Friday, April 29, 2011

He Should've Been a Cowboy.....

A certain artist that I know (some of you will recognize him) took a painting trip down to the badlands of South Texas. There are bad things down there, some two-legged and some four-legged, and some no-legged.. the kind that slither along... As a sort of joke, he posed for this shot.  Never let anybody tell you being an artist is easy!  It takes a certain rugged individualism to do this kind of painting in the elements.
And believe me, in south Texas, there are lots of elements.  100+ degrees... everything bites, scratches, pokes, stings, or has fangs and tries to eat you.

He is a wild and crazy guy anyway, but this pose gave me an idea, so as a further kind of joke, I adjusted his
outfit.  This was just a quick sketch, for grins.. I probably spent an hour and a half on it... but what the heck, some of you might get a kick out of it.
For you artist types who read this, it is done in the transparent wash/wipe off method.  So no white paint was used, just wiping away the light, and adding thin paint for the darks.   I used an old scraped canvas. I had initially planned to add color, but decided I like it just like it is....

I think it suits him.  Maybe he really Should've Been a Cowboy......but then, I'm from Texas and think EVERYBODY should be cowboys.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Plein Air Day

Today I wandered out with the dogs to find a painting spot. It took me a long time to settle, and meanwhile I'm carrying a 35 pound pack up and down hills and down by the river. I started a small sketch down in the river gorge, but it was getting late and had to wrap up and head back to get supper started. I hope to go back there and finish up.
Meanwhile, here's another small plein air sketch of the Cox Ranch, a beautiful piece of property not far from here.  It used to be a Dude Ranch, and that's why there are so many long cabins.  The day I was painting this, a coyote wandered across the field right below me, stopped to look at me, then crossed the river and went on his way.  
Click here to purchase this painting.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Spring Weather, Baby Chicks and a Painting

Ah, spring in the mountains.... We actually did have spring for a couple of days. I wonder where the butterflies go?  This is the day after Easter.  We had a little of this on Easter Sunday too, but it held off until after the sunrise service. That's our shed and chicken coop... and please notice the daffodils blooming.. I was so happy to actually get something to grow up here. Our growing season is less than 60 days.

And, the above photo is why the baby chicks are still inside the house, with their heat lamp.  That's why the photo is so red.  Pictured, counterclockwise from front, are , Thelma, Lousie,  Hermoine and Bernice. I forget what breed Hermoine is.. she's very petite and pretty. The others are New Hampshire Reds.  Not pictured are Lucy, Ethel, Carmella and Adrianna.  Carmella and Adrianna are a Sicilian breed, hence the Soprano angle. I just cleaned their cage last night. They are such poor housekeepers.

And lastly, here's a view of downtown Jemez Springs.  That huge cottonwood is just amazing, in all seasons. I call it "The Village Tree".  

On the left is a real, honest-to-goodness Cowboy Saloon. It is called  Los Ojos, which means "the eyes".. but I don't know where the name came from.  It is owned by a couple, friends of ours (I should ask them about the name, huh?) and the husband is a former Olympic Coach, and the wife is a former Olympic Gold Medalist in the marathon. Right here in little Jemez Springs. In the distance is Virgin Mesa.  ( I know, you're asking "how do they know?"),  Silly pants. The name comes from the fact that in certain times of day, shadows cast on the cliffs look like the Madonna and Child.  I have not seen it yet.
There's another story about things appearing in the cliff face.  Long ago, the Apaches, hired by the Spanish, had come to massacre the Jemez people. They made a stand on the top of San Diego mesa. When at last they were overrun by the Apaches,  rather than be captured or tortured and killed, they all jumped off the edge of the cliff.  Miraculously, the story goes, the image of San Diego appeared in the rock face, and they all landed on their feet and survived.  It is hundreds of feet.  Interestingly enough, I HAVE seen what looks like a saint praying in the rocks of the mesa.  

This painting is 8x10, oil on panel, and is available by clicking here

Monday, April 25, 2011

Why Am I Painting This?

Today's post will focus on one simple idea.
You must first answer the question "Why am I painting this?" in order to move toward a successful painting.

I 'd like to demonstrate the difference between  just painting what is in front of you, and first finding out WHY you want to paint something.
Above is a little demonstration.. a 15 min. sketch of a friend's old farmhouse.   So, here I am, standing with my easel in the happy little field,  blithely painting away exactly what I see in front of me.. and this IS pretty much exactly what was there.  But this little sketch says nothing, it has no power.. even if I had finessed details and spent lots of time making it look "good", it still has nothing to say. In short, it is AWFUL.
Why?  Because, for this demonstration, I did not ask myself the important question "what is it about this scene that catches my eye?  What is it that intrigues me, or makes me want to paint it?  Had I first stopped to ask myself that question, then I would have realized that it is the sunlight hitting the side of the house that captured my imagination. I like the way it lights up the house and throws a shadow across it.

Ah, so now, I tell myself, "I like that sunlight. That's what I want to describe. I want viewers to see that, and feel the warmth of it as it slants across the house."
NOW, I have something to paint. I've talked about this before. I call it a "concept".  We dont want to just paint things, we want to portray ideas. Painting should be like poetry - a poetic statement about the subject matter, not a book report in dull detail.  Now that I have asked myself that important question "why am I painting this?", I now know what it is that I want to describe.  I have a concept.

So, now I can start to organize, design, and orchestrate all the elements I see in front of me so that my viewers can see that concept too.

 What is actually there is secondary in importance to the concept.

I have free reign to remove, change, darken, lighten, enlarge, subordinate,  and a host of other actions in order to get my point across.

So, if I take some time to really look at the scene, I see that I am going to have to orchestrate the way the light flows across this painting in order to make viewers see that sunlight too.  There are several other major design flaws in the "paint it as I saw it version".  I won't go into all those, (see if you can find the changes in the "before and after" versions) but the main thing is that I want that light to pop right out of the painting. I want it to be THE BIG IDEA  that everybody sees.  so, below is one solution.

One way to emphasize something is by value contrast.  Here I darkened the adjoining sections of the house and barn so that by contrast, the lit side looks even brighter.
You can also use directional lines to draw attention to something. The shaft of light I invented does this.
Another tool in your painter's toolbox is moving elements around.  I moved several things here. 
I also lightened the sky on that side of the painting to further enhance the idea of light coming from that direction.

This is of course, just an example, not a finished painting, But even this quick little sketch has some poetry and strength.  It all comes from first asking myself "why am I painting this?" and, having gotten that answer, to use every means possible to make THAT the focus of the painting.