Monday, February 18, 2013

Blog Moved

I've moved this blog to a new location on my website.  The new site is:

This new location gives me more creative control and I can integrate the seamlessly content with the rest of my website.

To continue following this blog, please visit the new location and register to receive updates.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Seascape - can you spot the finishing touches?

In my last post I described the start and development of this seascape painting:

"Coastal Calligraphy", 15x30, oil In process version from earlier post

I've done a pass of touch ups on the painting over the last two days (intermittently working on a few different paintings), and figured I'd post the updated version.

Can you spot the changes?  Spoiler alert -  there is a cheat sheet at the end of this post.

I suspect the most obvious change is where I lightened and brightened (saturated) the tops of the large rock masses to try to get them to illuminate.  All the other changes are more subtle:

#1 There is only one very slight compositional change.  After I had a chance to look at the painting with a fresh eye, I didn't like how there was a diagonal line that threw the eye right out of the painting in the lower right.  I introduced another tiny little rock to break this line and slow down your eye as you scan upwards from the bottom of the painting.

The rest of the changes are all minor value and/or color adjustments.

#2 All the white water along the rocks is not even close to pure white.  I left a lot of lighter value in reserve, and that made punching up the whitewater edge very easy to do.  I used this to develop a visual pathway that pulls the eye back towards the breaker.

#3 - One grouping of rocks looked like it was floating above the water.  I reworked values and edges to get is to sit down move convincingly.

#4 - I lightened all the distant water starting at the horizon to let the rocks stand up more readily.

Whenever I open a painting up like this I inevitably touch things all over the canvas.  Every mark can throw off the balance elsewhere, so each mark often requires a counter mark (or 10) to bring things back into balance.  I often think of the whole process of achieving luminosity as a balancing act getting everything to work in harmony. 

Here's a cheat sheet for spotting the changes (these markups are on the 'in process' version):

in process version with things to be changed annotated

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Seascape painting in process

I took a few pictures of a painting as it developed in the studio today, and I thought this might make an interesting blog post of a work in progress.

This is a pretty big piece (15 x 30 inches).

I started the painting by toning the canvas using transparent red oxide.  I like this color for toning because it is both a warm color and transparent.  Getting rid of the white canvas is really important to help get things going.

In this first image, I've blocked in all the shapes using a dark mixture of the red oxide and ultramarine blue.  I've also established the sky so that I can identify the lightest lights (and compare all other marks against these lights), and I've quickly wiped out some of the tone color to establish where I'm going to introduce a breaking wave.

I tend to work on the whole canvas at once, focusing on whatever is most 'off' at any point in time.  At this phase I have the darkest darks (rocks) and the lightest lights (the sky) established.  What is most off are the mid-values (the water), so I'll start to work that in ...

Next I need to work in the shadow values of the cast shadow on the whitewater foam.  These are some of the trickier values because these could be considered a white in shadow.  These need to be recognizable as part of the darks in the painting, but they need to be closest to the lights.  It's a fine balancing act to get it right.

Once I get to this point for the first time I start to get a sense of luminosity on in the painting (at least in one spot).  Here's a closeup where I got that important first important rush of capturing the 'light envelope' (that elusive quality gives a painting glow)...

It's rough still, but it's there.  The edges are still too hard, and lots of the toned canvas is still showing.  But at the intersection of the rocks, their cast shadows and the lighter water it is just starting to 'glow'.

Notice too how blue the whitewater is and looks.  Part of it is that I'm staying far away from white so that I have lighter values in reserve for later on.  It also looks very blue here because the red toned canvas is still so visible.  a cool color (blue) next to a warm (red) will look ever cooler. When the red eventually gets covered, the blue will look less intense.  This is called simultaneous contrast, and is one of the trickiest parts of painting.

Here's a black and white of that detail.  It is the value (darks and lights) that make a painting glow (NOT the colors as is so often mistakenly assumed).  The black and white is a nice way to analyze a painting to see if the values are working.

Also notice how the red toned canvas a the greens in the water (far right) virtually merge in the black and white image.  This is because they are the same value.  Try to squint at the color version so see this value relationship.  It's hard to see - right? 

Continuing on, I get the canvas covered so that I can see everything in relation to everything else.

I then work across the whole painting making adjustments so that each element reads the way I want in relation to all the other elements of the painting.  Because of simultaneous contrast, it can't really make these kinds of adjustments until the canvas is covered.  All decisions are about relationships, and you can't evaluate a relationship without all the pieces being available for comparison.

"Coastal Calligraphy" (in process), Oil, 15x30

This is where I left it for the day.  I'll work on it again tomorrow, but getting the whole canvas covered with a decent sense of the 'light envelope' is a good stopping point. 

... and finally, a B&W of the piece as it stands today to help see the value map of the painting.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Unusual day on the coast

I went out to paint in the early morning this week.  I was up in the dark and drove for over an hour through the mountains to catch the rising sun and early light at the coast.

It was beautiful painting, but what made the day most memorable was all the wacky things I came across through the day:
  • First off, I was startled by a huge deer with a massive rack standing just 3 feet from the road as I drove by in the dark through the mountains.  He just watched me drive on by and didn't flinch a bit even with me so close.  I guess if he's lived this long he knows what he's doing when around mountain roads
  • another deer ran across the road just 25 feet in front of me as I turned a switchback going up the mountain
  • family of sea otters
  • dolphins
  • pod of killer whales
  • seals
  • pair of airplanes practicing aerial writing (they were just making pattens, not sure what else this could have been).
  • a different biplane doing stunts, dives and stalls
  • and to wrap it up, a skinny dipper out enjoying the surf and prancing around the pescadero beach.
Here are a pair of paintings from the day:

 Pescadero Shallows, 8x14, oil

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Value of Value

Thought I'd post a quick example of how value makes the painting.  Value, or dark and light, is what holds a painting together.

Here's a recently finished oil painting done from some studies along the American River:

I started this piece with a neutral underpainting value study.  I first quickly toned the canvas with a bright yellow rubbed out with gamsol thinner.  I then painting with a thin purple/yellow mixture that is fairly neutralized (but not a completely neutral grey).  This resulted in a monochromatic painting that lays out both the complete composition and value (dark/light) structure of the painting:

Notice how monochromatic does not necessarily mean black and white (nor grey).  You can paint monochromatically with any single dark color.  It just means one (mono) color.

It's interesting to compare this underpainting (above) to a black-and-white version of the completed painting (below). 

When you compare the monochromatic and B&W versions, it's obvious there is a lot more color in the monochromatic underpainting than you might first think.  By starting with a value study, I find I can work out lots of problems and design pleasing paintings before even starting to consider color.  This is a great way to simplify the painting process.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Painful Birth of a New Website

I just launched a new completely rebuilt website.

For some time I’ve envisioned a site I could use to manage my entire art inventory.  It had been getting more and more complicated to track paintings out at galleries and shows.  It had been almost impossible for collectors to find paintings of the appropriate size on my website.  It had been impossible to post multiple images of paintings (with and without frames).  My site just wasn’t scaling.

I imagined an “amazon-like” website with clickable filters to find paintings by size, subject, media, cost and/or location.

If figured that I have lots of experience given my high-tech background, and that I l could leverage this brave new outsourced world to find someone to efficiently (and economically) build me a new site.  In high-tech I’ve developed huge projects using teams from different countries.  How hard could it be to build a new website?  Trick is – I don’t have the same kind of budget in my art business that I’ve had in the past with venture capital backed startups.

Knowing how important it is to carefully document what one wants to build if you’re working with people who are far away and for whom English is a second language, I carefully specified what I wanted.  Then I put the project out to bid on, an outsourcing website that lets employers find contractors from around the world.

I had bids come in from literally everywhere – India, China, Africa, Russia.  At least 20 people replied to my post within 24 hours.  Wow I thought.  This might really work.

I interviewed and picked someone from St. Petersburg to do the site.  He got the new site half way built, but when I paid him for 50% of the work he apparently decided to cut and run.  He left the site in an unusable state, and I had to throw out all that work and start over.

On my second try, I again put it out to bid and got someone from Romania to build the site.  He really did a great job, but when he was 80% done he too cut and run.  Said he had an emergency come up, and he stopped replying to emails.  At least he left me with some working code, and I was smarter this time and had insisted up front that I’d only pay once it was done.

For the third phase I decided to work on it myself.  This is a big complicated site with lots of backend code do this the advanced filtering that I wanted.  I have a software background (somewhat dated at this point), but I’m happy to say that I was able to get in there and fix the worst of the problems.  Good news is that I proved to myself that I could figure it out and support the site.  Bad news – it was going to talk way too much of my time to get it launched.

Forth phase – back out to bid.  This time I figured I had a very specific list tasks I needed done, and this might be better suited for an odesk contractor.  I found someone in India who seemed to have a strong background, but once he started I realized that much of what I was doing was out of his league.  He fixed a few things, but there was still more to do.

So this last weekend I just buckled down to see if I could get this done myself.  Two very long days later, and I have the site launched.

That was a painful birth four months in the making.  It was much harder than I had imagined when I started, but I’m really thankful that I’m there now.  Let’s just hope it doesn’t blow up this week J

You can find the new site at:

Check it out, and drop me a note if you find any problems or if you have some feedback.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

American River Paintings

Here are some of my paintings from my quest to seek out whitewater.

I painted right in the river to try to stay cool in the crazy temperatures that hovered close to 100 degrees.

 River Study II, 9x12

River Study V, 9x12

Great trip - lots to paint around Coloma, CA.  I'll have to go back when I'm less likely to melt while I'm there :-)