Saturday, February 11, 2012

12 x 16 in. oil on canvas board
It is a long time since I have made an entry or done any paintingHaving finally started to paint again, this is my latest work in progress.  It is of the scene from the window of my new studio.  It is of the morning winter sun streaming across the blue ridge just into the Shenandoah valley.

At the end of last year we moved from our home in South Central Virginia, 3 hours north to be closer to a grandchild.  It was very sudden, and is a process that is still happening.  We will need to sell our home before we can move into a new one, so we are now living / camping in a 31 foot RV travel trailer, behind a barn in this very Picturesque location.  (I don't recommend that anyone get a retail transfer on the last week before Christmas)  Needless to say the events of the last 4 months have be crazy, and could fill the pages of a book.

Through this crazy time I had work in 2 different exhibitions that had to be prepared, delivered, and pick up.  Unfortunately one still hasn't been picked up, but we will get there.  I am now painting again in the living area of the RV.  even though the over all area we live in has been greatly reduced,  the area in which I paint is much better.  When we finally sell and get a new home, I can see this becoming my studio.  To get the dreamt for northern light, I will just have to situate the RV correctly, and will be able to hit the road with it from time to time as well.  The scene depicted above is constantly changing.  I can see it through the window now.  the mountain is gone behind a shroud of mist with the tantalizing promise of some snow in the air.  A few flakes have begun to fall as I write.  I could paint a thousand very different renditions of just this one view.  I can't wait until spring.   When viewed correctly, life is a never ending adventure.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Middle stages of 2 paintings

A removed stage of beach painting.  Oil on canvas 24" x 36"

Middle stages of beach painting.  Oil of canvas, 24" x 36"
In some ways the time since my last posting has been art making nothing land.  In others it has been very busy.  Almost all my spare time has been taken up with organizing my archive of works so that we can finish the new web site I have found scanned and enhanced dozens of bad photographs of early work.  I now have hundreds documented, but have no record of large part of my earlier work, especially paintings I did prior to 1995. 
I did make also make some progress on the beach painting I have been working on.  The pictures show some of the progress and changes that I have made.   The changes are huge, because the first incarnation wasn’t working.  I am much happier with my current direction.  I was starting to get away from my core, and into something resembling graphic arts.
 I am now at the stage of blocking in the colors.  In some ways it is the most difficult stage, because the whole thing looks messy and nasty, but it is also the stage in which the basic drawing is perfected, and the tonality of the whole painting is established.  On a large painting like this it is also very boring.  Before my last posting I had also made some progress on the painting of Fisherman’s wharf.  I am at much the same stage on this painting as well. 
Middle stages of Fisheram's wharf painting - Oil on canvas "18" x 24

At the sales end of the process, the exhibition at the McGuffey center in Charlottesville is finished.  I didn’t sell anything, but at this stage that was not to purpose.  It was a chance for exposure to a higher art market.   I had a moment when picking the paintings up.  They said that we were to pick up our paintings from 5:00 pm.  So I thought that I was safe arriving at 6:10 after a 1 hour and 20 minute drive from work.  A got there to find the whole building locked up.  To my relief,  one of the studio artists was working in his outside studio, and had keys.  Fortune was smiling on me.  I didn't sell anything but at this stage that was not to purpose, I did receive a request to use my material for promotions though, which was a plus.  We will see what comes of that.  These couple of days off, I had better get some painting done before a get myself into an artist’s block again.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Administration work ... so boring but important.

Fly away home.  oil on linen, 10" x 8"
This painting was one of the first in my current series.  The text is mostly hidden and make a connection between the rime "Lady but fly away home" and my connections with immigration.

I soooo want to be painting. Instead I am still organizing pictures into a data base, with all the information about each one that you would ever want to know. There is a purpose in all of this. We are working on a new web site. The old one has been up forever because it was so hard to revise. This one will be much easier. But in order to do it, we have to be able to keep track of pictures. The final naming format I came up with is as follows.
  • m is for the level of quality ranging from an artist's exercise, to a masterful work.
  • 201103 is the year and month the work was completed in.
  • n0165 is the unique file number assigned to the painting. The zero enables me to have exactly the same number of characters in each file name. That way I can easily divide a list of file names on a spread sheet into its constituent parts, and sort by any one of them. With drop downs on the spread sheet I can also generate a file name for a new work without making any mistakes.
  • ool a code for the medium. In this case it stands for oil paint on a stretched linen canvas. Using a search and replace, I can convert this into a number so that it will easily be imported into the Access database table.
  • -e lets me know what the size of the digital image is. In this case the largest dimension is 1800 pixels.
  • 008x010 gives us the dimensions in inches. Once again the zeros maintain the right number of characters. This painting is 8 inches high by 10 inches wide. With 3 digits I think I am safe even with a 60 foot backdrop.
  • lanr has to parts that stand for the type and subject of the painting. Here it stands for a landscape of a natural setting, other than costal or urbane. It works in the same way as the code for the medium.
  • -tr stands for the style used. In this case it means "texted realism" which is my current "thing"
  • 0 tells me what stage in the painting this picture was taken. Here 0 means that the picture was completed. It enables me to have a consistent completion number as I may have varying numbers of pictures taken while the work is in progress. You may have noticed that I post progressive pictures now and then. In future if an article gets published about the piece I can easily identify the stages for each painting.
Coming up with all of this has been a pain because each time I changed the nomenclature, I had to rename all the pictures .....geeeeerrrrrrr!!!!!!
I have gotten some painting in. I have been making steady progress on the painting of Fisherman's wharf that I am doing for the Oil Painter of America competition early next year. So it has not been all work and no play. I will post a picture of the progress on my next posting.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Of archiving and file naming

Detail of  "The Potter"  (unfunished)
The last two days have been days off, and have been very hot and humid, up around 100 F.  I was not about to spend my them out in that kind of heat doing yard work, so apart from mowing early one morning, I got to spend most of it doing art “stuff”.  I made a start on the main painting that I am going to enter into the Oil Painters of America Nationals next year.  I got it mostly drawn up with the sky and bay roughly grubbed in.  I am aiming to become a signature member of OPA.  In order to do that, I have to have been accepted into their national exhibition 3 times in 5 years.  There are usually about 3000 entrants, with only a couple of hundred accepted, so the competition is stiff and the work entered must always be excellent.  That is why I am giving myself more than six months for the project.  The works entered have to literally be master pieces.
Other than that most of my art time was spent doing digital archiving.  One thing can lead to another.  We have been offered some free Google advertising.  Our aim will be to get people to come visit our web site. It has sat mostly dormant  for a couple of years.  (see us at ) We are in the process of getting a vastly better site up.  It is much less cluttered and much easier for us to access and regularly change and up date.  So now getting that up has a rocket under it.  In order to get it up, the archive has to be decent and in order.  We have many of copies of pictures of paintings of varying quality all over the place. 
I have put together a database in MS Access in order to pull it all together.  Firstly I had to find the best pictures of every piece of work.  Then I had to rename them all.  To do that I also needed a lot of information about each work.  We are using a naming system that tells you at a glance a lot about the painting.  An example is e200706-00062acb-0140x0180ameq-rr0.jpg.  The name can actually be divided into columns in Excel and translated into understandable information.  The nomenclature of this painting divides up as follows: e the image has a max dimension of 1800 pix. 200706 painting completed June 2007, 00062 is a unique catalogue no., acb the medium is acrylic on canvas board, 0140x0180 the dimensions are 14” high and 18” long, ameq it is of animal/s, namely equestrian, rr it is very realistic, 0 it is the base picture of the completed work.  With all of that in the file name it is easy to do the rest.  Unfortunately it is also tedious.  On the upside I found a recent painting that I had forgotten about. It  needs a little work to complete.  I put it aside when I was making the transition to working with text again.  With just a little work it will become a nice part of my new body of work.  The work, the potter, of a local potter at a festival, is posted above.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Revisiting old paintings that you thought were failing

My unfinished painting of lone tree sunset.  18" x 24", oil on canvas
I was faced with a problem the other day; I had run out of surfaces to paint on. No problem, I just ordered some from Dick Blick. It really is a great way to get supplies when you live an hour or more from the nearest craft store. The prices are also great. Unfortunately I was then left with the problem of how to use precious painting time while I waited the week or so for my canvases to arrive.  I have shelved the beach painting, and was not feeling like working on the portrait, so I dug into my cash of "failures". One of them was started with grand hopes of making an impression at the local Universities group show. The painting was of a very large prominent house at sunset. Everything was going well until I started painting the sun set.

Over the years I have painted quite a few of them and found that they are a most paradoxical subject. On the one hand painting a red and orange sky with some trees silhouetted against it, is one of the easiest ways for a beginner to wow their friends. Conversely, if you want to capture the depth and subtlety of one, it takes a lot of experience and skill to achieve well. I repainted this sky several times. By the time I lost steam all I had was a blue grey under painting. The canvas kicked around in wardrobes and boxes for about 3 years before I finally picked it up to have another go. It is not finished yet. I still have more to do on the house, and have to add text so as to fit it into my current brand, but I am pleased with my progress.

First I managed to capture a real feeling for the thin translucent layer of cloud with the colors of the setting sun glinting off their uneven base. The single tree looked great with the brilliant light silhouetting it. The house though was still a problem. It remained dark and dead, the way it was in the reference picture. Additionally it was  problematic because it added to the paintings imbalance. To compensate I lightened the house, and added lights in some of the windows and on the portico.

It is still a little imbalanced, but I am sure that the positioning of the text will solve that problem. All in all, I am pleased with the results. Over the years I have found that paintings that have sat for a long time, when returned to, become some of my best. If you paint, don't throw paintings away when they aren't working, and don't grudgingly just accept them as evidence of your lack of ability.  Put them away and let the idea rest for a while.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bending rules on muddy colors

A failed attempt
Being reworked
Today was another day at Wal-mart, were I work so that I can avoid the designation, "starving artist".  At one point I was helping a customer with a house paint purchase when we started discussing color.  It turns out that she is a hobby artist.  Of course we got talking.  One of the things that came up was what to do when a painting becomes muddy, or is otherwise not working.  I suggested that in what ever medium you are work, mud can be overcome with a glaze of color applied after the painting has dried.  So called mud is the bane of many artists.  It is caused because, once there is white in a pigment, it can not be turned dark again.  Conversely, when you have a wet underlying dark color and you try and lay a very light color into it, you can't add enough white to make it truly light.  What we call mud is actually the loss of contrast and or the intensity of colors.  There actually is no such thing as a muddy color, because that same color can work well in some other context.  Red is often a problem.  Most red pigment is some what transparent, and dark.  In a black and white picture for instance, red lipstick appears to be  almost black.  If I have a dark color and paint red over it the result will be dark, even if the paint is very thick.  In order to make red bright we could try and add white to it.  Unfortunately that creates pink.  Most beginners are taught to start with dark tones and work towards lights.  Once you lay down a dark don't mess with it too much, and where you want lights either leave the canvas white until you get to that color, or wipe it off.  A thin layer of red over the white canvas, will glow.  To successfully do this in painting a red rose take a lot of practice and control. Glazing is an alternative.  Using the red as an example.  I can get very pressies tones in the area I want to be glowing red.  I don't care that it is in fact a range of pinks.  When the paint is dry, I can lay a thin transparent glaze of red over the top, and reestablish the darks right into that glaze.  It will not turn to mud, because there is no white involved.  Finally I can add some highlights with thick white.  This too will not turn to mud because the glaze is so thin.  Instead of sticking to a rule. I have bent it and used the problem to get a better result.
Sometimes I do paintings that just don't work.  I have to put them aside and come back to them latter.  I have been doing that in the last week.  I have posted before and the (so far) after pictures.  Because I was getting impatient, the first version had some mud in it, and was going far too blue for a fall scene. You tell me if I am getting a better result.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Struggling to defign a "brand / style"

Finally the brand is the style with the other things being much more subtle

Too poster like!
I worked on July 4, then had 3 days off. Artistically it was extremely productive. I mostly finished a painting based on a photo posted on facebook (with permission of course). I also broke through the barrier on a wedding portrait with which I have been blocked for a couple of years! It is now looking great. I still have another 10 hours or so to do on it, but it will work! I also started to rework a painting that failed and am well on the way to making it a success! On the down side, I worked my beach painting into a dead end, and will have to put it aside for a while. I think that the biggest thing though was my struggle with my brand. Everything I was working on started to look like a poster. I do not want to be painting posters. The idea was good, but it just wasn't working. After talking it through I started to see that I was pushing the brand think too far. I was trying to make everything have squares etc. in them. In this case it just didn't work. After 10 attempts, I finally come up with an image that I thought might just work. To get there though I had to find the sea again. I am good at painting water and the sea as well as figures. To this end with great difficulty, had to get rid of some background figures as well. On the one hand I have to let my style develop, but on the other, I have to make it happen with sheer hard work. I would now define it as; figurative representational work that is colorful and beautiful with a combination of looseness and well defined focus. The subjects have aspects of contradiction in them that is brought out by incorporated text into the composition. The text is difficult to decipher in order to demonstrate the need to invest of self to get below surface appearances in life. This is a kind of protest against the trend towards superficiality in society. The deconstruction of the text is also aimed at creating a catalyst to personalized interpretations by the viewer. My painting style is as much a part of the brand as the paintings compositional construction. This has been a huge breakthrough for me, but one that I am sure I will struggle with for some time to come. 

Finally, the portrait showed me that everything will not be about brand.  My portraiture is something that stands on its own, with its own style.