Saturday, April 25, 2015

Central California Paintings

I got back last week from the Plein Air Convention and I have 10 paintings to share. Enjoy!

My Palette: Titanium white, cadmium yellow light, cadmium orange, cadmium red light, Crimson Lake (Holbein), dioxazine purple, ultramarine blue, Viridian Hue (Holbein), Yellow Green (Utrecht).

After driving 11 hours from Phoenix, I still had just enough time to get in a quick 6x8 study. I was so used to painting the desert, it took me a painting or two to get back in the ocean groove. 

8x10 in Point Lobos China Cove. I was trying out some soft flats from Princeton (6300 series) for the rocks in the background. Soft flats can give a very geometric look to your painting, and I think they are a great brush to have in my arsenal.

A little overcast in Point Lobos. This was looking east. I was using mostly #2 flat bristles for this one.

Battering waves 6x8
On Tuesday it was really windy at Asilomar, so I decided to paint these two 6x8's from inside the car. 

Rising 6x8

Orange on Green 8x10
In this 8x10 painting I wanted to study the late afternoon light and the way it makes the rocks glow. There were some large cypress trees behind me that shaded parts of the rocks. 

Waves Approaching Carmel 6x8
I parked my easel right on the edge of the waves for this one in Carmel. The sun was so bright I had to paint this one while wearing sunglasses. I would periodically take them off to check the color, then put them back on. 

Pebble Beach in the Distance 8x10
This is from the same day trip to Carmel, painted from a little higher up. Pebble beach golf course is on the cliff in the background. There must have been a memo for everyone to bring their dogs to the beach that day. They were everywhere.

Morning in Big Sur 9x12
On Friday I drove down Highway 1 to Big Sur. This was painted on one of the highway's many pull-offs. Last week's blog post features a step-by-step guide for this painting.

Big Sur Tidepool 6x8
This tidepool had so many bright, vibrant colors. It looked almost tropical. The wind was starting to pick up, so I painted this one from inside the car.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Morning in Big Sur - A Step-By-Step Plein Air Painting

I just returned from a trip to Monterey for the Plein Air Convention. On Friday we took a drive down the coast and I did a couple paintings in Big Sur. I took some progress photos and I'd like to share how I created this painting:

"Morning in Big Sur" Oil on linen, 9x12 inches
I started out by toning my canvas with a little bit of Cadmium Red Light thinned with Gamsol. I like to use a paper towel rather than a brush. 

My palette today consists of: Titanium white, cadmium yellow light, cadmium orange, cadmium red light, crimson lake (Holbein), dioxazine purple, ultramarine blue, cobalt blue, viridian hue (Holbein), yellow green (Utrecht). I use mostly Utrecht, Gamblin, and Holbein paints. 

Here is my starting scene. I really like the strong diagonals here and back-lit trees. I'm going to try and focus on the central cliff. I start out by sketching in the outlines with cadmium red light and a touch of ultramarine blue. 

Once I'm satisfied with the composition sketch, I begin blocking in local colors and shadows. Since the cliffs are mostly back-lit, I'm starting a little darker. The main cliff has a muted purple (made with cadmium red light, ultramarine blue, and a touch of viridian) and the closest cliff has a little bit more green in the mixture (Viridian, cadmium red light, ultramarine blue, and some cadmium orange).

I try to mix a little bit of everything in every color I make, or close to it. I think it creates a more harmonious painting. When I clean my palette, I keep all of the leftover paint and mix it into a grey. This is a handy way of neutralizing colors. You have to be careful not to overdo it though - it's easy for a painting to end up looking chalky. 

I took a few detail shots of the vegetation progress on the cliff. I've got about 3 separate brushes in use at this point. I use my left hand to hold them while I paint with my right. I like to have dark, midtone, and highlight brushes handy, especially while painting vegetation. It's a constant, back and forth between shades of green. The more they overlap, the more unique shapes you can create. 

Here's another shot of vegetation progress. Note the variety of greens now. I like to take my midtone and highlight brushes and vary the greens between marks. Adding cadmium orange can make it more olive, adding crimson can neutralize a green quickly, and adding a touch of purple can really cool it down. The third brush is my shadow brush, and I do the same with my dark colors, making some shadow marks warmer or cooler as needed. 

Variety is the key when painting greens. Keep most of your greens subdued, that way when you can save those high-chroma, intense bursts of color for just the right spots. The more muted the rest of your greens, the more those bursts of color will really sing. 

I've added a little bit of reflected light at this point, using mostly blue and a touch of viridian. Note the variety of green marks in the highlighted areas. 

This shot shows the foreground as well. Remember that yellow is the first color to dissipate in atmospheric perspective, which is why I saved most of my yellow and orange green mixtures for the foreground. Reserving your yellows in this way will really make the foreground jump forward. 

I started working a little bit more on the water. I've found that starting as simple as possible works best when painting water. Taking that into consideration, if you look at my initial block-in, I began with a simple gradient: Lightest at the horizon, darker at the bottom. 

My favorite colors for painting the Pacific Ocean are Viridian (or Phthalo Green) and Crimson. When you mix the two together you can get a great muted blue. Add a little bit more crimson and it shifts to purple. Add a little bit more viridian and it shifts to a cool green. The water gets very green in some areas. Near the horizon it's lighter and more purple. I add some cobalt blue to the mix when painting reflected skylight. 

Variations and subtleties are created with mostly those three colors. I add a little bit of cadmium orange and cadmium red light here and there to neutralize. Keep your pure whites in reserve and use them sparingly. White is your lightest value and you can't get brighter than it! 

In this shot I've added the sky. Remember that the value of the sky changes. You can get a much more convincing sky when you take that into account. It's always lighter and more yellow on the side where the sun is. It's lighter near the horizon, and usually a little green. I used mostly cobalt blue here, with a touch of viridian near the horizon, and a touch of cadmium yellow near the sun/top left. 

Done! I added a few accents here and there, saving the best for last. Signature scratched in with a toothpick.

Thanks for following! Happy painting. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Step-By-Step Plein Air Painting in Phoenix

I recently painted this 8x16 in Papago Park (Right next to the Phoenix Zoo). I'll include some step-by-step shots as well as some commentary. Enjoy!

I'll start off by listing my palette. I will list brand names if that color is specific to that brand.

Cadmium Yellow Light
Cadmium Orange
Cadmium Red Light
Crimson Lake (Holbein)
Dioxazine Violet
Ultramarine Deep (Holbein)
Cobalt Blue (Utrecht)
Viridian Hue (Holbein)
Yellow Green (Utrecht)
Titanium White (Utrecht or Gamblin)

Here is my starting scene. It's around 4:30pm and the sun is still pretty high. Not much warmth to the light yet. 

I begin by toning my canvas with a mixture of cadmium red light and a touch of ultramarine, thinned with Gamsol. A wadded-up paper towel is better than a brush for this, and leaves the surface drier. With a finer bristle brush, I sketch out my composition. That's Camelback Mountain in the distance. It can glow red as the sun goes down, so I really want to contrast that with the dark shape of the shadowed hill. I find that the reflected colors in rocks and mountains can be just as vibrant and change as quickly as clouds in the setting sun. It's a great backup plan for times that a sunset doesn't work out, since we get so many clear skies in Phoenix.

 I like to block in the shadows first. Since the color in the shadows won't be changing much as the sun goes down, it makes sense to tackle them right away. The shape of the shadows, however will change significantly. When painting in the afternoon, shadows will keep getting longer. Keep this in mind when working out the composition. Sometimes I will paint the shadows where I think they will be later as the sun moves down.

Shadows and rough shapes have been blocked in. The light still hasn't changed much (see the next photo), so I'm still focusing more of my attention to the main shadow area. In order to keep the eye from wandering off the right edge of the painting, I'm going to paint a saguaro getting full sun overlapping the mountain's cast shadow. The highlights on the distant mountain are gradated from the edge as well, with brighter, orange highlights bringing the eye back towards the center.

The scene in front of me hasn't changed much in the block-in stage. Colors are getting a little bit more golden but that's about it. I'm using this time to paint reflected sky light on the shadowed rocks/ground/bushes.

Next I started working on the foreground. The dark shapes behind the foreground allow for a nice contrast. I considered edge quality, value, and color intensity. A few bright, sharp edges in the saguaro cacti bring the foreground forward. I softened some of the bushes. 

As the sun gets lower, warm reflected light from the rocks gets stronger. I refined the clump of boulders to the left and added some subtle color shifts in the shadows. Warm light started accenting foliage, and I added a few brighter yellows to the foreground. Once in a while a Palo Verde branch can be angled just right and reflect very bright light from the sun. 

I always save the sky for last, since that changes quickest in an afternoon painting (Opposite when working on a sunrise). Thankfully a few small clouds showed up near the horizon, making the sky a little more interesting. 

And here is the finished painting in the field, signature scratched in the wet paint with a toothpick. 

Thanks for reading, and happy painting!