Archive for June, 2009

A Conservation Legacy

June 29, 2009

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
–John Muir

Above: Windows, Muir House, 10 x 8" Below: Muir House, 10 x 8" © 2009 Marianne Post

Above: Windows, Muir House, 10 x 8" Below: Muir House, 10 x 8" © 2009 Marianne Post

The past two Friday mornings have found our plein air group painting in the Northern California town of Martinez. Specifically we set up on the grounds of the home of naturalist, John Muir (1838-1914). Born in Scotland, Muir immigrated to a Wisconsin farm with his family when he was just a year old. He grew up with respect for the land and later in his life he was inspired by the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. In 1867, he left home to walk 1000 miles along the mountains of Kentucky, and Tennessee. He continued his way through Georgia and Florida before he ended in California. Muir’s love for the outdoors ultimately led to the creation of a number of national parks, including my perennial favorite, Yosemite. He kept journals of his experiences and his own writings changed the way American’s thought about wilderness.

And while our plein air group hasn’t trekked into the wilderness to paint, the honor to be on the grounds of such a monumental advocate for the great outdoors was inspiring. It made me appreciate on a different level the glory and beauty of painting plein air. How fortunate to be an artist and experience nature at its finest.

Sketchbook Thursday No. 6

June 25, 2009

They are dark and mysterious. Colorful and fleeting. Cool and warm. Soft and transparent. Strong and crisp. We’re talking shadows.

As I continue to work my way through Danny Gregory’s book, The Creative License I found myself this past week taking his suggestion and just drawing shadows. And while I like to think that I am aware of the significance shadows play in a composition it was fun just to give them my undivided attention. So I devoted a few pages in my sketchbook to capturing the elusive shadow in different ways.

sketchbook060Without a doubt, the surface on which a shadow falls plays a huge part. The color of a shadow that crosses a concrete path changes as the concrete gives way to dirt and then the grass.

And not all shadows are cool. For instance, the shadowed underside of an archway is warmed by the reflected light coming from the sunlight ground below.

I love the radiance of light and color in a painting but interesting shadows are a close second.

Let’s Call It Soup!

June 22, 2009

For the past two weeks I have blogged about a pastel painting  in progress, Cascade. And now it’s time to answer the question I posed, “Is it soup, yet?”

Perhaps the way to answer the question of whether or not a painting is finished is to ask yet another question. Does it feel like the “dance” is over?

Painting for me is like dancing. I lead the way with my value study and sketch. As I work on the painting, there is an excitement and energy that seems to take over the whole process. The painting steps in and suggests where it wants to go. I respond. I lead, it responds and so on. It’s music and poetry in action.

You might have noticed that I titled the painting, Cascade, right from the start. I like to know with whom I am dancing! I find doing this helps me stay focused on what my initial intent was in deciding to paint the scene. It helps me stay on track, stay in step. So when I am hesitant about whether to make a move, or develop a certain area I have my original concept to guide me.

When I sense the music is slowing down, I stop.

cascade_with_comments

So after two days, I set Cascade aside so that I could come back on day three to evaluate the painting. I twirled my partner upside down to see what I might not see otherwise. This is what I saw:

1. Right away, the hard edge along with the left hand rocks was too defined. It was pulling my eye away the cascading water. By softening the value difference and some smudging with my finger I softened the edge.

2. I thought the values on the right hand rock and the water directly below it needed to be darker in value. This would help add contrast near the focal area.

3 . The juxtaposition of the left hand rock and the horizon line at the base of the trees jumped out of me. It was creating a bit too much tension. The shape of the rock was too uniform, so I added some character by adjusting its shape.

The background trees were too dense. By opening them up a bit I was able to introduce sky holes with the added advantage of bringing some blue to the top of the painting.

4. Looking back at the day 2, a.m. image I liked the way the water flowed from the upper right. I seemed have to lost that with the development of a rock form instead. So I retraced my steps and went back to less rock and more water.

5. The contrast and the straightness of the line here was pulling my eye to that spot.

So once I went through my “analysis” I made my changes. I signed my name. The dance was over. It was time to get something to eat. How does soup sound?

cascade_final

Cascade, 20 x 24″
© 2009 Marianne Post

Sketchbook Thursday No. 5

June 18, 2009

sketchbook44This week found me rummaging through old sketchbooks looking for some field notes to accompany a photo I had taken two years ago of a scene of Sierra Nevada granite. But instead of finding faces of stone, I was pleasantly sidetracked when I came across an entire sketchbook of people I never met. Faces full of expression.

There was a time when I thought I wanted to pursue painting portraits. So every chance I had, I sketched people. Kids at the library, couples in airports, old men in the park, babies in shopping carts, people at the car wash, women in line at the grocery store.

Flipping through that sketchbook was a bittersweet experience. I had became a very stealthy sketcher and my subjects probably didn’t even know I was even the slightest bit interested in their pose or facial features. But on paper, I had captured their likeness. At least I like to think I caught their smile, their loneliness, their exhaustion, their joy, or complacency. I remember them and where they were. Definitely not faces of stone.

Ironically, I don’t know who they were or if they had a story to tell what it would have been. Suffice it to say they helped me in my pursuit to hone my skills as an artist. To those hundreds of you who caught my eye, I am forever grateful.

“Is it Soup, Yet?” part 2

June 15, 2009

Last Monday’s post left off with the watercolor underpainting of Cascade drying on the easel. I invited you to join me as I painted this waterfall and help me answer the question that artists frequently ask themselves, “Should I stop, now? Can I call it finished? Does it need something else?”

cascade_day2am

Cascade Day Two a.m. The lightest values were in place, the watercolor always dries lighter than intended. So I knew that my next step would be to redefined the darks. Here come the pastels! The day began with laying in the background trees and defining the rock shapes and values.

Things I thought about at this stage:

  • Temperature of the left hand as compared to the right hand rocks needs to remain warm and cool respectively.
  • Emphasize the quality of light that is playing off the cascading water in the sunlight versus the lights in the shadowed areas on the right.
  • There is a lot going on in the flow of water, so develop the water being careful not to detract from the area of interest, the crashing water as it enters the pool.

Shapes were still fairly loose at this stage. But at this point I knew it wasn’t soup yet! I was having too much fun and I had just gotten started.

cascade_day2pmCascade Day Two p.m. After taking a break I worked at keeping the background trees vague but adding some interest with color, making sure the value range was limited here. I thought the pool of water needed a bit more work. The big rock near the middle of the painting was commanding too much attention so I adjusted its value so the contrast between it and the water was not as great. The warm rocks on the left were a bit too bright, and I dulled them down.

At this point. It was time to stop and let it “cook” on the easel. So what do you think? Should I call it finished?  Stir the pot with me and post a comment. Join me next Monday as I ponder some important questions that ultimately bring us full circle to answering “Is it soup, yet?”

Sketchbook Thursday No.4

June 11, 2009

sketchbook040aThis week I started to reread The Creative License by Danny Gregory. His writing reminded me how curious and fun sketching everyday trivia can be. You know, things like breakfast, the stuff in cabinets and closets. Book filled shelves, the chair we sit in, the first thing we see in the morning can be captured on the illustrated page. It’s all this simple, mundane stuff that we take for granted that becomes an art form.

An illustrated journal can be a gateway to something more grand. Perhaps it would lead to a finished painting on the visual side or maybe a book from one’s literary endeavors. I was introduced to illustrated journaling by Christina Lopp and Gay Kraeger. They offered a one day workshop at Gay’s incredible studio located in the Santa Cruz mountains. How perfect can that be? It was March 8, 2003. I know, because I journaled the entire day and I have date sprinkled among my entries.

I  sketched/journaled for a number of years and then fell out of the routine, using my sketchbooks for more “serious” marks. But now taking a second look at old illustrated entries, I recall sitting and observing the everyday world around me; capturing my observations in small drawings, some simple, some more complex. Sometimes words would grace the page and help define an otherwise “sketchy” sketch. Other times words were simply a list of things to do. Revisiting these journals I see how these marks enriched my life.
sketchbook039a

sketchbook043
So this week I began to journal with drawings once again. Just the simple things, but they tell my story.

Is It Soup, Yet?

June 8, 2009

The Urban Dictionary reminds us that the slogan “Is it soup, yet” was born out of a marketing campaign by Lipton Co. debunking Campbell’s condensed soups. Ironically, Lipton took the water out of their product and introduced a dry mix. This was better? On national TV in the late sixties, mom would be stirring her Lipton concoction, and kids would come running in asking the ultimate question, “Is it soup, yet?” Is it finished?

It has been said that the hardest thing for an artist to do is start a painting. The second hardest thing is to call it finished. I thought I would start a series of posts and show you my latest work in progress (wip) Cascade, as it progresses day by day. Perhaps you can weigh in on when it’s finished!

waterfall_sketchbook

Cascade Day One a.m. I selected a photo on the basis of the light and shadow play on the turbulent water. I was mesmerized by how the light played off the falling water and its effect on the pool below. I then played around a bit with the cropping. This time the  20 x 24 gatorboard I had on hand was influencing my decision. So I cropped the photo keeping the same 5:6 ratio.

art_supplies

Once I was happy with where my area of interest was positioned relative to the exterior dimensions. I prepared the gatorboard with a coat of acrylic white gesso. Once that was dry I coated the surface with two applications of Golden Acrylic Ground for Pastel. While that was drying I took out my sketchbook and rendered a value plan for the painting. I worked much larger on the sketch than usual to establish the abstract quality of the composition.

Cascade Day One p.m. Using a 2B graphite pencil I sketched in the main lines of the composition. Then using watercolor I painted the general colors and values. This stage is just an underpainting, to get rid of the “whiteness” of the surface. I am definitely not a watercolorist, but the watercolor wash affords me the opportunity to ultimately use less pastel product on the finished painting. I want to keep some of the underpainting showing and glaze the pastel over the tinted surface. This is always a struggle for me, so hopefully I can pull it off this time. 

watercolor_underpainting

No, its definitely not soup yet! Far from it. Next Monday I will take you through Day Two and see where it leads. Stay tuned.

Sketchbook Thursday No. 3

June 4, 2009

To talk of old times with old friends is the greatest thing in the world.
–Will Rogers

sketchbook036Renewing old acquaintances makes me happy. This past week I had the opportunity to reconnect with an artist friend whom I have not seen for almost a year and a half. We had a lot to catch up on. My friend Linda, is an artist in so many ways. She works primarily in color pencil, an amazing medium. She is president of the San Francisco Bay Area Color Pencil Society. She is a Mary Kay consultant and a darn good one. She has the ability to paint a glowing portrait on this otherwise dreary looking canvas of a face I have. And she makes the art of being a good friend look easy and feel sincere. I admit I am the one who has had to postpone our attempts to get together sooner than we finally did.

sketchbook038After a fun afternoon of art talk, and makeovers I dragged out my box of color pencils. Yes, another old friend. These I have kept stuffed away in the back of the studio for over five years. I went out into the garden. The sun was warm, the air had just a hint of coolness to it, the flowers were swaying in the mild breeze. My blank sketchbook page didn’t stand a chance.  The day was glorious in so many ways!
 

The Refinement of Perception

June 1, 2009

contour_shoes

Just last week a woman walked into the School of Light & Color. She was inquiring about class offerings. She wanted to learn to see light and color, She wanted to learn to paint in oils.

In the course of our conversation she admitted that her drawing skills were not great. But she was certain that her lack of drawing experience would not hold her back. After all, she wanted to paint light.

In many ways she might be right. In other ways she was mistaken. As an instructor, I have had students of all levels in my classes, beginners as well as professional artists. And no matter where they were in their exploration of art, the students who took the time to acquire the skill to render shapes, who became sensitive to the relationship between lines and form, and who learned linear perspective had a significant edge over those who hadn’t expended the effort.

contour_pencase

It is not necessarily the act of drawing, but what the act of drawing leads one to: the ability to see as an artist. Robert Ruskin in his notable book continually published since 1904, The Elements of Drawing,  expresses this beautifully:

I believe that the sight is a more important thing than the drawing; I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love nature, than teach the looking at nature that they may learn to draw.

Funny thing is, one can learn to draw almost effortlessly. And in the process, we learn to really see. The most important activity I can encourage my students to do is contour drawing. This activity is the most forgiving and the most rewarding. After all, you don’t even look at the paper on which you are drawing.  You can do it anywhere if you have paper and pencil handy. At the start, the results can be awkward or they can be surprisingly quite good. But the pressure is off. It is what it is. But as one continues, surprising things happen. More often than not the ability to render what we see as we trace the contours of the edges becomes increasingly easier. We learn to see as our hand to eye coordination becomes fine-tuned. We begin to acquire the refinement of perception.