It's time to get ready for the plein air season. I have a busy one planned for this year. It will begin in April with the inaugural St. George Island Paint Out in Florida. I am honored to be a participating artist. I also have a plein air workshop in Vermont in June followed by a two week adventure to Provence, France in July. August through October brings a few more adventures. I really need to get my gear in order!
So when someone asked my opinion about the Richard McKinley 91 piece landscape set by Great American Artworks I was intrigued. I didn't know the set existed! I took a look online and decided that this set would be the perfect start to filling my Heilman mini pack box. This is the box I am planning to bring on my adventures. (Look for a post about filling a plein air box coming soon)
I placed my order through the Fine Art Store on Tuesday and my pastels arrived on Friday! What great service! I love the color chart included in the box lid. Have a look!
I had to immediately try them out. You probably know that my favorite pastels are Terry Ludwig. This hasn't changed. This new set will complement my Ludwigs. And they do so nicely. Great Americans are soft. Some call them creamy or buttery and if you don't like the texture you might say they feel a bit greasy. I actually like the creamy texture. They work great as the finishing touches on a painting but I used them exclusively in todays painting. They work great and you can layer as long as you keep a light whispering touch until you are ready to shout!
Underpainting done with Derwent Inktense sticks on Uart sanded paper
I started the painting with a warm/cool underpainting with Derwent Inktense sticks and rubbing alcohol on Uart 400. I only needed a few layers of pastel to finish the painting. I thoroughly enjoyed painting with the new set and will continue to explore them. Do you like Great American Artworks pastels? I'd love to hear your comments!
Every Spring I am faced with the same challenge.... How to capture the beauty of the Spring landscape successfully in my paintings. In an earlier post I discussed the challenges we have in trying to paint the Spring landscape. Today I'd like to share some things that have helped me meet the challenge.
Do some advance planning. Do thumbnails to help you SIMPLIFY the busy Spring landscape.
Decide on a FOCAL AREA and develop it while leaving other areas with less detail. This is especially important when trying to paint flowering trees and shrubs....simplify the background by using colors in the same value so that they are soft and out of focus.
Try to focus in on one area of the landscape rather than trying to fit in all of the excitement into one painting. Plan on doing several paintings instead.
Try to zero in on one bush, flower or branch for a more intimate view of Spring.
Cherry Tree plein air study 5x7
In this painting there is a grouping of cherry trees in bloom. They were all fighting for attention so I chose to emphasize just one tree. I put the most details in the center tree and downplayed the others. I also made the background trees which were very busy...into soft-edged shapes. I also used duller cooler colors to push the background into the distance.
Spring has arrived in the Southeast and it is a great time of year to be an artist! I love to paint the Spring landscape but it does have it's challenges. I have put together some thoughts about painting Spring and would like to share them in the next few posts. Let me begin with some of the characteristics of the Spring landscape.
Color is everywhere but there is less contrast than in other seasons.
Colors tend to be pale and warm: creams, pinks and yellow greens with bursts on intense colors in some flowers such as hot pinks,reds,corals and purples.
New Spring growth can often resemble a paler softer version of Autumn colors.
There are also some bright 'acid' intense greens that appear in the landscape.
Soft edges of new growth can create an overall fuzziness and softness to the landscape.
Keeping these characteristics in mind the first thing I do when I want to paint the colors of Spring is select my pastels. I set aside a group of pastels that I will use for my Spring landscapes.
My springtime palette
This is my Spring pastel palette. It is an assortment of Terry Ludwig, Great American and Diane Townsend pastels. If you want to paint bright intense blossoms it is important that you have these colors. You can't make them from other colors so you need to have those bright corals, fuchsias and hot pinks. (a good excuse for the Terry Ludwig Vibrant color set!) I balance these bright colors with the softer, paler, grayer colors such as peaches, mauves, yellow-greens. Finally I choose an assortment of greens from cooler to warm and I make sure to include some bright, acidy greens. These artificial looking greens actually make wonderful accents in a Spring landscape. I used this palette to paint today's painting of the dogwoods in bloom.
Since there is an overall lack of contrast in the Spring landscape it is easy to get paintings that appear washed out or wishy washy or dare I say too sweet! Tomorrow I will share some ideas for handling the challenges of painting the Spring Landscape.
It should be easy. All you need to do is choose 3 or 4 neighboring colors on the color wheel. This makes up an Analogous Color Scheme. How hard could it be then to pick the colors and get a good painting? Not as easy as it looks. We all have our favorite colors and color schemes (even if we don't know it or label it) In looking over my work I have discovered that I never use a purely analogous scheme.
But I find a pure analogous color scheme to be a bit too calm and serene.....they can easily become a bit too boring to my liking. When I find myself using analogous colors I tend to incorporate the complement and some discords for some color surprise. This is known as Analogous-Complementary scheme and it is probably one of my favorites. I love using an the Analogous Color Wheel to help me.
Start strong to end strong! It was clear to me this weekend during my workshop in Indiana. I was teaching a fantastic group of artists and we were exploring ways to paint with more expression. I shared several ways to start a painting including using 4 value thumbnails and Notan thumbnails and using them for the block- in/underpainting. Without fail the notan underpainting led to a bolder more dramatic paintings. Since a notan is just two values....dark and light or black and white...it allows you to begin the painting with strong darks and lights. No wimpy darks!
I just got home last night from the workshop and I felt the need to just come into the studio and play today. It is funny that way. Even though I paint 6 demos during the workshop I sometimes wish I could be the student and just play and try the exercises! I needed to just have fun and paint for myself today. 'Desert Light' is the result.
So you have tried the clear gesso trick. But you may be less than satisfied with your results. Perhaps the texture isn't as obvious as you want or maybe it is making it hard to paint over. I've got some ideas on how you can make the most of the texture from an application of clear gesso.
To clarify the use of the clear gesso I'd like to add that it can be applied to paper before painting as a preparation or it can be used on top of pastel layers but it will liquify and darken the pastel creating a dark textured underpainting. Don't put it on top of pastel if you don't want to obliterate the painting!
I am starting my annual studio cleanup and came across an older painting that had the clear gesso texture. At the time I thought it was finished but when I looked at it today I realized I didn't make the most of the texture so it went back on the easel. Look at the original below and compare with the reworked painting at the top of the post.
Is it finished? I decided it wasn't.
I realized that the painting needed more layers to exploit the texture. Here is what I did:
I started with the sky and added a yellow orange to unite the two spots of bright orange. I also added a pale yellow at the horizon. For these new layers I pressed much harder with the pastel.The pastel was grabbed by the raised areas created by the dried gesso. TIP: After the initial layers are established don't be afraid to PRESS hard to really get some pastel on the grooves.
I added some lighter and cooler blue green and blues to the distant land. I wanted to cover the red violet which was coming forward. I also rubbed in this layer with my pinky finger to eliminate some of the texture. Tip: eliminate some texture where you want to create depth.
I used workable fixative on the trees and grasses to darken these areas. Then I went over the areas with more greens and oranges using a harder touch. The dark areas remained in the grooves and the new pastel marks sat on top of the grooves making the texture more visible.
I used some harder pastel stick (Nupastels) to draw some linear marks. These marks filled in the areas between the raised textured areas. These marks added to the texture created by the gesso. TIP: Enhance texture with marks from harder pastel sticks.
The Green Stuff is coming! It can't come soon enough for some of us who have been buried all winter in the white stuff! So in honor of Spring and St. Patrick's Day (I am half Irish) I thought I would share my top three tips for painting a landscape that has lots of green stuff.
I call anything that grows 'Green Stuff' even if it isn't always green. Just to keep it simple and to remind myself that the tips don't just apply to painting trees. It includes trees, groups of trees, bushes, scrub and grasses. Landscapes often include many of these elements and I go about painting them in the same way.
click on photo to enlarge
'California Meadows' 8x10 pastel
These are some of the top things I think about when I paint the Green Stuff:
The further back you go in the landscape the less strokes you need. This reminds me to utilize the principles of aerial perspective...less detail, contrast, cooler and lighter.
Start with a lump of clay and carve your tree or bush using the background color. Add 'clay' to build volume by layering pastel to depict believable light (rather than lots of random leaves)
Orange is the Secret of Green and Violet is the Friend....my favorite tip for painting green from Richard McKinley. Make your greens more interesting with this tip.
This is the same scene as the painting at the top of the page but I have utilized oranges, reds, and violets to make it more interesting.
It seems as though everyone has a commission nightmare story. Hearing them is enough to keep many artists from doing commissions. I have had some close calls but no real nightmares. Many of them could have been prevented. I have learned through experience. I have truly been enriched by each commission painting I have completed.
Along the way I have developed ground rules for doing a commission. The rules have helped make the process rewarding and positive.
Tip #1 Paint what you love and what you love to paint. I have gotten some strange requests. Some things were not in my comfort zone. Some of them I tried but made it clear to the client that I would try but not promise. Now I only accept commissions for a subject that I LOVE to paint. I do my best work when I am enjoying the subject. (and if the commission falls through I have a paining that I actually enjoy)
'Meadow Study #1' 5x7
TIP #2 Work with clients that give you freedom to use your artist license. My favorite client is someone who tells me they love my work and use my best judgement in interpreting the subject. The freedom to create something without being tied to strict directions makes the commission fun.
'Meadow Study #3' 5x7
TIP #3 Be clear with your expectations and requirements. I don't use a contract or even require an advance payment. I have never had any problems. Perhaps I have just been lucky. But I only paint what I like and make sure it won't be so specific that I can't find another home for the painting. If you have a contract or certain requirements make sure everyone understands them before you begin painting.
'Meadow Study #4' 5x7
Tip #4 Take the time to do small studies for larger commissions. It is well worth the time and materials to do a small color study to show the client. This way composition and color can be addressed and everyone can agree. It is easier to make corrections and changes in the study phase than on a large painting.
The Queen Annes Lace paintings in today's post are small quick studies I did for a potential commission. The client sent me photos of the space where the painting will go. That gave me a better understanding of what might work. She gave me a rough idea of her wants....the four studies now give her a visual aid to help her decide on the details of the larger painting.
Tip #5 Make sure the client gives you the correct painting size. It happens a lot. Especially for larger paintings. A client will tell me the size they need for the space and ask for a painting that size. They don't remember to take into consideration the final size after framing. I know now to ask them if they have a frame size in mind so we can choose the best actual painting size for the space.
Painting commissions has opened up a new world of painting opportunities. I have worked with wonderful people who truly enjoy my work. I love doing commissions as long as they follow my five tips!
The rejected paintings
Update to this post. I am sharing this post from the archives because I just had my first commission fail! I didn't follow my own advice. The client asked me for me to reproduce some of my paintings exactly. That was the red flag. I told them that I was an artist not a copy machine and would paint something similar but it couldn't be exact. The results were not up to their expectations. Her loss is my gain but from now on I will trust my instincts and turn down commissions that don't fit my guidelines.
Green. I used to avoid it. Dare I say I didn't even like it! Painting with it that is. But since I live in the Southeast which is the Land of Green I have come to embrace it and maybe even like it. I still long for the desert and the wonderful colors of the Southwest. But as long as I can visit at least once a year I am happy living and painting in the Land of Green.
Most of my paintings have been very green this month. I think it is partly due to being winter weary and ready for spring. Are you ready to paint the greens of spring and summer? Here are a few quick tips....
Make sure you have the *right* green pastels. If you plan to paint a lot of green landscapes you will want to have a good selection of greens.....light, middle and dark values. You need some warm and cool greens but you also need some neutral of gray greens. Many introductory sets don't include enough of the right greens. Many have a majority of middle value in bright artificial looking greens. These greens can be overpowering in a landscape unless balanced with neutrals.
Lay out all of your green pastels....give them a good cleaning with a paper towel or by shaking them in cornmeal or sand.....now evaluate them. Make a list of the greens you are lacking and order some open stock of your favorite brands.
Remember that you can make your green landscapes more interesting by incorporating the complement in your green masses. Greens are more exciting with some red or orange. Add some purple for the finishing touch.
It was 13 years ago that I first picked up a pastel. I was hooked immediately. I bought some cheap pastels and paper. I found a class. ( a great one with www.marshasavage.com) And I started painting in earnest. My results were not great. In fact I was often frustrated. My visions of what my paintings should look like were not what I was painting! Instead of giving up I doubled down! I began to paint every day. Just a small quick study. I set mini goals for myself.
My first goal was to get a painting into our local pastel society show. I had a year to work at it. I achieved that goal. So I set another mini goal.....get in again! Each year I set the bar a bit higher but not totally out of reach. At least not without dedicated study and practice. The mini goals gave me something toward towards. A reason to put in the time.
One of my ongoing goals was to have a painting selected for the Pastel Journal's Pastel 100. I have entered for at least the last 6 or 7 years and I am happy to share that this mini goal has been achieved!
Do you set goals for your art? They don't have to be lofty goals. They don't even have to be about exhibitions or PSA status or IAPS status.....they can be simple goals. Start a series and the goal might be to complete 5 paintings for the series. Set a mini goal to study a favorite artist or maybe complete a class, or meet up with an art friend. Mini goals will motivate you to get to the easel. And that is the first step to meeting those goals....just do it!
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