Thursday, June 11, 2015

En plein air

plein air sketch
Yesterday afternoon I took my easel into the back yard.  I almost never do this... in the past, it's been a less-than satisfactory experience. There's always too much sun, too much wind, too much uneven ground, etc. etc. etc. However -- since I've enrolled in a three-day July workshop with Tony van Hasselt, which will include daily excursions to paint en plein air, I'm determined to conquer my aversion to working anywhere but indoors.

Reference photo
Our property is not large, and it's anything but sylvan. (Our neighborhood is more like a John Cheever-suburban-backyards concept, minus the in-ground swimming pools...) 
But, we do have a few picturesque "Palace Purple" variety Huechera, one of which is a volunteer, growing out of a crack in the stone retaining wall. 
Yesterday's mid-afternoon sun was very bright, so the cast shadows of the foliage were dark and well-defined, and the highlights/colors colors vivid. A
great, naturally occuring set-up for my plein air exercise.
So, this morning I did an outline drawing of all the leaves, and then did a small value sketch using water-soluble graphite pencils (a wonderful tool!). After sketching it in roughly, i used a small brush charged with a bit of water to smooth out the sketch details. The value sketch is an important step along the way to a finished painting -- and it's one I've too-often omitted.

Value sketch, done with water-soluble graphite pencils (light, medium, and dark)
I'm using a 16" x 23" piece of 300-lb. Arches paper. Although the package is labelled "cold press" it seems almost like a "rough" sheet. This is advantageous, I believe, since it will provide an easier way to render the foliage highlights, and the myriad details of the stone wall background.

First wash

I've started with a mottled wash of the stone wall, using a combination of French ultramarine and sepia. This is my favorite duo for producing grey (altho there are a lot of other two-color combos that result in grey, as well). I used a 1" angled flat brush to do the background, and cut around all the foliage. I purposely did an uneven wash, as I don't want the stone's surfaces to appear flat.

"Rock Wall Shadows" 

Click the link to purchase this painting at my Daily Paintworks gallery.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Winslow Homer I'm not...

I love Winslow Homer's watercolors, many of which were done early in his career. In particular, I have always admired the way Homer handled light and shadows in his figurative work. "Spring" and "Blackboard" are fine examples of his skill in this regard, as is "Boys and Kitten (1873)," which is in the Worcester Art Museum's collection.  I was at Old Sturbridge Village recently, and the scenes there were straight out of Winslow Homer -- which I took as a challenge. After snapping more than 200 photos, I selected several which, for me, evoke this "Homer-ish" quality, and began a sketch of a young woman seated outside, next to the sheep-shearing. She and a companion were washing wool -- not a particularly enjoyable task on a hot, sunny afternoon. Both women were taking a break, and this gave me a great opportunity to get some good photos with high contrast.

Here is how I've started a watercolor study for "Well-Deserved Rest" (reference photo shown at right).
I'm working on Lanaquarelle hot press paper. Not my favorite, but it allows for details which are more difficult even with a good cold press paper. (Fabriano soft press might work well, too.) I'm sticking with a limited palette, and using both cadmium red and cadmium yellow deep for the skin tones, and cobalt blue and Winsor violet for shadows. The dress is done with a mix of Winsor violet and cadmium yellow deep; the apron's pattern will be predominately cobalt blue. 
As I post this, I can see some problem areas, esp. in the placement of the eyes (they're too high at present...). 

"Sunbonnet Girl"   6" x 7"    
available at my Daily Paintworks gallery

And here is the finished work