Sunday, December 3, 2017

Living on the Edge - Why Edge Work is an Important Component in Creating Successful Painting

"7th Street Reflection" oil on 16" x 20" panel.

Placing two vastly different colors side by side can be intimidating. Questions run through your mind. Will these colors work together? Are they the right temperature? Is the value light or dark enough?

With all these questions running through your mind you begin to carefully fill in the empty space barely allowing one color to touch it's neighboring color. Then you evaluate and adjust and continue questioning your decisions.

You can get so caught up in this process that it's easy to completely forget about edges. As a result, the painting looks labored over, lacking life, a focal point, expression and joy (yeah, I know I said joy which sounds all warm and fuzzy, but it's true).

What should you do at this point? Well, if you're happy with how it looks then leave it alone, it is your painting after all.

If you're not satisfied however, then I'd suggest softening or breaking up your edges that aren't in a focal area. Try softening colors that are side by side near the edges of your canvas first, it will be less intimidating. Then move inward closer to your focal point. Keep some hard edges in your focal area because they draw the eye to them. When you're done softening, take a look at the overall painting and put back any hard edges you feel the painting needs that you may have removed.

Clouds, reflections, distant mountains and anything in the distance, can all benefit from soft or broken edges. If you're feeling really daring, see how far you can take it and break up most of the edges, you might be surprised at how much you can get away with.

Now go, paint on the edge!

Monday, May 29, 2017

Tip Tuesday - Rolling in Mud

"Trucking" Oil on 6.5" x 9" Arches Oil Paper.

The Last Tip Tuesday's post was about how to avoid muddying a paint mixture. Today I'll cover how to muddy a paint mixture and why you would want to do that.

Attention grabbing, look-at-me color certainly has it's place in a painting but, when every hue demands equal attention, it can feel like you're staring into the sun and must look away quickly to avoid having an after image of the painting imprinted on the inside of your eyelids.

If you're a color junkie, and I speak from experience here, then I highly suggest you explore what muddy color can do to enhance your painting.

In a previous post I covered why you shouldn't use black to darken your paint mixtures and that same lesson applies when muddying a color. Black will certainly tone down that bold overly-brilliant hue but, you run the risk of all your grayed down mixtures appearing to have the same color cast which, in turn, will flatten out any illusion of depth you've worked so hard to create.

Instead, try mixing a complimentary color into the paint mixture you're trying to gray down. For example, if you've got a brilliant green tone it down with a touch of red, for purple add yellow and for orange add blue and vice versa. You will end up with a less vibrant and saturated hue that still maintains some color integrity.

Which reds, yellows, blues etc. should you use? That all depends on your palette, your subject and what you're trying to achieve. I'll cover pieces of this in future posts because honestly, this topic could easily be a whole class on color theory.

Now that you know how to do it, why on earth would you want to gray down all that scrumptious color? Mud, or gray, when used correctly, can make more pure hues in your painting appear very colorful and vibrant. Additionally, when used strategically and in the correct value, mud can enhance your focal point when used in the periphery.

Color gets all the glory, but, value does all the work in a painting. Embrace the mud my friends and paint on!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Tip Tuesday - Slinging Mud

"Colorful Vineyard" Oil on 8" x 8" panel. Sold.

The last 3 Tip Tuesday's have been about mixing paint and in keeping with that same theme today I'll talk about muddy color.

Everyone's experienced this - it's a beautiful day, life is good because you're painting after all, what could possibly go wrong? You've got a solid composition, a lovely subject and your first few paint colors are really working. Then it happens, there is that one tricky color. You know, that elusive one that you just can't seem to nail down? You started off pretty good, two colors got you in the ballpark so you added a third and you suspect that's where you might have made a wrong turn. You think, maybe if you added a fourth color you could save that precious pile of paint and actually apply it to your canvas?

Bam! Mud. Gray, nondescript, boring old mud. You can't use it anywhere! And what's worse, you now have a big pile of it. At this point, I see a lot of students try one more time to save the pile by adding yet another color.

Let it go. Move on. Like a toxic relationship, dump it because if you press on and use the mud it will pollute the whole painting.

Now, I'm not saying there aren't any uses for mud, there are a million and plenty of painters use it to their advantage. If you're wrestling with mud however (now there's a funny mental image), try to keep your paint mixtures simple. Stick to using 2-3 colors only (plus white when necessary). Any more colors than that and you run the risk of muddying the mixture.

Now that I've covered how to avoid mud, in the next post I'll talk about how to effectively muddy a color and why you would want to do that.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tip Tuesday - Back to Black

"Night Ride" Oil on 9" x 12" Arches Oil Paper. Sold.

Last Tip Tuesday I talked about how to break the white addiction, in all fairness this week I'm going back to black, as Amy Winehouse might say.
Do your darks look lifeless? When creating a shadow color are you adding black to darken the value? Black can kill the hue in your paint mixtures. Which is fine if that's a deliberate choice, but if you're simply looking to darken a color try using something besides black such as Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Dioxizine Purple, Pthalo Blue or a combination of these.

Black is a color. This might seem like and obvious statement but black is often misused and like a rebellious child, it is often misunderstood.

Unless you're using a truly neutral black, like Gambin's Chromatic black, then you should treat black as you would any other color on your palette. First figure out which way your black leans, is it warm or cool? For example, Mars black tints warmer than Ivory black. This is important if you want to be able to figure out where and when to use it.

Mars black is always on my palette. As a landscape painter I find it incredibly useful when mixing greens. It's a good shortcut to get to gray quickly, however, I usually add additional colors to it because gray in a landscape is rarely neutral.

While it's always on my palette, it is one of the few colors I feel is optional. So if you struggle with lifeless dark values or grays, try adding other colors to it or leave it off your palette until you have more experience mixing color.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tip Tuesday - Do Your Paintings Look Chalky?

"Garden Path" Oil on 8" x 6" panel

Call it what you like - titanium, flake, zinc, radiant - it's a paint tube that every artist shudders at the thought of painting without. It's addictive, need to lighten a color? Add white. Not light enough? Add just a bit more. Still not quite capturing that light? Well, you get the idea.

White can be so addictive in fact that some paintings look like a dirty chalkboard eraser was used on top of them. Sadly, all that bright, vibrant and expensive (paint doesn't grow on trees) color is lost and the painting looses it's impact.

How do you correct this problem? I hope you like turkey because you're going to need a cold dose of it.

Paint without white. There, I said it. Go grab yourself a glass of wine and continue reading when you have fortified yourself.

Obviously, you can't give up painting without white forever but try it for a while and see how far you can get using other colors to lighten your paint mixtures. You'll be surprised at how far various yellows will take you. The bonus is you will also discover color mixtures you never would have tried if you had white on your palette.

Have I done this? Yes, I painted without white for 3 months and I make my students paint without it at least once a year.

The piece above was created entirely without white, my students can vouch for me because it was a class demonstration painting.

Paint on my friends (without white - at least for this week)!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Does Drawing Matter in a Loose Painting?

"The Channel" Oil on 16" x 20" panel

When teaching I've been asked if a painter can hide the fact that they can't draw if they paint really loosely. Immediately an image of a magician doing a card trick pops into my head as I imagine how a painter might employ that same type of visual slight of hand.

The student asking the question is usually disappointed with my answer and they then proceed to try to prove me wrong my slapping as much paint as possible onto their canvas.

Detail 1

What do I tell my class when this question comes up? No, you can't hide a weak drawing by painting loosely.

The structural framework of a piece is absolutely critical even in a painterly painting. The best artists are the ones who know which edges they can obliterate and which edges are important to keep intact so that the form is readable to the viewer. Nicolai Fechin was a master at painting both loosely and accurately.

Detail 2

So, if you're an artist, draw. All of us need to draw more (myself included).

While I'm not the most painterly painter around I've been pushing into that territory a bit more with my Los Angeles River Bridge series. The painting above was inspired by the small plein air painting below.

"L.A. River Bridge" Oil on 9" x 12" panel