Friday, April 29, 2011

Day 610

Another image of Jacobs Point, this time looking offshore from the marsh. Less a landscape than a seascape, but still I love the light. I'm still not sure why it happens, but sometimes a simple Ultramarine blue/white mixture can appear more like a Cobalt blue effect. I think it may be the green from the foliage that shift the Ultramarine away from the violet end of the spectrum where it naturally lies.

Day 609

Bottles....onions....Why not bottles AND onions?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day 608

Glass bottles are always fun. This was the first time painting them under the soft, white light of the studio windows. The shadows were so soft it was difficult to paint.

Day 607

I like painting onions almost as much as I like eating them. This was painted in the big studio. There's something about working in there that makes me more aware of the necessity for planning the areas around the subject matter, hence the more nuanced use of white-space.

I'm looking into getting a stand made to hold my still-life setups and my computer for when I use it as a slide-projector. I'm looking forward to being able to make still-life setups with different colored backdrops and different lightings.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 605, 606

A couple of studies of Queen Anne's Lace and Mexican glass. I love the cobalt rim on the glass, and the way the Queen Anne's Lace flower forms a soft, fuzzy basket with a few sharp accents that define its shape. I'm perpetually interested in the mysterious way we perceive so much of reality--as a sort of blur with small areas of focus. If you try to paint things all in focus, the effect is naive, or at best resembles a Northern Renaissance painting. Those were supposed to represent the world as seen through the eyes of God: everything seen with perfect clarity at all times. Optically, we only see sharp things when there is sufficient contrast, which varies across the field of view. The area where we actually perceive things at their highest level of detail, the fovea, accounts for an area the size of a quarter held at arms' length in our field of view. To capture this optical effect, much of a    picture can be painted with soft edges with only a few accents. The trick is to get the accents right, hence the studies.

I painted these a few months ago, as I'm playing catch-up with posting. Since then, I broke the glass when I bumped the painting stand, so these paintings serve as a sort of memento.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Day 604

From a photo of a local pond. Swans look quite gorgeous for such evil-tempered creatures. Did you know that swans can break your arm?

Ordinarily, I avoid painting things that can break my arm, unless they're paying me a lot of money for a portrait.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day 603

Sort of a study for Jacobs Point August. Trying to get a feel for greens. Green is such a fun color to work with. Our eyes are physiologically adapted to see a broader range of colors as "green" than any other color, so there's a concomitantly larger number of mixtures required to keep reasonably faithful to reality. I love the variety of greens you can get from yellow/brown mixtures with blue, and almost never use green from a tube except to dull down reds and warm colors.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Day 602

Another "almost". I love the color and the way the horizontal direction of late-afternoon light changes the appearance of prosaic subjects. There's a graveyard across the street from my house that dates to the 1700's. It's well maintained and mowed and the newer sections are cleared from a stand of scrub, leading to the occurrence of a smooth, personality-free lawn dotted with gravestones right next to a wildly overgrown copse of trees. When the sun is low, it shines into the trees and allows you to get a really clear idea of the dimensionality of the space, rather than seeing it merely as a scrim or backdrop. This was an attempt to capture that. I like the upper portion, but it doesn't relate at all as I'd intended to the lower, so I think this will require a larger and more considered version.

Day 601

And sometimes they don't work. Still.

I've been looking at the pine trees belonging to a neighbor, and how they catch the light toward sunset. The contrast between the sienna of the illuminated branches and needles and the greeny-black of the shaded ones is pretty striking, in a low-key kind of way. This sketch isn't, but sometime I'll get it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Day 600

Just fooling around with some of the same reference photos as for the painting of Jacobs Point. The point of this study was trying to figure out how sunshine can light up warm tones while leaving cool tones relatively unaffected. It's not as though it's narrow-bandwidth light and only illuminates warm colors, but it acts that way sometimes. As in the Jacobs Point painting, I tried to make most of the colors in the picture a little more cool/neutral than they might otherwise have been. It's funny how making things wishy-washy in most of a picture can have the opposite effect on the overall composition.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Olsen's Yard, November

The newest larger landscape. It's of a friend's yard in Wakefield, RI, painted from photographs I took a couple of autumns ago. I'm loving the 4' X 2' panoramic format and have prepared quite a few canvases at those dimensions.

This is the first larger painting to try to deal with my new obsession: the subtle dimensional color of scrub plants, such as you see along highways, vacant lots and yard verges. The original point of this picture was the way the vivid yellow of those last few leaves provided a sort of depth-cueing for the subtler tones of the wood. I approached this by trying to build up paint and scrape it back repeatedly to add an organic dimension to color. The paint ended up being really thick, at least for me.

I was surprised when, midway through the painting, I realized that the broken lawn-chair was going to have to be a focus. Otherwise, the picture would become too "floaty" and oddly flat. It serves the same purpose as the little yellow flower in the blue Jacobs Point image. It's a little jarring, but the picture sort of revolves around it.

I was also surprised by how, at the end when I was adding the yellow leaves, I didn't have to use the very vivid yellow paint I'd planned. I'd been adding violet tones throughout the image since the beginning, in order to provide an optical contrast for the eventual leaves, and figured I'd be using cadmium yellow light for the bulk of them. As it turned out, cadmium was too intense and I had to tone it back to yellow ochre plus white with just a touch of cadmium in places.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Day 599

More winter. It's a lot of fun to scratch back into paint. It's also a lot of fun to figure out where/how you want to have some areas of focus and contrast in an otherwise relatively soft construction. Most of the effort here was in setting things up for the line of branches and bare shrubs across the middle.

The reference for this piece (what? You think I'll paint outdoors in freezing sleet?) was gathered on a day when I was trying out my new neoprene, waterproof hunting boots. The only thing I hunt is a better lighting setup, but it also leads to a lot of time spent standing relatively still in water with ice on it. This day I got some great shots by simply wading up the bed of the little river in this image. It allowed me to see angles that were previously inaccessible and also avoided messing things up with footprints in the snow.

Of course, I got overconfident and tried it on another little stream and almost sank above my boot-tops in mud and silt. It took until almost dark to extricate myself without losing my boots or falling over. 

Day 598

I'm finally reviving my daily work. Well, twisting my own arm to revive the daily work.

I've got a bunch of paintings produced over the last year or so that were done under the daily painting rules I'd established, but where I just couldn't bring myself to deal with the problems of getting them posted. Hence this blog. Hence still having to force myself to get started on doing the dailies again. I'm hoping to accomplish this by scanning and posting the older work, getting back into the rhythm, and getting my home studio (gutted by my move to the outside studio) back into shape for painting, at least on a small scale.

So....winter. Snow. I loathe them as the objects of shoveling, coldness, wet feet, and general annoyance. Unfortunately I love them as a source of imagery. Falling snow is better than fog for emphasizing the dimensionality of landscape. This is a painting of the same four or five trees I tend to return to in Jacobs Point marsh, only with snow and semi-frozen surface slush all over the ground. 

I've been looking a lot at the work of John Henry Twachtman, in particular his winter landscapes. I have always loved his painting Arques la Bataille, from the
Metropolitan Museum  of Art in NY, but lately I've become enamored of his later paintings of winter scenes. I love the way he manages to dial down the detail and contrast while not removing the focus. The paintings also feel...crunchy, in the way snow does. I'm sure it has to do with the spare, dry way he applies the paint (so different from the way he does in Arques la Bataille) and it's something I want to understand better. Hence the daily.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Levitan Again

Today I got up early to get another look at the Levitan show. Rather than circle through the pretty parts of town, I thought I'd save some time by cutting across on the main drags:Valovaya Ulitsa and Zhitnaya Ulitsa (it seems that "Ul" is short for "ulitsa" or "street", as in "Ulitsa Sezam" or "Sesame Street"). When traveling, everything is picturesque and engaging, so it was a nice walk in a light snowstorm.

I got there a little early, and there was already a crowd at the doors. Queueing up doesn't seem something we Slavs naturally do, at least without all the training I've received, so there was quite a mass of people at the door. I don't think it's an ill-natured thing, at least in most cases it seems to be an opportunity to chat while milling about, ever closer to the door.

On the second trip through, Levitan is as amazing as ever, or moreso. Everyone in the crowd was taking pictures, so I snuck a couple of HDRI images with my iPhone to try to record his impasto.

I was also able to confirm that one picture I'd hoped to see--a farmer plowing his field--had been removed for some reason. Darn. Have to schedule another trip ;-).

After the show crowded up, I went upstairs to the sadly deserted Russian Art of the 20th Century galleries, a sort of rogues gallery of appalling state-approved abstraction, Socialist Realism, various sculptures exhorting one to something or other and some really bodacious nudes, symbolizing "wheat", or "socialist youth" or something. I didn't particularly care. There was one really juicy portrait of a worker that I very much admired, especially in comparison to advertising art which it's equivalent to. I've uploaded a full-resolution shot for your enjoyment.

The standouts were work by Tatlin, much of which was reconstructed because it had been broken up (*sigh*) , a small collection of nicely done animal carvings, and some Kandinsky posters. Here's a link to a much more detailed and knowledgeable description of the galleries than my own from The Moscow News.

After that, I went to the Tretyakov Gallery proper to see the older art. The roomful of Repins and the roomful of Serovs were delightful--technically wonderful, with great narrative power (in the Repins) and an ability to flatter without seeming obviously to do so (with the Serovs). There was also a roomful of Shishkin's landscapes. I'm ambivalent on him--he's technically superb, and his sense of light and structure in a forested space is spectacular, but he veers a little sentimental for my taste. When I see his work, I'm reminded of Currier & Ives prints.

There were a number of beautiful landscapes whose painters I couldn't note due to my lack of Cyrillic, but I'm definitely going to look for them online. Among the painters whose work I really loved and whose names I could puzzle out: Vasily Vereshchagin, Lev Lvovic Kamenev, and Vasiliy D. Polenov. Russian art history doesn't dovetail perfectly with Western art history, so there's a lot of interesting archaisms and  prefigurings in there, and I'm definitely going to keep researching. Google has the Tretyakov as part of their gallery view service now, so I can visit whenever I want.

A couple of canvases by Aivazofsky were fun (he's tacky, but revels in it delightfully) and some giant historicals and fantasy pieces by Victor Vasnetsov rounded out the day for me. The icons were much larger than I'd thought, and utterly spectacular, but I don't know enough to comment on anything but their design elements, which were strikingly modern. A lot of the rest of the work left me feeling as though trapped in the older areas of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art: too many sweet, sweet children and dark, stone faced patriarchs and matriarchs all slightly out of drawing or oddly proportioned.

Back home tomorrow. I can't wait to come back here.