Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What to Paint While Painting on Location

5x7 watercolour sketch
"But what do I paint?" 
I've heard this question a lot lately from people who are wanting to try plein air painting. It's not a dumb question either, it shows that the person is interested yet possibly overwhelmed. Believe me, I'm still overwhelmed every time I go out to paint. It's called the great outdoors for a reason!  The subject matter is infinite. The trick is to narrow it down. Sometimes it's smart to do a little research before you leave the house. Look up your location and see if there is anything of particular interest, that way you're not spending all of your time exploring. Then again exploring is pretty fun and I always tell myself if my painting ends up bad at least I had fun looking around. 
This top sketch is from the local farmer's market. Before I went I knew what I was going to see, people buying fresh produce. That told me to be prepared to paint people, as prepared as I could be.  It was stinkin' hot out and I was waiting for my food at the food truck when this woman came along and made the perfect subject while I waited. Why her? She caught my eye. I liked the contrast between the sun on her back and the shade on the front. Her pose was nice and I liked her shadow. To me this is the easiest way to decide a subject while out painting. DOES IT CATCH MY EYE?  Chances are if you notice it there's something about it that you find interesting. (I find while in public it's either something interesting or completely repulsive that catches my eye. At times both can work for good subject matter.) Think about it, if you're forcing yourself to look at something in order to paint it it probably won't turn out that great. Surely at some point in your life you were forced to go to a party you didn't want to attend and you were completely miserable. Why do the same thing to yourself and force yourself to paint something you don't want to paint? So one of the easiest ways to decide what to paint is to ask yourself, does it catch my eye? After the subject has caught your eye you need to decide if you can paint it or not. This is a tough one for beginners because so many times we all just want to say, no it's too hard. Don't set yourself up to fail while plein air painting. If your draftsman skills are a little rusty then don't decide to go downtown and paint buildings.  If your anatomy skills are lacking don't go to a crowded place and try to paint people. Start with what you know then build your way up to those hard things you've always wanted to try. Plein air painting is hard enough as it is. You have to lug your gear around and fight the weather, bugs and whatever other critters are around. Don't make your outing tougher by trying to paint something you don't like or are unsure of. 
And absolutely do as I say and not as I do because I still try to force myself to paint stuff I don't like and it still never works out. 

5x7 watercolour sketch
This guy caught my eye, not because of his oh so hot Superman physique but because his cowboy/fishing hat was lit up like a light bulb. The sun was at his back and the off-white hat was glowing as if he were some sort of major award that had just been plugged in and put on display in a windowsill. FRAGILE! Unfortunately he didn't make a perfect subject so I had to do some rearranging. His fishing pole was actually to the side of him and it looked like it was coming up out of his armpit and going through his nose.  In my sketch I moved it to form a more pleasing shape, the all mighty triangle. Finding or making these shapes is another piece to the plein air puzzle. I'll try to explain the shape finding thing in my next post. If anyone has anything to add, a helpful analogy or more questions leave them in the comments or message me and I'll try to cover them in the next post.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Rembrandt 1936

This movie is about an hour and a half, in black and white and the Hollywood version of the drama that was Rembrandt van Rijn's life. It doesn't focus too much on his actual painting but it does give a bit of an insight as to what it must have been like for a painter back then. Back then being the 1600's.  It's hard to believe that Rembrandt was a bit of a radical painter but this movies portrays it as so. He didn't paint like everyone else and the prince and other people who were buying paintings only wanted traditional work.
There's a common theme among a lot of the artists in all of these movies. A lot of them came from wealthy families only to live as a "starving artist". Lautrec, Cezanne, Rembrandt, even van Gogh's parents were upper middle class.
The actress playing Geertje was incredible, what an absolutely horrible woman. The woman who played what would have been his second wife if his fist wife hadn't have made a stipulation in her inheritance, was Elsa Lanchester, better known as the bride of Frankenstein. (Didn't she turn out to be the bride of Frankenstein's monster though?) A great cast and decent movie. Only drawback was I had to lower and raise the volume throughout the movie.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Plein Air vs Photo Reference

Earlier this week I wrote a really eloquent post about painting in natural light vs. painting inside from a photograph but some technical issue deleted 3/4 of what I wrote. Really, it was something else. In all seriousness I did write it and it did get deleted so I'll try to re-do it Reader's Digest style.
I went to a workshop at David Garrison's studio.  There were about 10 students, the weather was nice, the people were nice and the paintings were great. David mentioned to the students that I paint outside just about every day, which is true I try to get out every day that I can even if it's just to sketch. One of the students asked me if I ever worked from a photograph. At first I thought it was a silly question, doesn't everyone work from a photo reference? At least at some point we all do, right? With the ease of taking pictures and having an instant reference why wouldn't you? A camera is a very useful tool to have in your toolbox. As long as you think of it as a tool.
The one thing David was trying to emphasize at his workshop was to do quick 30 minute sketches to capture the different light and then use your sketches for reference when you go to paint indoors. One of the students did this and it was amazing to see her results. She painted the same thing throughout the day and at the end she went inside and had 3 references that showed exactly what the lighting outdoors does. This is the difference between plein air and photo reference. Sure you can go snap a picture at different times of the day to get different lighting but a camera has less ability for seeing colours than our eyes do. Photos wash things out and often blacks out shadows. A camera is a very useful tool but it's like a nail.  You need a hammer to make a nail effective, it's only part of the solution. There are a lot of landscape painters who wouldn't consider themselves plein air painters. They simply go out and do value studies and either take reference photos or work from memory and sketches. If you're not an outdoorsy person but want to paint things that are outside, a value study and a photo can get you pretty far in the studio. Having the right tools in your toolbox can make your life easier and makes a difference in your finished work.

Monday, June 20, 2016

BBC Fake or Fortune Series 1 Episode 1 - Monet

Another show from the BBC, this one is Fake or Fortune. Each episode is about an hour long and they focus on different artists's and works in question. Episode one is about Monet and the painting, 
'Bords de la Seine √† Argenteuil'.  It was rejected and called fake but is it actually a real Monet? The team of experts describe how paintings are tested for authenticity and it's crazy to think that people can still pull off fake paintings.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Impressionists

Here are all three episodes of The Impressionists.  There are a few artists who were not mentioned in the movie and there could be several reasons why. They did manage to mash in a great deal in three hours though and did a very good job portraying the life of these artists.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Impressionists Part 2

If you haven't yet seen The Impressionists part 1  make sure to do that. This second part is about an hour long and focuses a lot on Cezanne. We sadly lose Manet but Monet finds his garden. It also shows how Monet painted his famous haystacks. Painting several at a time and moving from each one while the light changes. It's an ideal way to work if you don't mind schlepping all of your gear plus extra canvas and easels.  You'll notice that he has his lady friend to help him haul the stuff. I have yet to find someone who's willing to basically be a mule and sit around and watch while I paint. I can't even get my dogs to sit still long enough to sketch. 
 If you enjoyed the first part you'll surely like part 2.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Green Garden

Green Garden 10x7 watercolour sketch on Fabriano soft press
It's not even officially summer yet but it might as well be. We began the day with 80 degrees F and 87% humidity in a stunning garden. Acclimating to this weather early is probably going to be beneficial in the upcoming weeks. I drug out the watercolours for this outing mostly because they're easier to carry around and there was a lot of ground to cover. Plus I'm always guaranteed to have water.  I've gone out with pastels and oils and forgot to bring drinking water.  On hot days like today it's important to stay hydrated whether you're out painting in it or not.
It's also not a bad idea to find a shady spot to set up like BJ Grimmer did. I set up right in the sun because I'm a bit foolish.
You could also set up an umbrella like John Preston did.  This proves I'm even more foolish because I had an umbrella in my car I just didn't set it up. There's no way to control the weather but you can do things to make it a little more bearable. If you're not foolish.
Carlene Atwater set up this group outing and it was pretty successful. Carlene, John, BJ, John Evans and I all met up and chose different spots in the garden and got a good couple of hours of painting in before the temperature started to rise. Over lunch John Preston and I were discussing the Impressionists show and how awful it would be if we had to dress like that and haul all of that gear outside with us. There are so many things we take for granted now. There wasn't even tube paint until the 1840s! Can you imagine grinding and mixing your own paint then packing all of that up and heading out somewhere to paint?

Monday, June 13, 2016

The Impressionists Part 1

The Impressionists is a three part BBC docudrama about the Impressionist movement. This first part introduces Claude Monet, who narrates the film. The young Monet is played by Richard Armitage, you may know him as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit and  King Oleron in Alice Through the Looking Glass which may still be in your local theatre.   Along with Monet there is Bazille, Renoir and Degas. It briefly introduces Cezanne in part 1 and even though they make mean girl comments about him I have to agree.  It also focuses greatly on Manet and how he was an influence on these men. Manet is one of my favourite painters so to hear how they praise him made me happy. (I don't know anyone who ever got excited about liking a bad painter.) This first part is only an hour long so you'll still have time to paint after watching. This feels like it's being told from that artist's perspective and not some lame interpretation of what some art historian believes happened. Some information I found on it says that it is based on letters, interviews and any other recorded material that could be found on the lives of the artists.  Perhaps that's why this feels like more of an honest look into their lives.
I will posts part two and three on Wednesday and Friday but if you're antsy, or just looking for something to do in the air conditioning, you can probably find them via this same Youtube channel. Each one is about an hour long, so three hours total. Hopefully after watching the first part you'll be too inspired to go paint to watch the rest. If you do go outside to paint remember to stay well hydrated and be thankful you didn't go out in full garb like these men and women did. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Artist Problems - Art Supply Hoarding

I love ordering from Jerry's Artarama.  If ordering were my only option I'd not have the art supply hoarding problem. Unfortunately I live too close to the Dick Blick warehouse, which means there's an outlet store which then means I end up hoarding art supplies. HOWEVER, it's not so much hoarding as storing for later use. I do know some people who truly hoard. They buy a fancy set of oil paints and set it aside.  They don't want to mess up or waste that fancy set. So what do they do? They go out and buy a cheaper non-fancy set and use that while the good stuff sits and patiently waits to be used. Seriously, there are people who do that. I know people who do that with other things. For example, the body wash and lotion hoarders. They go to that cute store in the mall, find great deals and hoard them away. They don't want to use them because what if that special magic scent never comes back again? Well here's the good news and bad news about that. Bad news is, that scented bath soap will lose it's scent after awhile so you might as well use it now. Good news is, if you also bought fancy oil paints with that jar of mango madness exfoliating scrub the oil paints will still be very usable. Well, the soap is usable too, it just won't smell very good. 
This video is kind of funny and gives some useful advice on how to not be an art supply hoarder. The one great way to not be a hoarder is to use your stuff. Yea, DUH! Except so many people don't. Here's one suggestion he didn't mention, have a swap meet. Go through your mountain of unused supplies and gather up what you don't use then get together with other artists and either exchange or sell your items.  Another man's trash is another man's treasure could never be more true in this situation. I've made the mistake of buying a bunch of stuff just on recommendation alone and when I went to use it I hated it. Fortunately for me I know people who like it and I can either trade or sell it.   Sometimes you have to chalk it up as a loss and give it away. At first that sounds like a waste of money but karma will take care of that eventually. Plus by giving stuff away it will free up room for you to get stuff you actually use, or just free up space which is a wonderful thing. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

The Yellow House

The Yellow House is another movie highlighting Van Gogh and Gauguin's friendship.  This is the full movie, it was originally made for TV and is just a little over an hour. John Simm plays Van Gogh, if you've ever watched Dr. Who or Life on Mars you may recognise him. So far he's probably the best portrayal of Van Gogh, at least in the looks department, he really looks like how Van Gogh painted himself. His Van Gogh is very close to how historians describe him. If that's how he really was, we'll never know.  I get this odd feeling that Van Gogh was just like the little kid in school that ate glue. Eat glue once and everyone remembers you as the crazy kid that ate glue. Doesn't mean he still eats glue or that the eating of the glue wasn't just an evil rumour made up by the mean kid in the class. If you're getting the idea that I ate glue in school that's false but the kid that sat next to me did and I made sure to let everyone know he did it. Anywho,  John Lynch plays Gauguin and again, the likeness is there. The makeup department should have gotten a bonus on this job. He's also been in several movies and TV shows. This movie almost gives you the feeling that it wasn't actually Vincent who was "crazy", it was everyone else around him. Vincent was timid and insecure and let others lead him around and Gauguin was probably the worst influence. The part where Gauguin finally sells a painting and says he's going to go out and buy a pair of boots and returns with pastry instead says a lot.  Watching this gave me the feeling that these two were in an abusive relationship. Van Gogh was being verbally beat down by Gauguin but he didn't want to end the relationship because that would mean being alone. It's much like Bart and Milhouse on the Simpsons.