October Sun

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 the progress interesting.

Octobe Sun unframed
October Sun  Oil on hand-primed linen,  26 x 28″

 

Setting Up

Octboer Sun progress 1

My setup for starting.  I’m careful that the top of the canvas is perfectly level with the horizon. 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. I’ve come to see that they are a must-have for composing from nature like this.

October sun progress 1a

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 very important work and anticipates the end result I have in mind. Chances are good that anything I really dislike in the final painting will be rooted in some 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 study the composition,  preferably after leaving the location. That way I can be more objective about where I’m going 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.

Octber Sun progress2

A photo taken after one or two sessions of light/color work.  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 poles. The sunlight effect here is earlier than what is eventually in the final painting.  Usually I work with the easel in shade, because working with direct sunlight on the canvas throws the values off, making the darkest notes look too light.

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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!

Framing 

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.

26 x28frame

I enjoy building the frames and take pride in being able to make something that intentionally complements each picture.

OctSun fitting

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.

Sun

And here’s the final painting. October Sun, 26 x 28″, oil on hand primed linen.  And currently available for sale.

Eternity Beach with John and Ann

I had a pair of beautiful afternoons to draw and then paint this 1/4 sheet watercolor at Eternity Beach, more properly known as Halona Cove, last month.  It’s a favorite subject of mine and one that I return to whenever I can.

You never can tell what sort of activity that the ocean will serve up…wind and waves vary here from one extreme to the other.  I find that it’s best to get the composition drawn on one day and return for the painting on another, which is what I managed to do on this occasion.

Afternoon, Halona Cove 12 x 15"
Afternoon, Halona Cove
12 x 15″

I was joined on the second day’s outing by my very good friend John Yamashige, who introduced me to his pal Ann Cecil, a respected local photographer.  I chipped away at the painting while Ann explored the cove, and John and I had one of our wonderful visits. Afterwards the three of us had a chance to sit and visit together as the late afternoon progressed into a cooler time of day.

Halona Cove-04882

Ann was kind enough to shoot some pics of John and myself, so here’s my favorite.  Thanks Ann!

Lanikai Beach: Moving Targets, Straight Paint

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.

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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.

Straight Paint  

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.

Lanikai

Starting & Staying Fresh- an oil painting in steps. Part 2

Fortunately the weather is looking generally cooperative for this second session.  After arriving at the location and setting up, I take a few minutes to compare what I’ve gotten so far  in relation to the actual subject.

I look at the large shapes (also refereed to as “masses”) of trees, ocean, waves,  sand, hills, etc. and see if they are as I want them.  This is the basis of the design, and what we’ll be living with after the painting is completed. Then I check the color of these masses, color which at this elementary stage is relatively flat in character, middle tones thought of  as puzzle shapes fitted against one another. These colors will be developed and refined in the ensuing sessions.

Here’s where I left off yesterday:

16 x 20"
16 x 20″

By assessing the oil painting next to nature, I decide to begin by simplifying some shapes and values to make them work better.   This first part of the morning has interrupted sunlight…clouds move in, and I suddenly have very little to work with in terms of light and color.  When this happens, I always choose to refine and adjust shapes, which are not so influenced by the light.  In this instance it’s the tree trunks and wave shapes which I refine while I wait for sunlight to reappear.

The light returns and I’m  now free to move ahead with the next step, which is going for the shadows and color on the sand. These colors are tricky; they change from warm to cool quickly as the morning progresses.  I know from experience that the shapes become decidedly bluer, so I decide to go with the slightly warmer notes I observe earlier and which I mix with a scramble of ultramarine blue, terra rosa or cadmium scarlet, ochre and white.  I enjoy painting these sorts of passages, and go in with this basic violet shadow value over the prior day’s warm ochre wash, using a large egbert, and break light selectively into it with a separate brush.  Once that shadow shape is in place, nuances, eye path (where the spots of light lead the viewer) and refining the value and color are my preoccupations.  I try to keep the brushwork simple and suggestive.

Stepping Away

I can’t stress enough how viewing and working on the entire painting as a whole benefits the outcome.  Stepping back often, viewing the painting through a small mirror, trying to always consider additions to the painting in terms of their impact on the whole painting.   This leads to unity in the picture…the sense of an easy look to the final painting.

 

Second day's work
Second day’s work

By the time this session winds down,  my subject has returned again to glorious full sunlight and I’ve been able to work and adjust overall color, which is refining the prior days laid-in color with additional observations…working around every area of the painting, keeping the entire picture advancing forward. Sort of like a cattle drive in a Western movie.

After bringing the painting back into the studio, I always make some adjustments to the days’ work, which are almost always simplifications of form or value.  I let the painting dry in the sun a bit, and look forward to day 3.

The news reports that a Hurricane is brewing offshore,which may or may not interrupt my little agenda.  But we’ll see.

Thanks for coming along with me!

Halona Cove Oil Painting-Part Two Painting the Ocean in Hawai’i

Welcome back.

The painting of Halona Cove was at this stage where I left off in the last post.

DSC_0006 Divers,  Halona Cove  16 x 20″, oil on stretched linen

At this stage of the painting the pattern of the shapes (land masses, “whites” of the waves, the shape of the dark shadow, figures, and simple color)  are all in place and ready for further development where appropriate.

This stage is the structure of the painting;  if I have any misgivings about the composition they must be addressed by now. A figure is suggested among the rocks, and  in the water as well.

Step back before moving forward

Before I move forward in this next plein-air session, I pause to refer to my original concept sketch to see if I’m heading where I’d intended.

NOTE: When painting outdoors, and probably even more with the ocean, it’s very easy to get seduced by all of the activity in the subject…and led away from what is important, the strategy of where the viewer’s eye travels in the painting, and what it finds along the way.  I always have to watch this carefully.

halona pencil   Using the original sketch to reaffirm my goal of the work  (essentially, capturing the light of this time of day in this particularly powerful  place in an energizing way) I set up my easel for a third , (or is it now a fourth?) session.

Building and refining the colors and values

The weather has been really kind. That means the light is the same as last session, and  I’m able to get down to work on the various “notes” of color, and developing the dark/light relationships.

I’m also trying to keep the brushwork  fresh  and descriptive, and especially while capturing the colors in the water.  Unlike some other painters, I seem to use a number of brushes at this stage, possibly as many as 12-15.  This way I can keep each note of color distinct and  get the stroke in the shape I want.

My palette for the water  includes Ultramarine, Cerulean, Viridian, and Yellow Ochre, possibly a touch of a Cadmium Yellow. Darks can be helped in the water by a bit of Alizarin Crimson and Viridan, which creates a fascinating transparent grey that is very suitable for this work. At this stage the “whites” are keyed down to a lavender gray of varying warmth and coolness.  There is probably no “straight”, pure white in the painting. I’m also using a Schmincke Manganese Cobalt Blue that I believe is helpful. And there is Ivory Black on my palette, which I find helpful  and useful in the darks.

 

Halona 3 detailjpg

Painting the figures

The figures are ready to be placed directly into their positions and I do so, referring very loosely to actual figures in the scene before me for color, but still relying on the sketchbook drawings for position and gesture.  They form a generally pyramidal  shape as a group, and I push the gesture and color as far as I can without losing  the simplicity of the brushstroke.

The water and especially the whites of the waves also receive more attention. I’m building up the paint so that these loaded whites physically catch the light falling onto the canvas in a way that contributes to the sense of foaming, breaking , dazzling white water.  These whites are a powerful compositional tool….where they are placed is where the eye will go, and their shapes should work on the canvas as an effective design  pattern.  I find that to be much more important than clutter or details in the water, as I mentioned in the first post.  The whites are also warmed or cooled, sometimes rather subtly,  to create variety.

DSC_0003 - Version 2

So as I develop these concerns,  I’m aware that the painting is reaching a point where any further work will not really help the overall look of the painting, but actually start to work against the vitality that I would like it to possess.

After adjusting some more elements, and defining ever so slightly the island of Molokai off on the horizon,  I then back  away from the painting for a day or two,  then give it a fresh look and decide that it’s ready to be signed. DSC_0003 - Version 3Divers, Halona Cove  oil, 16 x 20″   January 2013

Thanks for your interest in reading the post, I hope it’s interesting and helpful!

 

The New Watercolors for January


 

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Along with everything else I’m working on, I’ve been on a watercolor jag for the last month.  It’s been great fun and hard work, and I’m planning on more.

Do these work for you?

So much of painting is just about purposefully being in the work-mindset.  Rather than waiting to be inspired,  often times I just have an idea about  design, or an effect of light, and begin with something in my sketchbook;  inspiration or enthusiasm arrives after I begin to work, not generally before.  I know it’s the same for writers and musicians…you begin by taking the first step of working.

Each of these paintings are quarter-sheet, which is watercolorist talk for 11 x 15″, and painted on Saunders #200.  Titles are coming.