Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Step-by-step Sedona Plein Air Painting

Hello again. My fiance and I were recently in Sedona looking at wedding venues, and I was able to sneak away for just long enough to do a painting. I took progress photos, and I'll include some commentary about how I painted it.

This painting is on a 9x12 linen panel, which I made. I also created a tutorial blog post about how to make them, which you can find here.

Before we begin, here is my palette: Titanium white, cadmium yellow light, cadmium orange, cadmium red light, alizarin crimson, dioxazine violet, ultramarine blue, viridian hue (Holbein brand)

Here's my view of Cathedral Rock from the side. I was set up on a ledge behind a parking garage. Notice the great view of a dumpster. 

There were lots of clouds, and a monsoon storm was coming in from the east (left side of the photo). I want to contrast the dark blue clouds against the warm orange light from the late afternoon sun. 

First, I began by blocking in the general dark shapes. Since these rocks are edge-lit, most of them will be in shadow. For the rocks I'm using a base mixture of ultramarine blue and cadmium red light. I'll add touches of crimson or violet where I want it to be warmer, and touches of viridian where I want it to be cooler. 

I found it's important to save your darkest accents for later. Begin with a shadow block-in that's a little bit lighter than you think you need. Those dark accents later will make up for it. If you make it too dark to begin with, your shadows will really look dark. 

The base mixture for the green area is mostly ultramarine blue and cadmium orange. This makes a very grey mixture. I'll add some cadmium yellow when I want it a bit warmer, and some viridian hue when I want it a bit cooler. 

Greens are tricky to begin with, and especially in Sedona. The red of the rocks makes greys look green by comparison, so it can be very easy to overdo it. My approach for greens is to start with a much lower chroma green than you need, and to add "punches" of more vibrant green later. 

Now for some lighter, more opaque paint. For the sunlit rock faces, I'm using a mixture of mostly cadmium orange, cadmium red light, and white. I'll add the compliments as needed to neutralize (ultramarine and viridian). I generally avoid earth tones such as burnt sienna, and prefer to mix my own neutrals. The great thing about having a very chromatic palette is that a direct complement is always at hand. 

There is a lot of desert sage in Sedona, which has a chalky blue tint. If you squint when looking at the tree line, you can make out the abstract shapes. I scrubbed in some of these shapes at the bottom. Make them bigger than you think they need to be, because you can always put trees over them later. 

I also took a pale blue-violet and painted some horizontal marks in the shadowed area. A lot of the rocks here have lighter-colored bands. I like to exaggerate these a little bit, which helps give the rocks more structure. 

I'm hopping all over the painting at this point. Rather than work one area to completion at a time, I like to finish the entire painting all at once. I keep 4 or 5 brushes in my left hand at a time, each dedicated to a different color. 

At this stage I'm building up the thickness of most areas, going back with generous amounts of thick paint. I mix with my brushes on my palette, which forces me to only mix small amounts of color at a time. After one or two brushstrokes I have to grab paint again, and each time I mix a color it is slightly different than the previous. I feel that this adds more variety to the painting. 

Working back and forth with a pale grey-blue and a light yellow-peach, I added some texture to the foreground. The sage and rock debris form some great abstract patterns and textures near the base of the mountains. I like to add some stray trees here and there too, though I try to simplify things by keeping most of the trees in "clusters". 

A highlight was added to the light-colored bands, adding in a touch of cadmium yellow to the mix. I'm trying to use more yellow and orange in the highlight mixtures than in the shadow mixtures, which will give the light a much warmer appearance. 

I didn't like the highlight that I started in the bottom right corner, so I decided to cover it up with a shadow. The tree clusters are getting some thicker paint. I'm using more blue in the shadowed areas, and more orange and a touch of yellow in the light areas. I'm still avoiding really bright greens at this stage. 

"It's much easier to brighten up a dull green than to dull down a bright green"

More accents are coming in at this stage. Up until this point i'm using mostly larger, flat brushes, #4's and #6's. I'm using a couple #2's now to place these accents. The accents I'm using are mostly value-related accents (very dark or very light marks) or chroma-related accents (very bright or very grey marks).

Saving the sky for last (since that changes the quickest). I wanted to contrast the orange/red rocks with a dark, cool sky, so I "moved" a couple of the clouds to make that happen. 

A few more final accents and the painting is all done. Thanks for reading! 

Friday, July 24, 2015

How to Make Simple Floater Frames for your Plein Air Paintings

Do you have a lot of Plein Air paintings in your studio, and you want to give them nice frames on a budget? Well, look no further. Here is how I make some simple, inexpensive floater frames for my paintings. 


-1x2 Select Pine, Oak or Poplar (I think the texture of poplar is best if you are painting the frame and plan on doing an antique finish. Pine or oak looks better if you are staining and varnishing). Since this can be expensive at about $1 per board foot, we want to use this for the outside only. 
-1x2 Cheap pine (This will go on the inside of the frame.  I paid $.99 for each 8ft piece). Look at the wood edge-on and make sure you get the straightest pieces you can find. 
-Wood Glue
-E6000 Glue
-Paint or stain/varnish
-D-Ring hangers
-Hanging wire

-Measuring tape
-C-Clamps or bar clamps
-Band clamps 
-Miter Saw or table saw
-Staple Gun

Start with 1x2 pieces of cheap pine (left) and your nicer wood, in this case "Select pine" (right)

Lay the nice piece face-down on your work table. The side that faces down is going to be the outside of the frame, so choose the best looking side. Apply wood glue to the cheap piece of pine, and place it on the top of the nice wood. 

Use a ruler to set the depth. Your painting is going to rest on this piece of wood, so keep in mind where the front of the painting will end up. I like to have my paintings inset 1/8 inch. Since this painting is on a panel that's about 1/4 inch, I'm going to set the depth at 3/8 inch. 

Once you measure the correct depth, use a c-clamp or a bar clamp to brace the pieces together while the glue dries. I like to measure the depth and put a clamp every foot or so. The more clamps, the straighter it will be.

Use a pen to mark the back side of the molding. 

Using a miter saw, cut a 45 degree angle off the end.

Next, take your painting and set it 1/8" from the edge. Always measure off the actual painting to ensure accuracy. 

Make a mark on the wood 1/8" from the other edge of the painting, and then use your saw to cut it. I like to cut the piece a little bit bigger than it should be, and then shave away small slices at a time until it is just the right size. 

Measure it up against the painting. It should have about 1/8" extra on either side. 

Use the backside of this first piece to measure off the opposite side of the frame. The most important thing now is to make sure each piece is exactly the same length as the opposite side.

Once again, cut the piece a tiny bit bigger than you need it, and then use the saw to shave off thin slices, constantly comparing it back to the first piece. We're splitting hairs here... it needs to be perfect! The slightest difference in length will result in noticeable gaps in the corners.

Repeat these steps for the other dimension of the painting. 

Test-fit your pieces together and make sure they join up right. Set up a band clamp around your frame, but don't tighten it yet. 

Remember the mark you made on the back side of the molding? Make sure it is facing down on each piece! 

Place glue on all the edges to be joined. Tighten the band clamp. As you tighten it, check how the corners are lining up. Make adjustments as you need to, and then tighten the clamp the rest of the way.

With the clamp tightened, flip the frame over. Put a couple staples in each corner. You may notice that the back-side may have some slight gaps. That's ok, since we won't see it. We only really need to make sure the front and the edges line up and look as clean as possible.

Flip it back over and put the painting in. Perfect fit! There is a 1/8" gap all the way around. This is where the "floater" name comes from. 

Leave the frame to dry overnight, then give them a good sanding in the morning. I like using a palm/rotary sander. Pay attention to the corners and edges.

If you have any gaps where the pieces join, you can fill them in with wood filler. Use plenty. Let it dry overnight.

Once this is dry, use a palm sander again and sand until it is flush.  

Now for painting. For my large frames, I like to use stain and satin polyurethane varnish. For my smaller frames, I came up with an antiqued gold look.

Begin by spraying the frames with a bright gold. It's too bright on its own, so we need to tarnish it a bit...

Brush on some burnt sienna ink. Let it soak momentarily, and then smear/dab with a paper towel. Use a couple coats if you want the frame to look more tarnished.You could use oil paint, wood stain, or just about anything else. Tint the gold in a way that would compliment your paintings.

Using some black acrylic, paint the inside edge of the frame. You can paint the edge of your panel black too if you want. 

Use a flexible, silicon type glue to affix the painting to the frame. I like E6000. Put a pea-sized amount in each corner, and then gently place the painting on top.

Center the panel. You can use pieces of cardboard as shims: place between the frame and panel edge while the glue sets. Let it dry overnight.

When the glue is dry, put on some D-Rings and hanging wire.

Bigger Frames:

I like to use 1x3 planks for any paintings that are on stretched canvas. Set the depth the same way as the smaller frames. So, the frame for a 1 1/2" canvas would have a depth of 1 5/8". On a larger piece, I like to bump up the edge gap to 1/4". 

Also, when I'm using 1x3" planks, I like to have something more than just glue holding them together. I use pocket-hole screws when building the molding. 

When you are attaching the stretched canvas to the frame, use pieces of cardboard as spacers/shims to hold in the painting. Flip it over, and use screws to attach the frame. If you don't use the cardboard spacers the painting can get off-centered. 

Well, that's how I make frames. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Happy painting!