Tuesday, September 30, 2014

St. Augustine Beach

We just got back from a week in a beach cottage near St. Augustine, Florida.  It's something we've talked about doing for years.  We finally got tired of talking and just did it.  Janis went on VRBO.com (Vacation Rentals By Owner) and found a lovely 3-bedroom cottage a block off the beach, in a neighborhood called Butler Beach, which is a bit south of St. Augustine on Anastasia Island.  It was a wonderful place: quiet, peaceful, very wide beaches, and very few people.  Our next door neighbors joined us for a few days and we celebrated three birthdays and an anniversary while finding some really great (and some not so great) restaurants.  The weather wasn't so great as it rained almost every day.  On the other hand, the rain kept it cool (and MUGGY), and the rain rarely lasted very long, so it didn't really stop us from doing anything.  And Janis and I got to visit with a couple that we last saw 18 years ago.  Fabulous time!

I took my easel and painting stuff down.  My intent was to paint every day, but between the weather and Required Social Engagements, it didn't happen.  I did get four paintings done, though.  All are oil on 9"x12" linen panels.

Beach 1

This was at our beach access.

 Beach 2

Same spot, only turned around looking the other way.

Rain over the Matanzas River

I went over to the river side of the island one day, under some pretty threatening clouds, and painted this little study.

Palm and Phone Pole

Finally, a bit of clear(er) weather gave me a chance to play with some brighter colors!

These aren't earth-shattering paintings, but they were lots of fun to do, and I was happy to see that my landscapes are gradually getting better.  The compositions are stronger, I'm seeing colors better, I'm mixing colors better, and I'm painting better.  Progress is a good thing, no?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Yard Art

Not every creative thing I do is related to drawing or painting.  Sometimes it's as simple as stacking stones.  The term "art" might be a stretch for this project, but it seemed to occupy the same creative space as my studio activities, so I'm gonna call it "art".

There's a spot by the bottom of our driveway that was difficult to deal with.  It was too steep to mow, too rock-hard to plant anything, and had roots from a dogwood tree that was just barely staying alive.  So 14 years ago, we got a bunch of river rock and I stacked them against the hill.  It protected the dogwood's roots and looked nicer than anything else we could think of.  Over the years, though, the carefully-stacked rocks settled and moved, the UPS and FedEx trucks ran over them, and gradually they went from being stacked to just being a pile.  Here's how they looked.

Finally, in August, I decided it was time to dismantle the stack and do it over while the weather was still decent.  I sorted them into four piles: small, medium, large, and flat.

The next step was to start laying them down in a way that would be stronger and (hopefully) more long-lasting.  I built up the strip along the driveway that was basically a drainage run first.  The trick was to select and lay the rocks, then fill the spaces between them with pea gravel, and then fill the remaining space with sand.  This locks them in place and minimizes how much they move.  I think.  I hope.

It took a heckuva lot longer than I thought.  I started about the middle of August during a cool spell, thinking it would take maybe a week.  Hah!  It took a week just to remove the rocks!  I found that I was good for maybe two or three hours at a stretch, starting in mid-morning and stopping when it got hot and this old body began to complain too much.  Finally about mid-September, the project was completed.  Here's how it looks now:

So why do I consider it "yard art"?  The process of making it.  River rock is all different sizes and shapes.  They're round like baseballs, oblong like footballs, shaped like cubes or discs, angled, twisted, smooth, rough, gray, brown, yellow, red, you name it.  You don't just pick one up and slam it down like you do with bricks.  You have to find the right rock.  I would stand there and look at the spot to be filled, getting a good visual feeling for the shape of the rock needed, then I'd go to the appropriate pile and find two or three.  Then I'd try them all, test fitting them this way and that, until it seemed right.  It wasn't really a conscious process, it was more like zen.  When I was in the groove, the selections and fittings flowed smoothly; if I wasn't in the groove, I couldn't find the right rock to save my soul.  And since each rock was different, I made use of that.  There were large rocks next to small ones, flat next to cubes next to rounds, gray next to brown.  It felt a lot like painting.  Except, of course, the rocks were a helluva lot heavier than any brush I've ever picked up.

But it's done.  And since I used some lessons learned from the last time I did this, 14 years ago, I hope it'll stay put longer.  I'll be a really old fart in another 14 years and don't want to do this again!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Development of a Painting

As I've noted here before, I've been trying to develop some skills in landscape painting.  It's a subject that I have never done very well.  But it seems to be coming together now.  I've been fairly happy with what's popped off my easel lately.  What's more interesting is that it's a very different way of working than what I normally do.  It forces me to think more about composition, color, finding the focal point, and subordinating some things so that the important thing(s) catch your eye.  I usually think of the things in the painting as objects rather than as arrangements of paint, and the message in the artwork depends on the objects I paint rather than the way they're put together on the canvas.  So this has been a very eye-opening experience.

I thought I'd share the development of a recent landscape painting.  By the Cornfield is a small 16x12 oil on panel.  The setting is here in Madison County, NC, maybe a mile as the crow flies from my home.  Of course, this being Madison County, you have to drive maybe five miles to get there.

Here's the initial block-in.  It's in ultramarine blue mixed with burnt sienna.  I was attracted to both the tree and the road, and wanted to see how much depth I could get in the final painting.

Here's the first round of color.  I wanted to get paint over the whole panel so I could start adjusting it.  This first round of color, as it turned out, was too strong: all the greens really jumped, even in places where I didn't want them to.

At this point, I had learned that, for whatever reason, it was the road that interested me most, and I'd spent a lot of time on it.  I put some shadows on the road under the tree and in the foreground.  The ridge beyond the tree had been developed a bit, but I decided at this point that it was too dark and too green.  To push it back, away from the tree, I needed to lighten it and make it cooler (bluer) for atmospheric perspective.  The tree was pretty flat with little variation in lights and darks, so it needed to have some lighter lights and darker darks.  And the foliage in the foreground needed a wider range of greens as they were all pretty much the same.

Here's the final painting.  Making the ridge bluer and lighter really helped separate it from the tree.  I scumbled in a warm haze above the horizon line (yellow ochre and white).  The tree has a wider range of lights and darks, making it feel more three-dimensional.  I simplified the foliage to the left - originally there was a bush, but I couldn't get it to feel like a bush without taking over as the primary point of interest, so I simplified it.  I worked some warm "dirt" colors (yellow ochre, terra rosa, and white) into the ground on either side of the road and in the cornfield.  

And here for comparison purposes, is the original scene.  You can see the liberties that I took with it.  The tree, for example, blends right in with the ridge as there isn't a lot of distance between them, and it's confusing: what's the tree and what's the ridge?  The greens everywhere are really strong, too.  Maybe I could have kept the foreground greens strong, but I toned them down to focus on the road.  Here, though, you can see that it's the contrast between the green foliage that red/tan dirt road that makes it stand out.  

But there it is - the development of one of my new landscapes.  Your thoughts?

Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Disney Treatment

An NPR segment introduced me to a really cool art project.  Rejected Princesses puts a Disney spin on real-life women who were heroines or villains.  Jason Porath was a Disney animator.  One day, he and his buddies were sitting around, talking about how Disney would portray women that were too brave, capable, deadly, or otherwise too awesome for the typical princess role.  Disney, of course, isn't doing any stories on women who were Russian tank commanders, leaders of ancient fighting forces, or British spies.  So now Jason is doing it.

This attractive young lady, Tomyris, for example, was a widow in what is now Kazakhstan.  When the leader of the world's largest empire tried to marry her to expand his empire, she spurned his advances.  When he tried to take over by invading, she mustered up an army, kicked his ass, cut off his head, and publicly defiled it so badly that her name was a household word for centuries.  Not exactly Disney's idea of a pretty young thing who needs a prince to take care of her.

These images are well-researched.  Tomyris' outfit is authentic, as is the helmet of the defeated, decapitated, and defiled emperor, and so is the landscape.  Jason really knows how to tell a story with his images, something that I can really appreciate but cannot do nearly as well as he does.

Jason posts a new story every week.  I'm still digging through all the cool ones that he's already done.  Go take a look and check it often!