Hi Everyone! Recently I was interviewed by Antrese Wood for The Savvy Painter Podcast. It was a fun conversation, so have a listen!
We are always excited to showcase the work of our students and graduates of The Landscape Atelier. This is a guest post by Rob Wellings, a 2015 graduate of The Landscape Atelier and now a teaching assistant. Rob has shown his work in numerous exhibitions this past year and is represented by Williams Fine Art Dealers, Wenham MA and Williamsburg Art Gallery, Williamsburg VA.
It has been a year now since I completed my formal study in The Landscape Atelier drawing and painting program. The year has been exciting and trying as I further explored the questions of painting the landscape. How to reveal a painting’s search for form and structure? How to leave open possibilities for the viewer to decide? These are some of the questions that now guide me during the making of a painting.
I choose landscape not just to explore my intense encounters with the natural world, but because of its openness as a form of art making. A landscape has so many possibilities that a painter can describe or merely suggest: the light, the weather, the terrain, the season, the mood, etc. When approaching the blank canvas or paper, one’s intuition and imagination has so many doors available to open. As the painting goes on, these become less and a definitive world is formed. Using suggestive mark making, the artist can leave some of the doors ajar. The viewer can decide the time of day, what type of tree that may be, or what the weather is actually doing. I look forward to another year of difficult problems and potential discoveries.
As a student of the atelier approach, both in figurative and landscape art, I find the best thing to do after graduation is to stay busy, ask questions, and explore different possibilities toward the making of one’s art. Below are some examples of work from 2016.
As we all know, John F. Carlson (1875-1947) is the author of the ‘bible’ of landscape painting, Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting. As might be expected, a study of Carlson’s work can be extremely enlightening!
This is one of my favorite Carlson paintings and a great example of his mature style and larger finished works. I used Photoshop to reduce the number of values for the purpose of this exercise.
In an initial glance at this work, we are struck by the massive solid forms of the trees, the subtle but beautiful color harmony. But how to simplify all this forest interior?
Here is the Notan ( 2 values) version. As we can see, this painting hangs together beautifully as an abstract design, with the darks linked and interesting shapes and negative shapes.
In this 4 value version we can see how the foreground trees are really part of a large shape which is cut into by the shape of the trees/hill behind and the sky and ground. If you flick your eyes back and forth from the notan version to this one you can see this better. So, while initially we see lots of individual trees, by simplifying, we can see that foreground trees are one shape and background trees/hill another. With the sky and ground shapes, we essentially have 4 shapes. We can also see how important the simplification of the values is to this ability to reduce the number of shapes and to the overall strength of the design.
In this six value version, although the main shapes are further described with additional values (and accordingly the value scheme gets closer and has less contrast), the main shapes still hold together.
Strikingly, in this final image which is a greyscale version of the painting, there isn’t all that much difference between it and the 6 value version. The differences mainly have to do with how the use of more values pulls the value range closer together, but the main shapes we identified previously still hold together very well.
This is an important lesson and goes hand in hand with Carlson’s admonition not to copy ‘tone for tone’. Doing so will break up the large masses, and the painting will lose the strength of its underlying architecture of big shapes.
P.S. We have a great lineup of online classes for 2017, starting with Understanding Values in the Landscape. Learn how to use big shapes and value as building blocks for stronger paintings! Join us!
In a previous post, I discussed how an indirect painting was built up in layers of glazes and scumbles. In this post I will do the same, but concentrate on the earliest steps- underpainting and first layers of glazes and scumbles.
One of the things I really love about indirect painting as a landscape painter is the opportunity it affords to mimic the atmospheric effects we see in Nature. But, its appeal goes much deeper than that. On one level, it just all about the paint. Although we often think of thick paint when we think of the sensuous qualities of paint, the visual quality of layers of paint- some thin and transparent and others thicker and juicer- delight the eye with variety and a riot of optical experience. We can retain the illusionistic qualities of traditional painting but combine them with a modern celebration of the surface of the canvas.
On another level, the act of creating that surface and the act of looking at it, can bind the artist and the viewer together in an exploration of both time and space. The artist builds the surface over time. The viewer experiences it by visually peeling back the layers, excavating the process and intent of the artist.
Here are the images showing how I start a painting and the first few layers as I begin to build up the surface. These are cell phone shots I took in the studio, so apologies for the variations in lighting, etc.
The first image is the completed underpainting. I use Vasari Shale and Gamblin Transparent Yellow Earth. These photos were taken during the first four or five working sessions on the painting. Because this is a larger painting, (36 x 48) the underpainting took two sessions to complete. In the distant trees I used a very thin mixture of Shale and Liquin. It was applied with a rag rather than a brush . The brushwork in the foreground establishes the initial forms of grasses, deadfall and earth. Because some of this area will remain transparent in the final painting, it is important to establish that information at this stage.
Here I have put a thin coat of opaque paint in the sky, added sky holes in the distant trees and put a first glaze on the foreground.
Second glaze on the ground plane.
Third glaze on the groundplane and scumbles over the distant trees with another layer of Shale but this time with just a little white in it. First glaze on ground plane was Natural Pigments Antica Green Earth. Subsequent glazes were in mixtures of the Antica and Nicosia Green Earth to cool and heighten the chroma a little. Darks are restated where needed to build up the forms.
Detail of the pine tree trunks on the left with opaque paint added and scumbles and sky in the distance.
At this point the painting was perhaps at most 40 % complete. Many more layers and adjustments to come.
P.S. Our online class Painting the Luminous Landscape- Introduction to Indirect Painting Methods for Landscape Painters starts on July 8. Join us !
This is a guest post by Rob Wellings, artist and teaching assistant with The Landscape Atelier. Rob and I will be teach a new online class – Drawing the Landscape in Charcoal -in June, and I want to introduce readers of Field Notes to his work.
Charcoal is a great medium for exploring artistic possibilities. I particularly like charcoal to work from imagination and memory. In my work, I find that the potential in the different papers and kinds of charcoal gives my imagination a wide field to roam and see what happens. Charcoal can be applied with the long flat edge of a stick of vine or willow, the sharpened tip of a Nitram, a sock, or a brush. It can be scraped into with a knitting needle or a bottle cap, lifted in naturalistic dabbs with a kneaded eraser, or carefully shaped with a Tombow. The list goes on. Many of these techniques will be introduced and explored in the upcoming online class Drawing the Landscape in Charcoal.
In the drawings below, I used compressed charcoal to achieve a solid, rich black and abstract quality.
For the next drawing, a depiction of a harbor at night, a sturdy 300lb watercolor paper allowed me to scrape the paper to create the glow of city lights:
In the seascape below, waves were scraped in with a bottle cap that gave both a roughness and an unpredictability that felt right for the subject:
In the next two drawings of scenes at dusk, I used a sock filled with charcoal powder to give me the loose gestural quality of an atmospheric sky and a kneaded eraser to lift out the lights:
Finally, in the drawing below I used the fragment-like shape of torn paper to explore a mood both mysterious and foreboding:
Painting students are often encouraged to think of Nature in terms of shapes of color and value. That is a useful idea because it helps to build a solid foundation of design, value structure and drawing into our paintings. But, what to do after our flat color shapes are in place and we wish to impart some of the variety and life we see in Nature? A most useful idea to think about is the concept of gradation.
Gradation is an idea that applies to all of Nature. As John Ruskin, the great 19th century teacher and art critic, wrote in Modern Painters, every part of Nature is in a constant state of variation and gradation.
“Whereas natural gradation is forever escaping observation to that degree that the greater part of artists in working from nature see it not…or, receiving the necessity of gradation as a principle instead of a fact, use it in violently exaggerated measure …. So that we find the majority of painters divided between the two evil extremes of insufficiency and affectation, and only a few of the greatest men capable of making a gradation constant and yet extended over enormous spaces and within degrees of narrow difference.”
John Ruskin, Modern Painters, 1843
” the two evil extremes of insufficiency and affectation ” <sigh> Ruskin – you gotta love him!
The same idea is set forth by Andrew Loomis:
“Nature is seldom one flat bright pure color anywhere. In Nature, colors are made up of variety all through, which means warm and cool variations, or colors broken or blended together. The sky is not one blue, the ground not one green or brown or grey. The foliage in the distance is quite different in color than that close by. The charm of color lies in warm and cool variation* in the greyed or muted color along with the pure and brilliant. If you can put three reds together they are more beautiful than one red, and this is possible by let- ting the red lean to the warm and cool within the same area. It is the same with every color in the universe.”
Andrew Loomis, Creative Illustration (1947)
And John Carlson….. “there is no such thing as a perfectly flat mass in all of Nature!” Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting (1929)
In fact, all of Chapter 6 in Carlson could be described as an ode to gradation- so if you want to understand gradation, start there. Read it!
The truth of this, as with all things in Nature, is to go to the source. Step outside and look at the ground beneath your feet and then as it spreads out ahead of you in the distance. Look at the distant trees. Or the sky. Every object in Nature (except manmade ones) will partake of the idea of gradation- changes in value, chroma and temperature within each mass. Sometimes these changes are caused by that mass being partly in light or shadow, or by its recession into distance, or by its distance from the light source. But often, those gradations simply occur as part of the local color of the objects themselves. This quality of variety delights the eye,
Our challenge as artists is to show this beautiful quality of Nature. So, this is why the idea of creating variety in color through understanding shifts in temperature, chroma and value is so important! It goes to the heart of being able to depict Nature effectively! There are several ways to do this.
Impressionist painters chose to use broken color- exaggerating the gradations in order to emphasize the visual impact they create. Monet is a good example of this approach. Ruskin might have considered this “an evil extreme of affectation”.
￼ As opposed to this painting by Isaac Levitan which takes a more tonal approach and where the gradations are more subtle and naturalistic.
The idea of broken color in landscape depiction reached a zenith of sorts with the Pointillists. Here is a work by Georges Seurat (late 19th c. French). ￼
Here is George Inness (late 19th c. American Tonalist) whose work shows an attention to subtle gradations throughout. ￼
￼ Nature..thy name is….gradation!
P.S. Our new six week online painting class The Strong Start begins on April 15. As its name implies, this class is designed to help students start out with a solid structure for their work, and give them proven strategies for successful work outdoors and in the studio. A Strong Start is the first step to a strong finish! Join us!
This is a guest post by Rob Wellings. Rob graduated from The Landscape Atelier last year, and now serves as a teaching assistant. Rob shows his paintings and drawings in galleries and juried shows, and maintains a studio in Malvern, PA.
With its many moods and qualities, charcoal is a time-honored medium for artists across the genres. As a medium for artists drawing the landscape, charcoal is particularly suited to the changing light and weather we encounter in Nature. The wide range of values, edges, and textures possible with charcoal give the artist a naturally expressive tool that can also address the needs of fine draftsmanship.
Charcoal’s diversity is also seen in its many applications and uses. Whether applying it to laid or textured paper or canvas or using it to produce larges masses, fine lines, or washes, today’s artists continue to explore its flexibility. As we see in the examples below, artists are using charcoal to explore the aesthetics of the landscape in beautiful and interesting ways:
In these four examples, we can see the multitude of grays, the painterly drawing, and the atmospheric textures that one can achieve with charcoal. Its dry application naturally achieves an atmospheric look and can enhance Nature’s abstract qualities, as in the works of Emily Nelligan and Alexandre Hollan; or can be used as a wash and applied with a brush, as in the exciting surfaces of Michael Wann’s drawings. Even the complex forms and refined details found in Sue Bryan’s work are laced with an existential mood.
In the drawing below, Deborah Paris used the texture of the tinted paper and vine charcoal stick to depict the mass of foliage; whereas for the tree, she judiciously used a charcoal pencil and eraser to represent the contour and interior forms.
In the drawing below, I used a combination of charcoal (both vine and compressed) and wash. The fluidity of the charcoal is a wonderful medium to use when working from imagination, as I was in this drawing.
In The Landscape Atelier, we use charcoal as a bridge between graphite and oil to move students from line and contour to mass drawing, as well as exploring its possibilities as a medium for finished work.
No doubt, working with charcoal presents many challenges. Its sensitivity to touch and poor adhesion to surface call for gentle care and transport. Despite these challenges, the qualities of charcoal for the depiction of landscape is well worth a thorough exploration.
P.S. We have two great drawing classes coming up this year! Drawing the Landscape – a six week class designed for all levels of artists who want to improve their drawing skills (March) and Drawing the Landscape in Charcoal, a new class, which will be given in June. Join us!
One of the key ingredients of the Drawing/Painting Program of The Landscape Atelier is the training of visual memory. Many years ago, I embarked on a journey to find a way to use memory in my own work. Over time, I developed some techniques and strategies which helped me retain visual information. As a result, I became comfortable working from both memory and imagination.
When I started The Landscape Atelier in 2014 I knew I wanted to make memory training part of the curriculum. Last month I gave a paper at the TRAC 2015 conference entitled The Training and Use of Visual Memory for Representational Landscape Painters which describes why memory training is important, the literature and history of memory training, the method we use in the Atelier, and the results we obtained over the first year using these methods.
My paper is now available to read online. Here’s the link. This will take you to a page on my website. Then just click on the title of the article.
We are so pleased to announce that Rob Wellings has completed his studies at The Landscape Atelier and graduates from the program this month! Rob completed the independent study portion of his program over the last 5 months. Below are a selection of his paintings and drawings.
Here is what he has to say:
” The paintings and drawings explore theme and process, material and technique. They were done using field studies, memory, and imagination. Some of the pieces utilize the imagination more, while others are directly from observation. Integrating these three approaches has been the greatest strength of the program for me.
In line with Thoreau, Proust writes that “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” I believe this is in many ways the purpose of all the hours spent observing, learning, and painting. I now have the confidence my work can continue on that voyage.”
Rob is represented by Williamsburg Gallery, Williamsburg, VA. He has also shown work this year at the Philadelphia Sketch Club Annual Small Works show and at the National Art League’s Juried Exhibition in New York. Rob will also return to The Landscape Atelier next year as a teaching assistant. Congratulations Rob!
Untitled, 12″ x 12″ oil on canvas
Untitled, 12″ x 12″ oil on canvas
Interstellar, 12″ x 12″ oil on linen
Yearning, 14″ x 11″ oil on panel
Invitation, 11″ x 14″ oil on linen
Interlude, 18″ x 14″ oil on linen
Marsh at Dusk, 18″ x 24″ oil on canvas
Autumn, 18″ x 36″ oil on linen
Mountain Lake Reverie, 14″ x 18″ oil on linen
Heading Home, 14″ x 18″ oil on linen
Windswept, 20″ x 20″ charcoal on canvas
Untitled, 16″ x 20″ charcoal on canvas
Respite, 14″ x 14″ charcoal on canvas
Untitled, 7″ x 10″ charcoal on toned paper
Untitled, 7″ x 10″ charcoal on toned paper
Mulch (in progress), graphite on paper