Monday, June 21, 2010

A Painting is an arrangement of Pigment on a Flat Surface....

Painting Outside! West Cemetery, June 18, ‘10


Here’s the page with sketches and painted sketch from this past Friday at West Cemetery.  I’ve decided not to do any more work on it because I see this sketch as ‘working.’  The painted sketch was done using the pigments Ultramarine Blue (UB), Cadmium Red (CR), and Cadmium Yellow (CY).


Keeping it Simple is one of my ‘rules’ ( a principle governing conduct or procedure within a particular sphere)  for Painting Outside!  Which is why I travel with these 3 pigments in my paint kit.  I can make reasonable facsimiles of anything I see using these 3 pigments.


Mixing all 3 of these pigments together makes a gray, that I use to establish the Tone, the initial, underlying Dark to Light, lightly indicated value pattern, upon which I plan to build my painting.  Further on, if I need a Black or Dark, I mix these three pigments together with less water, apply them to the paper with less water.  In the beginning phases, however, I use a lot of water.  Because the day was hot and sunny & sure to dry my paper rapidly, after I mixed my gray tone, I applied a grayish-blue watery wash to the entire surface that was to be painted.  This had the affect of taking the surface away from the white and also preparing the paper for more paint.

I decided to demonstrate a glazing technique, so glazed a very thin & watery layer to the sky area that was barely tinted with CR, then left it to dry while I worked in the neutral tone throughout the painting, starting with the middle ground, which was the trees behind the mausoleum.  I worked in paint where necesssary to show Dark, lifted out paint with the brush or edge of paper towel to show where there was more Light.  As the paint in the middle ground started to dry, I mixed in a little yellow to the gray mix and started working on the middle ground.  The little bit of yellow I added turned the mix to a dark green.  As I worked in more paint, I added a bit more yellow, which gave me variety and made the background appear as if dark and light.  The final touch to the middle ground was to paint the bushes near the building with the most yellow added to the mix, making the bushes appear to be getting more light.

After that, I picked up some more of the gray mix and thinned it down a great deal to work into the sky.  I tried to grade it from dark to light with dark being at the top and the light being at the horizon, behind the trees.  When the paper was covered this way, I added a bit of UB to the top of the paper and after that had diffused a bit into the wetness, I added in a little more UB across the top.  The day wasn’t bright but semi-overcast.  The red glaze underneath helped to ‘dull-down’ the appearance of the sky.

I painted in the light-struck side of the building with a little red mixed into a little gray and added a little CY to make a thin, watery reddish-orange.  Because the building was so far back, I needed the mix to be red orange as well as thin and watery.  While the paint was drying, I mixed a little gray into the red-orange and applied the paint in such a way as to represent the warm and colorful shadow on the Light side of the building.  For the roof that was in the light, I applied a very pale tint of pure orange made from CR and CY.  I decided upon Orange because the day was somewhat dulled by an opaque blue sky.  Had I wanted the roof to be brighter, to appear more sunstruck, I would've used CY.  I think that the Orange pops, appears to light up the roof, because it's the complement of the much blue I've used in the painting.

At this point someone asked what I was going to do about the cross on the roof of the building, toward the middle ground area.  I’d totally forgotten that I’d drawn it in and by now had covered it with paint.  I showed how such a thing could be ‘saved’ by scratching out with a razor blade – or utility knife or jackknife – whatever kind of scratching tool may be available. to indicate that a cross is on the roof.

To finish off the painting,  between the building and the foreground gravestone,  I started off with a watery mix of gray to which a tiny amount of yellow had been added.  I graded that down (from dark near the building to more watery) to almost the middle of the area between the building and the foreground at which point I added in a little more yellow, then ran the wash down to an area behind the foreground gravestone, then added even more yellow and ran it down to the bottom edge of the paper.  While that area dried, I mixed UB and CR into the last of the gray mix and applied it more thickly, but still, semi-watery,  than any mix I’d used so far, to the foreground gravestone.  I left the other gravestones as they were since my Value Pattern wash as this is only a sketch, an exercise, a way of painting that can be used on a larger, more finished painting on ‘good’ paper.  It’s my personal opinion that many small studies such as this make for stronger paintings in the future.


I had a conversation with my students where I told them that if the only thing they remember from my class is to Squint, then I’ve given them some of the best advice that was ever given me and that I use all the time.  When eye-balling, gazing at, thoughtfully considering the subject at hand, close one eye and examine the subject through the open eye with a squint, sometimes squinting through half-lowered eyelid through eyelashes.  This has the effect of ‘flattening’ the space, making it more relatable to a flat surface, showing where the strongest darks and lights are to be found, reduces the power of color and detail, forces the artist to see the general picture with more objectivity.  The details come at the end – if one still thinks details are necessary.

Another thing I think it important to remember, A painting is an arrangement of pigment on a flat surface.  If one hasn’t arranged the pigment on the paper to one's satisfaction, especially in a quick sketch, do another and another and another.  I find these sketches quick, easy and forgiving –  and are a great learning tool as well as a great memory.  

Our next session is Friday morning in White’s Woods.  I’m looking forward to it.

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