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Wet Paint Out Weekend 2017

Today is my birthday! I’m sitting in the local Barnes & Noble sipping at an iced coffee and organizing photos of my art. Still recovering from a year of not updating social media. And to make matters worse, I just spent the last few days painting like crazy. I guess that doesn’t really make things worse, but it does mean I have even more to organize. And tomorrow is a plein air meetup day and figure drawing night. At least I’m taking advantage of the summer.

Over the weekend the New Hampshire Art Association had its annual Portsmouth plein air competition: Wet Paint Out Weekend. This was my third year participating. Still can’t believe that. In 2015, when I first participated, I had only done plein air painting a handful of times. I did it in Italy during my study abroad semester and I did it a couple times in the weeks before the competition in order to practice. Now three years later I’ve done quite a bit of plein air painting. I’d say I usually go 10-15 times a summer. Looking back on my previous years I can definitely see the improvement. Maybe in a couple of months, when I have a lull in productivity, I’ll do a retrospective.

Last year I was unable to take full advantage of the three days of the competition due to my job. This year I made sure to get into Portsmouth every day between 7 and 8 and I didn’t leave before 5. I’m still recovering physically. It’s odd how tasking standing in the sun can be. Even when I was in the shade I was constantly moving on my feet. I went to bed every night with a loud sigh as my muscles and bones relaxed.

On Friday I began in beautiful Prescott Park.

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About an hour into my painting one of the gardeners came over and told me that they were about to water the flowers and I would get drenched if I remained. It was already incredibly hot out and I weighted the pros and cons and decided I’d sit out for the 45 minutes it would take to water. While I waited I did a pen and ink sketch of another section of the garden. I’m thinking that as I finish up my sketchbooks I’ll do sketchbook tour videos so that I don’t bog down the blog with a bunch of tiny drawings. I’ve been watching different sketchbook tours on youtube and they offer interesting behind the scene views of the artistic process. I find the mistakes and failures just as intriguing as the successes.

Anyway, the above painting took about four hours and offers a cross garden view towards the entry gate. I’ve been thinking more consciously about composition while plein air painting and for this weekend I was specifically focusing on making my paintings contain some sort of window or frame device. So in this painting I used the dark foreground frame of the flowers and trees to create a doorway or window in the distance where the viewer can see a square of sky coming through.

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In the afternoon I walked into town and began painting the buildings. The last two years I spent most of my time doing cityscapes and as I worked this year I realized that I am growing tired of painting the red brick. I’ve just done it too much. The painting didn’t turn out too bad, but I wasn’t excited by it. I spent a few hours on it and called it the end of the day.

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Saturday I woke up and it was muggy and sunny and I wanted to take advantage of the nice lighting so I walked past Prescott Park and headed towards Peirce Island. Yes, it’s spelled peirce not pierce. Across from Peirce Island is Four Tree Island and I set up on the walkway out. As I blocked in the basic shapes the clouds rolled in and the day became gray. It stayed that way all morning long.

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I think the final painting does a nice job of capturing the atmosphere of the morning. Again, I used the foreground to create a frame for the background. I also used the snaking water to lead the viewers eyes to the bridge.

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In the afternoon I settled back into Prescott Park and did a small painting. I popped my easel down right next to the flowers and tried a top down view. I was thinking of Cezanne’s close up still lifes as I worked. The painting turned out quite abstract and challenged me to mix a variety of greens, which is something I really struggled with in my early plein air paintings.

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Sunday was the final day of the competition and I had until noon to work and then submissions were due. It was a cold and windy morning. I wandered for a little bit and decided I would try another bridge painting since the early morning light was bouncing some nice greens and blues off the steel. As I wandered I walked behind another artist’s van and knew that was what I needed to paint. The back of the van was glowing and I wanted to try to capture its contrast with the surroundings.

I think the final painting is interesting but not the best compositionally. I’m not a fan of the way the trees in the background run into the van and I don’t think I quite captured the entirety of the van’s glow. But because of how cold it was in the wind I finished fast and then went off to submit.

I walked around with my family and my girlfriend and her brother (who also participated in the competition) and we got some food and waited for the final results.

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I wound up winning an Honorable Mention for the painting I did that morning! That makes it the third year in a row with an Honorable Mention! Not too shabby I suppose. I keep thinking it would be nice to actually place, but I can’t complain too much. If I’ve been noteworthy to three different jurors I must be doing something right.

Alright, I’m on my second coffee and I’ve been here at Barnes & Noble for a while and I’m starting to get hungry. Time to get birthday pizza or something.

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A Year Gone By

It’s been basically a year since I last posted. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been painting or drawing though. I managed to squeeze in a few things. So here, let me walk you quickly through everything that’s happened since last summer.

If you follow my Facebook page then you probably saw me post some progress shots of a self-portrait. Well, I finally finished it.
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I wanted to create a portrait that was earthy and gave me practice with my reds and skin tones.

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I took a reference photo and made my life a little difficult with the angle of my head. It’s slightly cocked and it was difficult making sure everything worked to properly show that angle.

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You can see in these early shots how my glasses are ridiculously askew.

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I went too detailed with the face from the beginning and should’ve spent more time focusing on proportions before worrying about tone variations.

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I enjoyed painting the checkered shirt and mixing up the differences in values between the lit and the dark sides.

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The hat was the thing that gave me the most trouble at the end. It’s a straw hat but I didn’t want to put too much detail into it and take away from the focus of the face.

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Here’s the final version. I’m gonna have to retake this photo due to glare.

It took me a few months to finish the portrait working on it off and on when I got a little time. While I was working on that at home I was out doing plein air painting as well. When my friend invited a bunch of us to Star Island for his proposal to his girlfriend I went early and spent the morning painting the buildings on the island.

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The annual plein air competition hosted by the New Hampshire Art Association came up shortly after and I spent the whole weekend running around Portsmouth painting buildings.

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This first painting is of the main downtown area. I got halfway through it and wasn’t happy with the way it was turning out. I used it as a learning experience and moved on to a different location.

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I moved down one of the side streets and decided to paint the cars parked in front of all the old buildings.

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I painted it over the course of two mornings and I feel like I did a good job of capturing that early light. My favorite part of the painting is the right side where I experimented with different greens for two trees leaning out over the sidewalk.

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For my last painting of the competition, I went to the residential area and painted a house. While I was working the owners came out and were kind enough to talk to me about their house and even offered me the opportunity to come and paint their backyard garden whenever I wanted.

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I finished the house up and had just a few minutes to spare before the deadline. There is one more painting I haven’t included here, because almost a year later I sold it and forgot to photograph it first. It was the painting I won an honorable mention for. I’ll see if I can get a photo from the owners.

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After the competition I continued painting outside and spent one weekday in Newburyport painting a junk heap.

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There it is in the background in all its glory.

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I particularly enjoyed the jumble of this painting and having to pick out what shapes to paint.

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Later that summer I joined a plein air group to paint the tall ship that had docked in Portsmouth.

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I was playing around with a new canvas board and the painting came out very soft. Again, I will try to get a better quality photo.

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There she is!

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At the tail end of last summer I joined my friends for a beach trip and painted the coastline of Hampton. Just a quick sketch and study of the rocks. I was trying to be as simple as possible with my shapes.

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During the winter I went with my girlfriend to Boston and while she went to the Museum of Science with a friend I went over to the Museum of Fine Arts and found a sculpture to draw. It was Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii by Randolph Rogers.

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In the spring I had a booth at an art show in Exeter alongside my girlfriend’s brother. We both wound up selling a good amount! It was a positive experience though a lot of work. While at the show I painted a small rose bush I’d bought.

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Finally, last Wednesday I returned to joining the plein air group. I met them at Strawberry Banke in Portsmouth and painted an old boat lying beside a house. I really focused on composition in this painting. I attempted to use the darks of the foreground to frame the lights of the background. I think it was decently successful.

That’s all for now. I have a couple other things to share from my sketchbooks, but I’m pressed for time. Tonight I’m going down to Lowell for an open figure drawing session. Hopefully now that my first year of teaching is out of the way I can be more consistent with this blog.

Oh! I’ve also made some more cheese recently. I’ll have to post about that. And my trips to Paris and NYC. Guess I still have a lot more to write about. Stay tuned.

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The Muted Tones of Cupcakes

The cupcake in today’s painting lasted over a month in my still life set-up. Yeah, that’s a little gross to think about. But it was great for my art. I first painted it in gouache for Tilted Cupcake and noticed it was still holding up, so I put it together with a coffee mug. I wanted to focus on the purples and pinks while keeping everything fairly muted.

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I started with a blue-gray background and tried to keep the colors tonally similar to that starting gray. From there I was able to deviate into darks and lights.

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I spent a good amount of time rendering the cupcake and its frosting swirls. It became the basis for my lights. Nothing could be brighter than it.

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Muted Cupcake

8″ x 8″

With the cupcake started I could branch out tonally and with color. My goal was variety from that point on. I introduced complementary colors into the shadows. You’ll notice that the perspective is also from my other still-life set-ups and that was because this was my last one before I moved. I wanted to try something new before I had to put together a new studio space.

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The Energy in a Sugar Jar

Summer is here. It doesn’t feel real. A couple weeks ago I graduated with my M.Ed. and now my internship will be done in a week. It’s hard to believe I’ll be teaching in a few months and being paid to do it. Really the reason it feels weird is because I’ve been so busy with work. I was able to get a little reading done in my free time, but my art progress slowed. Occasionally I got to paint. And because I wasn’t able to devote large blocks of time to making art, it to took me several months to finish one painting.

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Sugar Jar

9″ x 12″

I started this painting right after I finished my Blue Winter Self-Portrait. I was inspired by the color variety I was able to explore in the shadows. Hopefully the pinecones are still readable as pinecones. Here are the progress photos:

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And the final photo once again:

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I’ve been finding and following a bunch of artists lately. Many of them have mentioned the difficulty of taking the energy present at the beginning of the painting and maintaining it until the end. I loved the looseness and playfulness of the self-portrait and wanted to replicate it. I did bring an energy into this still-life but I’m not sure I carried it through. I think I got caught up too much in the exactness of the sugar jar. Edges are my new focus. I have a feeling the movement and energy of a painting can die there.

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Week Old Cupcake

We had a friend over for food about a week ago and she left a cupcake for me, but I wound up not eating it. I forgot about it, honestly. Before bed that night I told myself to take it in the morning to work and then four days later I realized it was still on the counter and the icing was hard and the cake was starting to sag to one side. While I’d lost a chance to eat it, I’d gained an opportunity to paint.

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Tilted Cupcake, 8″ x 5,” Gouache

I started sketching the dessert at the kitchen table this morning. The sun eventually moved and I was forced out onto our porch to chase my light. I set up at an old painting table surrounded by freshly potted plants. Still the sun was moving fast and I had to constantly push the cupcake back into the moving light. After a couple hours I wound up with the above sketch.

I’ve been having trouble retaining the lights in my gouache paintings. With that in mind, I purposefully started working in the midtones and shadows without touching the lit side of the cupcake. I follow Benjamin Bjorklund on Facebook and he’s posted a lot of interesting watercolor paintings lately, so I tried to keep his technique in mind as I worked. Not to say I was as successful as him, but I turned out a pretty decent sketch I think. Still not entirely comfortable with gouache. Nothing seems to beat the opacity oils can give me in the lights. Which reminds me that I need to return to that oil painting I let sit a couple months ago…

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Tulips and Portrait

Last weekend I was transitioning from April vacation into the last work-heavy week of my internship. I needed a breather. An unbelievable amount of my free time had already been spent doing projects. Though I suppose since the work needed to be done, it really wasn’t my free time to begin with. Anyway, I took the weekend to do a little gouache painting.

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Self-Portrait in Gouache, 8″x 5,” Gouache

On the 30th we were waiting to go for some beer tastings and I decided to paint a self-portrait. The end result came out pretty decent. Even though gouache is opaque compared to regular watercolors, it still does not have the ability to reclaim lights and highlights as well as oils. Therefore, I always struggle going too dark too early. Here I used the white liberally to dig into the tan tones and pull out some light. Despite those struggles, I think the portrait came out well. The forehead needs to be a little warmer, but it was only a 90 minute sketch.

The next day we went to a tulip farm down in Rhode Island.

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Wicked Tulips, 8″x 5,” Gouache

It was beautiful but gray that day. I set up on the far end of the pick-your-own field and painted the farm buildings and the flowers together. I only had forty-five minutes or so to work and I’d love to go back and paint with oils for several hours on a sunny day. The sketch was fun though and I like the contrast between the bold, saturated colors in the foreground and the grays and browns of the background.

Got all my internship work finished, so I should be able to turn my attention back to art again! Just gotta apply for some jobs first!

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Blue Winter Self-Portrait

 

Back before Thanksgiving I purchased two decorative gourds at the local Market Basket. They were a buck a piece and I thought their shapes would be interesting to explore in paints. I did a gouache painting of one and then put them both together to do an oil study. As I’d hoped, they were fun to work with. I then decided to include them in a larger still life.

I’ve been trying to improve several aspects of my art. First: my eye. I’ve been focusing on really visually understanding color and value, for example: not just assuming that a blue cloth is dark blue in its shadow. Second: technique. There are so many ways to work with oil paints and I’m still finding my niche. I’m trying to use more medium now to keep my paintings oily and alive. Third: color theory. Several recent visits to museums has made me realize how important color theory is. Van Gogh’s paintings really do sing in person because he understood what colors play off one another. So for the larger gourd still life I decided to focus on the secondary colors of purple, green, and orange.

The gourds served as my orange and I had a bed sheet that worked as my purple, but I was unsure of what to use for my green until I was once again walking through Market Basket. Pickles! They’re so strange and otherworldly, floating like museum specimens in a jar. It’s gross, weird, and despite all that, truthfully mundane. They’re only weird when you take a moment to think about it. I suppose that goes for most things.

Once I had my pickles I found that there was still something missing from my setup. It lacked balance. I don’t have a lot of orange things around my apartment, so I went with a NERF gun and bullets.

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  Harvest               9″ x 12″

I tried to balance the warm purples of the forefront with cool purples in the background. That may have worked better than the incorporation of the NERF gun. It seems too yellow and not enough orange. Overall, I’m happy, though I think the contrast between light and dark could’ve been stronger.

For a change of pace I turned the next day to self-portraiture.

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I used another 9″ x 12″ canvas washed in burnt umber and began with a blue gray underdrawing.

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Remembering to work in simple shapes, I kept my first paint through focused in one light, one medium, and one dark. Then I speckled in a few halftones.

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With the basic forms distinguished, I worked around trying to refine them by using warmer colors. Originally, I wanted to begin with cool blues and then paint over with warmer flesh tones, leaving the shadows cool, but as I worked I kept it generally cool all over.

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I managed to maintain the cool tones despite bringing in lots of warm colors. This flickering contrast really worked to sell the plane changes in the face.

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I don’t often paint the figure, but when I do I like to start at the nose when I’m refining shapes. Noses have so many wonderful plane changes and vary greatly in every manner, making them instrumental in creating a likeness.

 

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With the face mostly worked out, I turned to my shirt. I used green blues to separate the clothing from the blues in the skin.

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   Blue Winter Self-Portrait             9″ x 12″

You may recognize the background from my Patterns painting. I do like that fabric. This painting was mostly a sketch and color trial, but I like the way it turned out. One of my most successful paintings in a while. I learned a lot about color while working on it that has influenced my decisions in my upcoming still life.

And I would like to thank my lovely mother for taking the final pictures of my paintings. Thanks mom! And I would like to thank my lovely girlfriend for letting me use her belongings in my still life. Thanks Sarah!

Here’s an animated gif of the progress:

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Both paintings are for sale. Contact me at thewritingmann@gmail.com if you are interested!

Harvest – $600

Blue Winter Self-Portrait – $300