:

The Second 'Aha!' - How a Master Makes the Most of Limited Resources
That triggered my second Aha! moment - to see what a master could do with extremely subtle shades and hues, all drawn from minimal resources.

We then sweated out some still life setups designed to exercise us completely on the mixing of more or less subtle color and value shifts -- all from only a few basic tubes of paint. My banana-and-bowl turned out good, for me, though the green bottle ain’t so hot: The next one, cruelly involving a Victorian white pitcher, eluded me (but scroll down to see another student's brilliant take on the pitcher).


The Wrap: Mini-Critiques
We wrapped with a mini-critique. Kathy took the lead and presented a clean balance of praise for the praiseworthy and suggestions for passages that needed more work. I didn’t capture everyone’s candidates - by now it was very dark - but a few representative ones (even though blurry) made it through, and they will tell you how effective the workshop was.



My own critique-able painting was based on photos I took last summer, at one of the few working farms in Framingham, on the Balch land.


An amazing time, with great things learned - thanks Mike and Kathy!

A footnote on Mike's approach
Later, I asked Mike how he managed the eight of us. A couple were accomplished artists, gallery-represented and highly experienced. Others had mastered different media and were experimenting with oils. Some were beginners -- my category.


"If you had a twelve year old and a five year old," he said, "and you wanted them to set the table, you'd expect more out of the twelve year old. You can't expect a five year old to set the table as well as you would a twelve year old.  you'd be happy to see the five yr old put the plate in the right place and get some silverware down.

"But if that's all the twelve year old did, you'd be very disappointed. They're both setting the table but you set your expectations appropriate to the age and/or skill level. It  helps me keep in mind that some aren' going to be able to 'set a very good table' and to try to show them how to, while gently pushing the more experienced to go farther and expect more out of themselves, to get better."

And it worked, thanks to one-on-one time
In part, it all worked because both Mike and Kathy made the rounds as we were laboring to complete exercises. Everyone got one-on-one advice -- and challenges and pushes -- and everyone went away feeling that a whole lot had gone on in three days.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

World's most modified paint box

I own a paint box.

Not a "pochade box" or to keep it strictly Frenchified, 'case de pochade.'

What I have is a paint box. It was so named when it was new and never shall 'pochade' roll from my lips (or, more Frenchy, nose).

If you're not familiar with all this terminology, some time in the late 1990s or early 2000s, painters stopped using "paint boxes" and they stopped painting "outside." From that point, they use a "pochade" (po-SHAAAD) box and paint "en plein air" (enhhh plehhh I-errrrh). Well, let me tell you, Winslow Homer used a paint box, so I'm using one. He also painted outside. Some of the Hudson river school and later did paint "on location," which is a French loan word, but we don't say "ennnh lo-cah-see-OHHHN."

But back to the point.

The box was free from our local Freecycle group and had belonged to the donor's wife's uncle, a commercial artist from the 1930s to 1970 or so. The box is probably from the early 1960s or maybe earlier, and measures a little over 16 inches wide by 14 inches high by 5 1/2 inches deep. A decent size.

It appears to be a commercially-made box, but not mass-produced -- at least, it has generic (and historic) clasps, a cheap (and historic) solid plastic suitcase handle, and standard hold-opens like you used to see on some console record players of the 50s, the really cheap ones.

It has a couple of old Jamaica stickers on it:
The original owner did some modifications himself... replaced the totally inadequate small hinges between top and bottom with a sturdy, full-length piano hinge, and tore out some of the interior dividers (you can see their shadow on the interior shot above).

I began by re-asserting the assembly of the box by driving in extra screws in the frame, sides, top and bottom. It has no fancy joints and it was coming apart. Then I designed some needed alterations.

First, I had to do something about the panel slots. The originals were for 15 1/2 inch wide panels. If that was ever a standard size, it is no longer.

So I made an additional, movable slot dingus and set it up so that I could use it for 8 x 10, 9 x 12, and 12 x 14 panels. After arranging it for 8 x 10, I discovered that I could add slot-y bits to the other side of the divider and it would hold 5 x 7 inch panels on the side opposite as well. (This second set of slots becomes too small once you move the new divider further right to set it up for 9 x 12 or 12 x 14.)

Here's the new slot thingy:
And here are some 8 x 10s and 5 x 7s, stowed:

Fully armed, then, I can pack four 8 x 10 panels and four 5 x 7 panels -- or four 9 x 12 or four 12 x 14. This is plenty for me, because right now I'm good for at most two paintings outside -- 'en plein air.'

So, I'm more than set, until I build up my outside-painting stamina. Or, if you prefer, 'l'endurance pour la peinture à plein air.'

I added a tripod mount to the bottom after I obtained a beautiful old, 1950s, all-metal, REALLY sturdy Whitehall Traveler tripod by Quick-Set, also free from the local Freesource group.
Here, it's set up, but stubby -- haven't extended the tripod legs. The whole thing reaches high enough for me to work standing up, and I'm 6' 3".

You'll see some more additions in that last picture.

I added a palette, made from the bottom of a wine display rack being discarded by a local wine store (it was a very useful neutral gray-green color):
Here it is, stowed. The hole is not for the usual palette-on-the-arm -- it's just a way to lift the thing out of the stowed position in the box.

Then I discovered there was no way to hold panels while being painted. So I added a perfboard panel holder. It's fitted with two pins that slip into mounting points.

And a sophisticated doohickey holds the top steady:
On it, I mounted a removable panel hold-down:
Yes, that's a tongue depressor (AKA "craft stick").

The dinguses on the bottom of the panel holder on which the painting panel rests are nothing more than those beautiful Allen-head cap screws:
(You're looking from the top down toward the bottom here. The one screw out of place here goes into a hole in the top and becomes the handle for pulling the stowed panel out of the box.

The perfboard was -- as you might guess --  free, from the local Freecycle group.

For the interior, I made a custom cardboard box to hold paint tubes, so I could lift the whole thing out, place the tubes on the ground, and, hopefully, not step on them. Inside that is a sophisticated clear plastic divider, which helps keep the tubes separate. It's from a Fig Newton package.

See any trends here?

My total expenditure was around $4 for screws, plus a lot of time. Oh, and $3.99 for the Fig Newtons.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Maine Marsh 1

A recent jaunt to Pemaquid Point and Boothbay Harbor with Kittie's sister and our brother-in-law Dan re-introduced us to some of the best of Maine's boreal landscapes... marshes among them.

Here's a Maine marsh.

First, the underpainting:
 Not much to be seen here - just the darks in purples and greens - lights in yellows and light blues.

Here it is at around 90% done - some tweaks to do:
I'll do a bit with the ocean, and clean up the rocks, upper left, and the evergreen to the right.

The range of colors in marshland is incredible: yellow, yellow-green, dark reds, dark greens, a touch of sand, blues and mauves in the sky and the sky reflections.