Process - Building Form

Today I’m starting to refine and redefine the value shapes. At the moment there are three values—the dark upright trees, the light sky, and the flat land. These will develop into many values as each form is built but will retain their original character. Now the ground is lighter and flattening out because it receives the most light. The uprights will always be the darkest value because they receive the least light, as does the bottom of the grasses. I want to remember to retain the water that can be seen in the foreground of the working photo, so I’ve put it in—it’s another “flat,” so it will receive more skylight and be lighter than the upright grasses around it.
At this point in the painting the main forms are also being built, with special attention to the negative shapes created. It’s a push-pull process. I’ve cut in around the main palm, reshaped it, and cut in again. The pines have been shaped and reshaped. For me this part is a building process –build up, reassess, tear down, build up again. I’m also very much aware of the edges of the canvas and how each of them contributes to pushing the painting into shape. And as the sky becomes yellower, the painting starts to lean in the direction of the original color stratagy.


Materials - Brushes

I’ve been putting off talking about brushes because I treat mine so badly. Hog Bristle is my brush of choice, and I often scrub with them and use them until they’ve been worn down into a whole new shape!

Brushes come in many sizes and types. Both synthetic and natural bristle brushes are great for acrylic, and each has its advantages. Natural bristle brushes are best for soft edges and drybrush, and synthetics hold a lot of paint and generally make harder edges. I personally like brights, a rather square brush with shorter bristles because they’re a little stiffer than longer bristled flats, great for scrubbing, but as Emil Gruppe would say, “why pay for less, since you’ll eventually wear it down anyway!”
As you become familiar with different brushes you will probably only use only a few favorites most of the time. But for some people, it’s almost like shoes and you can never have enough. If you do collect a few of each kind and you will occasionally find uses for most of them. Before ordering brushes, go to an art supply store and hold and feel a number of brushes to see what feels best in your hand. If you are just staring out, you can get by with a few flats and filberts, and a rigger, or thin, pointed brush for signing paintings. A couple of rounds are good, too, since they are versatile and very responsive to ary and hand movements in the early stages of a painting.

Start your block-out with the largest brush you can and work over the whole canvas. You can decrease in brush size as the painting progresses. It’s always a mistake to get tied up nitty-gritty small brush details before you have developed the underlying character of the painting.


Process - Color Strategy, Responsibility of the Artist

From this point on in the painting process, the responsibility of the artist is to the CANVAS, and will, hopefully, transcend the photograph. The photo has done its part by reminding us of the original idea for the painting and by providing the details of the scene that caught our attention. What develops on the canvas must go beyond the photo, bringing the spirit of both the place and the artist into the work. It may be referred to again for additional informational details, but should not be relied upon for interpretation.

I’ll now begin to develop a color strategy for the painting. My color strategy is intuitive rather than from formulas, but comes from a great deal of background study and interest in color. For this painting I know I’d like to push the pines into the background with with soft blue greens and work the whole painting into a more neutral vein. Working neutral is a struggle, but I love the results. So I’ve worked up a “color sheet” to keep me on track and will keep that paper at the easel to help me. Still, I will often throw my original plans to the wind when work on the canvas takes me in a different direction.

A small Masterson’s palette holds my color supply, and aluminum pie places will be used for mixing. This way the mix can be held right up to the canvas to check how the color will work with the whole. I never mix up too much of one color, and almost no paint goes on without being mixed up a little.

For this painting my palette will consist of the following colors: Liquitex’s Quinacridone crimson, Yellow Azo, Naples Yellow, Pyrrole Orange (a new favorite, it’s to soft) Aqua, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Green Gold, Light Portrait Pink, Burnt Umber and Golden’s Quinacridone gold, titanium white and parchment.


Process -Reviewing the compositon, building forms

You can see that the light sky is beginning to take shape, and the ground is flattening out. Because my process is a building one, the forms will be painted over and over pushing them into each other and around each other. By painting the sky, the edges of the trees are obliterated, and by repainting the trees the sky and trees will be woven together back and forth until each finds it place on the canvas. The same will happen with the undergrowth and grasses, yet unseen. Fortunately in acrylics this is easy to do, where in oils you'd be making mud.
Here composition is still being defined and strengthened and a dark barely seen in the photograph will help to carry your eye from the foreground into the painting. At this stage I work with a dirty brush, almost dry brush and haven't yet begun to form a color strategy for this painting.


Process - Painting from Photographs

Whether still life, portraiture or landscape, an artist needs to view a live version their subject in order to know it fully. A landscape painter must spent time outside to have the secrets of the land revealed. The landscape has many personalities, changes very quickly and reveals its secrets slowly. It takes patience and perception to see what she has to offer.

In the past I've spent many hours in the Everglades and in areas around Marco Island painting. I like responding directly to the landscape. My usually practice is to "block out" the painting outside, but take it back to the studio for further interpretation. Sometimes, however, it's necessary to work from photographs. This is fine as long as you took the photograph yourself and understand a photographs limitations. It's not a good idea to use someone else's photograph for many reasons, but that's a subject for another day! Photographs flatten the scene, and reduce the value range, so you'll have to make up for this in the painting.

I'm going to use the above photograph to start a new studio painting. I want the painting to be about the palm tree, so I'm going to shorten and push back the surrounding pines. There's a nice dark in the front that I'll carry through to the back, and some palmetto bushes to set off the palm. The light sky makes a nice negative coming into the foliage. Let's get started!
First mix up a nice dark use it to block out everything but the lightest portions of the composition. I use a mix of the warm red and blue on my palette, like quinacridone crimson and ultramarine blue. If it's too purple I'll mix in a little brown or green to keep it neutral. Using a fairly dry brush I scrub the shape of the dark trees and bushes into the dark canvas. You can barely see the forms, but that's OK. After I'm satisfied with the dark pattern, I very roughly block out the light sky. This is only the first stage, and the painting will be completed by many layers of paint as the forms are built.
Now it's time for a value check. This painting will be mostly darkish midtones, with a smaller portion being light sky and the smallest portion being the darkest darks. I'll take a break if it's going well at this point.


Materials - Preparing Acrylic Supports

Materials – Supports

First decide if you will be using the acrylic paints as water colors, as oil paints, or a mixed media. Acrylic can be used on, and will stick to most anything that’s not oily. If you plan on using acrylics as a water media, paper, or the new watercolor canvas will be your best support and no preparation is needed. If you will be acrylics in a manner similar to oil paints, you can choose canvas or linen, either stretched or on board. Mixed Media could go either way, only making sure that the support will be strong enough to hold any materials and additives you intend to apply.

We’ll focus on using acrylics in a manner similar to oil paints. I most often use professionally stretched canvas since I scrub the paint into the canvas. The professionally stretched canvases are tighter than I can do at home. Linen’s wonderful, but find it stretches too much when I get scrubbing unless I’m using it adhered to a board background. Canvas on board is a favorite, too.

Prepared canvas and linen support are available from a wide range of art supply stores and on the Internet. There are also some terrific small manufacturers of prepared supports. Check out what’s available at http://www.paintonthis.com/ and http://www.dailypaintingpanels.blogspot.com/. These panels come in a variety of sizes and are well suited for small, daily work, while larger, braced canvases may be better for larger studio work.

Once you have decided on your support, you may need to prepare it. If it has at least two coats of acrylic gesso, you may not need to do anything else. However it if has only one coat, or you can see through the canvas when you hold it up to a window, you may want to add another coat or two of acrylic gesso before you begin. This will thoroughly seal the canvas and prepare the surface for the paint.

Start with prepared acrylic gesso, thinned with a little water. It should be about the consistence of a cream soup. The gesso mix should be thin enough to spread easily without dripping. You can apply the paint using a house painting brush. Let the canvas dry completely between coats, and put the second coat on going in the opposite direction. If you are doing very fine work you can sand between each coat, but this is a person preference. I usually order and prepare a number of canvases at a time so there’s always one prepared when I’m ready to paint.

Once the canvas is prepared, you can begin to paint. Some artists like to work on white canvas and others prefer to tone the canvas first. Some us the complementary color of the expected painting, which sets up an immediate vibration. Some like to start with a middle value, and work both to the lights and the darks. My final preparation is to paint the canvas a warm dark, usually purplish. It’s so non-threatening to work on a dark background, and I love to see the painting coming into the light.


Materials - Acrylic Paints

Focus – Materials – Acrylic Paints

One of the first things to decide when starting a painting is what medium to use.
The choice for me is most often acrylics, and that’s what we’ll focus on in this blog.

Acrylics are made of pigment suspended in a plastic polymer. Sometimes filler is added to the mix, and sometimes the pigment is dispersed too thinly in the polymer. Generally, pigment drives the cost, and you get what you pay for. Often cheaper paints are often not worth the cost.

Choose a reputable manufacturer Even then, different dye lots from the same manufacturer may perform slightly differently, as will the same color name in different brands. Older acrylics will often develope a "sticky" feel.

I use mostly Liquitex acrylics. The manufacturer gives so much useful information on the label, and the larger, easy-off cap and easy to squeeze tube are a bonus. Liquitex acrylics are easily available and can be purchase through most art supply websites and most art supply stores. The Liquitex website contains a wealth of information about their product. Golden is another excellent brand. Their website is user friendly, tons of information, and they are serious about customer satisfaction. There is always a few tubes of Golden in my paint box.

There’s a lot of chemistry involved in producing quality products and each manufacturer has developed a line of products that work well together, ensuring good archival quality. Still, the lure of color is very strong, and most artists will pick up a beautiful tube of paint or try a new product regardless of brand. Use common sense when mixing brands.


Painting of Everglades "Warming in Sunshine"

Warming In Sunshine
This is the start of a new blog for the larger paintings that I do in my studio on Marco Island, Warming in Sunshine is one of the completed paintings done this summer in preparation for my show at the Marco Center for the Arts Wine and Art as Featured Artist for August. The show will hang for the rest of the month, and then unsold paintings will come back to the studio and wait to be adopted into a new home.