Field Notes

Premix Your Palette

One of the many concepts, techniques and strategies I teach is premixing your palette, whether working in the studio or in the field. I often encounter resistance to this idea, but more often than not, once students try it, they understand and appreciate the advantage it gives them. Why is premixing helpful?

Premixing requires the artist to think about and analyze the colors she plans to use in advance, rather than on the fly. The first way in which this is useful is in establishing a color harmony. Color, like all other aesthetic choices we make in our work, requires a considered approach. Just as we cannot rely on Nature to compose for us, we also cannot rely on it to establish a compelling color harmony. This requires thought and usually editing. Even if your desire is to create a naturalistic landscape, you will need to edit the local color you see into a more harmonious, focused statement. Premixing gives the artist an opportunity to think about what local color is wanted and what can be discarded, what colors will be ‘the star of the show’ and what colors will play a supporting role.

The second way in which premixing can assist the artist is in establishing an organized plan of execution for the painting. Mixing color with purpose and with a plan is the key. When we do this, we analyze what value, temperature and chroma we need for each hue, and we have a better chance of mixing accurately and cleanly.

The organizing principle I recommend is Carlson’s Theory of Angles. Using Carlson’s Theory we identify groups of hues within the four planes in the landscapesky, ground, slanted planes, and uprights. The advantage of this method is that the artist begins by thinking about where these colors occur in the landscape. And of course, that affects what value, temperature and chroma they are! So organizing your mixes this way encourages exactly the kind of analysis we need to determine the correct variations of each color within our color harmony.

Also, once you have premixed, your palette will have these four distinct groups of colors organized right before you as you begin to paint.

The objection I hear most often to premixing is that taking the time to premix colors in advance will take away from painting time, or if done in the field, will take up time while conditions may be changing. Of course, neither of these objections makes much sense because in order to paint we must mix color. The question is not if we will mix, the question is when we will mix.

Although I certainly can understand the impatience to start painting, particularly when working outdoors, I know from many years of experience that the results will be better the more planning and thinking I do before putting the first stroke on my canvas. Premixing allows you to approach execution of your work in an analytical way. Once that is done, the actual painting usually proceeds more smoothly and quickly, free from trial and error and on the fly decision making. Of course, you will need to make modifications to your premixed palette as you go, but the majority of the work will be done and you will have a much clearer plan for its execution.

Happy Painting!

Deborah

P.S. Our six week online class The Strong Start starts April 13th! In this class you will learn  the concepts, techniques and strategies that can give you the strongest possible start to your work, both in the studio and outdoors. Strong starts make for strong finishes! Join us!

 

 

 

 

Learn to Key Your Landscape

Landscape painters need to have a good understanding of the importance of value in successfully depicting the landscape on a two dimensional surface. In order to have our painting ‘read’, that is to show the planes of the landscape as well as its depth, atmosphere and scale, proper values are essential. As we’ve previously written, Carlson’s Theory of Angles is a great place to start as an overarching concept for understanding values in the landscape. But, it is only a starting point!

Another layer of complexity is added when we think about how to depict the varying atmospheric conditions, times of day and effects of light that we observe in Nature. Again, values are the key to success here. And, we often refer to this process as ‘keying’ the landscape.

For example, in order to key your landscape painting to depict a sunny day as opposed to an overcast day, you must learn to shift the value range up or down the value scale as well as understand the proper value steps between the light and shadowed parts of each plane in the landscape. It sounds complicated, but with careful observation and application of some basic concepts, this knowledge will allow you to paint what you see more accurately and also change the key of your landscape when painting from memory or imagination. This combination of observation + knowledge, gives you the ability to paint any light effect or time of day.

Here are a couple of examples. In this painting by Willard Metcalf (American, 1858-1925) we see a beautiful effect of bright sunlight.

Willard Metcalf Giverny

When we convert the painting to greyscale, we can see that there is a wide range of values from light to dark. Also, the lights and darks within each plane are several steps apart. Look at the grass for example and notice that there is a 2-3 step difference in value from light to shadow.

Willard Metcalf Giverny greyscale

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In this painting by  Claude Monet we are treated to a beautiful effect of low light and an overcast sky. The colors are more muted and the values closer together.

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The greyscale of this painting shows a close value range and a shift toward the darker end of the value scale. The shifts between light and dark in the foreground are less than than a step apart, and the white sails of the boat are a step or more darker than the lightest value on the scale.

Monet Windmill at Zaandm 1871 greyscale

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By understanding both the value range and the steps between light and shadow found in each light effect or time of day, we can learn to key our landscapes effectively.

P.S. Our first online class of the year Understanding Values in the Landscape starts January 5th! Master the use of values in landscape painting and learn how to key your landscapes successfully. Also, our 2018 schedule of online classes is now posted and open for registration. There are Class Bundles available to help you save. Join us!

 

 

Break Temperature Not Value

Nature is, as John F. Carlson said, an overloaded property room, and often as landscape painters we find it challenging to create a painting that has a sense of unity, as opposed to being a composite of parts.

There are many “picture-making” strategies for simplifying and unifying nature into a work of art, such as looking for “big shapes” and creating a coherent range of values.

Carlson admonishes us not to copy Nature “tone for tone” i.e., value for value,  and to keep the simplicity of the large masses. But it is Birge Harrison, the author of  Landscape Painting (1909) and Carlson’s teacher, who shows us the way to do that: break temperature not value.  By using temperature shifts of the same value, rather than value changes, we can add variety and interest to the large shapes. By doing this, those big shapes are not broken up and the large masses and the painting retain a sense of unity.

The technique can be done in a number of ways. Harrison describes one way in which the artist creates a warm underpainting, essentially a full value study and the paints over it, matching tone for tone but using cooler colors in the overprinted layer. Allowing some of the underpainting to show through creates vibration.

Another method  would be to paint opaquely and juxtapose warm and cool touches in the same mass.

Here is an example by William Langson Lathrop (1859-1938), a well known painter, etcher and draftsman and one of the founders of the New Hope School of Painting. In the foreground of this painting there are relatively few value changes in the ground plane yet there is a great deal of variety accomplished by the use of warm and cool colors of the same or very close value.

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Here is an example by Peder Mork Monsted (  Danish, 1859-1941). If you squint you can see the light and shadow parts of the snow hold together, but when you really look into them you can see numerous temperature changes which he uses to add variety AND  to suggest information. The warm and cool notes on the snow bank to the right of the road is a great example of that.

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In this second example, we see contemporary landscape painter Clyde Aspevig doing the same thing in the shadow area of the snow and in the sky.

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Here is another example by contemporary landscape painter Marc Dalessio. The street is depicted with both warm and cool colors of the same value creating lively vibration and interest without breaking up the mass.

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In all of these examples there are just a few values shifts, but lots of temperature changes.

So, to create variety AND unity: break temperature not value!

P.S. Our last online class of the year Composing the Landscape starts November 3rd. This is a challenging class that is sure to ramp up your design skills!  Also, our 2018 schedule of online classes is now posted and open for registration. There are Class Bundles available to help you save. Join us!

 

The Studio Podcast

The Studio Podcast

Recently I was interviewed by Danny Grant of The Studio Podcast. We had a great conversation about many aspects of the life of a professional artist–studio practice, the pros and cons of solo shows and building an art career. We also talked in depth about how I teach my online classes and my philosophy of teaching.

Please click on over and have a listen!

Happy Painting!

Deborah

P.S. Our last online class of the year Composing the Landscape starts November 3rd. This is a challenging class that is sure to ramp up your design skills!  Also, our 2018 schedule of online classes is now posted and open for registration. There are Class Bundles available to help you save. Join us!

 

 

 

 

Savvy Painter Podcast

Hi Everyone! Recently I was interviewed by Antrese Wood for The Savvy Painter Podcast.  It was a fun conversation, so have a listen!

https://savvypainter.com/podcast/discover-passion-life-deborah-paris/?embed=true

Robert Wellings- Recent Work

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.   

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Deconstructing Carlson

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?

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John Carlson

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.

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Notan

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.

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4 Values

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.

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6 Values

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.

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Greyscale

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!

Anatomy of an Indirect Painting II

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.

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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.

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Second glaze on the ground plane.

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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.

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Detail of the pine tree trunks on the left with opaque paint added and scumbles and sky in the distance.

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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 !

Exploring Charcoal

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.

 

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Finally, in the drawing below I used the fragment-like shape of torn paper to explore a mood both mysterious and foreboding:

 

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P.S. Drawing the Landscape in Charcoal is a four week online class designed to introduce students to the joys of this dark, mysterious medium. Join us!