Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Ghost Ranch day 2

Saturday morning, we all packed up our STUFF (painters have alot of STUFF) and drove about 7 miles to the Big Eddy turnout on the Chama River.  It's called the Big Eddy because just at the end of the cliff there, the river has formed a big eddy (heh, heh).  No really, there's a huge bowl just past the shrubberies there on the left and the water pools around in a circle. The Chama River wilderness is, as one passerby said to me, "National Park class".  It is absolutely, fantastically beautiful and rugged.  I plan on going back.

We got a slightly later start than I had wanted, which is the usual case when you have a group of people.  Trying to get a bunch of artists organized and out the door is sort of like herding cats. But anyway, there was still the remnant of morning light when we got there and I set up fast and started furiously laying down the basic structure and light and shadow - because it was changing really fast.  That took about 30-40 min. of really fast, concentrated painting, and by the time I had done that, the light was completely different and the rest of the morning was spent working from that "outline". I had started on a used canvas that had been scraped down, and then I'd taken the leftover paint from my palette and mixed it to form a warm greenish gray and painted that over the surface.   This made a nice smooth non absorbent surface to work on, which I like, but the color was about a value 5.5 - that's a little darker than I prefer.  It made judging values a little easier though, something I often struggle with outdoors.
Looking upstream from where I painted. I was standing on a little sandbar in the middle of the river.
Yes, I had to hop some rocks and a little bit of water.  

 Here's the painting did on location in progress. I had to face the opposite direction from where I was painting to avoid the glare from the sun. I spent all morning looking left.  My neck hurt. It sure was nice though.... standing there listening to the river and
watching trout jump right in front of me!!

Morning on the Chama, oil, 12x16
This is the (almost) finished piece.  I promised someone I'd try to post this tonight, so I'll go ahead and put it here even though there's a few more things to do.
After getting it pretty much laid out while on location,  I was able to work in the studio, mostly from memory.
Once you've stood looking at a scene, concentrating on it for a couple of hours, you can do quite a bit from memory.  At least it usually works that way for me.  I didn't use any photo reference until I was working on the foreground.  The photo wasn't really much help.
As you can see, comparing the two, I added the reflected light and the sunlight bits on the distant hills.
I lightened the sky - the color in this photo is a bit off -it is not that yellow actually. 
I strengthened the reflection of the cliff in the water. That part was a challenge because I had both a shadow on the water and left bank from the cliff, as well as a reflection.  Additionally, in real life, there was more sky reflection in the water, but i wanted that section to stay as a large dark mass, so I didn't want to add too much of that and break it up. 
I added some more darks in the foreground.  I intend to add some more warmer tones in the cliff - I just feel like it needs that.

Corrections I see that need to happen are:
A couple of tangents - red cliff meeting tree on top of cliff and the distant shoreline is right at one of the points of the cliff.  Those are small things, but they just shouldn't be there.
Two triangle shapes repeated in water. Funny how our brain wants to repeat shapes.  Stop it, left brain!!
more reflected light in the top right hill that's in shadow.
slightly "more" reflection of cliff in water.

And something I might try is putting a shaft of sunlight coming in behind the cliff. This was morning, as the sun was coming up over the rugged terrain, and I thought that just might portray that feeling a bit better. I'll let you know on that one.  It has to be lightly scumbled on once that area is mostly dry, so I'll have to wait a bit.

As a side note, look at the first photo on this post, and compare that to the painting.  I wasn't standing exactly where I stood to paint, but pretty darn close.  This is a good example of how photographs tend to squish everything and make it look further away.  Think of photographs like your dog left in the kitchen where there's a pot roast sitting on the counter.  Don't trust 'em..

Monday, October 3, 2011

Painting Reflected Light

Chimney Rock Shadows, oil, 16x20 plein air

Here's the plein air piece I did Friday evening.  It's not quite finished - I will have to do some tuning in the studio, but it's probably not going to change dramatically and it serves as a good illustration of what I talked about yesterday.
There is something of a "law" of light. It's about as close to a real rule of painting as you're going to get. It is this:
If you have warm light (ie sunlight or indoor incandescent light) then shadows will be cool.
If you have cool light (indoor north light, or cloudy overcast outdoor light) then shadows will be warm.

This refers primarily to CAST SHADOWS,.
(You know the difference, right?  Form shadows are the part of any object facing away from the source of light - the 'dark side of the moon" kind of thing.  Cast shadows are  the kind of shadows that old song "Me and My Shadow" was written about.)

But something happens to form shadows that we should try to understand.

Think about it like this:
You left an orange sitting outside on your patio table. (the raccoons are going to get it, quick, go get it and bring it back in -  but not till we're done using it for an example.)
 The side of the orange facing the sunlight will be warmer in color than it's "native color" - it might be more yellowy-orange than the pure orange, for example. The highlight will also be warm, by the way, and not pure white (which is a cold color.) 
The shadow cast by the orange on the patio table will be influenced by whatever color the table is, but it will be a cooler color than the orange itself. That's because that tabletop is blocked from receiving that warm light because the orange is between it and the sun. So, no warm light, the shadow is cooler.

The shadow side of the orange isn't getting that warm light falling on it, but it does have some air and atmosphere surrounding it. It'll also be cooler.  Maybe that shadow side of the orange will be a dull reddish green instead of bright orange.  Its still a warm color, but it's cooler than the sunny side. (remember that color temperature is relative)

Random tip:  Often you can select the compliment of a color as the basis for a form shadow color.  So, for an orange, I often choose green (the compliment of orange) and a dark earthy red (which is just a darker orange, really) to paint the shadow side.    If you want to understand why that works, ask.  That's a discussion for another day.

So, we have warm light, cool shadows.

BUT.... what if that orange is sitting on, say, a yellow tablecloth.  Ahhh.. now here comes the interesting part. Think of light like an arrow - it can only travel in straight lines.  A shaft of warm sunlight zooms down and hits the yellow tablecloth.  Immediately it bounces back up and hits the shadow side of the orange.  Some of that warm tabletop color is now hitting the shadow side - that's REFLECTED LIGHT

Here, I don't have an orange, but here's  one of my paintings that might demonstrate this.
There are several places where reflected light comes into play here.  See if you can find them, but I'll focus on the white bucket.

Here, the sunlight is coming from above right. A shadow is cast onto the bucket by the  bright orange tarp.  The shadow color is cooler than the tarp. (warm light, cool shadows.)  As the  bucket shape turns away from the sunlight, it starts to fall into shadow, and the color starts getting cooler. You can see its sort of a cool purplish brown. But on the far shadow side of the bucket itself, sitting as it is on the warm colored wood of the boat, we see that warm wood color bouncing back up and changing that cool shadow color to a golden brown.  Even on the inside of the bucket, warm light hits that white interior, warms up, and bounces back to the other side of the bucket to show up as a rich warm tone.

Random Tip #2.  The reflected light will still be a value consistent with the rest of the shadow. Don't be tempted to paint reflected light too light - remember, there are shadow shapes, and light shapes, and don't ever mix them up.

In a situation like the cliff faces in the painting of the Chimney Rocks, the shadow sides of the cliff are SURROUNDED by warm colors of the rocks, hills, earth... sunshine is bouncing all around out there.  Our tendency, (all of us do it, and it is a common mistake for inexperienced artists for sure) is to paint these rock shadows cool. We pull out the blue or the purple or the gray and paint all those little nooks and crannies.  They're in shadow: they should be blue, right?  But, if you've seen paintings with this error, have you ever noticed that they don't portray a real sense of a sunny day?  They seem dead somehow.

Above is one of my early paintings. before I understood much about light.  There are two huge glaring errors (and a bunch of smaller ones) in this painting.  First, I painted all those shadows cool.  Even with a clear sense of the direction of the light and the cast shadows, it still doesn't feel like a bright sunny day. The second error is that there is a clear face in those rocks - once you see it, that's ALL you'll see on this painting. Remember yesterday's post about that - I failed miserably here.  (See I am not proud - this is a bad painting for a whole lot of reasons, but it's a good "how not to paint" example.)

Now, here's a painting by Homer- look at all that beautiful warm reflected light!!! You almost need the sunscreen for this one!! How many of us would want to paint the shadow side of that white horse gray?  But  see how wonderfully this is depicted. Because of the reflected light captured by those luscious warm colors on the horse, we can FEEL that sunshine.Check out the neck of the horse. Where the musculature of his neck slants ever so slightly upward, catching less reflected light and more sky color, it is cooler - same value, but temperature change alone depicts that form.
Oh  it makes me drool!

One more note: reflected light is not always warm. It usually IS warm outside, because the light is generally warm, and nature is filled with warm colors.  But if you had that same orange sitting outside on a  bright blue colored tablecloth, the reflected light will partake of that intense blue color, and will show up on the orange as more of a dull turquoise  (the blue of the tablecloth plus the dark greenish red of the orange itself) Basically, reflected light is the color of the object plus the color of what is being reflected.

I hope this has been helpful. Using reflected light in your paintings can add so much - it will step them up to a higher level if you can understand this, and use it in your work.  

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Field Sketches

Casa del Sol, 5x7

here's a very quick (30 min.) little sketch of our wonderful little adobe, Casa del Sol, at Ghost Ranch.  I would love to go back there and stay longer.  I threw this in the back of the truck, where it somehow tipped over and landed smack dab on top of my palette, still full of paint of course. (isn't there some law of nature that bread always lands jelly side down?  Same goes for wet paintings, I think)  So, I scraped off the extraneous paint, but have not fixed it.  This was more of just a "killing time" kind of thing.. waiting for some good late afternoon light.. I was just reminded that though outdoor shadows are typically cool, when the light is strong, there's alot of warm color bouncing around out there, and scumbling a little warmer tones into the shadow color is a good thing. The adobe would be warmer in tone closer to the ground, but the bushes shaded it from the reflected light in all but a small spot or two.

Someone asked, "what is the purpose of doing field sketches?"  I guess for me, there are several functions that field sketches fulfill.
1.  To get a "feel" for the place- the geography, or structure,  etc. This is probably the main purpose they serve for me, at least right now. Doing a quick sketch somehow makes me see things I might otherwise overlook - I guess I "see" better with my hands than just with my eyes. 
2. . If time is short, or weather is about to get nasty, or for some other reason you can't spend a great deal of time to start a "serious" painting, a quick field sketch can record your impression of the place.  Photographs can be helpful, but I don't think they come anywhere close to the "real thing" as you might experience it standing out there.  Take a field sketch back to the studio and you've got much more info than
a photograph, especially in regards to the real colors, values, and light.  Without getting bogged down in details, sometimes field sketches are more "true" than when I put hours into a painting.  (how frustrating that is sometimes!)

I don't always do them - but when I DO, they tend to be informative and helpful in the long run.

This next one was about 45 min. or so - and is pretty rough, as you can see, but it served as a good warm up for painting at Ghost Ranch - sort of like you might do a warm up before any sport or exercise you do.  I felt like I needed something to just get my artist brain functioning - so I sketched this view right out the front door of our Casa, on some canvas paper that had already gotten wet so was kind of wrinkly.  I really wanted to try to get a feel for the basic colors and the relationships of light and shadow planes.  It wasn't as easy as you might think.
Chimney Rock about 6x8
This was informative however.  Doing this little snapshot,  I noticed   the nature of  light on those chimney rocks..  Cool cast shadows,  and warm form shadows because of reflected light. Knowing this will be key to producing any serious works - it will be vital to make the light believable on all these many rock formations and cliff walls. So I was glad I did this.  There are so many different colors of rocks and hills in these formations that sometimes things don't seem to follow rules - some purpish gray formations appear much darker than their lighter colored counterparts, even though they are farther away, and some of the very light colored cliffs appear lighter than the ground planes.... there's a balance to be achieved to be believable and yet catch the characteristics of the place.  And remember, it is not necessary to document every little nook and cranny, or hill or bump or whatever -  Get a general sense of the place - painting is less about accuracy and more about interpretation.

Which brings me to one further note.  This particular chimney rock formation is quite striking, and juts out from the mesa to catch great light early and late in the day.It just BEGS to be painted. However, one of those spires is so intensely phalic as to be almost laughable.

 Dont Paint This!!!
 I have seen paintings of this formation that make me wince.  Please be selective!!!!.  Be sure and stand back from your work - evaluate for anything that in itself becomes an attention-getter.  Play down elements that can capture attention for the wrong reason, like this spire, or boulders that look like elephant heads or cliff walls that appear to have faces in them. Find a different angle if you have to. This kind of thing can ruin an otherwise good painting!

These field sketches served their purpose for me.  I felt like they got me in tune with some of the colors and landscape elements out there, and hopefully, tomorrow, I can show you something a little nicer that came from these preliminary efforts.