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Midsummer Days

Summer is in full swing and that means a few things:
1. No kids. No teaching. So no need to shave, right?
2. Beach time.
3. Writing time.
4. Painting time.
5. Blogging time.

I’ve been dedicating most of my time this summer towards writing. In the fall I’m attending University of New Orleans’ online MFA Creative Writing program. Since I’ll be teaching at the same time, I want to make sure I have enough material prepared. I’ve been able to squeeze in art time as well, but it’s been mostly dedicated to filling out my sketchbook. It’s almost done, so a video tour will be coming out soon.

Last time I posted it was winter. And I still have two winter paintings to share before we get to the summer works.

After hiking Mount Lafayette, I hike Mount Cabot with my friend Mike. Cabot is the most northern 4,000 footer in NH. Here’s a picture of me at the top:

I’m sporting the hat I bought in Peru last summer. It’s perfect for winter hiking because it lets out just enough heat to prevent me from getting too sweaty.

The trees were absolutely covered in snow and frost when we were there and it was inspirational. I wanted to try my hand at painting the range of whites and regretted not even having a sketchbook. I took some photos and decided I would work on something at home.

The view above was what I settled on. I told myself to not get lost in the complexity and then did a sketch to work out the values and focus.

Cabot in White
9×12″

I only worked for a couple hours on the sketch and then put it aside with the intention of returning to it. I never did. Looking at it now, I’m actually very pleased with the result. I think it reads well, though it does look a little too illustrative, like it’s a still from How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

The reason I never returned to the sketch was because I moved on to doing a painting of my friend Dave at the top of Lafayette.

The block in was fun and I tried to maintain the looseness throughout the entire piece. My biggest struggle was separating the foreground from the background.

I spent too much time working on the jacket. It was fun to mix the oranges. In this second stage I adjusted his head and tried to make the foreground more cohesive.

King of Lafayette
9×12″

I’m happy with the final. I’m not the happiest with the photo, but I’m really limited with studio space at our current place. It is what it is. Let’s get to the summer.

Sarah and I spent the summer up at her parents’ place in Kennebunk. On the Fourth of July we went down to Mother’s Beach and spent a few hours in the sun. I forgot my umbrella so I slathered up in sunscreen and perched myself on the rocks to get a good view.

Because of the direct sun, I wasn’t able to judge the color perfectly. That’s why I have an umbrella usually. Yes, it helps keep the sun off me too, but mostly it helps me judge what the painting would look like indoors. That said, my colors came out a little too earthy, meaty, and dark.

By the end of the session, the tide had retreated quite a bit. This was a drastic change from the start when I had the water lapping at my toes.

Fortunately, we stayed up in Maine for a few days. The next day we went back to the beach and I set up shop once again.

Mother’s Beach on the Fourth
9×12″

My goal for the second session was to add a little more vibrancy through saturation. I tried to avoid including too much white in my mixtures. Still, I was working without an umbrella. I fiddled with waves for most of the time, not sure how to properly convey them. Several times I just stood and watched the waves and made mental notes. I still don’t think I got them right. Water continues to give my the most trouble in plein air paintings.

I did have fun with the figures. I kept them to simple and quick brushstrokes. Sarah makes an appearance twice. She’s floating with her cousin in the tubes on the left and then she’s seated next to the wall on the right.

I also managed to get in some sketches over the weekend. I’ll save those for the video, but for a sneak peek, here’s a look at the sketch I did last week at the RISD Museum in Providence, RI.

That pencil sketch took me about fifteen minutes. I was with my parents, so I did not want to hog all the time doing drawings. After the museum, we walked around Brown and Providence and I bought a bunch of 4×4″ and 5×5″ panels at the RISD store. This morning I got a chance to try them out.

After a little exploring on Google Maps, I decided I would go visit the Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion in Portsmouth. It is the historic home of colonial governor Benning Wentworth and was built by combining several buildings together. This is why it has such a varied and unique appearance. I love the angles. And though I went expecting to paint the water and islands around it, I quickly decided it was the more interesting subject matter.

I walked around for a few minutes, concerned I was going to be thrown off the property. The signs said the grounds were open, but I was the only visitor at 10 am.

I realized I would have to stand in direct sunlight in order to get a good perspective. The sun would be at my neck, but it would be worth it. I went back to my car, gathered my supplies, and returned.

It was nice to have an umbrella again! I took time to sketch out the entire building on the tiny 5×5″ panel and then quickly blocked in the colors.

Above you can see how small the panel was on my easel.

When I’m painting, I often only use one brush at a time. It’s not the most effective method. Many painters keep a brush for each of the colors they’re working with. I gave that a go and dedicated specific green, blue, red, and yellow brushes. I feel that this simplified my process and kept the painting fairly unified.

I wrapped the painting up in about ninety minutes, spending the majority of the time working on color variety and value.

Wentworth-Coolidge Mansion
5×5″

It’s not perfect, but it’s my favorite plein air painting in a while. I’m definitely going to do more in this size in the next week or so. They’re quick and allow me to concentrate my efforts on my weaknesses.

Before I left I snagged a photo of the water and islands that the mansion looks out over. Tomorrow I go on a Boston museum trip with my mother!

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The Onion Chronicles

We keep our onions in a box and safe from the mice. The mice are all dead now. We trapped them in the early days of spring. But still we keep out one trap (just in case). And still we keep our onions in a box. Some nights they stay out on the counter. And some times they spend weeks in the dark cabinet sitting atop my boxes of homebrew. In that darkness they grow and sprout green and white shoots. We can no longer cook with them, but they’re perfect for painting.

A month and a half ago I found two of these onion sprouts and pulled them from their box and placed them on the dinner table in the warm window light. They needed to be painted. I chopped up an old cardboard box to craft a makeshift backdrop. And going back to the way I painted a few years ago, I sketched out the onions in pencil on an 8×10″ panel and then inked over the pencil with a Sharpie.

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In the first session of painting, I focused on covering all of the white. Now that summer is approaching and I’ll be doing more painting, I must spend some time prepping panels with washes of color. That way I won’t have to worry about white spots peeking through.

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Originally I tried to match the background colors with the actual color of the cardboard backdrop, but quickly gave that up. I focused more on incorporating purples and yellows to match the onions. Eventually this lead to what my college professors would call a “meaty” background.

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Once the entire surface was covered I really honed in on the front onion. I wanted to render the peeling skin.

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Unfortunately, because I took too long between painting sessions, the background onion began to rot and dissolve. I had to change the painting around and wound up not being able to put as much time into it as the foreground onion. Still, it came out decent. It makes me want to do some more vegetable paintings this summer.

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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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sugarjar - 2

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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.

Gouache Cupcake

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

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Two Gourds

I tried a couple new things last week. First I attached my GoPro to a selfie rod, taped the rod to my easel, and videotaped myself painting.

I’m preparing for my next still life, which will focus on the secondary colors purple, green, and orange. This was a sketch to get a feel for gourd colors.

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In order to prevent my easel from shaking considerably and ruining the footage, I premixed the majority of the colors. The painting took three sessions, each around an hour, and I mixed a 24 color palette each time. This is a new technique I will be doing in the future. Premixing helps me concentrate on color and value differences. Early on in art school we spent time premixing, but it is a tactic that fell out of use for me personally. Time to bring it back.

By starting this next still life, I begin my third in a 10 painting series. At the point of conclusion I hope to have a consistent enough portfolio to submit to galleries.