Untamed Land

Untamed Land
Untamed Land

Friday, July 31, 2009

Paint By Numbers.

This is a photo of some Pintail, and Mallard hens, moulting their feathers at Potter Marsh, south of Anchorage. They are flightless at this point in late summer. I really love the complex, earth- toned pattern of the Pintail hen. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's an interesting subject to paint for me.
Here is a lousy photo, but I wanted to use the grass in it.

The only sketching I needed for this painting, was the outlines of the duck's anatomy, drawn on a gray gessoboard.

I have laid down a plastic vegetable bag to use as a palette, and squeesed out my basic colors. Later I added some burnt sienna to the palette. I like to use plastic bags, because I can fold them over on top of the paint to keep it from drying out. That way I dont waste so much paint, and I can take a break for a while, and come back to where I left off.

The first coat of paint is applied to lay a foundation for some background water.

The water is more, or less finished.

What a mess. This is about the time in a painting when I just want to scrap it and start over.

I've started adding some grass.

Adding some light grass stalks.

The basic colors of the duck have been blocked in.

More refinements on the duck.

The duck is more, or less completed.

Playing with the grass some more.

Completed painting, Resting Pintail, 11x14"

A messy palette, the end of another job.
It's not the best painting I've ever done, unfortunately not the worst by a long shot.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Using My Reference Photos.

At art shows, people often comment that my paintings look like photographs. Some of them do, but that is not the intent. I'm merely trying to make my paintings look natural, not contrived. The role of reference photos in my paintings is to help them look more authentic. They can also be a framework on which to build a painting.
Years ago I was photographing wildlife in Denali Nat. Park with fellow Alaskan Artist, Shane Lamb. While we roamed the park for four days, we often crossed paths with some of the world's foremost nature photographers. Shane commented that once the photographers printed the photos they had taken, their work was done, but ours was just beginning. I hope the following photographs illustrate the relationship between my paintings and my photographs.

This was one of many bears I photographed in Denali. The original slide looks decent, but I lost so much quality when I scanned it into my computer. I have painted this same bear several times, but always in different settings.

Time to Hibernate, 11x14"

A lousy photograph, it was originally a slide, then scanned, but the memory of the owl is what inspired the painting, not the photo.

Hawk Owl In Last Light, 16x20

No antlers, but it is a bull moose in late winter, resting near the Eagle River Nature Center. Another slide, as are many of the photos in this post.

Early Winter Moose, 18x24"

Black Cottonwood, and Birch leaves in my backyard.

Vole Amoung Leaves, 8x10"

Otter Lake Trumpeter, 18x24"

The Bear Went Over The Mountain, 20x16"

Chickadee Chatter, 8x10"

So people say my paintings look like photographs. It may not be modest for me to say so, but I think my paintings look better than photographs. Too bad you can only see photos of the paintings on this blog. The paintings themselves look so much better.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Step 2, Composition and applying the paint.

Who would want to read a boring discussion about composition? There are many rules, and approaches. The most basic of them are vanishing points,light source, and the rule of thirds. The focal point should contain the greatest contrasts, and on and on. The point is to learn them so you can know when to disregard them.
I usually dont bother with preliminary sketches. I just work out the composition on the board. Sometimes I spend as much time working out the design as I do actually painting it. When I get the proportions right, I look at the line drawing in the mirror, or upside down to see if it still looks right.
Now I'm ready to apply paint. I start at the back of the painting, and work my way forward. The intent is to lay down a solid foundation on which to build the visible parts of the painting. The first coats of paint are applied with an inch wide, square tipped brush. It usually takes two coats of opaque paint to do the job.
Sometimes the foundational coats are lighter in tone, and I apply successive darker strokes. However, the most common situation requires lighter brushwork on top of a darker base. For example, the texture of a mountain, rock, or tree bark are built on top of the darker base. Remember that the colors and tones toward the front of the painting, should be stronger than those in the distance.
Generally, successive coats are thinner than the foundational coats. Avoid the mistake of adding surface details without first creating the overall form underneath. Texures like fur, and feathers come near the end of the painting, and are almost an afterthought. If the underlying form is done right, adding fur, and feathers etc. usually take only minutes to apply, not hours.
The big secret to the style of painting that I do is the application of glazes, and washes. This pulls the whole thing together, and makes it look natural. Easy on the eye. It is the best way to create mood, and atmosphere. Glazes are very thin transparent layers of pigment, without white paint. They are mostly water, with little paint. Washes are the same thing, but include some, or all, white paint. Washes are useful for pushing objects into the background to create the illusion of depth.
I have ruined many perfectly good paintings by being too heavy handed with these techniques. It was a lot harder for me to learn to control glazes, than it was to learn washes. Now I use mostly glazes, and few washes. I use them at varying stages of the painting. Sometimes I cover the whole painting, and sometimes just one small section. Practice is the only way to get it right. Burnt sienna is the best color to use for a glaze. Remember to look at the painting in the mirror often to see if it looks right.
One bugaboo for me has been the final varnish. It has been so difficult to get a uniform finish. After ruining many paintings with bubbling , peeling, or cloudy varnish. Now I only use Windsor Newton, gloss. picture varnish in a spray can.

First Step, Gathering Materials.

Experience is the first thing to obtain. It takes years to be a good artist. There is no way around that, in spite of claims to the contrary. For me, reference photographs are indespensible. I photograph everything, dirt, rocks, leaves, grass. clouds, you name it. Thank goodness for digital cameras.
Now I can shoot 200 photos of a duck. It's wonderful. Whenever I see something of even the slightest interest, I photograph it. Currently I'm using a Panasonic, Lumix, FZ-50. It has a Lieca, 35-420mm lens. It does everything I need it to do.
My media is acrylic paint. I use cheap craft paint that comes in plastic bottles. I never use white paint. White gesso is far superior. Basic yellow, red, cobalt blue, and black. These are my main colors. Burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and pthalo blue have certain uses. That's about it for my colors.
My surface of choice is gessoboard, just gessoed masonite. I also paint on stretched canvas. The geesoboard comes from the art supply store, primed with white gesso. You can find it in gray, or black as well. I always coat them with gray gesso, using a foam roller. I usually sand them with fine sandpaper.
I have various kinds of brushes of varying quality. After use, I wash them with hand soap and water. Then I shape the bristles with the soap, and let them dry coated with soap to retain the shape. No. 2 pencils are adequate for my use in sketching out the design.
Along with my own photographs, I have numerous reference books and magazines. My main tool for composing a painting is my imagination. Lighting is of course essential. I have four different kinds of artificial light, along with daylight shining indirectly through the windows. Flouresent, incandescent, and full spectrum, all compliment the predominant window light. I just paint on an old kitchen table, with a wheeled paintcart to the side.

The philosophy behind the art.

Art and animals have always been my calling. As a child in Southern California, I would rather catch tadpoles down in the creek, than go to Disneyland. When I was a teenager, one of my best friends was an avid hunter. We spent a lot of time in the hills above Carpinteria.
He would see an animal and make one of two comments about it. Either it was a game animal. and he wanted to kill it, or it was vermin, and it did'nt deserve to live. The killing of animals did'nt bother me. It was the fact that he could not relate to nature without conquering it. I always thought his attitude was un-enlightened, although my own behavior was hardly better. The difference is that I gradually changed as I got older, my friend never really did.
One day I discovered an Audubon Magazine in the library, and that triggered a slow change in perspective. Later I worked on existing only in the moment, in nature. What I mean by that, is that I tried to use all of my attention noticing everything around me. The sounds, the breeze, the way light played across various objects. There is always something new that becomes apparent when you are serene, and introspective. My growing respect for the natural world has helped to enrich my entire life.
I have a place in nature. Animals may notice my presense, they will never notice my absense. The natural world is complete with, or without me. This is what informs my artwork. I seldom show the hand of mankind in my work. I want people to appreciate nature without needing to alter it, or harvest it. That does'nt mean I am anti-hunting or fishing. I am not. those things are a lesser way to interact with nature. My job is to encourage the higher path.