Go First To Nature

Spring will soon be here and the plein air season will stretch out before us with tantalizing visions of days spent in the field painting nature. Unfortunately for many, the reality never quite matches up to our hopes and expectations. We come home tired, frustrated and disappointed in the day’s efforts. Why? Because painting outdoors is one of the hardest things you will ever try to do as an artist! So for the inexperienced or even intermediate painter, it is a real struggle. It’s like your first day in medical school and your professor says “Alrighty then, let’s start with brain surgery!”

This is not to say that working before nature should wait. On the contrary, we must go often to nature from the very outset of our training. But, how we approach nature and how we learn to paint sur le motif involves much more than buying a pochade box.

Rembrandt
Rembrandt

Below is my favorite quote about drawing and about how we should approach nature as artists. Asher B. Durand was among the first generation of Hudson River School artists, the first truly American group of landscape painters. Although they were, of course, influenced by European art and traditions, they understood that they had to forge a new relationship with nature in the New World. I like to think of all landscape painters that way – we must all find our way, our own way, to nature and how we want to depict her. Drawing is the first step. Drawing sets you free.

“Go first to Nature to learn to paint landscape…take pencil and paper, not the palette and brushes, and draw with scrupulous fidelity…I know you will regard this at first thought as an unnecessary restriction, and become impatient to use the brush, under the persuasion that you can with it make out your forms, and at the same time produce colour, and light and shade. In this you deceive yourself, as many others have done, till the evil has become irremediable; for slovenly and imperfect drawing finds but a miserable compensation in the evident efforts to disguise or atone for it, by the blandishments of color and effect.

Asher B. Durand, Letters on Landscape,1855.

Asher B. Durand
Asher B. Durand

Ah, you have to love that language!…”till the evil has become irremediable”!

Van Gogh
Van Gogh

Durand’s advice was based on literally centuries of working methods developed by landscape painters in Europe and later America. Drawing was and should be a critical part of not only the training of landscape painters but our first efforts to work directly from nature. As Durand notes elsewhere in Letters On Landscape, two things result from this method: we learn about our subject in a deeper more intimate way and we enhance the technical skills we need to make a success of our outdoor efforts. Working first with line and tone (value) and then moving on to color allows us to build a skill set incrementally rather than feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of nature and how to depict it.

Ivan Shishkin
Ivan Shishkin
Isaac Levitan
Isaac Levitan

The greatest landscape painters throughout art history have always known this. It’s only in the last century or so that we begin to think it was unnecessary to actually learn how to draw instead of just pushing a button on a camera!

John Constable
John Constable
Rousseau
Rousseau

As importantly, eventually this work will serve as reference material for our finished work in the studio. Drawings and color studies provide a storehouse of information upon which we can much more reliably depend than a bad photograph (or even a good one!). Observation becomes one of our most valued methods and provides new insights for our work each time we venture out in nature. Instead of the pressure to “get a painting”, we can slow down, observe and experience. Remember, drawing sets you free.

P.S. Our annual six week Drawing the Landscape online class is designed for all artists who want to improve their landscape drawing skills. Explore various drawing mediums and learn techniques in using line, value, shading, perspective and much more. Learn how to use drawing as an integral part of your artistic process as a landscape painter. Class starts March 13th! Join us!

Where To Look for Shifts in Color Temperature

So, now we know that color temperature is an important attribute of color, and that seeing and painting those shifts will add quality to our paintings. But, where do we look for them?

Over the many years that I studied with Ned Jacob, he rarely answered my questions directly. Usually, he would say enigmatic things like “know where the violet lives”.  Catchy, huh? But, not helpful. So, I plan to tell you exactly where to look for color temperature changes.

Color temperature in landscape painting is most often a product of the color of the light and/or surrounding local color. The light is either warm (directly affected by sunlight) or cool (directly affected by the cool sky color). Both of these things will occur in the same scene. So your job is to know where the light is warm and where it is cool.

One simple thing to remember is “it’s warm in there”, meaning that the interiors of things and the undersides of things – under trees, interiors of foliage masses, cracks and crevices in rocks, and things like that will typically hold some warm reflected light.

Here is a dramatic example of that. This painting by the Spanish impressionist Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923) shows how the warm light of the sand is reflected up onto the belly  and the inside of the leg of the white horse. The cool light of the sky cools the temperature of the boy’s chest in shadow, and also cools the color on the horse’s back in light. A masterful orchestration of color temperature! Click for larger view.

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Just for fun, here is a photo of the man himself painting that huge canvas on a beach in Spain.

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But, we don’t need to have a big white horse in our painting to see and paint color temperature changes. Here is a beautiful painting by Russian painter Isaac Levitan which also demonstrates these ideas, albeit with more subtlety. Click for larger view.

levitan tree 72 dpi

Here the sun strikes the tree from the front left. The foliage in the upper areas of the tree is cooler, influenced by the cool light of the sky. The light struck areas are of course warm. But, so is the lower foliage and interior areas behind the tree, as a result of warm light bouncing up from the ground plane.

Here is another example from Ivan Shishkin, my other favorite Russian. The interior of this wood is warm! You might be tempted to paint that cooler, to make it go back, but you would be wrong. It would come charging toward you. But, with that nice warm color in there it recedes. The trees on the exterior of the woods are cooler, affected by the cool light of the sky, especially on the right side.

covert-1874

Another place to look for temperature changes is in shadows. Form shadows tend to be warmer and cast shadows cooler. In a cast shadow you will find more warmth closer to the object casting the shadow and cooler as it moves away and is more affected by the cool light of the sky.

Here is an example by Maynard Dixon, iconic painter of the American West. Click for larger view. See that shadow on the ground cast by the horse? There is warm reflected light in the shadow from the horse and cool reflected light from the sky.

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So be on the lookout for places in the landscape that hold color temperature shifts. See them and paint them!

P.S.  Our online class Practical Color Mixing for Landscape Painters I  starts this Friday January 31. Crack the secrets of value, hue, chroma and color temperature! Join us!

Let it Snow!

Many of us are facing bitter winter weather just now. So, it seemed an appropriate time to talk about…painting snow!

Two of the main concepts to keep in mind when painting snow are value and color temperature. When painting a light, highly reflective surface like snow we are hampered by the value limitations of our materials. Our white paint is the lightest light we can muster. In order to effectively represent snow and its surroundings, we must darken its value just a little, as well as the other planes in the landscape likes trees, hills and sky.

Because of its reflective surface, the color of snow is affected by the colors around it, most particularly the sky. That is why on a bright sunny day when the ground is covered with snow, you will see those intense blue shadows. That’s the zenith of the sky reflecting into the shadows. Recognizing the source of that color and maximizing it helps to describe the snow. In this painting you can see contemporary American landscape painter Stapleton Kearns doing just that. He has used a warm white for the sunlit portion of the snow and cooler whites to depict the planes turning from the light and the shadows. This is a great example of how one might model the snow on a sunny day.  Notice too how the value of the sky has been lowered just a bit and the rest of the scene brought into that range as well. The warm notes in the foreground logs provide a temperature counterpoint to the overall cool cast of the painting. Finding opportunities to include a warm note in a snow painting adds variety and richness to the snow filled world.

Stapleton Kearns
Stapleton Kearns

But, often when we paint snow, it’s not a sunny day. Here is a lovely tonal homage to snow by American painter John Carlson American ,1875-1947), author of Carlson’s Guide to Landscape Painting. The color of the snow reflects the muted sky color, and the close values of grey, brown and violet in the near and distant trees evoke a quiet winter day in the woods. Subtle warm notes in the trees and plants sticking out of the snow provide the needed variety in temperature.

Carlson snow
John Carlson

Here’s one of my favorite snow paintings by Frederick Mulhaupt (American, 1871-1938 ). Mulhaupt has used value masterfully here. The counterchange between the light tree trunks and darker confers behind is echoed by the small triangle of dark water on the left. The violet sky is darker than the snow which helps to set it off and appear luminous. Subtle temperature and value changes within the snow describe the ground plane underneath, and the dark bits of earth peaking through lead the eye to the central arrangement of trees. The remaining foliage on the trees provides a warm counterpoint against the violet sky. Quite an orchestration!

Mulhapt snow
Frederick Mulhaupt

In this painting, I wanted to evoke the memory of a day in snow filled woods. The quiet muffled quality of sound, the intimacy of the deep woods, and my part in it were all on my mind. I used subtle value and temperature changes to depict the foreground snow and describe how it began to pile up on top of grasses, plants and tree trunks. Warm notes in the foreground provided a counterpoint to the violets, greys and browns.

Winter Woods Deborah Paris
Winter Woods
Deborah Paris

Finally, here is a painting by Marc Dalessio (American, contemporary) which he posted on his blog. He helpfully included a photo of the scene he was painting. This provides a great example of how he has manipulated value and temperature to create an effective design. Note how the snow value has been lowered and its temperature cast shifted to a very light blue green. Notice also the warm note of pink on the edge of the shadow underneath the main tree on the right and a similar note on the other side of the road. He has also darkened the value of the trees in the distance just slightly and the main tree as well, providing needed darker notes (along with the tire tracks).

Dalessio snow photo
Dalessio snow photo

Marc Dalessio
Marc Dalessio

Orchestration of value and color temperature is the key to success in snow paintings. So, go out and paint some snow!

P.S. Our two day online workshop Painting Snow is a great place to learn how to make the most of the winter landscape. Join us January 18-19, 2020

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The Poet of the Forest

Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898) was a late nineteenth century Russian landscape painter. He is revered in Russia and has steadily become better known in the West. Shishkin received a classical painting education in Moscow and St. Petersburg, and also was the recipient of Imperial scholarships for study abroad. He was a contemporary of Isaac Levitan (my other favorite Russian) and they exhibited together as part of a group called the Itinerants.

Shishkin is best known and loved for his forest scenes and was often referred to as “the poet of the forest”.

Portrait of Shishkin Ivan Kramsol
Portrait of Shishkin
Ivan Kramsol

Shishkin 2- Oaks_ Evening-Examples of Tree perspective-Trees

Scan 60

Scan 59

forest-autumn

shiskin pine-forest-1885-Ivan Shishkin-Trees

winte-1890

 shishkin Mast trees 1898The Mast Tree Grove

This massive painting, approximately 65 x 99, was painted in the last year of the artist’s life!

Enjoy!

P.S. Our most popular online class, Drawing & Painting Trees, starts September 11th. For landscape artists, trees are arguably the most important raw material of our craft and art. Join us!

Seago Skies

Edward Seago (1910-1974) was a British landscape painter. He is one of the best known and widely collected British artists of the 20th century. He enjoyed enormous popularity during his lifetime including royal patronage by several members of the Royal Family, including the the Queen Mother, the Duke of Edinborough and Prince Charles.  Seago painted all sorts of subjects, but is perhaps best known for his paintings of boats, skies and the countryside around his home in Norwich. He painted in watercolor and oil.

Edward Seago
Edward Seago

 

Although Seago was given some direction by Sir Alfred Munnings he was essentially a self taught artist. He studied the works of Constable particularly as well as other masters.

Here are some beautiful Seago skies. Notice how Seago carefully orchestrated his skies, playing the lights and darks against each other. Enjoy!

 

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P.S. Our upcoming online class The Painted Sky starts August 7th! Take a look at our previous posts on painting big, atmospheric skies and join us!

Registration is here.

Sir Alfred East- Advice on Painting Skies

Sir Alfred Edward East (1844- 1913), was a British landscape painter whose work was influenced by the French Barbizon painters as well as the rich tradition of British landscape painting in the 19th century transmitted by the twin giants of the genre, Constable and Turner. Sir Alfred had a successful career, exhibiting at the Royal Academy and was given a knighthood by King Edward VII. Today, he is perhaps best remembered for his book The Art of Landscape Painting in Oil Colour which was published in 1906.

Sir Alfred East
Sir Alfred East

Sir Alfred East
Sir Alfred East

The book contains much of the conventional wisdom on landscape painting of the time, but is noteworthy in its emphasis on drawing, how to approach Nature, sketching and painting from Nature, and composition. The chapter on painting skies is particularly interesting, offering the beginning landscape painter sage advice delivered in a mixture of pithy directives and more lengthy (occasionally turgid) prose of the late 19th century.  It is well worth reading. Here are a few of the best bits!

Sir Alfred East
Sir Alfred East

In his chapter on skies, East advises that “if you make a practice of painting a sky every morning with the regularity that you take your bath, you will find at the end of six months that you know something of its variations.” He suggests that thirty minutes is a sufficient amount of time, and that it should be done immediately before breakfast so that it doesn’t interfere with your “ordinary work”.

“But of all things avoid a flat sky. There is nothing so miserable in landscape painting as a mere piece of flat blue.”

“Don’t be afraid of rubbing the foliage into the sky, and the the sky into the foliage at you first painting. You will have ample opportunity of getting the character of the edge… at a later stage.”

“it is much easier to paint a sky to suit a landscape than a landscape to suit a sky.”

A Kindle version of the book is available through Amazon.

P.S. Our upcoming online class The Painted Sky starts August 7th! Take a look at our previous posts on painting big, atmospheric skies and join us!

Registration is here.

Why “Paint What You See” Is Not Good Advice

“In every object there is inexhaustible meaning; the eye sees in it what the eye brings means of seeing.”

Goethe

“Paint what you see.”  Has anyone ever told you that? The other day I was reading something online and ran across a discussion where several artists were offering advice to another artist about how to tackle a particular subject. “Paint what you see.” was the recurring theme of the conversation. I have heard that before, of course. You have too, right? Instructors often give this advice to students in workshops and classes. But before you can paint what you see, you have to learn to see.  The vast majority of landscape painting problems are a result of a failure of seeing.

Emil Carlsen
Emil Carlsen

First, we cannot see what we are not prepared to see. We literally don’t know what we don’t know! For example, unless someone has explained the concept of value and its importance, perhaps relating that to how values can be organized by the planes in the landscape, the beginner won’t see that. He or she won’t know what or how to even look for it. Unless someone explains the concept of color temperature, the intermediate painter won’t see it or even know that he or she isn’t seeing it! Once we understand fundamental concepts like value and color temperature, then we see it because we know what to look for and why it is important. We are then prepared to see it, and we do! Learning to draw and paint is first a matter of learning to see.

Emil Carlsen
Emil Carlsen

Second, once we can see, it is no longer our job to simply “report” on what we see, but rather to “translate” what we see into a work of art. Once we have the technical skills and understanding to truthfully represent nature, it is time to create a work of art. Nature rarely arranges herself into a perfect pattern or design. We take the raw material provided by Nature and make a painting of it. The painting becomes its own thing, separate and apart from the Nature which inspired it. It must stand on its own.

P.S. Our upcoming online class The Painted Sky starts August 7th! Take a look at our previous posts on painting big, atmospheric skies and join us!

Registration is here.

What is Indirect Painting? Part I

Most of you are direct painters. This is the primary way that oil painting has been taught for the last century or so, although indirect painting held sway prior to that. I was trained to work in a direct, alla prima way as many of you have been. When I decided to explore indirect painting techniques, there wasn’t a lot of information out there, especially for landscape painters. So, it took years of research- study of past masters, as well as art history, and texts on methods and materials- to figure out a bit about this way of working. Even today, there are just a handful of landscape painters who are using these methods.

Indirect painting simply means that the surface of the painting is built up in layers rather than all in one go. There are many different ways to do this. All of them rely on creating distinct layers of paint which will create a different optical effect, a different “look” than a work painted directly in opaque paint. This is achieved by using transparent, translucent and opaque passages and building up the painting in layers.

 

Before we explore the technical side of indirect painting, let’s look at a little art history.  Prior to the late 14th century, the medium of egg tempera was used for painting. The earliest oil painting technique was developed in Flanders in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. As a result this method is referred to as the Flemish technique. Using a wood panel, artists transferred a highly refined drawing onto the panel. The drawing was then restated in ink or thin paint and sealed with varnish. Once that was dry, the artist would commence painting transparent glazes into the shadows and applying layers of thin translucent or opaque paint into other areas. Each layer of paint was allowed to dry before continuing work and the painting was finished by adding subsequent glazes and building up the lights with opaque paint. Highlights were finally added with thicker opaque paint. This produced a highly realistic, more linear image, usually with fairly hard edges.

Here is a painting by Jan van Eyck  (Flemish, 139-1441) executed in the Flemish technique.

 

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The new innovations of oil painting spread like wildfire throughout Europe. Italian artists in particular adopted the new medium although resistance by some (including Michelangelo) remained.  By the late 15th and early 16th centuries Venetian artists, particularly Titian (1488-1576) and Giorgione (c.1477-1510) began to invent further innovations to the Flemish technique. The limitations of working on wood panels and the difficulty of making alterations to a work in progress sparked a shift to the use of a canvas support and a more painterly process for execution which is called the Venetian technique.

The innovations of the Venetian technique involved the use of canvas, stiff brushes and an underpainting rather than a drawing. As a result, the edges in paintings produced this way tend to be softer and the resulting work more atmospheric and painterly. Generally the underpainting was executed either partially or completely in opaque paint and was called a grisaille when executed in neutral greys. After the grisaille dried, glazes would be applied to the shadows and the light areas built up with thin opaque paints. Titian is generally credited with “inventing” the scumble (light opaque paint applied as a translucent layer) and the velatura or semi-glaze which can be transparent or translucent.

Man in a Red Cap Titian
Man in a Red Cap
Titian

Christ Carrying the Cross Titian
Christ Carrying the Cross
Titian

Eventually use of the Venetian method and its many variations became widespread all over Europe and was used for centuries by masters such as Rubens, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Poussin, and Ingres.

Self Portrait Rembrandt
Self Portrait
Rembrandt

Indirect painting, using the Venetian method or its many manifestations, offers the artist the widest range of options for both application of paint and optical effects which can be achieved.  In Part II we’ll find how how and why!

 

P.S. Our annual online class Painting the Luminous Landscape- Introduction to Indirect Painting for Landscape Painters- starts July 10th. Come see what all the fuss is about! Join us! 

 

Introducing Frits Thaulow

At The Landscape Atelier we put a lot of emphasis on art history, both as a teaching tool (always a good idea to study the Masters!) and so that as artists we can more completely understand and appreciate the rich tradition of landscape painting we have inherited. In that spirit,  I think it’s time to introduce you to Frits Thaulow (1847-1906)! Thaulow was a 19 th c. Norwegian landscape painter and has been one of my favorites for many years. Although he traveled widely and was friends with many leading artists of the day, including many of the Impressionists, he was more influenced by the French Naturalist painters like Jules Bastien-Lepage. I particularly enjoy his restrained palette, attention to drawing, and his luscious water. The man could paint water!

Here is our new friend Frits.

Thaulow portrait

 

And here are examples of his work.

You can also see more of his work online here. http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/frits-thaulow

Enjoy!

the-dordogne

alkejegeren

autumn

 

Thaulow 4

 

on-a-french-river

Thaulow 3

Thaulow

 

Thaulow 2

P.S. For centuries the depiction of water has challenged artists. Its unique properties- transparent, reflective, moving, still- create wonderful visual opportunities. In our annual Painting Water online class we learn how reflections are created and how to depict them, how the depth of water affects its color and value, how to depict still and moving water,  techniques and color palettes for water and using water features in your compositions. This class starts June 12th. Join us!