Messy Plans

When I think I’ve completed a painting I usually take it out of the studio and prop it up in the living room to ponder during relaxation times. Often this leads my husband to complain about wet paint marks on our newly painted walls. He recently set an easel up in the corner for just this use so that the walls stay clean and I put one of my recent works on it, which looks great! And I then proceeded to prop up my wet painting again. I make him crazy.

However, the propping up also often leads to discussion about our work. I’ve had nice success lately doing water and cloud elements because they are so fluid and free, that it’s just natural for them to end up painterly and loose. But my land elements are still tight. So Andrew and I simultaneously told me to approach the land elements like they were water or air. And so I did. And so I had what I’d call better success making both the sky and land elements more fluid in this desert scene.

High Desert Cloud Bloom, studio oil, 12″ x 24″

While there is still plenty of room for improvement, this one felt looser as it went down and so I want to take that feeling and method into the next piece.

I have a plan.

Each studio piece I’ve been creating lately has been a matter of finding reference materials when I want to do a new piece. However, I want to create a cohesive body of work so the one-off approach isn’t great. Coming up with the “theme” or goal of that body of work is very difficult. And yet I’ve at least had a couple ideas for paintings starting to back log in my brain, which means something is brewing. The first back log item is a stunning, quiet sunset piece in 18″ x 24″. I say quiet because the sky in the reference is empty of clouds and has a layering of stunning, muted colours – which calms the piece down even though there is churning water in the foreground. I like that tension. The colours also play with that theme – the sky is multi-coloured while the fore is almost a black and white scale. Interesting tension again.

And then I have a back logged idea to do a triptych of paintings of empty campground sites. I love the idea of  the potential in the images. The spots are empty but you know there will be and has been plenty of activity in those spots. My mind sees them as lonely yet lovely treed spaces which evoke excitement about the future, about camping! There’s that tension again.

I won’t tease you any more with what I am going to paint. Because you just know that with the sunny weather, I’ll likely get pulled in to more plein air work and/or I’ll go off in another direction. Suffice it to say that the studio is well utilized, as is the living room, as is my brain, in painting. Fantastic.

And the walls will continue to gather wet paint marks. Just because.


Transferring Methodology

My husband, Andrew Bartley and I recently had the privilege of attending an Alla Prima Portrait Painting workshop with Teresa Oaxaca at the Whidbey Island Fine Art Studio. Our focus of late has been on plein air landscape painting, so attending a portrait workshop was a bit of a sideways jaunt. I’ve always loved Teresa’s unique and beautiful work so when I saw an ad for the workshop one evening, and having a few glasses of wine in me, I exclaimed to my also-web-browsing husband across the room: “TERESA OAXACA IS DOING A PORTRAIT WORKSHOP ON WHIDBEY IN JUNE, WE SHOULD GO!” (All caps does indicate shouting and/or excitement). You see, these wonderful workshops and artists usually offer their work/classes further away from our nest, mostly the southwest US or further east. Having one close by was very exciting. Andrew’s response was: “LET’S DO IT!”.

And there we were a few months later, on lovely Whidbey island amidst a familiar rampant bunny population (the university where I work also had the bunny “issue” until they decided a cull was in order) and 14 other eager students, watching and learning from the extremely skilled beauty herself, Teresa. The 4 day workshop was intense sessions of demonstration from Teresa and our attempts to follow her method to a successful process and end piece. I personally experienced a progressive strengthening of understanding and results as the days and exercises went by and Andrew was also very happy with his experience and results. While he rediscovered his native painting style utilizing Teresa’s methods, I learned several key things:

  • Look more, paint less
    • I can’t emphasize this enough. Slowing down and spending time looking at your subject and considering the whole composition is critical for me. I tend to push work out, hoping that the next one will be better. Now, I promise myself to slow down and really look, really see, really paint what I want to be there.
  • Keep your colours clean on the palette and on your brushes
    • Which means I need more brushes! and smaller ones too – I tend to order large brushes!)
  • Thick over thin
  • Maintain a basic process: block it in, lay down the colour, finish
    • Avoid “drawing” in the blocking in step – and never, ever outline
  • Increase harmony by incorporating reflective colour from the environment and clothing into the portrait itself
  • Include a balance of warm and cool colours
    • This is something I need to do/research more, as I don’t seem to get it
  • Make it POP!
    • Include clean bold colours as way to create interest
  • Avoid too many hard edges because it makes the eye jump around the painting
  • Soften edges often
Brandy, oil, 16"x20"
Brandy, oil, 16″x20″

When we returned home, we didn’t want to stop learning so on our single day left of time off, we went plein air painting. We both more or less used the same process of blocking in, laying in colour and finishing, but this time on landscape pieces. I found it to be a very calming and satisfying process. Whereas before I’d be in a rush to get things to the point of really seeing where the painting was going (which could take up most of the time in the session), the block-in step gives you a fast and strong impression of composition, tonal values and focal point. When that is all set, I found myself way more relaxed, knowing that I simply needed to capture the light, colour and values of the scene in front of me. It allowed me to incorporate soft edges and focus on the lights and the darks which would draw the eye in.

Summer on the Gorge, plein air oil, 8"x10"
Summer on the Gorge, plein air oil, 8″x10″

Not only did the workshop help us grow our skill and knowledge of portrait painting, it also helped move our landscape work to another level. All I need now is more time to paint!

To that end, we have a camping and painting trip planned this summer. I can’t wait!