We live in a wonderful urban neighborhood in Honolulu called Kaimuki. Seated on the backside of Diamond Head, it’s an enjoyable mixture of both modern and century-old homes, a funky/trendy business area, and a populace that includes most all of our island’s varied ethnic heritages.
It’s also great for walking…rolling hills, old concrete sidewalks (with the occasional child’s handprint), and fresh trade winds that provide delightful comfort during an evening stroll. One notable feature is a high, rocky point topped by a small park. Called “Christmas Tree Park” by locals, it’s just a few blocks from home, and during early evening it’s quite popular. There’s a group of dog-lovers who habitually gather, perhaps some first-daters trying things out, and a variety of others who enjoy the westward view over Honolulu at sunset.
While I’m not a regular, I do occasionally drift up that way after supper. And it was on such an evening that I finally decided to get started on the early-evening painting I’d been contemplating.
For years prior, I’d been admiring a painting by the 19th century Spanish painter Ramon Casas. His was also a “townscape”, of Montmartre, painted as it appeared back in the Impressionist days. I’ve always been excited by Casas’s picture; an interesting puzzle-pattern of darks and lights, rooftops, roads, and trees. It was definitely an inspiration for where I hoped my own picture could go.
As for my effort, I envisioned a days-end feeling: the fading daylight, with rose colored cloudbanks overhanging the rooftops and random jumble of our neighborhood. And all to be painted in thoughtful, descriptive brushstrokes.
I decided it would be best to arrive at the spot around 5:45 each evening. This would allow a window of workable light of perhaps 45 minutes. I supposed I’d need perhaps 8 or more sessions, but it was hard to tell.
I keep “prepared” wooden painting panels in my studio, and decided 9 x 12″ was the right size. I also chose to use a tripod mounted pochade box. This would keep things compact… important because my own shadow was needed to block the sunlight behind me from falling on the painting, which would distort the light/shadow effect. Gusts of strong wind made using an umbrella to shield the painting from the setting sun too risky.
The first round of work involved getting the “main pieces” in the right spots on my panel.
I never rush this step because the personality of the whole painting begins in how the painting’s space is”divided”.
I thought of the “main pieces” as the areas of land, sea, clouds and sky. . . 4 large, interlocking puzzle pieces. Which of those areas were to “dominate” is what determined the cropping.
The large tower’s placement in the lower left quadrant was important. It’s a strong “point of attraction”…but needed to be placed with care. The distant peninsula needed that slight “opening” on its far right edge. It connects sky and ocean as a single shape.
Weather permitting, I continued to return each evening for more work on the painting. Progress was gradual, but steady, always keeping the original intentions I described in mind.
In time I found that I was able to anticipate what the light and color were likely to do, which was a big help. This is just a sidebar here, but becoming familiar with the “personality” of a given location is a really wonderful secondary aspect of the “plein-air “painting process. One’s painting locations can also, in time, become places of deep reflection and attachment.
As the work progressed further, I also committed to trying to maintain some ideals…
To attempt to paint the “ensemble effect” …the overall appearance of the entire scene as it might appear in one glance.
Seeing everything as “simply a piece of paint” of a particular shape, value, and color.
To pursue “suggestion” over “explanation”.
Completion Of The Work
Further sessions were simply about adjusting and refining, always with an eye towards the look of the entire painting, not fussing over specific and irrelevant details.
There was a nice general interest from the public. Most were unfamiliar with the kind of work I was doing. It was pleasant to offer some explanations to the curious. That was a nice sidebar to the whole project.
Because the painting is in traditional oils, the actual drying time is a minimum of six months. At that date, the owner of the painting will return it briefly for a final varnish. This will the crowning moment. . .the painting will then be restored to its original richness of color and permanently protected.
By this, I mean that to improve, I need to work on my skills. It doesn’t matter what the thing is…many aspects of being an artist require that skills get “under your skin”…become subconscious and natural.
Have you ever thought of art as a discipline? It’s wise to give it a try.
Following Good Examples
From a young age I made progress when making an effort to emulate something that had moved me. In my ongoing search (and I sincerely hope you’ll have your own), I’d find heroes… and then ask myself what do they have that I don’t?
In time I saw that I want my drawing to be fluent…with color both representative and inspired. And I need a design that makes the most of everything that the subject offers. These are examples of the sort of things we all need to identify about our own taste. And each of us will need to discover what moves us inwardly enough to take the risk of hard pursuit.
My hungry eye has led me to discover artist’s I never would have dreamed existed. This beautiful watercolor by Arthur Melville contains much of what I respond to. It’s an example of casual appearance which disguises his powerful ability to compose, draw, and then execute something that, we might guess, was only a brief impression on the artists’ mind. I’m grateful to have discovered his work, because he possesses the vitality and skill that I desire to obtain. From this example, and the work of many others, I get insights…. and then look for ways to practice what I’ve learned.
I look at using exemplars, like Arthur Melville, as hints to what I could do using my own living environment. In his painting above, I see a well drawn solitary figure, surrounded with plenty of suggested activity. There are subtle echoes of shape and color, and an excellent dark/light pattern.
Where can I find something that would have those elements now, in our world?
Putting Inspiration to Work
During the period of the COVID restrictions, I decided to visit our local green market on Saturdays. This was one of the few places where people could gather communally (albeit very supervised) and go about the business of life. I would take my traveling watercolor kit over with 1/8th sheets (7.5″x 10″) watercolor paper and then search to find a shady spot to paint from. This meant being wedged into areas between parked commercial vehicles, behind the scenes. Privacy was never guaranteed, but I’m used to onlookers and questions. From these cramped little shade-puddles I tried to compose and paint.
It’s Just Practice
I viewed these works as practice opportunities. Arranging elements, capturing fleeting effects, and convincingly drawn figures who were often there for moments at a time. It’s juggling and there’s never a dull moment.
Even as I write this now, I’m reminded of John Sargent’s quip that watercolor is “making the most of an emergency”.
Each painting is 7.5″ x 10″, and usually represents a single visit of a couple hours duration. I hope this energizes you to have a look at your personal world and see what’s possible.
This morning, Honolulu was greeted with overcast skies, so I immediately changed my painting plans to take advantage of the situation… because an overcast day is ideal for painting ocean studies.
“Ocean studies” are exercises. In painting and drawing, we gradually educate ourselves about the behavior and look of the ocean by repeated exposure. The more of this direct contact I have, the more fluent I’ll become, enabling me to paint with more confidence and authority.
With ocean work, “overcast” helps
Overcast is good because it’s on such days that I find the ocean easiest to paint. In Hawai’i, perhaps unlike other areas, finding shade to work in is critical. Oftentimes, the rocky coastlines I prefer lack shade. So it’s great news when we have some good cloud cover.
Some other points regarding overcast days:
-Almost all the values (shades of dark & light) will fall in the middle range. What this means is that the lightest whites of the breaking waves are slightly less than the pure white on my palette. The darks in rocks are slightly less dark than my darkest pigments. Therefore, our notes of color become closer to what can be reached with paint.
-Because sunlight is restricted, the effect of sunlight is diffused and doesn’t change as much during the painting session. This might give me more time to paint before the light changes.
My purpose in making studies
In anything I refer to as a “study”, my main intention is to learn by doing.
If a study looks good when finished, that’s terrific, and I want that to be the case. But that isn’t the entire target. Ocean studies are an ongoing seeking-out of design ideas, the “notes” of color (the actual look of the color in the right value), and the shapes and rhythms of the sea. By exposure to direct observation, brush in hand, a vocabulary can be built. That’s a skill I want to have internalized so that when struggling with a painting I’ll have a reliable sense of when I’m getting close to the look of nature….and when I’m not.
Ignore the spectacular
The ocean possesses numerous sensitive moods, and each has artistic value. The dramatic crashing wave-against-rock theme is not the only possibility, so it’s wise to become aware of others. The observation of the quiet-but-telling secondary actions of the sea is of great importance and is possibly the most difficult. Understanding that waves are visible, fluid manifestations of energy is a good framework for launching out on the work of painting the ocean, and if viewed that way, we may find interesting motives for paintings.
I’m generally hoping to be out early for ocean work. My setup is with a lightweight easel and color box that I’ve been favoring over the last few years. I carry the minimum of things needed, refined from a lot of practice, and pack my equipment the prior evening. When I arrive at the location, I don’t haul my equipment around looking for a spot. Rather, I look for my spot and then bring my equipment to it.
My palette for the ocean includes (Lead) White, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Lemon, Indian Red, Permanent Crimson, and Viridian; for blues, Cerulean, Cobalt, and Ultramarine, and finally Ivory Black. For the painting to follow, I chose an 11 x14″ oil-primed wooden panel. This is large enough to allow some freedom of brushwork, but small enough to complete in a few hours. As the photos show, it’s mounted against a neutral gray backing, which allows a consistent middle gray around the margin of the study; this helps me judge things a bit better.
I always try to think through the composition of anything I put my brush to. That’s a discipline I need to practice. Art ultimately is dependent on taste…and so each step can at least be an effort in the direction of making better choices.
In this case, my interest was the action of the largest wave. Since the painting is so middle-value, I chose to include the rock (which is stationary and dark), and place it where I thought it would be most helpful to the overall design. This gave me something dark to measure the other values against. Also, the wet sand aspect introduced the only truly warm color notes (ochre), and added to the dark of the rock, really helps bring the study to life.
I always want the largest shapes (sky, sea, sand, white of the waves, etc) to contribute to an interesting pattern in and of themselves. In this case the division shown on the white panel, though done quickly, does reflect some concern for realizing that. Notice there’s a small “x” mark painted in the center of the canvas… it’s a help to arranging those big shapes. The lines are painted in after some planning with light charcoal lines, which were dusted off before the paint went on.
I always begin work from the most general towards the specific. This applies to shapes, values, and colors. So after the drawing in of the main shapes, my next objective is to seize the overall color-cast of this morning, which is a gray and cool effect. The best place is to begin with the sky, the furthest element from me and also the source of the light.
I mix a general value of blue gray, getting as close in color as I can to what I’m seeing. Using a large filbert brush I begin to lay-in the sky with a hearty amount of paint. I use individual brushloads placed side by side, something like a mosaic. My task here is to cover the white panel with a general value of each main color area. Once I get this, I will come back and refine the work. Virtually everything in my painting will be treated more than once, or more times. In the general-to-specific approach, it’s important to get the entire painting started (general), and suspend working on the specific (smaller elements and details) until that’s accomplished. Then, revisit each element, drawing it all together into a cohesive visual whole.
As I am doing this, I’m also watching the general motion of the sea, and considering how I might best capture the action of the waves, the purpose of the study.
An important point to keep in mind, and the reason for starting with the sky, is that whatever is going on there is also happening in the ocean. Students hear me refer to the sky and the ocean as a married couple; one’s mood is affecting the other’s mood directly.
As I get the general effect of the sky in place, I begin to work that color down into the color of the water. Because we have overcast conditions, I can get the actual colors and values I see in the water without too much trouble.
The large area of broken white water, generated by the breaking wave and shallow, sandy bottom, is a matter of getting just the right value of gray. I carefully mix what I need and, adjusting as I go, lay it in to the area. I’m using as much pigment as I can get on the brush, with only a touch of linseed oil. A well-loaded brush and individual brushstrokes placed one against the other is my procedure for building the painting.
My next move requires care….the general color of the rock, and especially it’s shadow side, needs to be dropped into place. because the dark shadow is the low end of my value scale.”How low”, compared to straight black, is important to judge correctly. I also look at the temperature of the dark (warm or cool?) and place it. Now, I can judge everything in the painting between the lightest and darkest notes of value…and adjust confidently now that these vital “bookends” are established.
As the morning progresses, I have a nice amount of paint built up on the canvas. I’ve taken real care in getting the color of the face of the wave, the middle note, as close as I can to what I’m seeing. Having Viridian on my palette is important for this.
The sun’s made it’s presence known, having moved from behind the clouds and created some light/dark contrast in the green area of the wave. I now paint those darker notes with a reasonably large brush, thinking about the direction of the strokes. At this stage, how my brush work may add to the vitality of the action is paramount. During the initial lay in, it was less so. Because I have a good body of paint in place, these darker strokes ease into the existing paint beautifully.
After about 90 minutes, the sunlight has managed to overcome the gray skies, and it’s unwise to continue. Doing so would introduce an entirely different concept, and one must avoid “chasing the light”.
I bring the painting back to the studio, and from memory and best judgement I make some adjustments. This stage, in actuality, is clarifying and simplifying. We don’t always make the best choices in the heat of battle, so checking back on the morning’s work after a break is always good.
Again, I’d like this to be a beautiful piece, but my real mission has been to objectively study the ocean, adding to my general knowledge of the sea. I add my monogram signature, and in 6 months the study will receive varnish for protection.
This pencil drawing, from my prior post, remains as a solid summary of what I’m after in my final piece.
I’ve relied on it to refresh my memory…in the heat of constructing a night painting, it’s easy to gradually lose oneself along the way. One needs an anchor, a plan, and I’d be lost without it eventually.
The Essential Question
So, what am I after? It’s hard to know with certainty. It’s not a commercial question, though it’s a given that I’ll be doing my best to make it as beautiful as I possibly can. But there has to be something communicated, something that I see and consider worth attempting to help you to see. And as I progress through these stages of organizing the picture, that’s the thing to be cleared up.
Right now, all I know is that I want to create an emotional response like what I’ve experienced at night, out on those cliffs. And to communicate it clearly to others. I hope that this basic motivation will become more nuanced as I proceed.
The Practical: Finding My Way
One of the particular difficulties is that the final painting must be done in the studio, and from studies that cannot be executed directly from nature. It’s too dark outside. So my “visual memory” must be sharp and reliable enough to put things together. And that’s not a clearly established procedure like some other aspects of painting. I’m finding my way gradually.
At this point I’ve determined that the next step forward, now that the basic color/mood sketch and thumbnail are established, (here), is to make studies of the clouds. They are the most complex and dramatic elements in the painting. Accomplishing this will enable me to work out my composition intelligently.
The Cloud Studies
I painted three main cloud studies from a nearby hilltop over several sessions. I sketched in the ocean beneath for scale.
It’s crucial to decide where the light source is to be in the final painting. I’ve decided it will be the moon, and positioned directly above the view, and out of the canvas. This was established in the thumbnail sketch. This is an important consideration and especially for a night painting. I want the moon outside the canvas because I would like to attempt to suggest it’s effect without including it.
Because of this, I hit upon the idea to paint the cloud studies outdoors at noontime, when the sun illuminating the clouds from directly overhead would replicate the moon at night. I could then paint the forms I saw being created by sunlight on the clouds with confidence that they could translate into the night time effect by adjusting the values.
The cloud studies in order, 11 x 14″ each.
These studies were essential and are extremely useful…not only for a night painting, but as contributing to my general knowledge. I know that work one does from nature, with all it’s hassles, roots itself in an artist’s mind in a unique way. And they were great fun to work on! Forms like clouds need to be rearranged and manipulated to move the eye within the painting; I’ve come to know that clouds are among the most flexible and reactive of the forms occurring in nature. Full of surprises, expressive, and very, very beautiful.
I’ll be springing the final study in my next installment. Mahalo (thank you) from the South Pacific!
I’ve just finished this new oil painting after many interruptions, mostly weather-related. But I managed to shoot some sequential images along the way, and I hope you find the process and progress interesting.
My setup for starting. I’m careful that the top of the canvas is perfectly level with the horizon, which you can see win the photo. I have a large pair of “Square Corners”, wooden right-angles, leaning against the right leg of the easel. When used as a viewfinder, these help tremendously with visualizing the composition. They are a must-have for composing from nature like this.
The drawing of the main lines, big shapes, and divisions of space on the canvas.
I start by placing a small x in the center of the canvas to build the composition around. Adjustments included enlarging the main tree in size from what nature provided, and moving the small island on the horizon to the far left of the canvas as a balancing measure. I’ve moved the horizon line up because it was too close to dead center.
All of this is important work and anticipates the end result I have in mind. Chances are good that anything I really dislike in the final painting is already taking root in a choice I’ve made at this stage. This part of the process can be done in one session, and an overcast day is fine for this step. I prefer to have some time back in the studio with the drawn-in painting to view the composition, preferably after leaving the location. That way I can be more objective about where I’m heading with the painting.
The composition is drawn in with a thinned mix of Ultramarine blue and Indian red and painted in with a hog-bristle round brush. I use a rag and a bit of Gamsol to wipe away any lines that need removing or adjusting.
Proceeding into Light, Shade and Color
Once light and color are introduced, the painting sessions require similar light. And as the painting progresses day to day, the window of painting time narrows to accommodate the specific effect I’m painting.
A photo taken after one or two sessions of light/color work. You can see that I’m careful to have the canvas perfectly level with the horizon. I’ve established the lightest note of light ( white of the wave) and the darkest dark (foliage in shadow) and every other value-note should fall between those two spots. This photo is taken AFTER the actual work was finished for the day… one must work when the easel is in shade, because working with direct sunlight on the canvas throws the values off, making the darkest notes appear too light.
A long shot at the end of a session, close to the last one. The painting is pretty close to being finished. This is after the light effect has gone, which is a delightful time to be with the painting and in the place after an hours’ s hard work. Notice I’m practically alone on the beach!
While the painting is in progress, the other side of the effort is that I build and finish each frame for my paintings. This work takes place on days when I have time to chip away at the framing task, often in the middle of overcast days, since most of my painting is either early or later in the daylight hours.
I enjoy building the frames and take pride in being able to make something that intentionally complements each picture.
Here, I’m fitting the frame around the finished painting. I begin making color decisions for toning and finishing the wood with the painting in place. The frame will be sanded and shellacked for smoothness.
I first decide whether I want the frame’s effect to be darker than the dark notes of the painting, lighter, or somewhere in the middle. Dark makes the picture stand out (or”pop”, a word I don’t like!), but also can make the picture feel heavy in the room. This is especially true in Hawai’i , where light colors and an airy feel are part of a desirable interior. I choose to go with a middle tone, picking up on the colors in the shadows.
And here’s the final painting. October Sun, 26 x 28″, oil on hand primed linen. And currently available for sale.
On many occasions, I’ll find a subject that requires an immediate response, so I take the plunge. But either weather, the poor quality of the light, or other circumstances make an in-depth plein air study hard to manage.
So, oftentimes I’m disappointed. The results of these plein air sketches are not as effective as they would be if they were more fully developed. And almost always the main weakness is in the composition. Either nature didn’t provide (or I didn’t recognize) a suitable arrangement of elements to make viewing the painting a fully satisfying experience.
This sketch (above) is a 7 x 11″ watercolor that is our case-in-point. It was sufficient in a no-frills way to capture the general effects. But the sunlight was on again/off again, I had interruptions from rain, and the composition now seems crowded into the rectangular format.
A Reminder and a Reference
The sketch’s real value to me is only this: when reviewed later, after I’ve moved on to other work, I’m reminded of visual/sensual experiences ( I mean sounds, smells, circumstances) that are now part of my memory. It conjures recollections much more like a movie than a snapshot. The sketch has become a reminder and a reference.
What artists know is that sketching something plants the entire experience of being somewhere much more firmly in the mind than passive observation or photography. The information from sketching is sifted. More personal as well as visual, gathered through the lens of our own personal temperament. And this added dimension ultimately enriches the final painting.
From this stage, I’m then able to deal with the composition.
As mentioned, the first sketch doesn’t suggest the grandness of the place. It’s hemmed in by the rectangle and lacks clear areas of interest. So I put together this second study (below) in my studio, making better use of the elements that nature provided as well as altering the composition to suit my desire for a better eyepatch and more interest.
This small study is still “the place”, but is now better organized to lead the eye in an interesting way. The addition of figures and refining and simplifying the shapes now give me something with more pictorial interest.
A Point of Departure
From here the watercolor can serve as a basis for many possibilities… an oil painting, a larger watercolor, or a pastel. In this instance I thought a larger painting in pastel would be a good response, to be worked up in my studio. So I used both the first sketch and study to refer to as I worked. I think I developed a better painting than I might have had otherwise…while making it much more “my own” in the process.
Here’s the easel setup with the watercolor study positioned so I can see it directly with the pastel painting. After several sessions I was able to complete the pastel.
And below is the final painting, now framed and in a private collection.
One Final Thought
We obviously live in a time of technology, and the option of photography as a useful reference tool has been available and used by many painters for a long time. And undeniably, many beautiful works have resulted from this.
For my own efforts I have decided to invest in drawing and painting without the advantages/disadvantages of photography as much as possible. And I recommend that my students, while they are my students, try and do the same.
Art-making and life-living in our modern world have increasingly become solely results oriented. Labor saving devices are a wonderful blessing for the many people occupied in endlessly routine and stifling or tedious work. We’re thankful for labor saving devices whenever the labor is unpleasant, dangerous, or unprofitable.
But artworks are different. We are richer for the experience of interfacing with our subject over time, watching the many variations and possibilities, getting to know the subject in many moods.
Our “Painting the Museums en Plein Air” class had our final get together for 2014 on Wednesday morning at Spalding House on Oahu.
Our model, Michelle, took a reclining pose…and we took advantage of superb weather and luscious surroundings to put in a couple hours with her before having our traditional Artist’s Holiday Bohemian Bacchanalia (Christmas Party). We had a great time, and I’m happy to have been able to work with this fine group.
A straightforward approach to painting a pastel figure outdoors
As an informal demonstration, I decided that a small pastel piece that dealt directly with the subject in terms of color, shape, and value alone would be interesting. The piece was done without a preliminary drawing, but just as a seeing project. Simple, mostly squarish strokes ( I refer to them as “tiles”) of the appropriate color and value placed selectively and as simply as I could. Very clean color can be had this way.
I fussed with it a bit after, but essentially it’s a direct-from-nature piece, 7 1/2 x 10 inches on some pale yellow Ersta paper I have. I have plans to frame this one rather soon for a small show, so the frame, mat, and glass are waiting.
If you are interested in finding out more or joining us, you are welcome to check the schedule for our upcoming class here.
It seems that this time of year I regularly find myself scouting for interesting subject matter in Lanikai, a beach spot not far from home. I begin early and drive the main road past Kailua Beach which then rises to the splendid overlook. I slow down to glance North, across the bay towards Mokapu, and then bend around to follow the one-way loop into the community of Lanikai.
Lanikai, like most other now-famous beaches, was once an isolated and rather barren spot populated by families of Hawai’ian and Asian descent. I’ve heard folks who lived here during the 1930’s speak about how farmers raised melons to trade for rice with farmers back in the mountains. Cash money was rare. Fresh water could come from holes dug in the sand, there was no electricity, and people birthed their babies at home. During the war, barbed wire was stretched along the beach.
Nowadays Lanikai is known, and it’s a different deal. Populated by part-timers and foreign visitors as well as locals, it’s become increasingly affluent and crowded. Sniffy, expensive California styled residences are on the rise and crowding the view. But there still are tiny slices of the old tucked away in corners and unexpected places, and it’s to these that I’m attracted.
Scouring and squinting, I often think that I must appear suspicious to residents as I slowly creep along in my chang-a-lang Rav 4, peering into yards and empty lots. I’m checking my rear view mirror for a view of how things appear behind me. I climb out of my car at odd intervals to study combinations of buildings and flora, dark and light patterns, or spots of color…anything that might hold some promise of becoming an interesting composition.
And so as I went ’round the loop (it’s a single lane, one road in and one road out), I was able gradually to narrow my search to a few possibilities. Though it was early in the day yet, the sunlight was strong and the sky clear. Streets were already filling with people hitting the beach or doing the holiday yard sales.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of something good. Dark and light foliage, a flash of white wall/blue sea on the Makai (ocean) side of the street. It was a small beachfront property I’d somehow never noticed before. Big modern places had been built closely on either side. Yellow sunlight cut across the darkened entry road and there were hints of ’20’s-era architecture silhouetted in the dark overgrowth of palms and hedges.
A Friend Indeed
“No way I am going to get to do this”, I told myself as I skeptically considered the odds of obtaining permission to paint here. It’s no fun knocking on doors and explaining to people you’re a painter. Try it if you haven’t. And Lanikai has it’s guard up these days… understandably so. The normally friendly residents have already been tested by the abundant supply of tourists errantly drifting through their yards, as well as out-and-out thieves.
But I was about to be surprised. As I poked around across the street looking for a vantage point that might allow a shot at this, I saw a big contractor’s truck parked where I hadn’t noticed it on the lot. And the name on the truck was the company that my pal Brian builds for.
What do you know about that?
And as I’m taking all this in, my feet have me automatically walking across the street. Hope is like that, I’ve noticed. Your body just responds to it before your brain has weighed the matter entirely. But no matter, because at that moment my friend Brian has emerged from a dark doorway, his mind on 20 different things to do with his project. He then sees me, looking dumbfounded at him. What are the odds of this? We greet each other.
Yes, Mark, you can have the run of the place if you stay safely out of the way.
Well, I’ve gone from mild despair to elation in a few minutes. I thank Brian ( I’m STILL thanking him!), grab my trusty & rusty Julian 1/2 box, and after some deliberation regarding what to paint ( so many choices and so little time) I decide to jump on a rare opportunity to paint the beach from about 15 feet above it. Looking East, from this incredibly well shaded perch, Molokai is beautifully silhouetted and the sky and sea are dazzling. Visitors are walking the beach and the colors are beautiful. Everything is moving, and it is as strikingly clear as one could ever ask for.
Unlike many oil painters, I received a lot of practice working with oil paint that is straight from the tube. This is a hard sell to some painters because we mostly receive the idea that things have to be done to oil paint, added to it, to make it manageable . While this is desirable in some instances, it’s not necessary in many cases…and certainly not in this case. I’d been working with an addition of some linseed oil lately, and also using a traditional 3 part medium for a change after years of straight paint. On this occasion I left the turpentine (Gamsol actually) at home, and worked with straight paint on a white oil primed linen panel. I’m happy I did.
It was delicious. Starting with the large masses of sand, sea, and sky I dropped in the large blocks of color with “tiles”, brush strokes of pure paint laid side to side, each mixed to directly capture the color and value needed. They can be fused and modeled later. This was referred to as “Bunkering” for the 19th century American painter Dennis Bunker by one of my teachers, James Childs. It’s work at the beginning, especially if one is accustomed to beginning with a thin wash of color that hides the white of the canvas. But the pay off comes later, because once the painting is covered, the second round of adjusting the shapes and values in this rich lay-in is a real pleasure. The right amount of paint is in place to model forms and the work almost becomes easier…certainly for me more enjoyable.
And so the morning went….figures briefly appeared that were desirable, though fleeting. The woman with the umbrella was only present for a minute at most…so I have developed the habit of notating the figure on a clean area of my palette, a quick gesture with color, enouch to recall the effect and place it into the painting wet into wet after the general effects of the painting are painted. Her companion was added from a memory sketch the following day.