Category Archives: oil painting technique

unfinished swamp painting / debriefing w details

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I got a start on painting the reflections. Now I feel better about it because that was a real hang up. I’d put some dark green in the reflections today, but it’s still smeary from yesterday, so, maybe later or tomorrow. That’s one reason I think amateur status is better for me than professional. There’s no reason for me to rush through something difficult. I imagine if I was a real pro and art paid the bills I’d hate it pretty quick, like a real job. hahaha I can’t take the pressure.IMG_2419

The sun was streaming into my apt when I took this photo. It’s showing the colors better. You can see some detail in the Spanish moss. I like to blob in some paint and scribble through it with my palette knife to make textures. The green needles on the left will get another glaze because that’s part of the foreground and still unfinished.IMG_2422

I like this section at the top left of the painting because it shows aerial perspective from far away and from close up it shows layers of glazes working. It’s a secondary focal point because orange and blue are complimentary colors. There’s a tint of orange in the leaves and that’s enough contrast with the blue to pull the viewers eye into that area to rest.IMG_2424

It’s fun when branches make windows and you can see the background between them. This is a way to give the painting more depth. The trees and branches are giving the painting rhythm. It could be a modern jazz rhythm because I can’t dance to it. (metaphorically speaking)

After I finally made some progress on the reflections I can visualize how to finish this painting  but it still needs a lot of work on the reflections and cypress knees in the foreground.

I feel like this painting reveals a lot about me if anyone can analyze it. It might look like realism to you but it’s not much like reality. I’ll see if I can get a photo of the swamp for you to compare to my painting when I finish it.

I think it’s not realism or impressionism. I sure didn’t capture a moment. I’m capturing a whole season. At no point in time did the swamp ever look like this. I’m trying to think what style or “ism” my painting fits into. would you call it contemporary classicism? abstract expressionism? I don’t want to sign my paintings any more. Anyone that knows my paintings will know this is mine.

unfinished from 2019 swamp update

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I swear I will finish this. I have excuses for the delay. Holidays, weather, lethargy, etc. Plus, this is the hard part and I tend to slow down even more when faced with it.

I painted some Spanish moss then put the painting aside for a week or more. I went to the swamp to walk and observe the reflections but didn’t take the canvas. I’ll have to paint the reflections at home so I can make them look like a dim mirror of the trees. There’s no need to take all my gear out there. It took me weeks to think this through.

I decided to make the reflections exactly mirror the trees because the water is flat, no movement. They should have fuzzy edges and not be as bright as the trees. The reflections should be the trees upside down and in the right places directly under the trees.  I tried to flip them using tracing paper and charcoal. The charcoal didn’t show up so I tried chalk and that worked. Now I can visualize the reflections on the canvas! It took hours.

The next big step that’s slowing me down is mixing the colors again. That could take hours. Then, painting the reflections will be slow because I want to go over the edges with my fan brush and slightly blend them.

After I get the reflections painted I’ll do another coat of glazes on the foreground and make it brighter.  I can go back to the swamp to finish the painting. Painting at home is boring compared to painting in Plein air. There’s too many distractions here too.

Now I’m really going to finish this. For sure. I promise.

 

swamp painting update

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This painting is testing me. I’m kinda scared but I will finish it.

Since I last posted an update on it, I’ve worked on it another 6 hours or so, and I don’t know if you can see the progress. I finished the background which I warmed up a little with a glaze of warm gray brown in the shadows on the ground and a lighter warm gray brown in the far away trees next to the sky. I added more light green to the tree tops in the middle ground, and went over the middle ground trees twice. That makes 3 times I painted the middle ground trees and background, once in the underpainting and twice with light and dark glazes. The middle ground isn’t finished. I haven’t painted the Spanish moss.

The weather is holding up my progress. One day it was cloudy when I got up and I almost wrote off the day but the sun came out later and I took my paints to the swamp and mixed some colors to indicate sunlight and shadows on the water. It was too late in the day to take my canvas over there because the light is best early in the morning. By noon the shadows are all washed out by light. When I got home I faked in some light and shadows on the water because it’s not easy to see them, so no one will ever know if they’re not right.

Yesterday it was sunny and cold in the morning. I said, YEAH! I’ll have it all to myself! A few people walked behind me and only said good morning, so I made some good progress on my trees then suddenly it was cloudy so I packed up and came home and worked on my trees at home for and hour or so. I mixed my colors at the swamp and had my previous layers of paint to go by, so I’m sure what I did at home will be ok. Sometimes I try to work on a painting at home then when I get back out I have to correct everything I did at home.

We’re getting a lot of cloudy and rainy weather. I might be able to work on the Spanish moss on Sunday. Then more rain until Wed. or Thurs.

The scary part is the water. I’ll have to paint reflections, maybe a lot of reflections. It could take a long time, I don’t know. I’m not sure how to paint the water but first I need to do the Spanish moss because it will also be reflected in the water.

One good thing about painting in this style is that every mistake can be corrected. If I can’t paint the water convincingly the first time I can paint over it. I should get a start on the cypress knees in the foreground before starting on the reflections because they will also be reflected. I’ll have to trace my trees and flip them upside down to get the reflections in the right place. Sometimes the reflections are like a mirror, a blurry mirror.

The last steps after the water will be to go over the cypress knees a second time and paint a lot of sticks. Last year in the winter I saw a beautiful red glow on the skinny sticks but I didn’t see it so far this winter. Maybe the atmospheric conditions have to be right, because I’m pretty sure it was the dead of winter and in the morning I saw the red glow. If it doesn’t come back I might fake it.

The slow pace of progress on this is ok for me. I have patience.

I have the painting propped up in the living room and I often glance over at it.  I can see what I need to work on next. If only the sun would come out for a few days, I’d be so happy. Meanwhile, I might try to do a watercolor at home. I have a little poinsettia that would make a good subject.

swamp painting progress report

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Half finished

It’s real nice painting outside when it’s in the 40s F. (cool for my Celsius reading friends) Not too many people walk across the overlook distracting me. My attention span seems to last around 2 hours. When I can see I’ve made some progress I start to feel the cold. I’m wearing layers, but standing still, except to sit on a cold bench sometimes for a break.

I went there twice this week and stayed 2 hours each time and got the background under control and started on the trees on the right. Tomorrow they’re calling for cloudy weather. That’s ok, I’d like to wait a day or so for this paint to dry before I go over it again. Giving a layer of paint time to dry helps eliminate the problem of “muddy colors” because you can put a warmer glaze over a cooler one,  cooler to warmer, lighter or darker, any direction you want it to go without mixing the paint on the canvas. Instead the viewers eye mixes the colors and sees a brighter gray, green, brown, orange, whatever.  That’s one trick to avoid muddy colors.

Another trick to remember is not to mix the colors with your paintbrush. Mix the colors with a palette knife on the palette. Keeping the colors clean, even if they’re gray. For this you need a brush for each color. Mixing colors with a brush on the canvas causes muddy colors, though I think artists worry too much about mud. (mud is part of nature)  Those two things make a difference to the eye of a trained art viewer.

We might get some rain next week. Hopefully, I can get back out there on Sat. or Sun. to work on this. If we get a few days of rain I’ll have to put this aside and find another project to amuse myself.

 

swamp underpainting / oil

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This is a 30 x 30 canvas. I need to do a detailed underpainting because this is a complicated plan. So far, I have my sunlight and shadows blocked in. The underpainting is an important step because this is when I make the most decisions. I can tell that it’s close to correct perspective because I can fit the trees in with spacing that’s close to what I see there. And I decided how much Spanish moss will be in the painting, how much water, where I want the most contrast in order to make focal points, etc.

Now I  have to go over the whole painting again, maybe twice, starting with the sky and the background trees at the top and working my way down the canvas into the foreground with layers of glazes. I’ll brighten it up a lot and give it some depth. I want the grays in the trees to look pearly so I’ll use warm and cool grays together and try to keep the values from light to dark with the same contrast as I see in nature.

I think the water will be the hardest part and it’s the last thing to finish. I don’t have that figured out yet.

This is a start. I have over 10 hours in it so far, and 6 trips to the swamp. including the times I sketched. It could still take weeks to finish because of the weather. I want to get there early in the morning and leave around 10 when the light is different and the park gets crowded. I didn’t expect to make this much progress this fast on the painting, so I think I can finish it in Dec.

sketch for swamp painting

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This is my previous sketch of a cypress knee transferred onto an 18 x 24 piece of charcoal paper with more knees and trees sketched in around it. It’s rough. I’m not sure you can make it out. The darker vertical lines are trees. The faint sketchy vertical lines are Spanish moss and the squiggles and shaded areas closer to the top are different types of foliage. I want some sky in the painting but it will be patchy.

I bought a 30 x 30 canvas for it. It’s easier for me to draw larger than smaller. There is room on a 30 x 30 for me to show more swamp water on the bottom, which is dark. The water isn’t actually black. You can see through it and peat is forming on the bottom because the water doesn’t have much oxygen in it so the fallen leaves decay into peat. I’ll also have room on the canvas to extend the view on the sides showing more swamp.

The foliage was bright orange when I was there a couple days ago. I don’t know how long that color will hang in there. We’re getting some rain and wind this weekend, a nor’easter. The storm is coming from the south but the wind wrapping around it is the nor’easter.  That’s ok. I need to sand and gesso my canvas a couple times before I tint it gray then wait a day or two for the tint to dry before I redraw this on it and finish  drawing more trees on either side of what I have here. So I don’t mind hanging around at home if it rains.

This is one of those paintings that could take a long time to finish because of the weather. Like a month or more. After I redraw it on the tinted canvas I want to do a thin underpainting. Then the plan is to paint on top of my underpainting when it’s dry like Matisse did by taping my paintbrushes onto yard sticks so I can stand way back from the canvas to work on it.  That’s a fun way to paint but the paint goes on thick so if I need to build up layers or make corrections I’ll have to wait longer for the paint to dry before I go over it again. When I paint thin glazes I only have to wait overnight for it to be dry enough for the next coat of paint.

If I paint the orange leaves then they fall down, it doesn’t matter. If they fall down before I get to paint them that doesn’t matter either. The swamp is most beautiful in the winter in my opinion.

 

Desert, dreaming

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I woke up from a dream of the desert. It felt like my subconscious came to some profound understanding about the places of strange beauty and the places of strange mystery.

This photo came from a tour book of sites for the plein air artists.

I don’t know if I can express it in words, but I’ll try.

The time I spent at the Ghost Ranch and the time I spent on the road must have had an effect on me. I was glad I took the time to sit there and stare at it.  One thing about the plein air week was that the artists are expected to make lasting friendships and go to another plein air event to feel part of the plein air family, but I didn’t do that, alas. The group was rushing around to as many beautiful places and whipping out as many oil or watercolor sketches as they could every day and I, with my weak social skills and slow way of working, still kept to myself too much. I didn’t want to try to go fast with it like they did. I wanted to sit there in the beautiful spots and commune with nature every day as I worked on my painting.

How can an artist get the most out of it if they hurry through it? How can they pick up the vibe of the desert if they’re socializing with so many people?  Can they see the mystery in the empty spaces if they fly over it?  When I woke up I felt like out of all the 100 or so artists at the event, I was definitely the slowest, but something else. I have my doubts that any of the others felt it like  I did. Could I ever give up painting the way I do so that I could fit in better socially? Should I change my style? Should I do unfinished paintings that are sketchy and have no depth or detail? No. I remember it well, at least for now. It’s not a fast food hamburger, it’s a piece of prime rib to be savored. Do you know what I mean?

sketches and plans for my unfinished painting of the Chinese Paperbush

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Did I draw too many flowers? Or not enough? Do I even know what I’m doing? Those are the questions I’ve been asking myself as I stand outside in the arboretum sketching flowers for my painting of the Chinese Paperbush on 40*F days.

I’m dressed for the weather so 40* is ok for me to be out a couple hours on a sunny day, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to use these sketches. When I paint the flowers on my canvas they’ll be smaller. Am I wasting a lot of time in the rather nippy fresh air?

Half the time I think I can paint the flowers at home instead of taking my oil paints, easel, canvas etc over there. Then the other half of the time I think I have to take all my stuff and at least get started on it in plein air and maybe I can finish it at home, because I think painting the flowers might be time consuming.

It’s not that I’m really stuck with this difficult painting, I’m still working on it, but I’m not exactly sure how to proceed and I don’t want to mess it up since I already have a lot of time in it. When I was in art school so long ago, they told us if you don’t have a good plan worked out for your painting, do more sketches. I’m going back to my training on this one.IMG_2186

I worked on the branches at home for a few hours but I still want to go over them again after I get the flowers on the bush. The branches should be a warmer color. It’s almost a glow. I hope I can get that orange winter sunlit effect. I’ll do a glaze.

I want to go over the ground again too, maybe with a palette knife, and define the shadows more.

So, for art viewers who are interested in the process, here’s where I have to make some decisions. Some paintings don’t require as much planning.

Chinese Paperbush / unfinished

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The bush will bloom soon. I saw it last year at the VA. Tech Arboretum right across the parking lot from my apartment, but I had another painting started at the time, so I planned to paint it this winter. The arboretum is convenient  now, but I’m planning on moving again. I’m excited to try capturing this pretty bush while I have the opportunity.

There’s not many people walking in the arboretum. I  took my yard sticks along and taped my paint brushes to the sticks so I could stand back and paint ala Matisse. If anyone saw me do that they might think I was crazy. It actually made it a little easier to paint that way than it was to sketch it with charcoal from a normal  distance . I felt secluded from view between trees, too.

I need to go back tomorrow if it’s sunny and work on the bush again. The light didn’t last long but it was brightly lit for an hour.

To do the background, I went to the arboretum with my paints, pallet and pallet knife and mixed the colors in Plein air then came home and painted it from memory, with my paint brushes taped to yard sticks. I really am starting to enjoy the extended brushes.

It only took a couple days for my background  to dry. This is the traditional way of painting except for the extended brushes and thick paint in the background. I used my Maroger medium today, covering the whole canvas with plain medium and painting my branches into the medium, which is called, “painting in the couch”. The medium “couches” the paint. The old masters used some variation of Maroger medium and they also painted in the couch. It makes the canvas slick, so the paint flows nicely.

If you like the smell of oil paint you will love the smell of Maroger medium. If the idea of inhaling toxic fumes scares you, then Maroger medium is not for you. It has lead when properly made but there are different recipes. The lead in the medium won’t hurt you unless you eat it. Cooking up a batch of Maroger medium indoors could poison you. I love the stuff. It’s great for painting in plein air. When I paint at home I run my can fan, which is an industrial strength air scrubber. If my hands get sticky I just stop and wash my hands. I remember hearing stories about a guy who got lead poisoning in PA. cooking Maroger medium but mainly people at the Adamstown hat factory. That’s where the saying, “mad as a hatter” came from, lead poisoning. I feel saner than ever before in my life, so, it won’t make you sick if you use it safely.

Windswept Trees / oil

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It’s raining here today so I enjoyed staying home and finishing this painting. I did the sketch weeks ago in plein air and painted at home ala Matisse, with my paint brushes taped to yard sticks, so I was standing back from the canvas and trying to control my brushes, which don’t always go where I want them to from a yard away.

I’m not going 100% modern on this painting since I used my Maroger medium and black to make the dark green grey of the trees. But I am going more modern by using my big brushes taped to yardsticks.

At art school, long ago, they told us to use black. The old masters used it, so it works ok if you use black like they did. And more modern artists, even Manet and others of his era used black successfully.  To make a black that isn’t dead they told us to mix equal parts Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue. The Ultramarine Blue is your darkest cool color and the Burnt Umber is your darkest warm color so you get a neutral black. If you need a warm or cool gray you can mix any other color into this black. We also were taught to use gray in glazes and if you layer warm  colors over cool colors, or cool over warm, after waiting for the first glaze to dry, you don’t get muddy colors but the viewers eye mixes the colors.

Sometimes you can’t just throw away the lessons of the old masters. I like to use the best ideas from the old and the new. Painting like Matisse, with the brush taped to a yardstick is fun and freeing. I’ll get out to draw and paint  in plein air again real soon, but I got distracted by bad weather and other fun art projects to do indoors. So, I was glad to finally finish this painting after waiting weeks for the background to dry.