I am pleased to have been chosen one of 50 featured regional artists to participate in the Lakeland Art Crawl. The event is to take place at Sun ‘n Fun in Lakeland, Florida on December 3. Should be a great event. Thank you Lakeland Art Crawl.
This has been a busy couple of weeks and, because of other pressing obligations, I haven’t been able to get much done on my latest painting. I wanted to let you know that I haven’t dropped off the end of the earth.
I’m still prepping for the Rainbow Springs Fine Art Association Festival coming up this month in Dunnellon, Florida. Next month is the Art Crawl in Lakeland, Florida. Just finished an Introductory Colored Pencil Class for Master the Possibilities in Ocala. That was wonderful. I guided a great group of students who were enthusiastic and showed a lot of promise. I hope they were as satisfied as I was.
Last night my wife and I were at the First Friday Art Walk in Ocala. Met a lot of good people there. Some were artists also and we shared experiences with each other.
Time to get back to my art. Hope to post some updates within a couple of days.
Work In Progress: Board of Directors Meeting (Pelicans), Update 2
The last week has been a little rough for me. I’ve had some arthritis and back issues and, just recently, a bad cold and flu. They’ve kept me from accomplishing much work on the painting. I’ve been nursing myself, along with my wife’s incredible help, back because we’ve got reservations at a cabin in the mountains soon and we’re anxious to spend time enjoying the fall foliage, a pastime we find most relaxing. I’m also preparing for upcoming festivals and colored pencil and figurative drawing classes, and helping my granddaughter with an insightful science project, one involving the deleterious effects of climate change on marine shellfish. So, things are a bit hectic to say the least.
I have completed a pencil drawing of the Board of Directors Meeting and I present it here. I’m pleased with the way it’s come out so far. It is fairly straightforward, so I don’t think the value and color sketches will be a big departure from the original photo. What I have to make a decision on is the medium. At the moment I’m thinking, either all colored pencil, all pastel, or a combination of the two. Should have that decided soon. I’m anxious to get started.
Work In Progress: Update 1, Board of Directors Meeting (Pelicans)
Recently, one of my students shared with me some very interesting photos she had taken while on a trip to Cedar Key, Florida. Although I had just finished a painting of pelicans, one photo in particular caught my interest and got me excited. It was a shot of a bunch of pelicans gathered on a dock. My impression was of a gathering of important members of an organization, standing around, conversing, just before being called to order. They were discussing informally matters that would be taken up formally in a few moments. It might be a board of directors meeting.
Well, anyway, the gathering of pelicans on a dock seemed like a wonderful subject for a painting.
The original photo contained a longer expanse of pelicans, so I looked through it to see what section I liked the most. Once I picked out the grouping I wanted to include in the painting, I cropped it and saved it. The photos shown here is the original photo and the cropped portion I’m going to use for the painting.
Next, I’ll discuss the preliminary composition.
Work in Progress: Pelicans, Update 3
The Pelicans and Finishing Up
More detail went into the Pelicans than anywhere else. They were the focus of the painting. I felt more confident doing detail work with pastel pencils, so, for the most part, I used the pencils on the birds, with only a little soft pastel.
The heads and bills of the birds became my first focus. Pitt Pastels 113, 106, 184 and Carb Othello 685 and 620 were used, along with soft pastel Sennelier 342. The base color white for the head was PP 101 and then PP 199 and 175 were used for the darks of the pouch part of the bill that runs along the neck. For the top of the head, the yellows and gold were PP 106, 104 with 184 for the shadow areas. After completing the heads I worked on the bodies. They were mostly grays with darker values defining the feathers Here I used PP 101, 270, 175, 273 and 199. On the underside of the bodies I used some blue to indicate reflected color from the water.
The eyes were defined with lights and darks so that the pupils would show up. This is one feature of pelicans that seems to be common to most of them. A light color ring around the eye sets off the dark pupil. The outer edge of the light colored ring is also dark. Surrounding the eye is a lighter area of brown.
After completing the birds I went back to the water. Using a combination of the pencils and soft pastels, I refined the small waves and reflections from the birds on down to the bottom. Off to the sides of the painting I purposely left less detail. I also worked in the wakes behind the birds to give a feeling of motion
As I mentioned in the last Update, I was unsure of some of the dark reflections in the water. I removed some and dumbed down others, while smoothing and softening the colors. Simplifying the waves and reflections helped to draw some attention away from the water and shift it more onto the birds.
This painting is a fairly simple one. In this painting much of the detail is confined to the pelicans and the water adjacent to them. Further away, toward the top of the painting, and to the sides and bottom, detail diminishes, keeping attention directed on the birds. Originally I had more detail in the water, with a greater number of reflections. I think simplifying the water was the right move. That left the pelicans as the main focus.
Work in Progress: Pelicans, Update 2
I’ve decided to do an underpainting once again and I’ll be doing it with watercolor, so that’s why I chose an appropriate paper such as Arches watercolor paper. I also wanted to see how well the pastel takes to the paper – details, number of layers, etc. I was concerned about leaving the sky reflections light to white in color and still be able to be loose with the watercolors, so I decided to paint out the sky reflections with masking fluid first. Then, I could put in the underpainting without having to paint around the sky reflections.
My first concern for the underpainting was to choose colors and an intensity that would agree with the value and color sketches I had prepared. I chose winsor Newton cobalt blue and terra verte for the underpainting colors. The picture area was wet down first and then the colors applied. I did a graded wash, keeping the top dark and grading to a lighter value toward the bottom. Because the underpainting would eventually be covered with pastel, I didn’t have to be particularly careful about the evenness of the graded wash, just that the values were close to what I decided in the preliminary stages. They would be eventually covered up to a great extent and any unevenness wouldn’t be evident.
After the watercolor was dry and I had removed the masking material from the painting, I started back over the water with pastels. Again, I tried to stick with values that corresponded with those I set out in the value sketches and the watercolor underpainting. The upper part (further in the distance) was to remain the darkest and the values would become lighter toward the bottom (or the foreground). Keeping to a more neutral, or more reserved color palette for the water, I used olive greens and blues. The colors used were Sennellier 291, 213, 214, 395, 210, 216, 110, 525, 346, 503 and 466. Also Pitt Pastel colors 101, 168, 151, 174 and Carb Othello 440 and 435. Some in this palette were lighter colors but all were used in a manner that left the overall feeling subdued.
After working my way down to the birds, I stepped back to assess the painting so far. The light sky reflections were too light, too bright. They were too distracting and I felt they would compete with the birds. So, I knocked them down a bit with blue. I also felt there were too many sky reflections, so I eliminated many of them and softened some edges. I also did some more blending, especially further away from the birds. I think that helped.
Still, I wasn’t sure about some of the darker reflections in the painting but I decided to wait until I had some of the birds recorded before I made more changes to the water.
Now it was time, I felt, to work on the birds for a while, to integrate them into the surrounding water. I’ll discuss that during the next session.
Work in Progress: Pelicans, Update 1
Pelicans are interesting birds. Their very distinctive beaks make them one of the most recognizable aquatic birds around. On recent trips to Tarpon Springs, Amelia Island and Canaveral National Seashore I found them to be one of the more ubiquitous birds on the water. They look so at home either gliding along the beach, just above the surf, or floating about in the harbor amongst boats. I managed to get some photos of them doing both. I liked the photo of a pair of brown pelicans casually paddling about Tarpon Springs harbor and felt the combination of the birds and the dancing colors and reflections on the surrounding water would make a nice painting. Its simple nature had a quieting effect on me and I wanted to convey that in the painting.
This will be a pastel painting and, because I want to do an underpainting in watercolor, I’m going to do this painting on Arches 300 lb watercolor paper. The roughness of the paper should allow for a number of layers of pastel. The size I’ve decided on is 16” by 12” high – a horizontal format.
The first task was to decide on a composition. I thought I might try three birds in the painting but after a few sketches I decided that two birds worked best. I liked the relationship of the two birds in the photo, one broadside and paddling right to left, and the other nearly facing away from me, paddling toward the first. This difference in poses added some interest.
The multitude of reflections on the surface of the water seemed a bit too busy for me so I decided to reduce the complexity. I wanted some wave action but not quite as much as in the photo. This is to be a simple composition with only two elements – the birds and the water. Since the birds were the subject, I want them to be large enough to easily draw the viewer’s eye. The water would in a supporting role.
The next task was to work up some value sketches. The birds, with their white necks and yellow coloring on their heads, would be the highest values and make them stand out. The water would be a middle tone. Rather than have this mid tone go all the way to the top of the painting, I felt grading the tone gradually from mid to dark would balance better. I think the dark above also helps to draw more attention to the pelicans. Although the darkness is there, it does not draw attention away from the birds.
The last task in this preliminary stage is the color sketches. It is important that the values of the colors agree with the value sketch. As for color, the colors in the photos ranged from gray to blue. I wanted to steer away from gray, so I tried one sketch with blue. The color seemed to compete with the birds. In a second color sketch I added more greens into the mix and reduced the blue. The water became more neutral. I liked that better.
With the compositional, value and color sketches done I am now ready to start the finished painting.
Work In Progress: Suwanee River, Update 7
The painting is complete!
The important concept to remember with this painting is that I want to represent the scene in its basic, unembellished form – to represent the essence of the scene without detail. The less detail in the painting, the more the viewer is able to emotionally connect with it.
The right side of the painting involves a grouping of bald cypress trees. Beyond this grouping is more of the background – the far bank and the trees above the water. The bald cypress trees with their foliage, in the foreground, is part of the scene but they are unimportant to the main focus – the confluence of the tree line with the river on the left side. I struggled with painting those trees – getting them in yet keeping them secondary to the center of interest. Each time I painted them I was dissatisfied with how they looked. I put some detail in to satisfy my innate drive for detail, but then realized they must remain without focus or they would compete with the center of interest. After a few cycles of detail and no – detail, I decided that the only real contribution the right side of the painting made was enlarging the painting.
So, I eliminated it. I simplified the painting even further. I decided to cut off the painting just to the right side of the second tree. I think that improved the composition – and eliminated the question of how to depict the bald cypress trees.
One change I made to help focus attention in the center of interest was the addition of some birds taking flight just above the river.
Just to see if I could further simplify the painting (without eliminating more detail) and still keep focus on the center of interest, I reduced the size of the painting further. I think the painting still works.
However, I think I’ll keep to the former size shown earlier.
This exercise has been very instructive to me and I’ve learned a lot. I am very early in my re-evaluation and evolution in my painting style. I’m not sure where I will wind up. I still love detail but I am now convinced that it has to be judiciously applied. It will be interesting and exciting to see where this search will lead.
Work In Progress: Suwanee River, Update 6
Working through this pastel painting has been a great learning experience for me. My thoughts will most certainly evolve further as I gain more experience in this wonderful medium. When I first started this painting I was not convinced, but I was strongly in favor of the premise that landscapes, at least loose style landscapes could be completed with pastel pencils. I no longer think I can do that. If I want to do a loose landscape, a painterly landscape, not a highly detailed landscape painting, I think soft pastels, rather than pastel pencils, are the perfect tools to accomplish that. On the other hand, if I want to create more close focus studies such as portraits and wildlife, I think that I will choose pastel pencils. That may even change in time as my experience increases but at this point in my journey with pastels, painterly landscapes will be completed with soft pastels and portraits will be completed with pastel pencils. I’m just having an easier time doing this landscape with soft pastels.
After the underpainting was completed I started back over the painting with soft pastels. I worked from dark to light and tried to keep to about the same values I established in the preliminary underpainting. I went from color to color, testing out a number of them as I progressed through the painting. Some seemed to work, others didn’t. Some looked good and others didn’t. Since it was easy to cover up colors that didn’t work, I could be more creative and spontaneous. That was a good feeling. If I completed a lot of work on an area and was not happy with it, I could scrub it off with a stiff brush and rework the area.
The center of interest was established at the conjunction of the tree lines from the right and left, with the river. It was there that I suggested the most detail. As I moved further away from that area, detail decreased. It wasn’t easy for me, however, to loosen up as I moved away from the center of interest. I am too used to putting in detail. When I am working on an area out on the right side of the painting, where the cypress trees are, for instance, I’m focusing on that, and I tend to add detail. I continually stepped back from the painting, where detail was not apparent, to get a feel for the scene and a feel for how to depict that part of the scene. There were many instances where I had to remove detail, even low level detail, to maintain the effect I wanted. I had to continually evaluate the importance of an area to the overall statement I am trying to make – to the story I’m trying to tell.
At this point I feel I’m nearing completion of this painting. I’ll continue to evaluate it, step back and squint to eliminate detail, look critically at all parts and see what should be included and what is unimportant. I’m looking for an impression, a feeling here, not merely a detailed inventory of what was there.
Work In Progress: Suwanee River, Update 5
As with most pastel landscape paintings I decided to do an underpainting.
But, just what is underpainting and why do we do it? This is a question I kept asking myself as I watched many fine pastel artists demonstrate. They all pretty much used the technique of underpainting and I couldn’t grasp the purpose. Sometimes I would see a big difference in the final painting and other times I was at a loss to see a big change. So, in my usual modus operandi, I did some research. If I was going to do an underpainting, I wanted to understand why doing so would make my paintings better. Many of you already know the reasons for underpainting, but for those who are unfamiliar with the technique or are still trying to grasp the reasons for doing an underpainting, read on.
So, what is an underpainting, as it applies to pastel painting? Underpainting is applying a layer of color or gray-tone medium on a support or surface and then painting over it with pastel. The under painting can be almost any medium – pastel, watercolor, charcoal, acrylic, oil paint, gouache, ink, graphite. If it is a liquid or semi liquid medium, it is usually thinned. If it is solid, such as pastel, graphite or charcoal, it is usually applied lightly.
What is the purpose of the underpainting? Sometimes it is used to develop the composition – to work out the shapes, masses and value relationships – to be sure that the structure of the painting is sound. We can also do this by producing value and notan sketches but establishing the structure on the full size painting works out any uncertainties that may not have been apparent in the value sketches.
Other reasons for doing an underpainting are to develop the mood and feeling of the painting and to provide a foundation to try other creative techniques.
The mood for the painting can be established through choice of color for the underpainting.
One important point to keep in mind is that, for the underpainting to work, it must be allowed to poke through the overpainting here and there. It is this combination, sitting in juxtaposition to one another that makes the painting work.
There are two basic ways to do an underpainting. One involves just priming the support with one or more colors, and the other is to produce a very loose painting similar to the final. Priming generally covers the support with a uniform color, although combinations of colors can be used, limited only by the imagination of the artist.
A very loose preliminary painting can also be undertaken as the underpainting. As I mentioned earlier, this method helps to work out compositional issues prior to the finished painting.
Whether priming or loose painting, choice of colors for the underpainting has a marked effect on the finished product. Many artists like to use neutral beige or mid tone colors or earth tones for priming while others use complementary or analogous colors, or a combination of them. Complementary colors can add excitement to the painting, as they peer through the overpainting. Analogous colors build harmony as they add support to the overlying color. Intensity of the colors used also greatly affect the results. High intensity underpainting colors left to show through here and there add much excitement to the painting. Alternatively, low intensity underpainting colors can add balance and unity to vibrant paintings.
Regardless of whether the underpainting is complementary or analogous, it is a good idea, when preparing the underpainting, to keep to the values established in the preliminary value sketches. Likewise, the overpainting should be the same values.
The underpainting can also be a monotone value painting done loosely or in great detail. Grisaille (pronounced greez-eye), used with transparent watercolors, is a fully finished value drawing done in shades of gray or other monotone color, over which transparent colors are glazed. Richard McKinley has used this technique many times by preparing an initial line drawing in pastel, including values, applying a clear gesso layer over the top to protect the drawing, then adding transparent watercolor and finally pastel on top. The pastel layer was done lightly in places to enhance and intensify the watercolor. Other choices for protecting the initial drawing are Art Spectrum Clear Pastel Primer and Golden Acrylic Ground for Pastel.
Underpaintings can be composed of pastel, done dry or made wet, or can be composed of mixed media. Dry pastel can be rubbed into the paper by various means but doesn’t become permanent and can be altered by later applications of pastel over it. More permanent applications result from wetting the pastel with mineral sprits, turpenoid or water, either with a synthetic hair brush or spray bottle. The pastel dries into the support and pastel can be applied over it without affecting the underlying layer.
Mixed media can also be used to produce the underpainting. As I mentioned at the top of this discussion watercolor, gouache and acrylic, gesso, ink, graphite and charcoal, and even thinned oil paints can be used. Even combinations of all these media are possible.
If you want more information, Jan Blencoe has a great discussion on Underpainting on her blog. I found her discussion and examples very informative and clear. The discussion can be found here:
The first step was to roughly sketch the drawing onto the pastel paper. I did this with an ochre pastel pencil. The pastel paper is Pastelmat. The size of the painting is 14 X 19 inches. I taped off the picture area to keep a clean edge.
I chose to go a little conservative with the underpainting. I chose just a few colors to establish the darks and lights and help support the final overpainting. In order to add a bit of sparkle in the sunlit portions of the trees I used some orange yellows, both for the foliage and for the reflections. For the shadows I used dark blue. For the sky and the water reflections I used a light blue for the higher reaches of the sky and a lighter, creamy color for the horizon – where the sun, which is off to the left, was rising above the trees. The cypress trees, which are in shadow, are very dark, so I used a very dark brown and black.
All these colors were done lightly with the side of the soft pastel stick. You’ll notice that the painting was also done very loosely. I just wanted to get the basic structures in place, in the approximate value I wanted (based on the value sketch). The good thing about the pastel is that it is opaque and I can refine and adjust as I progress.
After applying the pastel, I went over it with a denatured alcohol and a synthetic bristle brush. Wetting it all down embeds the pastel into the paper and make the underpainting permanent. I could run my hand over the painting after it dried and no pastel would come off. Yet, there is still plenty of tooth on the paper to take the pastel.
After the underpainting dried I started applying soft pastel to the surface, covering the previous layer but allowing it to show through in places. The next photo shows the beginning stages of this work.
I’ll now continue to add pastel over the underpainting to develop the true painting.