Friday, February 21, 2014

Don't Worry, Be Happy (You're an Artist)

"Bluebird of Happiness" 6x6 oil on linen
Happy Friday! The other day I was thinking about art and happiness. Some of you may recall those Peanuts posters from the early 70s (or so) that started with Happiness is…Like “Happiness is a Warm Puppy.”  Or here’s an even better art example—(Linus I couldn’t agree more!)

Sometimes I think it’s easy to focus on the frustrations that surround being an artist.  For example, I’ve been pushing myself a lot lately. That makes for a lot of unfinished or even recycled paintings. Arrrgh! As Charlie Brown might say.

Bit I’ve come to realize after painting for over 30 years that mastering a craft is not as linear or constantly rewarding as you’d like it to be. But one of the great joys of art is that it likely impacts your life on a grand scale (values, goals, purpose, and principles) as well as on a smaller daily scale. I have faith that these are two powerful forces will continue outweigh the challenges and propel me to return to the easel. (Even though some days it may be a close call.)
Yay--New clean, crisp brushes (Rosemary & Co. ivory flats)
So what makes you happy in the studio? Some of these “little daily moments” may sound silly to non artists (does anyone but artists even use pencils anymore?) but frankly I think that’s what makes us special. For me Happiness in the studio is...
  • Squeezing out a fresh tube of white (isn’t that the best?)
  • Unwrapping a new canvas (the bigger the better)
  • Testing a new crisp brush (just received these new Rosemary ivory brushes today)
  • Getting your drawing right—the first time
  • Reading a new art book or magazine
  • Discovering a new favorite artist (recently this was landscape painter Hibbard for me)
  • Running up to the art store (you know...just to look around) 
  • Day dreaming about plein air vacation destinations (any place with water....)
  • Sharpening a pencil (seriously)
  • Fresh flowers just begging to be painted...
Thankfully the list goes on. So I'll be back in the studio tomorrow. Hope you have a very happy weekend!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Quintessentially Quang: Winter Landscape Demo

Quang Ho demo painting of Cherry Creek in Denver, CO

Here in the Mile High City, one of our “celebrity” painters is the renowned and highly respected Quang Ho. (Even my "non-art" friends know who he is.) And almost every well-known local artist seems to have some connection to him and/or his painting philosophies and insights. I for example study with three artists who were lucky enough to study with Quang.

At this time, Quang doesn’t teach regular classes anymore so I always jump at any chance to attend one of his shows or painting demos. Last Sunday I attended a fantastic all day demo at the Denver Art League. 

In the morning session, Quang (who paints a wide variety of subject matter) discussed figure paintings and his recent interest in glazing methods. This was fascinating but I was thrilled in the afternoon that he painted a lovely snowscape (yay) from start to finish. FYI, as you can see Quang painted from photo displayed on a large Apple monitor which was attached to a really cool adjustable monitor stand.
Quang brought this stunning larger framed landscape--also of the Cherry Creek.
Interestingly, the snowscape was of the Cherry Creek which is only blocks from my studio. I walk by it all the time. So it was eye-opening (to say the least) to see such a familiar scene interpreted so beautifully through the eyes of a master.  Here are some pics and some highlights from my notes.
Close up of Quang's oil painting palette
  • Carefully observe where your shape starts and stops. The light and dark are separate organisms—Look for 2 big areas and then break those down. 
  • Your most important drawing takes place where the light meets the shadow.
  • Consider there are many different ways to soften your edges.
    Soften edges where shapes of same value meet (i.e. very dark shape next to very dark shape)
    Stare at your painting for a few moments then look away—what do you remember? (Those are your hardest edges.) Trees for example may be much softer than you think they are. f you over soften an area you could lose your shape (structure)
  • Simplify your process. First good shapes, then value, then color, then edges…
  • Small dark accents—such as tiny cast shadows are important because they help hold shapes.
  • What makes a good landscape? Nature never repeats.
    For snow, it helps to have a midtone base that the brighter white can sit on top of.
  • First 20 minutes work slower on composition/ structure then you can speed up and get looser later
  • Keep comparing one area to another--Your painting is like a giant carpet with patter and texture,
  • There’s a reason for every color you see.
After intensely (and very humbly) observing Quang last Sunday I was greatly inspired--particularly to paint some snowscapes so stay tuned and have a wonderful week!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fauving in February

"Big Red" 16 x 16 oil on panel (work in progress)
“From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands, I knew this was my life. I threw myself into it like a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”
― Henri Matisse

After working on a few snowscapes earlier this week, I took a short break to start this high chroma fauvist inspired still life. I enjoy working from life but this was from a photo from a previous still life I'd set up. I knew painting with intense warm colors would provide some immediate winter relief--and it did.

A still life painting like this reminds me that I could spend hours carefully staging and arranging a strong still life. Typically though I just grab some things based on color and see what happens. That being said it is kind of fun to look around your surroundings for intriguing objects.

Could be an interesting "creative jump start" the next time you just don’t feel like painting. After rall, if you have to craft a successful still life you’re still working with colors, design, composition, etc. FYI, here’s a blog post I found with some helpful still life staging tips.

One painter who’s not in winter denial is talented Colorado landscape painter Marc Hanson. He’s been outside since February 1 painting four--yes 4--daily snowscapes.  I’ve really enjoyed watching his daily posts from the comfort of my studio.

Tomorrow I’m really looking forward to Quang Ho’s oil painting demo. It’s all day so I plan to have lots of notes and photos to share.  While I’ll be happy to watch him paint anything, I’ve got my fingers crossed for a snowscape. In the meantime, have a colorful weekend everyone!
P.S. For more still life ideas and inspiration you can check out my Pinterest “Not so Still Life” board.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I'm Positive About Negative Painting

Watercolor and gouache on YUPO paper 9x12
“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”
― Abraham Lincoln

Next week I’m excited and honored to be doing a YUPO painting demo for an art club in the area. In preparation, I painted this little abstracted garden this morning using transparent watercolors, opaque gouache and a 9x12 YUPO pad.

Here’s what I started with—basically a wet in wet abstract watercolor which I let dry overnight. So you’ve got an interesting base painting like this, then what? Could you leave this as a more abstract painting? Of course. But I like options...
Shape "hunting" with watercolor pencil on the original painting.
As an artist who paints in both oil and watermedia I can’t imagine not having negative painting as a key option and skills. So I wanted to share 5 negative painting tips that I hope will help you the next time you face a painting challenge.
  1. Consider the power of your mind’s eye. We need to be skilled shape makers and finders as painters. Negative painting fine tunes these abilities. In other words, what do you see in those big blobs of paint? A figure? A tree? An octopus? Keep looking…..And enjoy the process.
  2. Want to push your more non-objective abstract painting over to a more representational painting? Negative painting helps you modify what you already have like I did today. It’s also a great way to “fix” or “salvage” a so-so painting you might have in the studio.(Don't we all have a few of those??)
  3. If and when you negative paint over an existing background don’t be shy. Consider a bold value contrast that will really “pop” your image. For example, try black (or near black) over a very light painting or light negative painting around darker shapes.  Along the same lines if your base painting is very high chroma try a more neutral negative painting again for contrast.
  4. If you enjoy painting nature and organic subjects like I do I think negative painting often looks less forced and more natural than positive painting.  That doesn’t mean you can’t paint any branches positively but consider using more interesting negative shapes as well—such as sky holes.
  5. Take your time. Don’t rush negative painting if you’re not used to it. If you need to use a non-permanent light drawing tool (i.e. pastel pencil, watercolor pencil, soluble graphite, etc.) to help you find the shapes before you commit to paint.
P.S. If you want to improve your watercolor negative painting skills check out Linda Kemp's Painting Outside the Lines. She also has some videos on Artist TV Network.