Friday, 10 January 2020

Commissioned


Plein Air Painting last summer, Pointe au Baril,  Georgian Bay


 Last September, I hosted a week of plein air painting at a Georgian Bay cottage, near Pointe au Baril, Ontario, about 40 km. from Parry Sound. 12 students and myself for one glorious week.


When I lead a group on location, we are usually in that location for 3 hours. This means some time looking for good vantage points, advising each student one on one, before setting up to do something quickly myself.  Then I have to finish quickly as well, so I have time to meet everyone once again, one on one, closer to the end of their paintings, to discuss and critique. I get one hour, basically, to create whatever I can get down. This has contributed to a very hurried style, which has good and bad points. 

Having an entire week to explore vantage points and ideas for paintings was quite a luxury, and I took full advantage. 

One of the first things we did when we got to the cottage, and everyone was settled in, was to meet, with only an adjustable viewfinder in hand. As is my style, I like to walk around and give an open commentary on ideas for paintings as the scenes come to me. Developing ideas, is how to grow into your concept of composition. Developing ideas is all about the thumbnail.

For those of you not familiar with that term, a thumbnail is a small drawing, a visual explanation of the essential, initial idea you have, for a painting. Once completed,  this little drawing advises artists as to the potential of your idea as a painting. 

In walking around our new environment, we not only gain new and deeper appreciation of nature around us, but new ideas pop up, old ideas deepen and become more complex. Time (in this case a week, instead of 3 hours) gives us this opportunity, as all our ideas get to stretch out over days ahead. 


With this thought process in mind, after about 24 hours on site, I chose what I thought was a composition with great potential. My subject matter was very typical, reminding me that I have to make the subject my own, in order for it to be original. I also wanted the piece to reflect the fact that I did have time to deepen my ideas, the details, to sink into the luxury of that.

                                     

                                     




Observing different qualities of light over a 24 hour period. I decided to use the last photo, for a consistent sense of light, and the one above, for more information about light and shadow on the island itself. 


Observing the light on my subject over 24 hours was very interesting, offering a multitude of compositional possibilities. In the case of the Island, the area with the most variation based on light, would be the water. The island itself would stay on a similar value range. I'm arranging my ideas. 
So, after many thumbnails, and no painting, I chose one scene, and did my thumbnail.

I'd describe it as a generic thumbnail, a beginning of the thought process. Next, I thought a lot about colour. This is where pastel differs from other mediums.  As pastellists, we visualize our palette with the underlying ground colour. I'm referring to the colour of paper we are choosing, or underpainting executed, and how that ground interacts with your palette. In order to visualize this, we need to rely on our visual ability in tandem with our imagination.

At this point my mind wants to mix colours, and get a general feel established. However, since I have a whole week here, I slow down, and observe my subject as often as I want, asking what if?, in as many ways as I can entertain. This is documented with as many thumbnails, or photos as I want. In fact, by waiting, I have the advantage of observing light on my subject from many different points, creating many different effects. Which one best expresses what I want to say about this scene?


The line drawing, working out proportions both positive and negative space. 

I created a thumbnail, that was only a line drawing. In it, I have chosen the proportions of my picture plane, and how the picture plane will be split, without assigning value. by keeping the plan open, I can observe different qualities of light, and assign value after this is chosen. No values or details until the time of day and specific light is chosen.  

Observing the light on my subject over 24 hours was very interesting, offering a multitude of compositional possibilities. In the case of the Island, the area with the most variation based on light, would be the water. The island itself would stay on a similar value range. I'm arranging my ideas. 

I could have chosen a very still scene on the water, where the reflection of the island was basically the same value as the island itself.  Or, a time of day where the reflection was so minimal, that more light came into the scene, with the water being a significantly lighter value.



The full value drawing, light, medium and dark.

However, I chose the scene of early morning, where the light infused the Island with value variations from the right, enhancing both island and water. This scene also offers us the waves as they wrap around the island, in varying values. This was the scene to me with the most interest. Now I am ready to assign value to my thumbnail to get a complete visual explanation of what my painting will look like without colour. Objects, lights and dark, placement. By working slowly through each step, I have time to continue working with my imagination, getting ideas of what to change, what to tweak, and what colours best express me.  

I noted the time of day, and started working on my ideas about ground colour, and palette. The following day, I was out at the location with plenty of time before the optimum light affect would occur. I set up my pastels, and my board. No one can predict the configuration of clouds (how different that is from yesterday!), and how this will affect light, but it's as good as we're going to get.

                                         

                       Alisons' island, 8" X 20", pastel on raspberry coloured Fabriano pastel paper. 

With the sun low in the sky, we have more time with consistent light as the light effect from the sun on my subjects moves slower. The higher the sun is in the sky, the faster the light moves. We have to be as ready as we can. My plan is done, proportions chosen, size (8"h X 20"w), ground colour chosen, and line drawing applied to my pastel paper.

Even before the optimum time is upon me, I can still establish value in a lightly-layered way. Meaning I am applying a light pressure layer of pastel, everywhere on my picture plane. A complete plan, for the entire painting. Now I have my composition established, values established. I am palette ready, as soon as the optimum light time period comes on. 

This is when I work quickly to get as much information down as quickly as I can. I've been very well organized, so my time is spent with the most important parts of the painting first. I'm focussed on the largest areas first, working deliberately from largest ares to smallest, and from dark to light. Once I am in the painting, and concentrating, time travels much quicker than my usual perceptions. By the time the sun is too high to be accurate any more, I have everything established that is most important in the painting.

Now I put the painting away, and don't look at it for a while. this will give me a fresh eye, and more objectivity about what is working, what needs tweaking and what needs completion. I move onto other projects.

I go back the next day for those tweaks, very conscious not to overwork the spontaneity established from working on locations. when done, the piece is placed somewhere I can see it, with the express intention of not working on it for some time. I find my impression of a piece can change without doing anything to it. Just observing, over time. 

At the end of our week, the owners of the cottage came back for a final meet up to discuss how it all went. Dennis and Alison Kolody had been very accommodating to us, we all felt very appreciative to their efforts to make this a wonderful experience for us all. They in turn were quite interested in what had been created. I showed them my work, about 10 pieces in total.
They quickly zeroed in on the Island piece I just described, because whether you are trained in composition or not, people gravitate to good composition. It was the obviously best piece in the bunch. or so I thought, and they concurred. 
Dennis and Alison then commissioned me to make a large oil painting, based on this piece. Group of seven people! In my years of plein air painting, I had often thought of the group, what would they have done if pastel had been available to them like it  is now? Would all those 8X10's been pastel, instead of oil?
Regardless, this is a great way to work. Do your on location piece in pastel, allowing for quick spontaneous work, then followed up by larger work in oil, either also on location, or later in studio, with thumbnail, pastel colour study, photos, and notes. 

So, onto the next phase, creating the piece in oil, at home.

                                             

The first thing I did was to stretch a canvas in the exact same proportions as the pastel piece. The client wanted a piece that spanned 5', so I applied some math, and found that my pastel, if 5 feet wide, would be exactly 24" in height. So my newly stretched canvas was 24" X 60". 

Next, I replicated the ground colour of the pastel, but with a little variation. I underpainted, in oil, varying the colour and value just slightly, so there'd be more contrast in the water, (foreground of the painting). A little darker on top, a little lighter on the bottom. A little more raspberry on top (cooler), a little lighter, but more intense pink (warmer) at the bottom.

                                             

Feeling pretty comfortable with a piece of vine charcoal, I drew out the division of space in vine charcoal, drawing in the island, and keeping large open areas that will be painted in gradations, allowing for some painterly freedom.

My imagination is always creating the painting for me, before I execute each stage. 

The easel was set up in my back yard, which I love. First, I'm outside, where I belong. Second, I can stand very far back from the easel, offering me great perspective on the effects of every single step I take. 

It's now time for oil, which I work exactly as I do in pastel. I'm working dark to light, first in light layers, to make sure I am happy with my composition, adjusting anything i don't like, as I go. Dark to light, but also largest spaces to smallest. Once the second layer is done, because I've done so much prep work, I am well off into the painting.

                                             

Neutralizing for a more sophisticated palette, adjusting values to make the painting work, not necessarily going after the realistic colour. doing what works for what I want to say. 

Standing back a lot allows me great objectivity as to what's next, and how fast I am developing the painting. Sometimes the oil needs to dry before working on it more, so I am slowed down but waiting for it to dry. I look at it like it's a good thing, allowing for more objectivity, better decisions. Also, it's easy to get going and want to finish something in one go. However, I find after painting for 3 hours straight, I am fatigued enough to not necessarily be making the best critical decisions. Waiting to the next day is best.

                                                                              

Once I get to the point where I'm almost done, I  put the painting aside for a while. More thinking, less execution. Careful decisions. More drying, and time away, in order to have a fresh eye for finishing touches. 

Over the years, I would say I re-work pieces less and less at the end. Allowing imagination to draw conclusions for the viewers. It's more fun that way.  My choice. 










Wednesday, 4 December 2019

painting the pure light of portugal in pastel

                                                              From autumn in Canada....

As the leaves slowed their fall to the ground in Canada, myself and a group of brave plein air artists boarded planes and all headed toward our painting destination for fall 2019, Portugal.
Of course, as with many of my trips, several went ahead for more travel to other nearby places, as well as staying behind after our painting time, together for even more travel.

                                          
                                                              pre-trip: Porto, by night

                                           
                                 The Porto ladies, minus Mary, who I suspect was taking this pic.
                                         
                                                         
A first for me, staying in this type of hotel in a city! (usually in the country), but this proved convenient and stimulating. That's our hotel, right in front of the beach.

                                       

Coming together, we descended upon Cascais, Portugal to begin our trip on Nov. 1st. Cascais is on the Atlantic, very close to Lisbon and easy to get to from there. This was how I would describe the entire trip; easy.


Warmth in Cascais, Portugal
                                         We all met at our hotel for the next week, Hotel Baia.
This is always an exciting time for everyone. I am so grateful for everyone who comes on my trips, takes time off work or busy schedules, to spend this special time together. I have never done a trip quite like this one. Usually we are at a retreat, and out in the countryside for a good portion. This time, we were smack dab in a great town location, overlooking the ocean and a great square with much happening.
                                          

                                                      The balcony view each morning
We can see the beach nearby where young ones are still wearing bathing suits and playing volleyball, while many walk along the waterfront, the pretty sky and charming fishing and tug boats offering us lots of compositions.


Our opening reception, on the rooftop of our hotel. overlooking the ocean view, with a glass of Wine or Port, we met everyone.  Discussing the perils and rewards of painting plein air, and more challengingly, in a populated place. Let the games begin! 


                                               Palm trees also lined the water walkways..

                                         

As well, we saw every colour of Bougainvallea.
 Lesson 1: concepts for paintings; variations on a theme

                                       

First lesson. get an idea for a painting, then simplify it, look at it from many perspectives. 1. The Bougainvillea, in all it's blooming glory. hard to draft out, but do-able. 2. A close up of one branch, much simpler. 3. below, even simpler, petals. 4. related, but an altogether different concept. explore ideas and improve the quality your compositions and communications.

                   

Out past the first peir, the marina offers a different and exciting imagery with many sailboats and an  eery misty feel surrounding them. In plein air, it's all about embracing what is present. Just walk around the corner, the light is creating a different atmosphere, offering new subjects. Not to mention the ever changing architecture, sculptures galore, beautiful shorelines, trees.



 At this point, the fortress beside the marina was like a medieval fortress, but just a little further on, there's a courtyard of art galleries housed in old, old buildings. Almost right across the road is the park. A large park, housing palaces, peacocks and chickens, many turtles, cafes, ponds with various ducks, and many other things you'd expect-chiildrens play structures, sculptures, even a small mountain to climb.
check it out:
                                        
                                                                           old and new
sculptures virtually everywhere you look in Cascais



The last king of Portugal loved art, and built a castle here. Other rich and important people of Portugal followed suit, with many elegant castles, and stately mansions.


                                                                  

                                           gorgeous gardens and unusual old architecture  

Past the park is the lighthouse, a popular painting subject, but beyond that is endless surf, volcanic rock, dramatic ocean vistas, cliffs. It was really the best of all worlds for artists. We had quaint cafes and interesting architecture in town, and in a 10 minute walk, you are out in full on nature.

                                          

I have skipped over one significant item: the buildings, palaces inside the park. Gorgeous, ostentatious old architecture, and very beautiful gardens by the seaside. Everywhere you looked, something beautiful to see and paint.

                                       


It can be an overwhelming experience, taking your art supplies out and painting in public. For anyone reading this who has little or no experience in plein air, plein air is the most challenging artistic exercise, with people watching you, and many distractions: wind, sun, nice, smells, general hub of activity. My advice to you is to practise in solitude when you can, and get some experience behind you. It's all in the thumbnail! You don't have to be an expert to come on one of my trips, but you do have to be open to learning. That's it. If you can master the art of the thumbnail, you can travel and paint.
      
                                               
                                         Carol, working it out, and turns out a great painting.


A week went by so fast on this trip. Partly because the whole trip was about ease. our painting location were close at hand, as were all our dining our adventures (OMG- did we have adventures in food!) In our hotel, we had a room set aside used as our studio, which worked out very nicely and gave us so much convenience. You see, the studio was right beside the breakfast buffet (a true feast), so it was easy to be in studio, and go for an extra coffee or a delicious custard tart.

Sintra!
                                      




In the middle of this week in Cascais, we had a very busy day off, visiting Sintra, the Pena Palace and Quinte de Regaleira. This was a spectacular day, one of those sites that is 100% better with clear weather, which we were lucky enough to have. First of all the Pena Palace was really not a disappointment, after seeing so many pics beforehand, it was one of those marvels of architectural detail, the building itself, elegant and exquisite in every detail, every arched walkway, gazebo-towers, so much more.

Quinta de Regalaria
                                                             





What I really wasn't expecting was to be as charmed with Quinta de Regaleira. Classified as a UNESCO world heritage site, built at the end of the 19nth century, this is a series of buildings, chapels, grand houses, with spiral staircases built into the ground for spiritual inquiry, with many classical sculptures in this park like setting, and every bit as spectacular as Sintra.
"This ensemble of enigmatic structures and luxurious gardens is a reflection of the philosophical and antic pursuits of owner Antonio Augusto Carvalho Monteiro and his architect, Luigi Manini."

Our day off proved to be just as tiring as our painting days,...all in a good way.

Our week in Cascais (pronounced Cashkish, with a long I) went by too quickly. I would have liked a few more days there, as always. Before I leave, just a few more painting locations:



                                        

                                                       

now, on to more exciting moments in Lisbon.



We always stay in hotels, (when we get to the city portion of our trip) that are in excellent locations, again so we don't waste time and everything is at our fingertips. Lisbon was no different. Out hotel was also funky, with a great reception area where we could meet and have chats about painting city scenery, and that dreaded word, perspective. Street scenes are actually very easy if you know a few tricks. We started our time in Lisbon by dropping our bags at the hotel and quickly assembling for our walking tour, a great orientation to the city in general, and much information about what to visit and where to paint.

                                                               

                                              Taking a break during our walking tour of Lisbon

      

   A terrific morning, depicting street scenes. 

The things we enjoyed and painted were: open air markets with great food, craft, and other products, the castelo st. jorge (fantastic views of the entire city), street scenes virtually everywhere (catch some good light).

                                                               

                                           
One day we walked down the main pedestrian thoroughfare and viewed the Portuguese version of the arch de Triumph, and how the light changed and the composition by moving from one side of the street to the other. the statue we could see inside the arch was surrounded by the lightest airiest air. Soft light, regal. Lovely.
                                                             

In the end, we couldn't believe how quickly our time together was through.  It was a fantastic trip as always, and I wish to thank everyone who came, participated, painted, encouraged others, and shared your passion and enthusiasm for the things we value, in common.

and then, there's the work!
Here's our studio, which worked out great when it started to rain. the studio was located right beside the breakfast room, where pastries and coffee were readily at hand. this had good and bad effect. 

                                                 
                                                          various WIP, by the teach.



Mary-Lynn, our solo oil painter, and her increasing inventory of paintings. 



We had several watercolorists on this trip, and Liz of course who works in everything. Made for interesting gatherings at 5. This is when we shared what we all did that day, having so many mediums  represented. Here's a lovely piece by Mary.


                                The water and big sky captured in atmosphere. Pastel, by Sandra. 

                                            
                                                              getting organized in studio

                                                         

                                            Loretta captures the fullness of the Bougainvaillea.


Janet captures the exotic nature of the place with imaginative colour.


                                            

Liz, our multi-talented, multi medium artist, in her pen and ink with watercolour glory. Focussing in on some smaller detail is often a good way to go.


WIP, by Liz, (another Liz)



The charm of Cascais by Gaye.


Oceanside watercolour, by Dave. Good composition, great sky, and yes, the trees did grow sideways like that!


One of many solid pieces by Carol. 

As always with these trips, I'm only giving you a stitch of what really happened. It's so hard to not put in so many other experiences! We'll hold it there. We had a fantastic time in Portugal. The weather wasn't hot, but pleasant and much nicer than Canada at this time of year. Please visit me again, next exciting adventure,......
STAY TUNED, for my next blog post, based on an interesting event this summer, about a Georgian Bay Island, a pastel painting, and a commissioned 24" X 60" oil Painting.