Color Matching for Plein Aire Painting

Early Sun
Oil on Panel, 10×8″
Another very useful technique Doug Braithwaite taught us is color matching. How do you match the colors on your palette with what is in front of you? You mix your color with your palette knife and step into the sun. Put the paint coated palette knife in front of the thing you are matching. While doing that, also hold the color coated surface of the palette knife directly towards the sun to make sure there is no blue sky reflection on it. If the palette knife seems to disappear, the color has been matched.
All the color matching is done and paint mixed before painting. It probably takes up 40% of your actual painting time. Having all the color mixed prevents having to interrupt the rhythm of painting to mix color.
This piece was done fairly early in the day before the sun had crept into the canyon which was our painting location. The slivers of lighted areas were just beginning to catch the sun. The dark areas are faceted with shapes of differing color temperatures. All those shapes are close to the same degree of darkness (value). The only way to separate them into specific shapes is to change the color temperature. Some areas are warm (red, orange, yellow). Other areas are cool (green, blue, violet).
If the value scale is one to ten, with one being white and ten being black, then the values in the dark areas of this painting are seven to ten. Next post: paint viscosity.

T F m
July 28, 2012

Just Explaining Painting Prep

Store Front
Oil on Panel, 8×10
In my last post, I mentioned my trip to Utah for a painting workshop with Doug Braithwaite. I really struggled with an approach unfamiliar to me. Even the preparation of the painting panels was new to me. There isn’t enough space here to describe all that he did besides I don’t want to give the shop away by revealing all his secrets. He needs to fill his workshops.
First, the panel was gessoed with a grey tinted gesso. The value of the grey was in the same territory as a fifteen percent grey card photographers use for color photography. White is reserved for highlights. Starting with a light grey is similar to drawing on tinted paper. The value of the paper provides a middle tone against which one works darker or lighter.
Second, using solvent and an alkyd medium such as Liquin or Galkyd, mix a thin, dark, violet mixture of alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue. Cover the whole panel. Then, proceed to draw subtractively by wiping out the light areas.  Wipe less vigorously for middle to light tones and more vigorously for the very lightest tones. You can re-add darks if you overshoot by removing too much of the violet under painting.
This is where the awareness of the viscosity becomes important. By controlling the thickness of the under painting violet you control the density and darkness of the under painted image. By the time you have completed the full value range under painting, it will have become tacky, a perfect state for beginning the application of color. More on that in the next post.

T F m
July 26, 2012

Workshop Painting

Helper Painting #1
Oil on Linen Panel, 11×14″

In June, I went to Utah to take a workshop taught by Doug Braithwaite. He is an excellent painter/teacher. He taught me things I never learned when I was an undergrad. I have been painting for years some satisfaction but Doug taught me an approach that I had never experienced before. The preparation of the panels, the use of a full value under painting and a mindfulness of the viscosity of the paint were revelatory. In addition he taught the group how to color match. I recommend this workshop to any one who paints. You will learn a great deal.

The paintings I will be posting are from the outdoor location Doug selected. For someone born and raised in Chicago the landscape was jaw dropping. It was also exhausting. The elevation above sea level in Chicago varies between 579’ and 735’. The 735 ‘ is landfill at the far south end of the city. Helper, Utah is around 7,000’ above sea level. I only started getting acclimated to the elevation at the end of the week when it was time to go home!

It was very hot and very dry. We went out on location in the morning and in the later afternoon to avoid the hottest part of the day. I tried to cover my very sunburn prone body like a Bedouin. I also began to understand how Bedouins could stand wearing so much clothing in such heat. It’s the low humidity. Chicago is like a steam room in the summer. When its hot, one is sticky with sweat because the humidity is so high, moisture doesn’t evaporate efficiently and cooling is almost nil even in a breeze. In the desert the evaporative cooling is very efficient. One isn’t sticky. The heat, even swathed in clothing, is more bearable. With all that evaporative cooling comes dehydration. I had to remember to drink water. I would come inside after each session covered in salt that felt like fine grit sand paper. Oh the vicissitudes of pleine aire painting!

T F m
July 15, 2012

Third Rediscovered Watercolor

Amelia Shore
Watercolor on Rag Paper, 7.5×10″


This is another rediscovered watercolor. I did this last March while on spring break and visiting friends in Florida. This is a view of the the shore of the Amelia River above a boat launch in a public park. I hadn’t done watercolor on rag paper in some time. It came back to me fairly easily at least for this subject matter.
I have been using masa paper for a long time. Masa paper is not a watercolor paper but a printmaking paper. I work it wet and it produces a much different effect than rag paper. I get lots of soft atmospheric effects that way. It reacts differently when wet than rag paper. It seems more forgiving to me. Though, a close friend of mine hates it. I find it suits a loose, juicy approach. There is much less control and I never know exactly how it will dry. The element of surprise is the fun. If you are a control freak, it’s not for you. (I have lots of watercolors on masa paper on this blog. Scroll through or search on the terms masa paper so you can see what I am describing.)
There are situations where masa is not suitable. I select the materials for the situation. Masa works well in the mid-west with all the foliage but not out west where the landscape is more austere and the light more intense. Rag paper is best for that situation. Of course one can make use of the wetness of the rag paper as well. The trick is knowing the when and the how. Knowing the state of the paper is essential.
That comes from experience. I was told by a professor that when learning how to paint with watercolor one needs to throw the first thousand away. I may have thrown out more than that. I go through my watercolors periodically and throw out all the work I find is not to up to my standards. Don’t ask me what they are. I don’t know. It’s like porn. Don’t ask me to explain it. I know it when I see it.
Much of that depends on what I want from the piece in the first place. Most of my students have no idea what they want out of a painting or a drawing. Is it clarity? Atmospherics? High key? Low key? What mood? So it’s a little more complicated than just painting an image. One must make decisions before hand and formulate a strategy.

Enough blathering! I have just photographed the Utah paintings. They need to be prepared for the internet and will be posted soon.

T F m
July 6, 2012

Best The Drawing Models are Cell Phone Users

Oblivious Texting
Ballpoint Pen on Paper8.5×5.5″

This drawing was done in the same airport waiting area as the previous drawing. My subject was busily texting on her phone just a few feet from me as I drew. She had no idea I was focusing on her. I find that most people are totally oblivious to what I am doing. I don’t take any special measures to keep it from them. I just draw. Once in a while I will have someone right next to me peek over my shoulder to watch me draw and then make a comment when I am done. But that’s rare. Most times my subjects and I go in our separate ways with no one knowing the wiser.

T F m
July 1, 2012