Wednesday, August 4, 2010

New Paintings For The Benefit Show At The Moose Horn Gallery

As I posted previously, I'm participating in a benefit art show and sale at the Moose Horn Gallery, August 20th — 22nd. Here are some of the new works that will be for sale at the show. Hope to see you there!

"Desert Dwellers", 16" x 20" Oil on Linen

"The Rubberneckers", 11" x 14" Oil on Linen

"Manny", 8" x 6" Oil on Linen

"Moe", 8" x 6" Oil on Linen

"Jack", 8" x 6" Oil on Linen

Monday, August 2, 2010

Art Tip #3: Tips For Beginning Plein Air Painters From A Beginner

I'm a beginner when it comes to plein air painting. I've been doing it for about 6 years and have made it an important part of my artistic growth now for about the last 4 years — but I'm still very much a beginner.

With that in mind, I have picked up some very useful tips on making plein air painting easier. OK, maybe not easier, but certainly a tad less frustrating. Here are my top 10 tips...

1) If you're just starting out, start out small.
I dived in headfirst and initially tried painting on larger canvases — DON'T! You're just going to be spending time filling in space and not bettering your painting skills. Time is short in doing plein air work, so until you feel you can do it with authority, I'd recommend not going larger than 11x14 (that's inches not feet, and that's pushing it).

2) Time goes by fast so get the important stuff down.
And by that I mean the shadows. Shadows are the most dominate element in defining form and they change quickly. Record them on your canvas first and that way you won't end up chasing them later. Also, start with the darkest shadow or element in the scene. It will allow you to judge all of your values back from there.

3) Setup your colors on your pallet the same way every time you go out.
There's no time to lose, including hunting for your colors. If you lay them out the same each time you paint en plein air, eventually you'll barely have to look down to see where they are — saving you precious time.

4) Wipe that messy brush after every stroke.
It's very easy to get mud when painting en plein air because the urgency of it tends to override things you might normally do in the studio, like keeping your brush from contaminating colors. To avoid this, I've made it a habit to wipe my brush after every stroke.

5) Plein air painting is about an impression.
Hence the term impressionist. Don't waste your time with unnecessary details. Edit the scene down to its most important elements in value, color and shape and record it with your brush. Initially, think of plein air painting as sketching, except with a brush and color rather than a pencil. As you progress, you'll get better at telling the story with less detail and more economy of brushwork.

6) Stop looking for the perfect location and just paint.
I've wasted entire days trying to find a spot that "inspires" me. In the beginning, painting en plein air should be about learning, not about producing a masterwork. You can paint anything you see, so just stop stalling and pick something. If you have a difficult time separating out an area to paint from what you see in front of you, get a viewfinder. It'll help you frame-out an area to paint.

7) Try to not setup with direct sunlight on your pallet or canvas.
I realize this isn't always possible. Sometimes you can use an umbrella if shade is unavailable (though, I've found an umbrella can be difficult to work with if a stiff wind sends the umbrella and the easel it's attached to, flying). Harsh sunlight on your canvas and pallet will cause you to misjudge your values, so when you take your painting indoors, it can look much too dark. If you must paint in direct sunlight, mix your values lighter to compensate.

8) Morning and evening light moves fast. Want to add a bit more time?
Paint the scene backlit. Shadows won't appear to change as quickly when you're painting a scene that is backlit. You also won't have to worry as much about setting up in the shade because your canvas will shade itself and your pallet (at least in a typical plein air setup).

9) Don't forget the practical items.
It's easy to remember your easel, pallet, brushes and colors (well, for some anyway). But don't forget things like grocery bags, paper towels, a hat, bug spray, etc. Make a checklist before you go out and have it handy from then on to make sure you aren't missing anything. Or better yet, setup a backpack with everything all packed and ready to go on a moments notice.

10) Stop being afraid of doing it.
Yes, it's tough. Yes, you might be embarrassed if someone sees. Yes, you likely won't feel good about any of the paintings you produce for a long while. But please, take my word for it and understand that it can be fun, rewarding and relaxing — that's right, I said relaxing. Use it as an opportunity to not only better your skills as a painter, but to connect with nature and enjoy the sounds, the smells and the solitude (if that's what relaxes you) that can come with painting en plein air.

Happy painting!

Attending Workshops: What's Your Motivation?

Prompted by an email conversation I recently had with an artist friend of mine, I've decided to post some of my thoughts on the subject of workshops. What better time than now to do so given that I'll be conducting an oil painting workshop in October (yes, that was a not-so-subtle plug).

First, I'll start by making known my particular approach to workshops — both from an instructor's point-of-view, and as an attendee...

As an Instructor:
I believe painting is a skill, and in its most fundamental form, is NOT a talent. Painting, as I see it, is a complicated set of problems that can be articulated and then addressed through practice, technique, dedication and study. Certainly there are those that will excel in the endeavor of painting beyond what most of us would otherwise achieve through simple practice, technique, dedication and study. But the fundamentals of painting can be learned and one can have confidence that if they apply copious amounts of dedication, practice and study, they will eventually become a good painter — maybe not a great painter, but most assuredly a good one.

That being said, I believe it is my roll as an instructor to not attempt to teach style as it pertains to me personally, but rather teach what I know and understand about the process and fundamentals of painting. I believe teaching one's style will typically just produce artist clones rather than give attending artists a set of tools to develop their own personal style. And the more unique the instructor's own style, the more they should limit its involvement in their workshop curriculum, in my opinion.

Does this do a disservice to workshop attendees who want to learn to paint from an artist whose work they admire for its uniqueness? I believe not. Artists that attend workshops for the sole purpose of learning the style of another artist are the only ones doing themselves a disservice.

Which brings me to...

As An Attendee:
To be completely honest, I have never attended a workshop. There are several artists whose work I greatly admire and who I believe would have much to offer me as a student, but these artists are exceptionally unique in their personal styles and I'm afraid that too much of that style would find its way into their workshops. The result would be that rather than learning tools to become a better painter, I would pickup "tricks" to paint more like them. I didn't say this was a justified fear, rather just my fear as an artist.

If I were to attend a workshop, I would first consult artists who've previously been a student under a particular artist I'm interested in and find out the instructor's approach. Did the instructor communicate well or did they keep their mouth closed and spend most of the workshop wowing attendees by performing demos without much in the way of instruction? Did the attending artist feel the instructor was honest during critiques? Did they offer criticism from an emotional reaction or was their criticism more technical in nature? And simply, did the student feel their instructor was a good teacher?

My motivation for taking a workshop would be simple; To learn from an artist whose work I respect in order to improve my own work. My motivation would not be to learn how to paint like the instructor, or to have a forum from which to demonstrate my own skills as a painter to the other artists (this may sound strange, but as an instructor, I've seen it). My motivation would be to immerse myself in learning, plain and simple.

If you decide you are going to take a workshop, take a moment to reflect on your motivation for doing so. If you're going to be teaching a workshop, maybe think about what approach will best serve your attending artists. I know I definitely am (lots of pressure).

Happy painting!