Something Completely Different – DONE!

I made a few teeny tiny adjustments to the Monhegan painting – mainly cleaning up some lines on the boats and making the water sparkle a bit more. The next step is to wait for it to dry so I can sign and varnish it, then frame it and ship it.

Normally when I do a commission I send the client photos of the painting in a couple of different frames so that they can choose which they prefer. I’ll typically pick out a dark frame, and some sort of gold frame. Seems like the dark frames are in style here in the Rocky Mountains, but not everyone loves them. However, this particular painting looked horrible in a gold frame, so I only gave the client this option. It’s a custom frame from Front Range Frames (I use frames with this finish for most of my paintings these days):

Oh – this painting is 22×28″, oil on gessobord panel as usual. Not sure I mentioned the size before.

For a commission, this was a ton of fun to paint. Now I need to plan a painting trip to Maine!

Something Completely Different – PART II

Thanks to everyone from Maine who commented on the first part of this demo. It was good to hear that I’m not completely off track in my depiction of this landscape!!

When I stopped yesterday, I had painted the sky, buildings, and rocky parts of the Monhegan Island painting. Next up was blocking in the two boats and the water. I started off by painting in the general shape of each boat with thinned paint, mainly to block in the major shapes and values. I also started to place some of the darker values in the water. If you look closely, you can see that I decided to move the boats up a bit from where I had originally sketched them, and adjusted the size of the sailboat to be more accurate.

Next, I used a thin wash of paint to indicate the general value and color of the water. It doesn’t look that great, but this was mainly so I could judge if the value and color of the boats were accurate and working with the rest of the painting as a whole. Without the water painted in, the boats were off by themselves in a big white area, and it was hard to judge how they worked with the painting as a whole.

At this point I have to apologize for forgetting to take progress photos for a few hours! Once the water and boats were blocked in, I went in with thicker paint and painted the boats, and defined the water and reflections more accurately. I used a tiny brush and palette knife to indicate some of the details on the sailboat. Once the water was done, the shape of the foreground rocks was distracting, so I made some changes to the rocks. I also cooled down the foreground grasses a bit – it doesn’t show well in these photos, but the reds I had originally blocked in were detracting from the overall harmony of the painting.

So, that’s pretty much where I stopped. I made some final adjustments to the boats, and sent this photo to the collector for approval:

Sorry for the glare on the lobster boat and foreground rocks. This one was a bugger to photograph without any glare on the wet paint.

At this point, I’m waiting for the painting to dry so I can go back in and clean up some of the lines on the boats and touch up some things that are bugging me about the water and foreground. These should all be minor changes, but once they’re done I’ll photograph it again in its frame and post it here as done.

Something Completely Different – PART I

The last two demos that I posted here were of aspen trees, so I thought it would be nice to mix things up a bit and post some in-progress shots of something different than my usual subject matter. I’ve been working on a commission of a scene from Monhegan Island, Maine, and since it’s got some elements in it that are new to me, I thought it would be fun to talk through some of it here.

First of all, when I do commissions I typically insist on using my own on-location studies, sketches, and photographs. Rarely do I agree to do a commission from a collector’s photos, unless I see them ahead of time and know I can work from them, and also know that the collector will allow me to call the shots artistically. I’ve worked with this particular client before, and know that he’s willing to let me make the decisions that I need to make to paint a good painting. In this case, he sent me a CD with around 500 images from the island, and essentially let me go through the images and come up with a painting based on what I thought would be the most fun to paint.

After looking through the photos, I was drawn to a grouping of pictures of a sailboat and lobster boat in the late afternoon. The light in the photos wasn’t optimal (skies too light, rocks and buildings too dark), but I loved the way the evening light was hitting the boats and water and knew I could make something of it with some tweaking.

I haven’t actually been to Monhegan Island before, but I’ve spent some time in Maine, and a lot of time in Nova Scotia, so the landscape wasn’t completely foreign to me. I remember spending an evening down by one of the bays in Nova Scotia with fading light and fog rolling in, and these pictures reminded me of that kind of evening. As I painted this, I kept that memory in my head, and exaggerated the colors in the landscape to set a similar mood. The photos were used to compose the image, but I relied more on memory and feeling when it came to making decisions about color and lighting.

So, the first thing I did was sketch out the general composition with charcoal. I haven’t painted buildings in a long time, and I’m not sure I’ve ever painted boats, so I just wanted to indicate the size of everything before starting in with the paint. I wanted to move the horizon line up, move the buildings over a bit, and give the boats a bit more space, so the sketch allowed me to work out some of those issues.

Once the sketch was done, I started in on the sky. Since I wasn’t copying the photo, I felt that the best way to set the mood for the piece was to get the sky painted in the color and value I wanted, and use that as a measure for everything else. From this point on, I was constantly asking myself if what I was painting was lighter or darker, or warmer or cooler than the sky. These decisions are important, because I didn’t have a field study and the photo wasn’t good enough to allow me to copy color and value.

I’m not following my sketch exactly at this point. If you look closely at where the sky is painted around the main building, you can see that I’ve chosen to move it to the right and decrease the amount of space between the two buildings. I felt like it was a bit distracting to have a big space there.

Once the sky was done and some of my darkest dark blocked in, I started to paint the dock and the buildings in the background. I was finishing as I went, putting on each brushstroke with the intent to leave it as it was. The dock and the buildings are old and weathered, so I had to make a conscious effort to make them look that way (lines aren’t straight, posts are uneven, nothing is too smooth).

Once the buildings were finished, I moved on to the rocks and grass in the foreground. This part was a bit challenging because I kept wanting to paint the rocks like “Colorado” rocks. I had to remember that the rocks along the coast are a different color and shape than what I’m used to. Also, since the reference photo was very dark in this area, I had to pay attention and really compare my values and color temperature with the parts of the painting that were already complete.

I think I’ll leave it there for now since this post is getting long. I’ll post the rest tomorrow!

Defining Interest

“Study – Sundown”
Oil on Panel

$125 + shipping

One of the things I’ve been working on for the past few months is defining what each painting I do is about. I have a tendency (especially with larger works) to gravitate towards scenes that have it all – mountains, a stream, some trees, a field, wildflowers! And while that can be okay if it’s done well, sometimes it results in paintings that have a bit of an identity crisis (is it a painting of a mountain, a painting of a stream, a painting of wildflowers?).

I’m trying to make sure that I ask myself what I’m drawn to every time I start a new painting. Am I interested in the light on the mountain? The scale of the mountain? The reflections in the water? I answer that question first, and then I work to make sure that every decision I make in the painting serves to highlight that thing that drew me to the scene in the first place. That way, the foreground stream doesn’t end up drawing attention from the mountains that caught my interest, or the trees don’t pull the eye away from the reflections in the lake, or the clouds don’t steal the show from the mountains.

Asking these questions means I can’t copy what’s in front of me. Sometimes I have to change the way the light is hitting a part of the landscape, change the size or location of a clump of trees, or exaggerate the scale of that mountain I’m interested in. These decisions are a lot easier to make if I know what I’m after, and I don’t find myself getting off track as much as I used to when I’m painting outside.

The study above is from one of those places that just begs the artist to paint everything. Monarch Lake is a small lake with a dramatic mountain backdrop, and sometimes it’s hard to decide what to paint. The reflections can be beautiful on a calm day, the mountains can be dramatic in the afternoon, and the trees are interesting on their own. I did this quick study after I had painted another in the same spot. The sun was going down and it was hitting the mountains so that the early season snow was just glowing. I wanted to keep the trees and water in the painting for compositional reasons, but I wanted to make sure that they were downplayed enough to make that snow the star of the show.

Doing a study like this can be invaluable when preparing for a larger painting. If I hadn’t done this study, I probably would have done a larger painting without thinking through some of the decisions I made here, and it could have been a large-scale failure. Doing a small study allowed me to take some risks and change some things that I might not have tried on a larger panel. Finished, it’s a good indicator of whether a larger painting would or would not work, and a good guide to use when making that larger painting.

This and That

Oil on Panel

Sorry I haven’t been posting much lately – life seems to have gotten in the way. I’ve been working on two paintings for show entries, a 22×28″ commission, and finishing up my mentorship. In the meantime Aspen got a nasty stomach flu that kept me out of the studio most of last week, and then we went down to Denver for part of the weekend which meant more time away from the studio. But I’m back on track now – got the show entries done and I’m making some headway on the commission. Actually, the commission has been a lot of fun for me, as it’s a bit different than my usual Rocky Mountain scenery (I’m planning to post a demo this weekend or next week).

While we were down in Denver, we took Aspen to the National Western Stock Show so she could see the cows and other animals, and I snuck off and spent some time looking at the paintings in the Coors Western Art Show. I was supposed to go the opening of the show a couple weeks ago, but they closed the pass for wind that
day and I got stuck in the mountains – I was pretty bummed out to miss it.

Anyhow, the nice thing about going later is that there are way less people looking at the art than the opening (always packed), so I could study paintings as long as I wanted. I was a bit sad to see that a lot of good paintings in the show didn’t sell this year, but there were some beautiful paintings to look at by some of the best painters in the West.

My favorite painting in the show was Len Chmiel’s “An Elegance of Erosion” – it doesn’t show that well on his website, but it was so subtle that I could have stared at it all day. Skip Whitcomb was the featured artist this year, and he’s one of my favorite painters so of course I loved his work. My favorite of his was the painting “Fraser Valley Ranch“, mainly because the Fraser Valley is home to me, and he captured the local landscape so well. Other favorites were some small gems by Matt Smith, and a great looking body of work by Glenn Dean. Anyhow, the show was worth braving the weekend crowds to see.

Well, that’s all I’ve got. Once I finish this commission I’m working on, I’ll post some in progress pictures here.