Hi Everyone! Recently I was interviewed by Antrese Wood for The Savvy Painter Podcast. It was a fun conversation, so have a listen!
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. 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
This week in the Composition class, we have been working on thumbnail sketches, which employ simplified shapes and values to help us explore design possibilities. Thumbs can and should become the main tool we use to both learn to compose and to explore motifs for paintings. The class worked on applying certain design principles to the task of creating thumbnail sketches. In the coming week, we will explore using four and two value studies to further sharpen our design skills.
Notan is a Japanese word for light-dark, and consists of a two value arrangement of shapes. It can be used to define and simplify shape and value patterns. Notan (two values) and four value designs are not based on how we actually see the world; they are constructs that we can use to see and strengthen value patterns. Both Notan as well as the four value studies require us to make decisions about whether mid-tones will be grouped with dark or light. This allows for a more flexible approach to thinking about design.
It’s hard to overstate the “aha!” moment that arrives when students first begin to grasp the power of using a limited set of values to compose. Here are a few examples of master works.
Here is George Inness’ Sunset in Georgia, a work which immediately catches your eye with its rich color. But the real strength of this work lies in its value pattern.
Here I have reduced it to four values. You can see how Inness has connected all his darks to create a tunnel design. This did not happen because he saw it that way in Nature , but rather because he designed it that way. Remember, composition is something you impose on Nature.
Here is a painting by the 19th c. Russian landscape painter Ivan Shishkin.
In this example I have converted the design to four values. Again, note how the darks are all linked. This is a key factor in creating strong value structures for your paintings. Although there is lots of information in this painting and very close values, with small incremental value shifts, its overall structure and design can be reduced to just a few values.
In this example I have reduced the values to two- Notan. Again the darks are linked. Note that the sky forms a shape as well as the other elements of the scene.
Here is an even more simple Notan.
We can use these same ideas to help refine our own work. The first thumb is about 2 x 3″.
Here I have reduced it to four values and added a lighter value in the distance, Although I liked the right hand side, the darks on the left were not connected sufficiently.
Pushing the values to the darker end of the scale.
A Notan to explore how to more effectively link the darks.
Working with simplified shapes and reduced values can help to refine out motifs. No amount of color, bravura brushstrokes or detail will rescue a weak design. Working with thumbnail sketches and reduced values teaches us to create a solid structure for our work.
P.S. We have a great lineup of online classes coming up including our very popular class on Understanding Values in the Landscape, and a new painting class called The Strong Start. Join us! For those interested in a comprehensive program of training for landscape we are accepting students into the Atelier programs for the January trimester.
In previous posts, I described the history of indirect painting and also some of the techniques. In this post, I plan to show you how an indirectly painted landscape can mimic the light effects in nature and create both an interesting and varied surface quality and multiple optical effects. Indirect painting using the Venetian tradition gives the landscape painter a wonderful assortment of techniques to use. There isn’t any one way or a set series of steps which one follows in every instance. Planning, knowledge of subject, and intuition play a role.
The final “look” of the surface requires numerous layers of varying kinds. So, thinking ahead to the next step is crucial. What I see most often is that students want to rush the process, “going for the finish” too soon by either pulling out the opaque paint or leaving the surface looking unfinished with just a few glazes. The way a painting looks when it is truly finished depends as much on what the top layer looks like as it does on all the layers underneath. The beauty and special quality of an indirectly painted work depends upon the variety of optical experiences it offers the viewer.
So, a big part of my thinking when I start to paint (actually when I start to think about an idea) is how and where I will leave things transparent, use translucent paint over transparent, use opaque paint, finish with a glaze on top, etc. My best paintings are ones where I have done all those things or at least several of them. At least I think so. That variety of surface is what will keep the viewer looking at your work long after that initial glance.
How to decide? Well, some things are obvious. Shadows need to look transparent so using transparent paint there works well. But, generally I use several layers of glaze, maybe up to four or five, before I start in with other techniques. Why? Because those transparent areas give the finished painting a richness and depth, even when large parts of it are covered with translucent or opaque paint. I try to keep as much of it uncovered as I can.
Scumbles are a great tool for creating atmosphere and “air”, softening edges and generally building up layers of sympathetic color. I also like to think about building something from the ground up, or, put another way, like Nature would make it. So, the dark warm earth (transparent ) goes on before the grass or leaves on top and the warmer, darker tree interior goes on before the lighter cooler outer layers of light and mid tone.
But, every painting starts with a transparent underpainting which is about two value steps lighter than it will be in the finished painting. Subsequent glazing will darken the value, so one must compensate by starting out a bit lighter. It is just the first of many decisions that have to be made while thinking ahead. You have to have your next moves in mind before you pick up the brush. There is no straight line between the start and finish, but rather lots of zig zags. Here is what a typical underpainting might look like. Although the values overall are lighter, the value relationships should be correct.
This next painting is called Farm Pond Morning (16 x 20). Here are a few images which unfortunately have some glare but I think still serve to address some of this. I kept the images large so more detail could be seen. In these I have fast forwarded to the finished painting.
First, is a detail of that lit up area between the trees. I think you can see the transparent edge right next to the opaque light paint which represents the sun. putting those two things together mimics Nature- light bounces off the opaque paint back into the eyes of the viewer (like the sun) while the light passes through the transparent edge giving it a glow and lighting it up in the same way we perceive it in real life. But, also look at the surrounding areas of foliage. If you click on the image, you will be able to see the layers underneath the translucent paint on top. So in this one area there are three different optical experiences.
This next closeup is the far left edge at the juncture of the grass and water. The tree reflections are transparent with opaque paint on top for the pond scum and opaque reflections for the sky. The grasses are painted very thinly (as compared to the more robust little bits of opaque paint on the pond), barely a whisper of opaque paint dragged over the underpainting. To the right, an area that is just getting a little light has been lightly glazed with a warmer color on top of that. Just above that is an area where the trees meet the grass which was under painted, glazed, then translucent paint put on top, then a glaze on just that underneath lower area to create warmth and vibration with the greens above.
Here’s a detail of the area just above the previous one where you can see the grasses and trees a bit better.
Here’s another detail of the water, this one including the reflection of the sun. Again, from the bottom up, it is transparent underpainting, numerous glazes – first darker (just like I would do if I were painting the tree itself), then the lighter warmer colors on top of that, juxtaposed with the opaque reflections which are also glazed over, and finally the cooler opaque bits floating on top of the water.
Using indirect techniques offers the landscape painter endless combinations of techniques to create a varied and beautiful visual experience for the viewer.
P.S. Our annual Magic Hours online class, an exploration of indirect painting techniques and painting transitional times of day, starts October 9. Join us! For those interested in a more comprehensive program of study, we are accepting students for the January trimester of the Atelier programs. Click here for more information.
We are pleased to announce that two recent Landscape Atelier graduates and another student who will finish his studies in December have found gallery representation!
Mallory Agerton is now represented by Whistlepik Gallery in Fredericksburg, TX. Mallory will also exhibit work this fall in the small works show at Hawthorne gallery in New York City. Her work was also included in the OPA Western Regional Exhibition in Steamboat Springs, CO.
Marita Glodt will exhibit paintings at Hoadley Gallery in Lennox MA in September and October.
Rob Wellings, who will graduate from the Atelier program in December, is now represented by Williamsburg Gallery, Williamsburg, VA. Rob 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.
Congratulations Mallory, Marita and Rob!
John Constable, one of England’s and the world’s most revered landscape painters, spent his career making drawings and painted studies from which he then worked up his famous “six footers”. Constable’s work was enormously influential in France with the Barbizon school of landscape painters, and eventually the Impressionists.
Here is a typical drawing of his and it is instructive for us when learning to see and paint masses of foliage. As you will note, Constable has carefully delineated the values within the foliage masses and used lights, midtones and darks to create form. These areas are not randomly created- they are based on the architecture of the tree. But, you will often have to “mass” these areas of value to create a solid look to your tree. In most cases, there will be many more value changes than you will want to describe. To do so will break up the volume of the form too much.
So, squint down and look for the large value areas. To help you accomplish this, do a little sketch to map out those areas before you start your drawing or painting. This will help you see them as well as design them in a pleasing way. Here is an example of a value map. This kind of sketch can really help organize your values before you start.
Here is another slightly more finished “value map”. As you can see, I have massed the lights and darks and also used mid tones to describe the planes of the foliage. When you look at foliage try to see those planes- where the light strikes the mass, where it turns away from the light, and where it is in shadow. If you squint you can see this clearly. Then the challenge is to “mass” those areas.
Go outside and do a lot of observing of foliage until you begin to see the patterns. Do some simple value maps to gain experience with the idea of massing. Notice the direction of the light and how that affects the values you see. Here are two more simple “value map” drawings, the first showing top lighting and the second depicting lighting from the left top side of the tree. In both simplified drawings, I have identified the lights, mid tones and shadow areas by squinting down and also by simplifying those areas. In Nature, those values will not always be clearly organized. If you try to copy them as you see them, the result will look spotty and break up the solidity of your form. So learning to squint and simplify is the key to success.