Monday, February 28, 2011

Class 7— Mar. 3 – Abstract Landscape Painting: Robert Genn

"Late Light on Wiwaxy from Larch Grove, Yoho Park, B.C.," by Robert Genn
In this first class of its kind for us, we’ll be inspired by the paintings of well-known Canadian painter Robert Genn, who has a knack for distilling the landscape. Many of you may recognize Genn from the twice-weekly letters he has written since 1999, but he is a fine artist with a strong personal voice. He paints in acrylics and most often portrays landscapes.

Robert Genn is one of Canada’s most accomplished painters, having gained international recognition for his genre subjects on Canada’s West Coast. 

He has painted in most parts of Canada, and in the United States, Central America, Europe and Asia. His technique includes a tradition of strong design using patterns of color and form, with a pervasive sense of personal style. 

Born in Victoria, British Columbia in 1936, he attended Victoria College, The University of British Columbia and The Art Centre School in Los Angeles, California. Genn carries on the tradition of the Canadian Landscape with fresh, painterly techniques and strong design, often and especially exhibiting his devotion to painting by reducing grand themes to small panels – painted in the wilderness he loves.

(Taken from “About The Painter’s Keys”

I'll take us on a tour of his artwork, looking at the elements of art he uses so successfully, as well as analyzing his palette of colors, his philosophy of painting, and flair for design.

Come prepared to paint after this presentation and discussion.Although you're free to continue work on anything you've already begun, since our final critique is next week, you're also welcome to be inspired by Genn's work and emulate it in a painting, if you so desire. 

Please bring your White Without White paintings for us to see, too. 


We will begin a new eight-week session on Thursday, March 17. There will be no class on April 21. The final critique is on May 12. 

Please make suggestions for the classes you would like to have in this session now. I'll have a final class schedule on hand next week. 

If you plan to continue classes, or would like to join us, please let me know by next Thursday. Payment is due at class one.

See you on Thursday!

Friday, February 25, 2011

White Without White class results

Who needs white anyway? We don't! We proved it in class...

The secret is that white isn't a color, it's a value, as I mentioned in the last post, and that all the colors of the rainbow are contained in white light. This should free you to use any color at all.

Remember the photo (posted here)? Well, look what you can do with it!

Notice that each one contains all the same VALUES but recorded in different colors. You could paint using any or all those colors, as long as you match the values closely. Why not have peach-magenta-purple-green snow?

I'm going to copy and quote myself here, from a chapter in my online book, Landscape Painting in Pastels.
This is only a portion of the chapter, but I think it explains what we were doing in class:
The painting looks washed out, as though someone poured bleach over it and left it in the sun too long. All the colors appear faded, like jeans after years of wear or an old flag left to disintegrate, a vague suggestion of once-bright colors. The overall effect is dull and flat. Chalkiness is a problem that can crop up in any medium, but is often found in pastel paintings, partly because of the abundance of pale colors that are available. The whitish, wishy-washy colors of a chalky painting suggest a lack of control over value, contrast and color.

A high-key painting need not be bland and characterless. Instead it can celebrate the light by maintaining control of tones, using a range of values and the right contrasts for the subject. Although the darkest dark may only be a medium value in the final painting it must nevertheless present a selection of values leading to the lightest light.

One way to defeat chalky color syndrome is to try two different challenges: First, paint an all-white subject using no actual white pastel. Second, paint a very high-key subject in which a medium value functions as the darkest dark. Each of these exercises will strengthen your understanding of how to control values while using colors. Value is the element that describes the shapes of objects and is the underlying abstraction of all painting, so increased awareness of value improves composition as well as color.

How much color can you put into white? One of the most interesting aspects of white is that it’s made up of all colors in the light spectrum. Overlapping red, blue and green spotlights can make white light on a stage, as long as the colors are equally balanced. For the artist, this means white may be flavored with any color found in nature. Consider the color cast that varying light sources give to objects. Our sun is a yellow star and gives warmth to all colors seen in daylight. In shade, the blue of the sky influences all colors, so whites seen in daylight can generally be thought of as warm yellow in the sun and cool blue in shade. However, there are varying kinds of daylight. On an overcast day the light is often cool in color, having been filtered through clouds, while at sunrise or sunset the light is strikingly warm in color. Whites seen under these conditions can be darker shades of blue and green or warm, bright tones of red and orange. Moonlight, because it is so pale, bleeds all color from a scene, leaving ghostly grays in place of whites. Firelight and candlelight make white into hot red and orange. You’re free to select from an endless array of light colors because of the fact that white contains all colors.

One particularly important tool to have on hand is a value finder. While there are many varieties, essentially this is a card printed with a scale of grays from black to white, each of which is pierced with an opening. This allows you to hold the card above a color, squint until your eye is almost closed and see where that particular color blends into its value of gray. For instance, you can hold the card above a photograph of clouds and perceive the lightest lights in the white of the billows, as well as the paler grays of the blue of the sky. There is no standard number assigned to values on the value finder. The number 10 does not always represent white. In fact, 10 might easily be called black, so disregard the actual number but understand that there is a scale of dark to light.

White is by definition the lightest value in the palette. To paint white subject matter you must first realize that no other color can possibly approach white in lightness. Therefore the challenge is to build near-whites into the painting, using far more colors in the light range of your palette. Hold the value finder above the lightest values in your photograph or painting, noting that only white registers as the lightest light. Now find colors that are slightly -- very slightly -- darker than white. This may be only a pale pearl gray value. If your palette of colors is not strong in this light range, consider purchasing very pale blues, greens, yellows, peaches, pinks, lavenders and grays that you can use when very light values are needed. However, do not rely on light colors alone to make an effective painting of a white subject. You must structure a strong range of all values into the painting, and these too must be made using colors. Particularly important to the success of the white subject is the use of interesting middle tones, where the strongest color often resides. The strongest darks will also benefit from the use of colors.
To check the values of your colors change a photograph to grayscale on your computer. This will allow you to clearly see how the colors translate into values. Check to make sure that your subject appears to be white in the grayscale version and that you have the proper array of values.
My challenge to my students was to use my photo, recomposing it into an interesting set of shapes to make a snow painting using NO WHITE. I did a quick demonstration on white Wallis paper that I toned a fairly light neutral beige color. I did a quick charcoal sketch to capture the values, and then painted this:

And I assure you that there is no white in it at all! The snow is made of many, many different colors layered together. It's the control of the contrasting darks and lights that gives the impression of snow.

Good job, gang. Keep going!


Monday, February 21, 2011

Class 6— Feb. 24 – Snow: White Without White

One thing I've always enjoyed is the challenge of using the correct value while shifting colors. That's easy enough to do in something like the sky, layering various colors of the light value of the sky together, or the trees, as we played with last week, adding oranges and purples to sun and shadow areas whether or not you use green. But how does that apply to white? White is, after all, a VALUE, not a color. Technically it's made up of all colors:

White light is all of the colors of light combined within the visible light spectrum. When white light is separated through a prism, we see the visible light spectrum. The various wavelengths of visible light separate into colors. In turn, when these wavelengths are combined proportionately, we see white light
However, in painting we use pigments, not light. (Okay, don't get technical on me...light through pigments, yada yada... You know what I mean!) The idea that white is a value or tone in painting, combined with the knowledge that white light contains all colors, frees us to have some fun and experiment. So this is my answer to the question, How can you paint colorful whites? Don’t use any white! 

This week we'll paint from this photo only WITHOUT USING ANY WHITE. You're welcome to manipulate it whatever way you choose to, by cropping, recoloring, saturating or otherwise tweaking it. Bring a print with you to class ready to use for the painting we'll do on Thursday--not before.

Bring a piece of virgin white paper, any size or format, and a clean palette. You might want to be sure to have a nice range of lighter colors on hand. We’ll discuss how colorful snow or any white subject really can be. 

Bring your paintings of the trees from last week to show, as well. 

See you on Thursday!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Evergreen Trees class results

Pine tree demonstration, 12" x 9"
Pine trees are a subject we all encounter in the southwestern landscape. My challenge was to take one of the four photos I posted and put it into another setting. For my demonstration I merged these two photos using Photoshop:

I ended up with this resource photo, which I used for the painting you see at the top of this post.

My first question was how I might recompose to make it a more interesting painting. My students and I brainstormed ideas, and I decided to crop the sky, angle the horizon into more of a mountain shape, and give more perspective to the pathway by widening it at the front. I wanted the pine tree I added to be the star of the show, as I believe it has!

To backtrack a little, this is how my demo looked after the first pass:

Let me remind you of some facts about tree in general and pine trees specifically. First you must understand the anatomy of a tree in order to paint it properly. Just as a portrait painter must have knowledge of the bone structure underlying the face, you must understand the skeletal underpinnings of the tree, but because of the fact that pine trees never shed their foliage it’s difficult to understand the underlying structure. However, all trees have certain elements in common.If you were able to look down on a pine tree from the top you’d notice how the branches spiral out in a loosely radial pattern along each trunk. This pattern is repeated over and over, in the habit of trunks, branches, needles (which are leaves), and pine cones. In order to picture this design, think of the barber pole where the spiral rises continuously. 
A tree rarely puts out branches at even and opposite intervals along the barber pole. One of the reasons an artificial Christmas tree looks fake is the intervals are too exact, with a branch sprouting out at perfectly opposing and predictable distances, unlike the real thing. On a real tree, the larger branches develop smaller branches in a roughly radial spiral pattern, as the tree grows taller. This corkscrew arrangement generally holds true for all trees, including pines.
Trees are radially symmetrical, meaning both halves are roughly the same, sometimes even more so in pine trees, which can be almost perfectly conical in shape. You could place a mirror at the center of the tree and see a matching image. However, try to paint your pine tree so that it isn’t simply made up of two identical halves but has asymmetrical qualities that make it more interesting.
Remember that trees must be balanced to remain upright, although their tenacity is amazing. Once the root system is well established a tree can remain upright even when part of it is severely damaged. A lightning strike can destroy as much as half the tree and yet it can live on in its injured state because each trunk achieves a certain balance on its own. In the arid southwest near my home you can sometimes see a tree that’s growing along an arroyo, the bank of which has eroded away and left the tree growing horizontally out of the wall. The tree has righted itself and grows up toward the light with a 45 degree bend in the trunk. All of the other branches have arranged themselves to balance the tree in its upright growth.

Pine trees come in many varieties, from blue spruce to piƱon to towering ponderosa pines, but all share some common traits. The general value of pine trees is medium-dark to dark, depending on the light source and the time of day. Shade the green of pines with a drift of orange in the sunlight and a hint of purple in the shadows, to excite the green.
Pines usually grow well only at certain altitudes, so you find one type predominating in most areas, though there can be a mix of one or two varieties, as well. Pines generally don’t have an open growth pattern but are dense and closed, except at the very outside edges. A few pines tend to grow in a slightly more open pattern, especially long-needled ones.
The classic ‘Christmas tree’ shape, a wide-based triangle, is characteristic of only a few pines. Most tend to have a much more cylindrical shape and taper only slightly at the crown of the tree. Analyze the overall shape before painting a pine tree and throw out any preconceived ideas you have. Don't let your pines become a solid wall! Remember that the wind blows through them, so keep them slightly open, which will create a sense of 3-dimensionality.


As a rule I suggest you approach painting your tree this way: 
Using Wallis paper, tone it any color you like using a foam brush. 
Locate where the trunk emerges from the ground.
Find the thrust—the angle of the overall tree.
Locate the top limit and outside edges.
Draw the geometric shape overall.
9" x 9" Wallis paper, toned blue violet, charcoal sketch
Carve away the negative shapes. Let me show you an illustration that might help you understand this better:
Find the geometric shape and then carve away the negative shapes.
Locate trunk and major branches.
Determine the angle of the sunlight and shadows.

Charcoal underdrawing in place
Consider the background first.
Paint what’s behind, intruding into the tree’s shape.

Add purples beneath shadowed foliage.
Add oranges beneath sunlit foliage.

Find a characteristic stroke that mimics the pine needles.
Use that detail in areas where balloons of foliage intersect or the foliage is against the background.
Add greens over the other colors, starting with the dark and proceeding to the highlights. 

And here is the resulting painting, not quite finished yet:

If you would like to view an animated loop of this painting, you can view it here in a thread I posted at WetCanvas. 

Keep going, gang!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Class 5— Feb. 17 – Evergreen Trees

Evergreens constitute a lot of the trees you see in the western landscape, so for this class we'll take a closer look at how to approach painting them. We'll visit the rules and at class I'll discuss with you the challenge I have for you regarding painting them.

I've posted several photographs here so you can play with them. You have my full permission to use these for paintings with no reservations or copyrights. Make some drawings, recompose on the computer, or do notan/ thumbnails to get your mind ready to paint. Combine several photos or transplant your tree in the composition, or into another place altogether. We will paint these in class after seeing a demonstration showing you some of the key elements you might want to consider. The idea is to use the “rules” but customize things, enhancing the painting in your own way. 

Here are a few elements to consider:
  • What is the overall outside shape of this tree, reduced to basic geometry? Is it an oval, triangle, rectangle or another shape? Where will you locate it on the page?
  • Analyze the largest openings in the tree to see where an how the shape is pierced. How does that contribute to the balance of this tree?
  • Examine the contours of the outside of the tree, noticing the edges etched against the background. Is the tree symmetrical? How might you use this to your advantage in the composition?
  • Look at the setting the tree is in. What indicates to you that it is growing out of the ground? Are there other trees in proximity? (Or will you add them?) If so, what is their relationship to the star of the show?
  • Can you characterize your tree in some way, as male or female, happy or sad, or in other ways emotively expressive? How could you enhance this impression in your finished painting?
There's a lot more to demonstrate and discuss. Come prepared to paint a portrait of a tree. You may use any paper (I still have Wallis available), any size or color. Bring your ideas sketched out using the photos here. Combine them in any way that pleases you, or add other elements found in your own photographs, or put them in another location entirely, but utilize one or more of these photos in your composition. Please don't paint it ahead of time. We'll paint together in class on Thursday! 

See you then!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Vloothuis's “No Fly Zone" class results

Cool Morning Mesa, 12" x 8"

Although this was a lecture class, not hands-on, I think it was a very enlightening time. I saw some wonderful work from my students,  which we critiqued with the following in mind.

To quote Johannes Vloothuis, who calls a narrow region along all four edges of the painting the "no fly zone":
The most critical zone is the bottom rail. All of the other three sides are important but not quite as critical. In the no fly zone:
  1. Mute saturated colors.
  2. Reduce dark-light contrast
  3. Reduce texture
  4. Reduce hard edges    
Let these taper off as you enter the no fly zone. Use gradation as you enter from all four edges.

(regarding composition) A Landscape painting should contain a center of interest, which is the most predominant and beautiful area in a painting. The center of interest can be further enhanced when it contains a focal point creating a "bulls-eye" effect by adding a touch of purer color, and/or value contrast. This area will become the star in your play.
The surrounding area should be subordinate. A well developed center of interest contains:
  • The strongest color and if possible complementary colors.
  • A strong shift in value contrast (Light-dark or vice versa)
  • Preferably, not essentially, it should take up a good portion of the picture plane and gradually become subdued while withdrawing.
  • Man-made structures, animals or human figures will further enhance the center of interest. They take the role of main actors.
  • The subordinate and surrounding elements should direct or lead the viewer to that center of interest by means of pointers and visual paths.
  • It should not be placed in the center nor halfway in the picture, preferably in any of the 1/3 portions.
  • This area should not be blocked, not even partially. This will diminish its importance.
  • An effectively designed center of interest will grasp and hold the viewer's attention.
I found his thesis idea a good one, clearly referring to peripheral vision in painting. 

Painting is different from photography. Most of the time photos make everything clear from foreground to horizon. A photograph will seem particularly satisfying to most people because they want to look at each element and examine it closely, something the camera does well. But as artists we want to express the world as seen through our eyes, and as we want our viewer to perceive it.

You can control how people view the world in your painting. You can add as sense of peripheral vision to the painting to enhance the sense of a real world experience for the viewer. You should paint the way you see, thus creating a sense of periphery by manipulating the elements of your painting.

It’s fairly easy to see that as things recede into the distance there’s a visual shift. Remember Carlson's Law of Aerial Perspective, which states that all colors become cooler in color and lighter in value as they recede from the eye. As one looks into the distance:
  • Colors become cooler.
  • Colors become less intense.
  • Detail is lost.
  • Edges soften.
  • Value contrasts diminish.
A very similar sort of shift occurs in the periphery of your painting, except that the colors are not cooler, only less saturated. Thus the pictorial elements located along all the edges have slightly more muted chroma; become softer and slightly out of focus; are not as crisply detailed or as highly textured; and have less distinct dark-and-light contrast. Why? It’s how our eyes work. 
Your retina - the light-sensitive lining at the back of your eye - is packed with light-receiving cells called rods and cones. Only the cones are sensitive to color. These cells are clustered mainly in the central region of the retina.

When you see something out of the corner of your eye, its image focuses on the periphery of your retina, where there are few cones. Thus, it isn't surprising that you can't distinguish the color of something you see out of the corner of your eye.
The rods are more evenly spread across the retina, but they also become less densely packed toward the outer regions of the retina. Because there are fewer rods, you have a limited ability to resolve the shapes of objects at the periphery of your vision.

In the center of your field of view is a region in which the cones are packed tightly together. This region is called the fovea. This region, which is surprisingly small, gives you the sharpest view of an object. The fraction of your eye covered by the fovea is about the same as the fraction of the night sky covered by the moon.

Generally, you are not aware of the limitations of your peripheral vision. You think that you have a clear view of the world because your eyes are always in motion. Wherever you look, you see a sharp, clear image. (My bold added.)

A small trick that Albert Handell taught us years ago, one he cautioned us not to rely on too heavily, was to feather lightly all around the edge of the painting using a long stick of soft vine charcoal. Depending on the size of the painting, he might feather up to an inch of space, assuming that a mat of some kind would cover a portion of the edge. This created a sense of the image disappearing along the edge as it slipped away under the mat. However, don’t think you can just blur or soften everything along the edges, which looks odd, nor fall back on the old photographic trick of a short focal length, where only the subject is sharp and clear and everything else is blurry. Those are tricky and ineffective and are not what we’re discussing here.

This manipulation of the four basic elements in the "no fly zone" of your painting is not meant to be a hard-and-fast rule, a “never do” law of painting, but a suggestion about how you might control the way your viewer perceives things in your painting. Use that lovely sense of convergence that focuses on an area of the painting by creating a softened area that suggests peripheral vision to your viewer. It’s a fine line, one you must find in each painting, so don’t start holding yourself to some false ruling. Consider it another tool that you can draw on when it will be effective.

In this example I've pushed the four elements to the extremes to help you see the differences. In the "no fly zone", outside the area of greatest interest, I muted the chroma, contrast, texture and edges, and added the red line so you have no questions. The size of the no fly zone is entirely up to you, and may be most critical along the bottom because that is the area we're most prone to use details of this sort. It's true that saturated colors, tight edge details, lots of texture and high dark-light contrast exist in the foreground, but the question you must answer is to what degree it needs to be used before it distracts the eye from the area of interest. That's the fine line I mentioned. Personally, I feel that some further exploration of those elements could benefit this painting.

Look at each of these paintings and analyze whether or not you think the four elements of the no fly zone have been controlled well. There's no right answer, only your best opinion!
  1. Mute saturated colors.
  2. Reduce dark-light contrast
  3. Reduce texture
  4. Reduce hard edges    

San Carlos,  8" x 8"

Almost Spring, 11" x 17"

Visit Johannes's web site for free online webinar classes.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Class 4— Feb. 10 – Vloothuis's “No-fly” Zone

Let's try this again! Click on this link from last week to review what we'll do this week. 

Class 4— Feb. 10 – Vloothuis's “No-fly” Zone
We’ll explore the effects of peripheral vision on all paintings, applying the concept of the “no-fly” zone to composing. Please bring one or more of your paintings, finished or unfinished, to examine for this critical means of looking at composing. The studio portion of this class is open to WIP (work in progress.)
See you on Thursday!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Feb. 3 Class CANCELLED

I'm sorry but we have to rearrange our schedule as I can't teach tomorrow. We'll resume on Feb.10.

REVISED Class Schedule

Class 4— Feb. 10 – Vloothuis's “No-fly” Zone
We’ll explore the effects of peripheral vision on all paintings, applying the concept of the “no-fly” zone to composing. Please bring one or more of your unframed paintings, finished or unfinished, to examine for this critical means of looking at composing. The studio portion of this class is open to WIP.

Class 5— Feb. 17 – Evergreen Trees
I’ll email several photographs to you ahead of time so you can play with them—drawing, recomposing on the computer, or doing notan/ thumbnails—but you’ll paint in class after seeing a demonstration showing you some of the key elements you need to consider. The idea is to use the “rules” but customize things, enhancing the painting in your own way.

Class 6— Feb. 24 – Snow: White Without White
How can you paint colorful whites? Don’t use any white! I challenge you to paint from a photograph I’ll provide. Bring a piece of virgin white paper, any size or format, and a clean palette.  We’ll discuss how colorful snow (or any white subject) really can be.

Class 7— Mar. 3 – Abstract Landscape Painting: Robert Genn
In this first class of its kind for us, we’ll be inspired by the paintings of well-known Canadian painter Robert Genn, who has a knack for distilling the landscape. He is perhaps best known for his work on (Canada’s) West Coast and in the Rocky Mountains. His technique includes a tradition of strong design using patterns of color and form, with a pervasive sense of personal style. Come prepared to paint any WIP (work in progress) after this presentation and discussion.

Class 8— Mar. 10 - Final Critique and Class Potluck
We’ll do an in-depth crit of the paintings done in this class or anything you’re working on outside of class. Food and fun!