Next, I decided on a color strategy.
I could have included or used just about any color scheme here. In the past, indecision about what colors to put in would have caused me to seize up.
Now I know better. . . so I chose orange.
Every color in this painting is based off of orange! The purples, greens and especially the blues.
Having a simple plan before you start a painting can help you get further along when you need to work fast.
Here are some process shots from a painting I did this spring in New Harmony, Indiana.
"New Harmony Spring"
8 x 10 oil/linen
Starting with a medium to light violet, I sketched the scene on #15 Clausen.
Value is the key here. I don’t want to waste time having to go back and lighten my drawing to control contrasts.
Color is less important, and I may use a different hue for each painting.
This stage also shows colorful shadow shapes and a bit more drawing to the middle ground trees.
I look for the biggest, most important value or color mass.
The grassy field has a huge influence on my color and value perceptions. It’s also a key player in the sentiment I am trying to convey.
To make the landscape read, I know the light side of the tree must be a value in-between the field plane and the tree shadows.
I also try to limit my color intensities to the upright trees and not all of the masses.
Don’t get caught watching the paint dry! Get it filled in.
Only do what you believe will help you make informed choices about the next few steps.
Establish the important relationships. Try to resolve the sentiment…Hint: It’s not in the details!
Next, I start to address form. I have a saying. What points at the sky, belongs to the sky. I start to show form by adding cool notes to planes that point upwards and warmer notes to those that face the ground.
At this point, with the important relationships built, I can take a breather.
I cut into the trees with sky color to give a more natural, organic feel.
Adding bird holes, starting to modulate the color of the foreground grasses.
Finish. Now I can add some “Danger color”…but very thoughtfully.
To help tame the greens, activate the mass and give visual excitement, I add a complementary violet.
I saturate the canola in the foreground and make sure it is less in the background.
Added a slight pink to the tops of the grasses under the mid ground tree…and done!
For those of you who might be shopping for a Plein Air Rig, here are some suggestions. Whichever you choose, please read the last item on the list, the support (Very Important).
Option 1: "I only paint outside occasionally, like once every month or year. . ."
The French Easel
The French easel is a design that has not changed much in the last 100 years. It is a universal indoor and outdoor easel. But sometimes setting it up is like trying to put sneakers on a cow. Parts can be cumbersome, and it’s not something you will want to hike with. It will hold huge canvases and because of this, I own one of these and use it once in a while.
Blick French Easel by Jullian
Dick Blick Art Materials
Option 2: "I paint outside more than twice a month, sometimes even once a week!"
The Cigar Box
No frills, lightweight and easy to carry, this particular box made by Judsons Art Outfitters, Guerrilla Painter® is very sturdy. It has the limitation of accommodating only 8x10 and smaller canvases which can be carried inside the box. When I paint I usually paint no larger then 8x10 anyway. A good starter box, decent price.
Guerrilla Painter® 8x10 Cigar Box™ V2
Judsons Art Outfitters
Option 3: "I paint outside once a week, sometimes even 3 times a week!"
The Pochade Box: French Resistance
This Pochade Box by Judsons Art Outfitters, Guerrilla Painter® is a main box for Plein Air painters. Easy to carry, little heavier than the Cigar Box. It usually has compartments and accommodates a range of canvas sizes and accessories. I have a medium size version, but it will accommodate a 16x20 canvas with its telescoping support arm. The umbrella is for shade not water, and not shade for you but for your canvas and palette. I strongly suggest at some point you buy an umbrella and mount.
They offer discounts for seconds (slightly factory dinged).
Medium French Resistance Easel SECOND
Judsons Art Outfitters
Hook for hanging solvent can
Guerrilla Painter® Handy Hook
Judsons Art Outfitters
(very handy for brushes)
Guerrilla Painter Palette Extension Kit
for the Medium French Resistant
Judsons Art Outfitters
Umbrella and clamp
Silver Deluxe Soft Clamp Umbrella
Judsons Art Outfitters
Option 4: "I'm staying in the Amazon jungle for eight months" Rig
All-aluminum construction and will survive many years of abuse. However it is NOT any lighter than the wooden boxes mentioned!
The "friction" canvas holder is adequately designed, but it does not always hold and is limited by its height to accommodate 11x14 canvases. (I have the first version. Newer versions may have more capability.)
The strength of this box is its potential for longevity. I own one and use it daily and it shows.
Useful for mixing paint, holding brushes and supplies.
STRADA Side Tray
Whichever box you choose (aside from the French Easel with built in legs) you will need a support tripod.
Word of advice: Don’t skimp here! A flimsy, shaky tripod is the worst thing to try and manage out in the field.
I use the Manfrotto Tripods.
They are very sturdy and rugged, fairly lightweight and fold up small (ish).
I also recommend this kit, or something comparable.
A pre-attached "Ball Style" head with Quick Release plate really saves time out in the field.
Manfrotto 293 Tripod with Ball Head with Quick Release
I scrape my paintings. I admit it, and I do so often. So did John Singer Sargent (a scraping fool!), but I guess that makes him a failed artist as well. The list of other scraping artists goes on and on.
Not just for starting over, scraping the surface of a painting is also a means of controlling texture in preparation of additional layers.
I met an artist on a recent plein air excursion who expressed surprise and disappointment that I had scraped a painting back that I was unhappy with so that I could start again fresh. As if I had committed a deep sin that wounded the soul and "Spirit of Plein Air" . . . Yada Yada.
I chose oils precisely for their forgiveness, because I could start over. I also like the idea that I can erase entire passages from a painting and re-state it. I like that about oils. It's not a sin, it's a strength.
I don't know where this attitude came from. I see the shock on the faces of the general public, so maybe it came from a system that teaches our children that starting over is somehow a fault. It's not my place to debate that. . . I'm an artist not a social scientist. I'm a failed artist among other failed artists who go back hundreds of years, who happily scrape their paintings so that we can make better ones.
Toned canvas was pretty much a mystery to me for a long time. Until I started thinking logically about it. Off and on for years, I toned my canvases with just about any color and value, sometimes multi-colors and values. But now that I have certain convictions about what a landscape needs, I find that:
Careful consideration for the undertone's VALUE and INTENSITY aids in efficient painting in the field.
Since I believe that a landscape painting without atmospheric perspective just isn't a landscape, I am always finding ways to promote it in my paintings.
Five devices for promoting atmospheric perspective:
• Cool it.
• Grey it.
• De-emphasize detail
• De-emphasize contrast
• Lighten it.
Undertone Value and Contrast Control
It's "de-emphasize contrasts" that I pay a lot of attention to. In short, I control my foreground, middle ground and background contrasts from the very start. If my undertone is getting in the way of that, I'm not working efficiently. I want to avoid having to go back into the painting to lower the contrasts in the background. The value of the undertone should work for us and not against us here.
The other aspect of the undertone is intensity or color saturation. I build my paintings on relationships, so if my initial tone is too saturated, I have less control over it from the start. It can inhibit my ability to judge subsequent masses as they are blocked in. Too colorful an undertone, and I am always competing with it. Too grey, and I can't seem to make the block-in colorful enough.
Finally, I think the undertone color (hue) is up to the artist. Whatever conveys your inspiration and sentiment the best.
The light behind the columns broke thru the trees and filtered past the structure. It was clear to me that this was about warms and cools but to get that right balance with oil paint, sometimes it is better to paint thinly and take advantage of certain colors' transparency.
Once I had established the tone I wanted, I painted in a range of "less warm" colors until I finished with the cool accents.
I painted Apollo Spring during the annual West Baden Paint Out sponsored by Indiana Heritage Arts. The Apollo Spring structure marks the location of one of four natural mineral springs that drew people to the West Baden Springs hotel for their perceived health benefits. The structure stands at one corner of the sunken garden adjacent to the historic hotel.
This is a little painting I did close to where I live. I stopped to paint it noticing first the atmosphere as a result from the heat of the day.
It is my opinion, as well as some other artists, that atmosphere in a landscape painting is essential to express depth.
I like to tempt the viewer in by showing depth in my landscapes, like a hiker on a trail who sees the far off hills and mountains lured to an adventure.
Lot Yachts, isn’t really about yachts or lots. It’s about the light.
My paintings will always be about light and shadow as well as the color of the sky and the air and how a place far from what you know as home can permeate your being.
Michigan is one such place for my wife Kim and myself. The water, sand and cool wind that blows off the lake with the music of the waves lapping against its shore.
Color is of course my biggest reason for painting and Michigan's cerulean sky, weathered barns, orange oat fields and sails out on the open water all make for great inspiration. I hope you can join me for my show "Michigan Revisited" at Gallery Two.
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Here I talk about art, my process, and what I have learned painting in oils for the past 15 years.
RayMar Monthly Finalist
What a wonderful still life. It has luscious color and variety of shapes. I love the abstract nature of this painting. The artist took this still life and made it his own with the conscious outlining and color variations. It is filled with life and energy.
- Camille Przewodek
RayMar Monthly Finalist
This is a small painting, which is common to those painted en plein air, and its intimate size makes it an exquisite gem. Everything that should be in a larger, more developed work is to be found here: an adept grouping of values into two strong light and shadow shapes, additional grouping of those shapes using a division of warms and cools, and a fresh handling of paint that can be difficult to maintain in a studio setting. Some folks might consider this to be a sketch. I consider it a complete painting. The colors remain clean because each stroke has been carefully considered and laid down in a sensible order. Enough transparency remains to spice up the larger shapes, and attention was given to the direction of the brush pulls. Troy knows how to start and when to stop. We can all learn a lesson from that, right?"
- Thomas Jefferson Kitts