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:

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

"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.

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.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tahquamenon Falls

Still in Michigan's UP (Upper Peninsula) here -- the beautiful upper Tahquamenon Falls. First, the underpainting:
Basically, this is mainly the values, though you see the green of the forest on the upper far side.

Here's mostly finished:
No, the water isn't brackish. The Tahquamenon flows through thousands of acres of cedar swamp and the cedar root colors the water, making it look like (some say) coffee or (others say) root beer.

There's a story around the viewpoint. I don't believe you can see the falls from this vantage point any more: down on the river back just downstream of the falls. There's a viewing platform on the high bank on the other side, and that's where modern photos are taken.

There's a trail worn into the escarpment on the left. It leads under the falls. And, here's an excerpt of a story I've written (copyright 2010) about one of our family vacation trips to the falls -- by day, we stayed at my grandfather's cabin on the shores of Lake Michigan. If you buy the painting, you get the whole story....

My mother must not have known what we were doing, she (with my little sister) looking at the Upper Tahquamenon Falls from the base of the path well behind us. The whole scene is hazy because it’s now so far back in time, in the mid-1950s, but the whole notion (if I’m remembering right) came from my father.

“What say we walk behind the falls?” he asked. There was a precarious path plainly worn into the escarpment, up along the talus of sand and fallen rock that was perched a slanting forty-five degrees. The talus connected the sheer cliff of sandstone with the coffee-colored water.

It was completely out of character. I must have gaped at him. He might as well have said, “Let’s ditch your mother, go into town, grab some beers and pick up chicks.” Did this happen? Or was it just some sort of dream, me sleeping in the car back to the cabin on Lake Michigan?
Beyond astonishment, I felt a pleasant mix of terror and excitement, seasoned with a little confusion at my father’s sudden boldness. I went because he went. After a while, maybe he kept going because I kept going. It was increasingly clear (as the water noise steadily became louder during our approach) that we were going where we should not be going. We were our own mob mentality, a two-person mob.

Behind the falls was chest-pounding loud, the escarpment vibrating under the flow of coffee-colored water. Today I look at the falls and, seeing that its bones are stratified sandstone, I wonder what we would have done if the falls had decided at that moment to step a yard or two upstream. It does that, now and then: sandstone is hardly the most coherent of rock. But then, we had not made the most coherent of decisions.

Under the falls, the path (forever in spray) was slippery with moss. My own chest was doubly pounding, once from the outside from the sound of the water, once from the inside as my heart dealt with my slipping feet. If I’m remembering this right, I was first along the path and under the falls, so once under, I had to wait until my father decided it was time to leave. It was a long time...

Toward the final Dune Cut

A bit of a hiatus here, but the Dune Cut painting is pretty well finished:
While I did my best to loosen up (the entire painting is done with a brush 1"/25mm wide), this is still tighter than I want. It's almost 19th Century in feel, but the lighting is right and the sand, and the lake. We may never again get to the shores of Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula, but we can go there in imagination (and very often do.)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Beginning of stage 1

The first stage begins the process of tweaking colors toward realistic ones. Here's where I am right now:
The sky is taking form -- but now I wait until it dries a little. Then, I'll lighten the yellow, maybe darken the blue toward the top and try to make the transition from yellow-mauve to blue smoother.

The lake is coming along -- again, a little drying, then a touch of peach color to reflect the sky.

The beach below us and in the distance has its initial laydown -- needs a little darkening.

The dune in front now has dark and light grass underpainting -- next for them is modeling using light and shadow.

The stand of jack pine and scrub has its dark underpainting -- modeling next.

Areas representing sand are next. Everything will depend on this.

Final touches, way into the future, includes the tiny details -- strokes that become blades of grass, tree trunks, splotches of shadow, skims of highlights.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Michigan dune - sketch and underpainting

Mike Rooney, the master I am currently following, sketches in magenta. I've already tried to rebel against this, but it's by far the best sketch color to use on the canvas... warmth flows through all the colors you put on the final surfaces. Guru Mike was right - magenta is the way.

The next step is the first phase: the underpainting. Everything dark is deep purple. Everything in the lightest tones is yellow. Second darkest is blue. Second lightest is orange. Third darkest is green. In this instance, I've gone to grays for the third lightest... the white Michigan sand has a definite gray undertone, and I'm thinking this will help bring that out.
It's a bit hard to see right now, though you can make out the upper sky and the lake. The magenta and yellow will become a light mauve and hint-of-orange late summer sky. Orange and gray in the lower half are sand - we're looking at a dune cut from up on a slight escarpment... you'll see the beach in the distance below... along the right, a little burst of jack pine and scrub, and in the foreground, dune grass.

Full-bore Cape Cod School of Art example

Here's an example of the full-bore Cape Cod School of Art approach, done by the woman who was the last to head up the school and teach the techniques in Provincetown, Lois Griffel. Her book, Painting the Impressionist Landscape, is quite good in its presentation of the laboratory-pure Cape Cod School approach. I have a copy and I've learned a lot from it.

She is a consummate artist. But the exaggeration of color in the 'pure' technique is not for me.

Stepping into a new world

Since I last checked in here, I've begun a transition to a new approach -- for me. A while back, I began to look at the many free art lessons at Jerry's Artarama, a discount art supply in Raliegh, North Carolina. I found myself repeatedly feeling in tune with the lessons by Mike Rooney.

And Mike's work caught my attention. Not to mention his accent. It's almost as though he plays Andy Giffith show tapes at night, just to keep it fresh.

One thing led to another, and I ended up buying one of Mike's DVDs, one presenting Carolina beach houses, since beach houses are among the many things I want to paint. There are some great beach times with my sister and our families that I want to re-live. Bit by bit, things slipped away, and the beach times wound down and finally stopped... but, to quote the bartender in Irma La Douce, that's another story.

Anyway, the method that Mike presents on the DVD is his modification of the Cape Cod School of Art approach. In a nutshell, you exaggerate colors when you start, then cycle through spots in the painting, making colors more and more realistic, until you feel that you've captured the light bits and the effects you want.

The more he worked his way into and across his scene, the more astonished and excited I became. The play of light I was seeing unfold was exactly what I want to capture. I was looking at techniques and methods for achieving what I had - up to now - not been able to articulate or analyze.

Now, most of the students of the Cape Cod School pursue an exaggerated color sense, one that doesn't really appeal to me. To me it seems like a mish-mash of Monet waterlily colors hacked over with colors no eye could possibly discern. No shadow is left without fireworks explosions, no plane of color escapes stabbing brush strokes and violent juxtapositions.

But Mike's adaptation strikes me as the perfect balance between ultra-Impressionistic underpainting that helps make things pop, and realistic, tonal handling of colors that ordinary human beings see.

Find Mike's blog and paintings here. I've even committed to an actual, real live course with Mike in October, in Rhode Island, one that cost money. And, if I can sell enough work, I'll travel down to reunite with my Chapel Hill-based sister in November, and take one or two more actual, real courses at Art in the Carolinas in Raleigh, organized by people at Jerry's Artarama.

I'll be posting more shortly. I plan to present the stages in my own, beginner's take of the Rooney/Cod approach to a scene. The scene you'll follow is one from my adolescence, when my family vacationed at my grandfather's cabin on Lake Michigan in the Upper Peninsula - dunes (complete with dune cut) leading to the water on a late summer's afternoon.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Family Update: Welcome, Abigail... then, T.A.C. Colenbrander - an excursion

A new family member... a new grandchild
Abigail Eileen Box, our third grandkid, was born last Monday. Tiny, Beautiful. Here's a picture of her. In it, 2+ year old grand-twin Elly has just had her hand grasped for the first time by Gail, astonishing and pleasing Elly. Gail is being held by Grandma. Meanwhile, grand-twin Ben looks into the camera and says, "Cheese!" And father Brian is, like me (taking the pic) highly amused.
 Gail is of course beautiful:

A new painting on a design by T.A.C. Colenbrander
Colenbrander 1, 8 x 10 in. (20.3 x 25.4 cm), stretched canvas Available in my Etsy store. 

I've just finished a little 8 x 10 based on an 1890 (or so) wall charger from the pioneering Dutch art pottery firm, Haagsche Rozenburg Plateelbakkerij (Rozenburg Pottery in the Hague). The design, by Theodoor A.C. Colenbrander, is based in part on Javanese batik designs, in part on Japanese designs. The size of the original isn't given in my source, but it's likely at least 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter.

To extend beyond the round space of the wall plate to the rectangular canvas, I picked up some motifs and treated them in a batik manner, transposing and flipping them. I took the project on for two reasons - the design is magnificent, and I needed greatly to practice making brushes go where I want. There are lots of places to go in this design, and lots of sweeps, curves and jags - hence, plenty of practice.

If the following sounds as though I'm endangering my arm by patting myself vigorously on the back, remember that the design isn't mine. T.A.C. was a genius. Trained as an architect, he became friends with one of the founders of the Rozenburg Pottery, and that friend hired T.A.C. as artistic director, without a lot of previous work to show his metier. He eventually was separated from Rozenburg and drifted to Gouda, where he worked at several Gouda Potteries with more or less success (more artistic success, less people success) until he died in his late 80s.

The Gouda Potteries, really a group of potteries large and small formed around the Dutch town, came into being after Rozenburg. They primarily co-opted Rozenburg designs at first, hiring away designers and painters from the originator. Later, each developed its own patois or dialect and many of the resulting designs are truly wonderful. These companies produced wares from 1900 to around 1935 that are (a) commanding huge prices today and (b) being counterfeited and sold on eBay to record numbers of suckers. For the real thing, here's the best site on Gouda Pottery that I've found:

Anyway, my work. Or, rather, Colenbrander's work.

At 20 feet, it's a marvelous abstract color study, golds, yellows, greens, blues playing across a grand, dancing composition.

At 10 feet, the plate form suddenly emerges, tightening and resolving the composition. The colors take on new life. But it's still an abstract, even when you know that...

At 6 feet, the incredible natural forms in the design suddenly jump out at you... iris and (?) orchids, a pond, tendrils and leaves, maybe even a tulip or two. At this point, it's clear that the design... well, it's hard to pinpoint who inspired what. T.A.C.'s work is definitely what we now call Art Nouveau (and The Netherlands call Jugendstil), but he was ahead of the curve by at least 10 years. It has Arts and Crafts elements. And some of his designs (not this one) have elements that 20 years later would be called Art Deco.

Close up, you see my brush work, and that's less rewarding. But, hey, the original has brush problems as well.

A sidelight from my past: the plates that T.A.C. designed for Rozenburg were hand-thrown. Most other Rozenburg and (as I understand, anyway) all Gouda pottery was slip-cast in molds. Interestingly, the process of throwing a plate on the potter's wheel is essentially different from, say, a vase or a bowl. Clay just doesn't want to make a vase or a bowl, so you have to control with your right hand while you shape with your left. In contrast, clay moves willingly into a plate... at first. As you finish the plate, you have to be really careful of the margin, the outer edge. The slightest over-working will cause it to slump and the plate is wrecked - after all, it's a horizontal slice hanging out there with no support. So, the process combines easy opening with a frantic, you-gotta-be-quick-and-confident moment at the end.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Oil Painting - Manoir Windows

Oil Painting - Manoir Windows
8 x 10 in. (20.3 x 25.4 cm), stretched canvas Available in my Etsy store. 
Could be France, could be England, could even be 19th C. America.

But it's France, Annecy to be exact. The windows (especially the reflected sky and foliage) and much of the flowers are based on a glorious photo by Michele*mp, found here. Note the many deserved accolades her photo has received.

Thanks, Michele!

The stone window frame is from a detail in an etching by Samuel Chamberlain from around 1924.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Lisieux scene

Lisieux scene
Unframed. Available in my Etsy store.
Oil painting based on a 1925 etching by Samuel Chamberlain; appears as plate 17, "Old Houses in Lisieux" in The Prints of Samuel Chamberlain

Couldn't help adding the window plants.

6 in wide x 12 in. high (15.25 x 30.5 cm) gallery-wrapped canvas.

Lisieux took heavy damage in World War II -- I don't know if these old houses in Chamberlain's etching still exist. Some ancient structures were restored after the war; more were replaced by 1950s French modern, a style that is not a high point in architectural history. Even if restored, there is almost no way to mimic the twists, sags, bends and warps that happened as the original green oak timbers dried and shifted.

Chamberlain's print, of course, is black and white; I've added colors that are found today.