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”.
The Mast Tree Grove
This massive painting, approximately 65 x 99, was painted in the last year of the artist’s life!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
“In every object there is inexhaustible meaning; the eye sees in it what the eye brings means of seeing.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
Spring is here and the plein air season stretches 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.
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.
Ah, you have to love that language!…”till the evil has become irremediable”!
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.
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!
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. We have two upcoming online classes designed to help you make the most of the plein air season! First up starting May 8, by request, is a repeat performance of our popular Understanding Values in the Landscape class. If you want to have a better understanding of value- how to see it and how to paint it, start here! Our annual class on Field Sketching starts May 15. A perfect companion to the Values class, this class is designed to get you outdoors and give you the confidence and skills to work en plein air with success. Join us!
Let’s talk edges! Edges don’t neatly fit into the usual categories of painting instruction- drawing, value, composition, color, technique. They are about allthose things and much more! As a result, the topic of edges is often given short shrift , or when it is discussed, it isn’t fully integrated into the “big picture”.
First, what’s an edge? Quite simply, an edge is where two shapes meet. This might be two objects in a still life set up, objects in the foreground of a landscape set off against the distance, or a tree top against the sky. All of these present opportunities to paint edges, and the way we paint them will affect a great many things in our picture.
All are all edges alike or equal? No, most definitely not! Think of the range of edges in the same way you would a value scale. Here is an illustration of a range of edges from 1 to 7, hard to lost. A 1 on the scale would be a hard edge, a 2- 3 would be firm , 4-6 would be soft, and 6-7 would be lost. ￼
You will often hear that your sharpest edges should be found at the center of interest. Although this is a generally helpful thing to remember, it doesn’t mean you will use a “1”. Just like with value, you use a range of edges. If, like me, you tend to use softer and lost edges, then your “hardest” edge might be a 4 or 5.
So how do edges affect all aspects of the painting process? In drawing, the kind of edge we use will provide variety as well as place emphasis on particular parts of our drawing. It works the same way in painting. Edges can also help you move the eye of the viewer through the painting. So they are a consideration in composing. Hard edges create contrast and that draws attention. Manipulating the value or color along an edge can make one form dissolve into another, create a sharp contrast, or introduce a color gradation or vibration. A crisp strong brushstroke can create an edge all by itself, while a glaze or scumble can obscure one. Edges are the place that all you know about drawing, value, color, composition and technique come together!
Here are some examples. Obviously this isn’t a landscape, but when I saw this painting a few years ago, one of the first things that struck me about it (aside from its size and the dark, brooding face of St. John,) was how masterfully Caravaggio used edges to bring the viewer in and around the painting. Of course, some of the sharpest edges can be found in the shoulder which brings it forward and gives the figure great volume and power and the left edge of the face (drawing). On the other hand, the top of the head becomes lost in the mass of foliage behind, and the shadowed side of the face melts into the neck and shoulder while the firmer edges in the arm and knee create a powerful diagonal leading to the face(composition). Caravaggio orchestrated a masterful repertoire of edges to create this powerful sculptural image. Look further and see where you can identify firmer, softer and lost edges.
￼In this moody Tonalist landscape by American master George Inness (1825-1894) the artist has used mostly soft edges. This adds to the atmospheric quality of the work. But, he uses some slightly firmer edges around the tree trunks to accent those negative shapes of light sky behind (drawing) and draw the eye through (composition). He has used layers of glaze and scumbles to achieve a luminous glow and to soften most of the edges in the painting (technique).
￼ Here is a beautiful Sanford Gifford. Gifford ( 19th century American- Hudson River School/Luminist) is known for his luminous atmospheric works. You can see how he has created lost edges in the clouds and edges of the mountain with a firmer edge along the demarcation of light and shadow defining the shape of Mt Ranier (drawing, value, color). The little boat and figure in the water have much crisper edges and act as a design counterpoint to the mountain top (composition).
This painting is by Maynard Dixon (20th century American). Dixon’s paintings of the Southwest depict its arid landscape which produces harder edges which clearly define the sculptural shapes of the landscape (drawing). He manages to work within a range of hard to firm edges with a few softer edges reserved for the sky and clouds (value, color).
P.S. What’s the one thing most beginning and intermediate landscape painters could do to immediately to improve their work? Improve their drawing skills! Our six week online class Drawing the Landscape is designed to do just that. It starts March 27. Join us!
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.
Just for fun, here is a photo of the man himself painting that huge canvas on a beach in Spain.
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.
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.
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.
So be on the lookout for places in the landscape that hold color temperature shifts. See them and paint them!