Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Spring into Summer

I've been able to get outside to paint fairly regularly since January, on my own, as well as during some workshops I've been teaching, and with small groups of fellow artists. Here's a selection of pieces from about February to June with some notes and observations. 

The hills around the bay stayed green  for several months in spite of the drought. Depending on the position of the sun one may see the rich translucent color of grass as in the image above, or  less saturated range one gets from other angles that reflect the light of the sky. Viewed through the curtain of atmosphere, even the saturated greens attenuate towards the blue. Its a range of color specific to those conditions.

 For several weekends in February, I would drive out towards the Pt. Reyes Lighthouse at the southwestern tip of the land, passing all the alphabet ranch properties (Historic Ranch E, F, G, etc.) This area, cloaked in muted browns during fall and winter, resembles one vast Andrew Wyeth type panorama, with windswept hills, old barns, cattle roaming the hills. The range of green in winter and spring evokes other qualities and moods, and driving out there one constantly finds views on the way to one's destination that are tempting to paint.  I must have seen this 3 or 4 times before I finally pulled over to paint it.  One constant throughout the year is that any tree that has matured will betray the prevailing direction of the wind, whether it is blowing or not. In addition, this tree has been manicured to clear the road. I may still work on this one to push the road going into shadow more, as well some edge transitions.

There's alway rocks to paint regardless of the season. This was painted in March during a workshop I taught in Pt. Reyes. We were painting along the edge of a cliff, a short hike from the Historic Lifeboat Station,  where one could see the mist between folds in the cliff picking up a warm bounce off the sunlit sides facing away from us. Frequent marine painters must be very familiar with this effect, but from a painting point of view it was a quality I hadn't consciously examined before. One more sublime artifact of facing towards the light

On a warm day, I will often drive into Canyon to paint. Its a narrow valley with several redwood groves in it, not far from where I live. There's a small creek that meanders alongside the road, rimmed by bay laurel, redwood, and oak, with copious amounts of blackberry and poison oak. I find that even in mid-day, one can find interesting patches of light streaming through the foliage, dappling whatever forms it comes to rest on. The challenge of these scenes is that they have a very short life span, as the dapples slide off whatever they were illuminating in a matter of minutes. Sometimes another patch of light comes along that conveniently substitutes, and other times you are left to your own devices. This is where a field sketch done prior to the start is helpful insurance. 

There's a few reasons dapples are so elusive. A ray of sunlight that passes through a tree has been filtered and cropped by branches and leaves countless times so that a single dapple is a brief, fortuitous alignment of numerous 'holes' before it hits the ground. The slightest breeze, and/or the relentless motion of our planet will eventually eclipse that narrow opening. Another cause is that the field of view in an image like this can be quite small, and the narrower the field, the more rapid a pinhole projection of the sun will appear to move across that space. The same effect occurs when looking at the moon through a telescope on a tripod. The more it is magnified, the faster the moon slides out of view through the eyepiece. It is simply the rotation of the earth that is manifested by these observations, whether through the telescope, or just painting in a forest on a summer's day. 

These are the familiar colors of summer in my part of the world...the 'golden' hills of California which are dotted  with manzanita, scotch broom, and the small oaks that find enough moisture in the folds and seeps of the terrain. What can be fun to observe and paint is the range of color in shadow, and how that relates to the warm sunlight reverberating amongst the yellowed and reddish hues of the grasses. In shadow, the washed out, yellow grasses are subject to the cool ambient light of the sky, which can give them a relatively greenish cast on certain folds of the hills in the distance. In addition, near the edge of the shadow/light zones, the brilliant complement of colors becomes evident, which I think is due as much to the strength of natural light as to our own visual process which generates an exaggerated complementary response when confronted with a field of saturated color that changes value and temperature abruptly. I do believe that if one isolated and measured the actual colors between these two areas, they would not be as complementary as we perceive in the context of bright sunlight. So what do we paint? Color as measured in isolation, or our response to color in bright light seen in the context of other colors? I tend to err on the latter choice, as our paintings can only approximate a compressed version of the strength of natural light anyways, and the visceral, physical perception to me is an honest and personal response. Paint the effect. We are not reproducing nature.

Here's another one I'll probably work on some more, or head back to the spot and do more studies. I'm drawn towards the modulation of color in the water, how the submerged branches sit 'under' the water, and the foliage textures as a pattern on the upper right. The reflection on the left also inverts the gradient of the sky along the edge of the tree. That's enough right there to convince me to do more, in order understand the play and balance of these elements better. I think there's an idea for a more refined result than what I was able to achieve in one outing.  I've been reading the journals of Eugene Delacroix, and he has some very thoughtful observations about painting that are getting under my skin. It is stimulatingto have a voice talking from the 1850's, like some sort of 'art conscience' whispering in my ear.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Saying Goodbye to Twilight

When I first started seriously trying to do lighting studies with pastels on the movie, A Bug's Life, back in the mid-90's, I tried working on black Canson paper, as my inspiration for this, Ralph Eggleston, the Art Director of Toy Story, had done the same. However, I found in short order that I could not put down enough color to overcome the effects of the black ground, as Ralph could do so beautifully, so I went looking for other, less 'extreme' color choices. I quickly settled on the color  called 'Twilight', as it was a middle value, and the violet grey tone seemed to be harmonious with shadows and atmosphere in natural light, or at least the kind of light I was attempting to portray in my studies.

During that time, I started taking my pastels with me on bike rides around Pt. Richmond at lunch time, attempting little studies of nature, as I had noticed how fast the medium seemed to be. That violet grey paper worked pretty well outside. As I became more interested in working out of doors, the pastels
came with me on summer vacations to Oregon and Canada, and I incorporated the color Tobacco, a rich, warm brown, in my paper arsenal to allow for the colors of lakes, rivers, and streams I was studying.

About 3 years into this process, I began teaching periodic classes about the effects of natural light at work, to get folks that were lighting shots on computers, out of their offices to 'light shots' in nature, so to speak. Naturally I recommended they all use Twilight and Tobacco...one for atmospheric views, and the other for creeks. That is my basic history with the use of those two colored papers over the last 18 years, though I have explored, and used, other colors.

Over the last few years I had noticed that Twilight was in short supply at local retail outlets, and had taken to ordering it in bulk from online sources. As I was prepping to teach a workshop, I wrote an online supplier asking about the shortage. He, in turn wrote Canson, and forwarded me their reply, which read as follows:

Twilight just didn't make the cut when Canson trimmed the colors to 50. Purely a business decision based on sales. 

Interestingly, I had started trying other lighter valued papers in the last few years, as I had noticed that I was getting a different range of brightness in the results, and perhaps the Twilight paper was making that expression more difficult. That said, I still use it regularly, but am left with a few conundrums to ponder: 

What to do when a reliable item one has been using for years is no longer being made?

How much of our work relies upon, or is defined by a specific element in our process?

The short answer to both these questions is "Stock up, and move on."

First off, I did locate and purchase enough sheets to last me awhile, but I am also fine with exploring other colors, and even surfaces. It turns out that Twilight is still in production in the 'Touch' line of lightly sanded papers that Canson produces out of Australia. Meanhwhile, I'm working with Moonstone, Dawn Pink, and Flannel Grey, among others. I don't feel,  nor do I wish to be reliant on a single color or surface to produce work that satisfies me.

In closing, here is a selection of my pastels done on Canson Twilight over the years as a tribute to its functional versatility.

So long Twilight!


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Rainy Day Notes (and some workshop info)

I've been more busy at work this past year, than I have been in awhile, so my personal work gets set aside, or at least takes a back seat to other issues. We've finally got some rain, and it was a good weekend to stay home, watch some of the Olympics, and do some cooking. This rainy morning provided the view of the hill beyond our back fence with a lovely, subdued value range, as well as palette of interesting colors...minty greens, warm browns, violets, and blue greys, everything harmonized by a steady, misting rainfall. I decided to put off cooking more comfort food, while watching young athletes tear up the slopes in Sochi,  in favor of painting a view from our back bedroom door. 

I see this view every morning when I wake up and look out the sliding glass door to see what the weather is up to. As we've been exceedingly dry this winter, the young grasses only turned that minty green about 2 weeks ago. Behind our house, there is a slight rise, and then it somewhat levels off for a few hundred feet before a small but steep slope rises up like a wall, covered with small oaks, and one old buckeye tree that shows its lichen covered bony branches every winter. At the base of the hill are a blend of ferns, blackberry vines, poison oak, and a few fennel plants. That's a scotch broom shrub in the mid-ground. All this is habitat for deer, coyotes, turkeys, bunnies, quail, and what have you. Tics are abundant.

Rain on the Back Hill, 14 x 14, Pastel on Paper

 Since I last posted, I taught a workshop out at Pt. Reyes at the lifeboat station, way out on the southern west corner of the park. This is a pretty stark and  dramatic landscape that is also subject to rapid changes in the weather. You can go from fog to sunshine in short order, and vice versa. The Lifeboat Station is a sturdy historic building with a kitchen, and bunks. A perfect retreat and place to stay snug at night. I'll be teaching another workshop out there in April. More information to be found here:
Pt. Reyes Workshop

Sitting in the rain, and thinking about summer, the workshop I teach up at the Sierra Nevada Field Campus every summer is now open for registration as well. Hope to see some folks this spring or this summer. Plenty of info on the Sierra workshop in previous year's posts, as well as on the website.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Light and Color Design for Film, A Class at the Animation Collaborative

I'll be teaching a 12 week class at the Animation Collaborative, starting in late January. This is not a pastel workshop, it is a class that focusses on developing and orchestrating a light and color based plan for a film.
While I will be talking about the influence of natural light as part of my process, we will cover other aspects as well. This is a very deep subject, and though I don't claim to have a thorough understanding of it from every angle, I have been working in this area since 1995, so you'll get the benefit of my experience(s). I promise I will teach everything I know about this topic.  There will be a series of ongoing assignments and homework. Plenty of lectures and examples. One on one critiques, as well as group. If you're interested, please submit a portfolio (online link to your work) to the Animation Collaborative. All images below are the copyright of Disney/Pixar.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

2 From the Studio

I've been pretty busy the last month or so at work, and also prepping for an upcoming solo show at the Studio Gallery in San Francisco.  Between framing, and also working some weekends for my 'day job' I began to run down the clock to get some studio pieces done for the show, so I ended up withdrawing from the Sonoma Plein Air event, which I have participated in pretty regularly over the last 10 years, in order to free up a weekend to work.  At any rate, I was able to finish a few studio pieces, which for me was a minor triumph, as I am still trying to find a balance with that work, between nature, invention, memory, and reference. These two pieces were based on studies I had done this summer, and I believe can be seen in some previous posts.

13 x 20
Pastel on Canson Paper

This is from a view across Lake Ediza from our campsite in August. I had abandoned chasing elusive sunrise colors hitting the peaks in favor of sipping a cup of coffee at 6:20, and watching the light roll down the cliffs like a window shade, moving from brick red, through crimson, orange, and yellow. I tried different views each morning, once the light settled down, and picked this one to explore further at a larger scale, in the  static and contemplative studio environment. The original study was about 6 x 9, and I felt I could take it larger, and still have elements to refine and play with. I do fully realize that my idea of 'large' is someone else's 'small'. 

Below Yuba Falls
20 x 13
Pastel on Canson Paper
(you may need to click on the image to see a wider view)
I painted a few studies from this spot during a workshop in July. The location is in a gorge right below a Pacific Crest Trail footbridge that crosses over the Yuba river,  a few miles below Bassett's Station in the Sierra Buttes region. It is a great spot to paint on a hot summer day, as one can go swimming afterwards, or just keep moving around in the shade and painting different views of rocks and water. While I was here with my class, painting away, several groups came down to swim in this area, jumping off of rocks, and whooping away. What first seemed to be a remote and peaceful spot, suddenly was transformed into 'the old swimming hole' for the locals, as well as the overheated artists, and the odd, bearded, 'through-hiker' that stripped to his american flag boxers and partook of the soothing waters amidst the menagerie of painters and whooping, pot smoking teenagers.

I am convinced one can go into the studio, armed with the outdoors experience, the studies at hand, the photo reference, and get something that can surpass the work done solely in the field. 

My show opens tomorrow, and the reception is this Sunday, October 6th, from 2-6. I'll be there, and I'll also  be giving a talk next week at the gallery, on a Thursday evening, the 10th at 7 pm. If you're in the neighborhood, come on down.

Friday, August 23, 2013

2013 Sierra Packtrip, Part III: Getting down to work.

After hiking to Iceberg and the Nydiver lakes the first 2 days, I was ready to move less and paint more. Accordingly, after doing a morning painting in camp, and having another tasty breakfast from Kelly, our stellar cook, I shouldered up my pack and walked a very short distance over to one of the creeks that runs down from the upper reaches of the basin into Ediza. There were numerous small pools and waterfalls of varying size to choose from as I wandered along the banks. I found one pool that had enough depth to show the shift in water color, as well as having some whitewater, and a nice reddish, submerged boulder. The spot was surrounded by a thicket of trees, so I could work in the shade for quite some time. Just what I was looking for. This was a fun piece, though it didn't start to fully work until I put in the white water moving across the surface to give it a better perspective context. The water was rough enough that the rocks at the bottom were broken up and distorted in the deeper areas, so I had to generally depict them in fragments of the right color. There's an excellent oil by Sargent that I saw at a retrospective in Seattle over 10 years ago. It is about a 6 foot long painting, depicting a ship at a stone breakwater. When I was working on this piece, I started thinking about how Sargent had thrown down such loose and colorful paint to make a convincing depiction of underwater rocks.

I took a lunch break, sat down in the shade, nibbling on my usual fare of peanuts, dried apricots, an apple, and a stash of chocolate chip cookies. Then I poked around a bit, and walked down to talk to Julia Lundman, who I spotted working further down the creek. After chatting, I still couldn't figure out what to paint, and decided to head back towards camp, and maybe go for a (30 second) swim. On the way there I stopped and decided the view of the trail, and the lake through the trees below might work, so went at it. It still needs some work in the foreground.

Ernesto, Paul, and Eric had gone by while I was working on this. I finished up, turned around and spied this view between the trees with the boulders in the mid-ground. Hmmm.... I was getting pretty tired of standing at this point, but re-positioned, and went back to work. By now it was late afternoon.
I finally finished up and walked over to where Eric and Paul were painting. They were both aiming towards the afternoon light with varying views of the upper reaches of the basin. There was plenty of atmosphere and great shapes to play with. I checked my watch: 4:30, and resolved to come back tomorrow (Thursday) and work from that spot.

Thursday. This was the last full day before we had to hike out. I got up before 6, and saw Ernesto headed for his sunrise painting spot he'd been going to all week. I headed the other way around the lake, and painted a view looking towards camp from across the lake, which is the last image in my Part I post. I wrapped up pretty quick, and hurried back to camp just in time to get some breakfast (essential), then cleaned up, and headed out again to get the most out of the last day. Back to the creek I painted the day before, but I instead became interested in some sinuous granite forms running up a hill, in orange and green grass, interrupted by foreground trees, with a hint of a deeper, and higher background... Once again the brightest lights on the rocks were decidedly cool in nature, which I attempted to depict.

I took a break, moved to the shade for lunch, and  took a short nap next to the creek. This kind of working and resting in such an amazing place does not get any better. Though I was tired, I was exhilarated, and in the mood to paint. After about 40 minutes I left my pack, and walked up to check out the late afternoon view. It wasn't very atmospheric yet, so I debated... return to camp, continue resting, or paint something else until the light was better? Between some trees I spied a view of the jagged crest with a snow patch, with a good foreground mass of rocks, plus some bonus compositional tree devices conveniently beckoning... Egad, I had just painted a rock formation. One a day is enough. But time was running out, and I liked the zig zag to the snow patch, the orange grass... Back at it. I used up my energy on this one, as well as the clock, so by the time 4:30 rolled around I packed up and kind of shuffled over to my planned location...

This was the view I had spotted a day earlier. My eye was drawn to the light and shadow break in the distance, plus the steep, curving slopes running down from the upper right. I was pretty much out of energy and time at this point, but set up near Eric Merrell, who was continuing work on a piece he'd started the day before. I did a small study, that I may work into a larger piece in the studio. The light changed rapidly on this one, as cast shadows came down the slopes from above. 

That was it for me. I packed up and walked back to camp to clean up and hoist a beverage with the other artists that had been camped together in this great spot all week, wandering around the basin, and painting to their heart's content. Before it got too dark, everyone went and laid out their work, so we could all see what the others had been up to. Its a part of the trip that I truly value and enjoy, as one gets to see the world one has been studying intently all week, through someone else's eyes, and can draw inspiration and insight from the shared, multiple points of view. The impromptu art show had us wandering around the camp looking at groups of work laid on the ground for our perusal.

Nothing left to do but dig into a steak dinner, with sautéed veggies from Kelly's garden on the side.
Another great week in the wilderness drawing to a close as dusk settled in. But wait, there's more. 

"Professor" Eric Merrell had been painting nocturnes in camp for several nights with his own unique laboratory setup of gooseneck LED's, dutifully taped with a color correction gel and a diffusing filter (wax paper), augmented by the light of a waxing moon. It seemed a daunting task, primarily because the undisciplined flock of well-lubricated painters who stayed up to watch him work, wandering about and yakking, were likely a distraction more than anything else. But perhaps we unwittingly functioned as a DEW system for the bears. Eric offered to let me use one of his LED's, so I took him up on the offer, and gave it a shot.... a very quick shot. For the astro inclined, that's part of the tail of Scorpius floating above the Minarets.

 One thing I immediately learned is that any strong light on your work, under such low light, will kill your vision for the subject you're trying to see. Kind of like the paradox in quantum mechanics...(the act of observing/measuring, effects the outcome of the event) yeah, just like that! I love science. Regardless, I could see value differences in the scene, and the low level of the light on the colors in my box only allowed me to see them as values. I had a general idea of where my hues were, and so, just grabbed values with some bias towards hue selection. I hammered away, then spent a little time trying to see deeper, or adjusting some shapes. Much later, at my tent, I was looking at the stars for awhile, and in the absence of white light, I could get a subtler sense of what color was visible in the scene. I think you could augment observation in the dark, with written impressions, memory, as well as direct effort with the aid of low light, and perhaps get a deeper, more personal color sense going. Or, you could just borrow Remington's nocturnal palette, or someone else's, and paint it in the studio. It is an interesting problem, and I give Eric credit for pushing the perceptual envelope, and setting such an inspiring example for the rest of us sleepy heads.

That wraps it up for this year's summer adventures. I'm already looking forward to the next one. My deep gratitude to the artists and friends who came on the trip this year, as well as Kelly, our cook, and her son, Cole. It was the collective spirit and good will that made it such a good one. 

 Meanwhile I'll be in this years Sonoma Plein Air event, barring any unforeseen complications. 2 other upcoming events are my one man show at the Studio Gallery in October, with the reception on the 6th.
And, lastly, I'll be teaching one more weekend workshop this year at the Lifeboat Station in Pt. Reyes.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

2013 Sierra Painting Packtrip, Part II: Sightseeing!

The first two full days at Ediza I painted in camp in the morning, and then hiked up to higher locations to explore and paint. On Monday, Ernesto and I decided to hike up to Iceberg Lake. I was last there in 2008, and was looking forward to seeing and painting it again. The hike itself, for me, is a humbling reminder of how not in shape I am, (or my age), or both. Stopping to catch my breath was literally true. At times I couldn't keep moving and also breathe. The good news is that the view was great every time I stopped, so there was a reward for being out of breath. Truthfully its also difficult to sightsee while walking up there, as the terrain is so uneven, you need to watch where you're stepping most of the time.  Here's a few shots of the area:

Approaching the lake, which is just beyond the meadow.

The outlet of Iceberg.

Ernesto, late in the afternoon, after painting all day in the meadow.

Here's a huge erratic we spotted on the way down. The atmosphere was pretty heavy, probably from the Aspen Fire to the south.

The curved basin below Ritter and Banner, across the valley, was to be our route on Tuesday, to get to the Nydiver Lakes.

I did 2 pieces that day, and here is one of them below, a fairly typical, (and un-retouched) view of the shoreline. For some, it may seem ironic that, surrounded by such alpine vistas, I have a habit of picking these more intimate scenes. I simply find such closeup views to be equally beautiful, and often unique to such an environment. I wouldn't see these colors and forms in the Bay Area, any more than I would see the jagged peaks.  I never get tired of the color relationships found in wet and dry rocks, as well as the clarity and depth of water, and the hue shifts to be found there. 

I should point out that the light at that altitude, after sunrise, cools considerably. Much more so than at lower altitudes. The warmth seen on the rocks at the top of the image was local color, while the average rock temperature, and the temp of the sunlight, combined to make a cool result in the brightest areas. It is a somewhat disconcerting effect, as it doesn't match our everyday perceptions in the lowlands. I may have to 'adjust' this one. It may mean adhering to the overcast 'rule' (cool light, warm shadows) for example. 

On Tuesday, after doing our morning paintings, having breakfast, and filling up our water bottles, we decided to hike to the Nydiver Lakes. We decided not to go for a shortcut on the way up, and opted for a clear trail up to the basin below Ritter and Banner. From there, we headed east, up a rocky slope, expecting to see the lakes at the top. Instead, we just found a landscape littered with shattered boulders. We had to walk another quarter mile before they came into view below us.

Our view of the lakes below us. We found 3 medium sized lakes, a couple of pond-sized ones, as well as dried up pools.

Looking back towards the peaks. We had climbed over the mid-ground ridge on the left from the basin.

I modified my setup for painting up there due to strong gusts of wind. I sat on the ground, clipped my umbrella to the tripod, and weighted it down with rocks in my bag, hanging from the center post.
Water? Check!, Hand Lotion? Check!, Cookies? Check! Go!

Ernesto did not have an umbrella, so oriented his easel to be in shade. He was painting the meadow and shoreline to the upper right.

This is a quick study I did from my spot, later in the afternoon. I was compelled to paint this view, partially because it resembled Edgar Payne's penchant for inserting lakes that didn't exist beneath lofty alpine crags. Here it was the truth. 

We didn't want to go back the way we came, as we knew were right above our campsite, so we ditched our packs and walked over to the edge of the plateau we were on to see how steep the descent would be. It resembled a double black diamond ski run, with boulders and weeds instead of snow. The lake in this image is Ediza. On the lower right shore of the lake is a white dot. That is Eric Merrell's umbrella, with him beneath it, painting. If you look to the top of the image, you can see Iceberg Lake, to which we'd hiked and painted the day before. You may also note that we are looking down on Iceberg Lake. We decided it was do-able, went and got our packs, and spent about 45 minutes ungracefully and gingerly picking our way down the slope. 

That was enough climbing and exploring for me. I was determined to stay out of the sun for the next few days, and paint 'locally'. Besides being sore and tired, I was in the mood to spend more time painting, and less time walking around out of breath. It was time to get to work.