Thursday, August 9, 2012

Summer Studio Work

Heading for the Light, 12 x 16, oils.
After four back-to-back plein air events I retreated to the studio and it's beckoning climate control. Just like last year, I found that months of painting from life had improved my eye for color, values and brushwork when applied to studio work. I started by going over photos and studies from the last six months. I might spend a whole day playing with photos, re-cropping them and making notes to simplify or move elements. I was also eager to try a new canvas size: 12 x16. It is now my favorite. It's strengths are that it is large enough to take ambitious subjects and have impact on a wall but small enough to finish while the entire painting is still wet. This gorgeous effect is so prized that it has a couple of fancy names: Alla Prima (Italian) and Premier Cru (French.)

The two pieces I completed could not be more different. "Heading for the Light" was based on photos taken on a cold, January hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was one of the most spectacular scenes I have witnessed with my own eyes. I love how Hallett Peak is casting such a defined shadow on Flattop Mountain. "Darkness on the Edge of Town" is from Van Buren, Arkansas at the end of the hottest day of the year. It had hit 114˚F that afternoon and was still in the nineties when I did a plein air study of the side street. The two different colored street lights are the obvious center of interest but what drew me to the scene was the train overpass in the shadows. The final piece is based on the study and photos taken at the time.

Darkness on the Edge of Town, 12 x 16, oils.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Extreme Painting: Arkansas in July

I paint on a lot of cliffs. At least this one has a rail.
With temperatures going above 100˚F everyday, painting outdoors is not a good idea. Artist Jason Sacran and I tried to create a plan that would be safe and bearable. We would get up early and try to do a painting before the heat really kicked in. We'd spend the afternoons in the studio and end each day with a sunset or nocturne. The first morning worked like a charm. We drove to the top of Mount Magazine, the highest summit between the Appalachians and the Rockies. It was at least twenty degrees cooler on top than down on the plains. With a slight breeze, I was actually comfortable.

Cameron Bluffs, 6 x 12, oils.
That afternoon we headed for the studio where Jason finished up some in-progress paintings and I started my first self-portrait. The plan of attack was to paint just like doing a landscape, blocking in the major shapes and then breaking them into smaller ones and saving a few details for last. It was great having a portrait specialist around for feedback.

Fifty-Two, 11 x 14, oils.
For the evening we went back up Mount Magazine to paint the sunset. I ended up chasing the light and creating a piece that I will not post here. Hey, they aren't all winners. The most exciting moment was coming upon what we believe was a young mountain lion. We were within 50 ft. and got a good look at it. It was larger than a German Shepherd, had short hair, no stripes and roundish ears. The last three details don't match the description of the more common bobcat.

A Bit Drafty, 6 x 12, oils.
We had a stream in mind to paint the next morning but found it completely dried up and ended up painting at an old farmhouse near the studio. Jason painted Mount Magazine with an old fence line in the foreground. The composition required standing in full sun and Jason had to quit after only 45 minutes. He still pulled off a nice piece. I chose to set up in a shady spot and paint an old barn. I loved the yellow green light pouring through all the cracks. Still, it felt dangerously hot and when we got back to the studio, his outdoor thermometer read 105˚F in the shade. It would eventually reach 113˚F. We opted for a nocturne that evening but got caught in a thunderstorm after about 20 minutes of painting. The rain felt great and was desperately needed.

I'd love to paint in the Arkansas River Valley again but next time let's make it Fall or Spring.