Landscapes, Oils or Acrylics


Illustration versus Fine Art
Becoming a Landscape Painter
Painting Techniques
Painterly Painting
Mobile Studios
Painting from Memory
Formal Qualities
Creative Process
Painting Methods
Painting using Acrylics
Meaning of Art
Extremes of Art
Painting Procedures
Stages of a Landscape Painting
Technical Terms

ILLUSTRATION VERSUS FINE ART

By the end of art school, illustration as a career had lost its appeal.
Illustration is the amplification of the written word and as such is subservient to it. Fine art doesn’t tell a story but engages the imagination, is open to interpretation and the artist is self employed. Because the illustrator is employed, the work must be shaped according to externally imposed requirements. During the “Golden Age” of illustration in this country some great art was produced by illustrators such as Howard Pyle and his student N.C. Wyeth, for example. Those days are long gone and the illustration of today has been largely supplanted by photography and digital imagery.

After discovering my negative reaction to the loss of control over my illustrations, I understood that if I were to have a career in the art field it had to be in fine art. This explains why I don’t do portraits, another form of employment, which Sargent called, “The world’s second oldest profession.”

BECOMING A LANDSCAPE PAINTER

After leaving art school, the student faces many possible directions. I once heard Mr. Reilly say that, “Students get out of school and ask the Cop on the corner how they should paint.” He had seen many promising students who seemed to have, in his words, “The will to fail.” The best methods of providing for advancement are drawing and painting frequently, devouring books by and about master artists and taking the ‘advice’ found by studying fine paintings. These were the practices I adopted.

Painting landscapes was something I loved to do with my spare time, not yet a career choice but the most likely direction. From my art school training I knew how to draw and paint the figure, the most demanding skills and a solid a foundation for learning landscape. Mr. Reilly had provided many ideas but it was clear that a great deal of further development was necessary in order to begin a career as a landscape painter.

 

Red Barn

Among my first Reilly School landscapes (circa 1970), oil on canvas board, 8 x 10″

Red Barn

Oil on watercolor paper, 12 x 16″. Invented sketch (2006) using the Reilly school study as a guide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the first challenges was to learn how to use an open palette. Neutralizing with complements and arranging the paint on my palette without mixing strings of values. My years as a professional actor provided ample free time for the discovery and application of painting ideas.

PAINTING TECHNIQUES

As my work matured, I eventually developed a technique. Technique is the characteristic appearance of an individual artist’s paintings which identifies them as the work of that artist. It has largely to do with the way the paint is applied (Sargent’s bravura brushwork for instance). Technique can be forced by the imposition of tricky paint applications but this approach has the unfortunate consequence of producing only short term attraction-power and for the viewer to look at the painting rather than into it. Then too, the adoption of the technique of another artist or that of a teacher is to be avoided due to the revelation of an undesirable lack of originality. The work of an artist should exhibit individuality but not call undue attention to the methods employed. The way to arrive at a technique is to have it evolve naturally as the artist develops.
Artists learn largely by imitation and my work and technique have been influenced by studying and sometimes copying the paintings of artists I admire. Artists such as, Frederick Waugh, Edward Seago, Fedor Zakharov, and Edgar Payne, to name but a few, but in my current work these influences have been subsumed and my technique is my own. I think it was Harley Brown who said that, ‘To paint like one artist is a kind of plagiarism but to paint like many artists is research.’

Zacharov Copy

COPY of a ZAKHAROV, unsigned and not for sale



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PAINTERLY PAINTING

Before studying with Mr. Reilly, my drawings and paintings were as tight as I could make them. By tight I mean the rendering of each and every detail. With the benefit of his teaching, I now paint more loosely especially in the beginning of a painting. I initially use large brushes, thin washes and attend mainly to the larger considerations. No matter how loose the technique, however, there is still one overriding requirement, ‘dead-shot draftsmanship.’
The more ‘Painterly painters’ take advantage of the expressive potential of brushwork. When I paint a nearby rock formation, I’ll probably use heavier paint applied so as to suggest texture, perhaps using a palette knife. I use brushwork to suggest that grass grows up, a mountain lies down and the sky tends toward smoothness. The shadows are painted with thin washes and simplified, keeping reflected light and color close to the value of the initial mass decisions. Most of the painting is out in the light using thicker paint and brushing with the action of the form. The guide is, ‘thin in the shadow, thick in the light.’ Backgrounds are brushed past the edges of forward forms and then the forms are painted. This keeps the background from seeming to bump into elements in front and the background paint may be used to soften edges when appropriate, ‘Paint back to front.’ Sometimes I’ll under-paint with a complementary color that, in the finish, may be glimpsed in the interstices of the brushwork. A third, visually mixed, color is arrived at with this method. Using visual mixing for the sky and elsewhere is only effective if the under-painting and the finished paint are at the same value. The creating of a third color by visual mixing was one of many discoveries made by the Impressionists but, if overdone, the drawing tends to suffer.
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PHOTOGRAPHY

For many reasons, painting outdoors can be very difficult and human nature is such that we tend to look for shortcuts. Painting from photographs in an air-conditioned studio is just such a shortcut. The subject is frozen and time is limitless.

Especially when the artist is in the early stages of development, the use of photography will lead to the establishment of poor work habits and substandard results. I believe in the old adage that, ‘Opportunity usually comes disguised as hard work.’

The photograph suffers from lens distortion, has only two dimensions, is keyed to the average human complexion, color nuance is lost and they will not allow the eye to adjust as it does in nature in order to see into shadows.

There are some fine painters who paint from photographs but all of the ones I know, apart from Tom Lovell, have spent extensive time in the field.

Painting in Spain

Plein air painting on the island of Majorca, Spain. Photograph, Dawn Douglas, 1998

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Painting in Santa Fe

Painting in Santa Fe. Photograph, Zachary Forman, 2008

The finished painting. The woman and her dog were added later in my studio.

 

When I do use photographs, I use them for inconvenient subjects, backup information or studio experimentation. I draw freehand (as opposed to projecting), correcting for lens distortion.

‘To paint from photographs is to be nature’s grandchild.’ I always return to painting from life for visual information of the first order.

 

 

 

 

Cowboy Drawing

Example drawing of an inconvenient subject. I used a photograph I took at the T4 Ranch in Tucumcari, NM. I draw on Utrecht 14″x17″ white, regular surface pads using a #48 Koh-i-Noor holder with #2625 Koh-i-Noor charcoal composite sticks. For grays and halftones, I smudge with my finger.

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MOBILE STUDIOS

Studio companion, Whalley

Studio companion, Whalley

 

In my truck or RV, the sometimes overwhelming challenges of outdoor painting are largely overcome by painting inside looking out a window. With this arrangement, outdoor painting becomes, in effect, studio painting. My portable studios have the advantages of reducing setup time, eliminating palette glare, providing a more constant light on the painting and they allow me conveniently to listen to music, (white sound). Painting inside also keeps me away from interrupting onlookers (Hey, that’s pretty good!). Unless conditions are too severe, I’m able to work despite wind, rain, heat and cold which provides for more frequent painting opportunities. The idea came from an old photograph of an early Taos painter who was painting inside a huge old Packard. He had removed the floor in the rear and was standing on the ground, straddling the drive shaft, and painting by looking out of a rolled down window. Artists!

 

 

 

 

SKETCHBOOK

For many years I have carried a small sketchbook with me for the purpose of training my memory. The idea is to develop the memory so as to be able to place figures into a painting without the benefit of models. In a coffee shop, for instance, I’ll quickly look at someone and draw him or her without looking at them again. This is, of course, unlike figure drawing where one looks back and forth from the model to the drawing until the drawing is completed. The ability to paint convincing figures into a landscape from memory is of great benefit to the landscape painter. The background figures in “Venice Street” are from memory. I frequently use photographic reference for this purpose when the figure is closer to the picture plane, for instance, the prominent figure in “Venice Street” (added back home in my studio). But when using photographic reference, instead of copying misinformation, I remember my teachers advice, “Paint what you know, not just what you see.”


MEMORY PAINTING

The danger in drawing and eventually painting from memory is a tendency to make repetitious choices due to a lack of adequate information. This can be overcome by studying a scene and painting soon after in another location. Freemont Ellis told me he always painted this way. George Bellows and other students of Robert Henri’s adopted the practice.

Memory painting

Memory painting

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FORMAL QUALITIES

Formal qualities refers to the individual design elements… composition (a pleasing arrangement of parts), color, line, texture, scale, proportion, balance, contrast, rhythm and principles. Composition is listed first because it is the first consideration at the beginning of a painting but I would give equal weight to all the formal qualities in terms of importance.

Composition has to do with balance and design. By that I mean, not simply accepting ‘Nature as she comes’, but balancing and designing the large masses and subordinate elements. The focus, or center of interest, is made prominent by linear means and the employment of attractions… that which attracts the eye. The eye is attracted by contrasts… hue, value, chroma and sharp edges. For these to be effective they must be held in reserve for when the artist chooses to focus the attention of the viewer but not in an obvious or heavy-handed way.

The greatest attraction in a landscape is the introduction of figures, birds and/or animals. Our eyes are drawn to living things and relatively small instances will overpower larger areas in terms of attraction power.

A sense of motion will draw the eye in a relatively stationary scene.

Composition of the large masses means arranging and designing the simplified value areas. For example on an average sunlit day… sky lightest in value, ground plane medium, angled planes darker, upright planes darker still and accents darkest. Discerning the masses, patterns and edges in nature are best seen by squinting and then designed to fit the idea of the painting. Prominence and subordination is what is meant by the idea of the painting. Composition is construction and without it the painting becomes merely a collection of parts.

Before painting, I answer the questions, what is the focus and will I have a high or low horizon? Then I visualize the painting. These macro decisions are adhered to during the painting although with many micro adjustments.

A clear understanding of the principles of realism is fundamental. Principles are not rules but a guide to action especially when difficulties arise. The following is a list of the principles that I have found instructive… clarity of concept, variety, rhythm (reoccurrence with variation), repetition, unity, balance, variety in the treatment of edges, drawing accuracy, placement, perspective, accurate mass proportion, accuracy of relative sizes, proper value sequences including graduation and modeling, consideration of textures, recession (ariel perspective), unequal measures, expressive brushwork, holding locals and harmony in composition and color.

Color is a formal quality and our understanding has evolved a great deal since Newton discovered that white light contains all the colors of the spectrum.

The visual experience of landscape is largely translated to the language of painting by the use of color. Color application varies according to stylistic requirements… impressionism, realism, tonalism, expressionism (Van Gogh) etc. Contemporary realism is a combination of styles and benefits from a variety of color theories.
Impressionist color theory has to do with broken color which results in visual mixing (Additive as opposed to subtractive which is the mixing of color on the palette) and simultaneous and successive contrast (Eugene Chevreul) which has to do with how we see and the effects of colors on each other.

According to Chevreul, color is heightened by the use of contrasts (complements). A red robe will have a greenish shadow, the yellow of sunlight on a white object will cause the shadows to tend toward violet and any color will be heightened and affected by the nearby use of it’s complement. The Impressionists understood Chevreul’s theories but painted intuitively based on their perceptions of direct observation. These and other color studies are best left to the later stages of the artist’s development.

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CREATIVE PROCESS

The act of putting these principles into practice brings me to the creative process which has to do with the bringing of something of value into existence. Fundamental to the creative process is an excellent technical performance, a full understanding and execution of the tenets of realism. It must be understood that painting is not an imitation of facts but a summarizing of essentials, to paraphrase Whistler, ‘Nature is always wrong.’ She offers too much. So what I exclude in my work is just as important as what I include, invent, exaggerate, shift in position or suppress.

Because I’m primarily an outdoor landscape painter, discovering fresh and compelling subject matter is an integral part of the creative process. This has to do with emotional response and taste and remains individual and largely a mystery. It can be said, however, that I must be able to visualize a painting in my mind’s eye or I move on. For me, spontaneity is essential to creative process. Especially in the beginning of a painting, I paint positively and rapidly, trusting that I will have a sufficiency of solutions to solve the problems that arise. Toward the end however I adopt a slower, and yes, tighter procedure.

Whatever the given amount of creativity one possesses, it can be expanded. The key is to establish a life long self-imposed internal discipline dedicated to excellence. Some of the methods I’ve devised to help the growth process along are as follows; to study the methods of an artist I admire and to make some of them my own, to follow the suggestions in a book by a respected artist, to investigate; high key painting, all weather conditions, interiors, night painting, dominant color, impressionist color theory, still life, portraits, to work with a limited palette or from memory. I have studied marines by Frederick Waugh, stared at and sketched the ocean in order to become thoroughly acquainted with waves in their various stages and to gain an understanding of the meeting of land and sea. Lengthy studies of elusive subjects have been profitable. These and many other areas of inquiry are worked on separately from the paintings that find their way into the galleries and shows. I consider these parallel track studies to be essential to the creative process, ‘Art is not a destination, but a means of travel’.
The words “Creative process” are generally used to describe the creation of an individual work of art, but I would suggest that the truly creative process is how the life of an artist is self-created. If the work flowing from that life reveals an ever increasing level of accomplishment then a more fundamental, life enhancing, creative process is in operation.

There have been times, however, when I seemed to have hit a brick wall in terms of growth, when the creative process seems to be stagnating. During these times I don’t paint in the field, sometimes for weeks at a time, but seek ways to shake things up, working in my studio. I experiment by finding new or reorganized approaches. Often experiments fail, but as Henry Ford once said, “Failure is an opportunity to begin again with more information.” So far, I’ve come out of these periods with renewed enthusiasm.
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METHODS

For me, the fundamental procedures have remained relatively constant and any alterations have to do mostly with execution. Many of my practices are the same as they were in art school with some modification but there have been additions due to my specializing in landscape.

I almost always paint on masonite panels in this country, because more of them may be stored in my customized truck or RV. They are also less vulnerable to damage than canvas and I prefer the irregular surface quality. I rough up the surface with sandpaper to give it a tooth and apply gesso, which isolates and keeps the paint from degrading the masonite. The acrylic gesso is sometimes tinted with Yellow Ochre acrylic, or some other warm color, then applied roughly to provide a texture which holds the paint. I use a gesso that absorbs paint due to the introduction of marble dust during its manufacture, (or I add marble dust). This makes available to me the additional technique of dry-brush early in the painting process. Dry-brush is the dragging of a loaded brush across the surface so that the paint skips.

For many years I washed my brushes with soap and water, but now I use kerosene, called Paraffin in England, because it leaves an oily residue on the bristles which retains their resilience. A turps cup is fine for washes, but to clean a brush more thoroughly when changing colors or values, I have a larger container three quarters filled with turpentine which has a mesh strainer.

My palette at present consists of seven colors; Cadmium Yellow Light, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Viridian and Non-yellowing White. I add or subtract from my palette frequently but the overall aim is to keep it as spare as possible.
At times I have found it instructive to perform limited palette experiments using only three primaries and white because I’m forced away from thoughtless habitual choices.

Painted with a limited palette

Limited Palette… White, Ultramarine blue, English Red, Yellow Ochre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The studio section of my RV is where I normally paint on trips in this country but if I paint outdoors, here or abroad, I use a Gloucester or a French easel. The Gloucester easel has legs that spread wider than the French easel and therefore is sturdier in breezy conditions, on rocky terrain or on steep angles such as hillsides but the French easel contains painting supplies, is more compact and is less time consuming to set up.

When I paint in the studio I paint from models, still life, enlarge outdoor paintings, from memory and sometimes even photographic reference. I use photos mainly for incidentals or perhaps to experiment with color theory or as reference for inconvenient subjects, such as animals or figures in motion. To judge color, I use a technique called scanning. In order to determine the color of a mass in nature, I look near it and see it out of the corner of my eye, in my peripheral vision. The color I observe in the first moments of seeing in this way is the color I paint.

I sometimes use a method called spectrum painting. As values grade from very light (clouds, surf etc.) into shadow, they can move down through the color spectrum. From almost White to Yellowish, then Yellow Red, Red, Red Purple etc. When a poker is taken from a fire, the colors act in this fashion. I use this technique for the halo around a light in fog, for instance.

Counter change is another useful tool. A telephone pole, for instance, against a stand of dark trees will be light in value. The pole at the same value against the sky will appear to be dark. This phenomenon occurs frequently in landscape painting.
I have a tendency to lean verticals to the left. This can be seen and corrected by the use of a mirror. And I squint when I look out at nature. Van Gogh said to look through your eyelashes in order to see the big picture, the big patterns. Simplicity is the goal. Complexity is easy, anyone can be complex by thoughtlessly copying details (idle industry) but to create a beautiful design, an unambiguous interpretation, requires intelligent strategies. Luck helps too but, as someone once said, “luck is what happens when opportunity crosses the path of preparation.” Someone else said that, “The only place luck precedes work is in the dictionary.”
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ACRYLICS

Calzada de Orepesa, Spain

Calzada de Orepesa, Spain, 2005, Acrylics

Estromoz, Portugal

Estromoz, Portugal, 2005, Acrylics

Vimieiro, Portugal

Vimieiro, Portugal, 2005, Acrylics

Evora, Portugal

Evora, Portugal, 2005, Acrylics

Portugese Coast, 2005

Portugese Coast, 2005, Acrylics

Andre

Andre – Painted in acrylics with a group at the Rockport Art Assoc., Rockport, MA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The title of this section is LANDSCAPE but I’ve included the painting  of Andre because the thinking is similar. The best approach for me for acrylics is a rapid execution, loose treatment due to the fast drying characteristics of the medium both for people and landscapes. My center of interest is his eye on the left, (his right eye). If you paint both eyes with the same degree of clarity, you set up a confusing tension for the viewer.

As far as color is concerned, I used the principle of simultaneous contrast that states that a color may be enhanced and harmonized by using its complement in the shadow. The model had a florid, reddish complexion so I was looking for a place for green in the shadow, the complement of red. I found a place for green in the bounce light from the shirt in the lower portion of the shadow side of the head. I didn’t see green and was painting according to theory and, frankly, I just like the way it looks. Side planes tend to pick up influence from the background and neutralize, so at the left of the jaw under the ear out in the light, I used a neutral purple-red. As the values move toward front planes and lighten, I employ a principle called ‘spectrum painting’. So as the values lighten, they start at purple-red and then, red, Yellow-red, and finally yellowish for highlights.

For a soft edge where the shirt in the light meets the background, I used an intermediate value, which gives the impression of a soft edge and is useful for a fast drying medium. It can only be used if it’s in keeping with the treatment of the rest of the painting.
I deliberately lost the local of the cast shadow on the shirt because if the value change were too abrupt where the shirt meets the background, the eye would be tempted away from my center of interest. The local of the shirt in the light is lighter than the head so it should logically be lighter in the shadow.

Taormina, Sicily 2000

Taormina, Sicily 2000, Acrylics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just before a trip to Sicily, Italy in April of 2000, I again began painting in acrylics. Toward the end of my time with Mr. Reilly I had learned acrylic painting because acrylics was the illustrator’s medium of choice. The sample illustrations in the ART SCHOOL AND ACTING section from my student days are painted with acrylics.

The reason to switch back to acrylics from oils after so many years was to facilitate painting in foreign countries.

A necessity for acrylic painting is finding a way to keep the paint wet while painting and from day to day. I have a small plastic box with compartments used by fishermen. I spray with water, both the box and the palette, during painting. The compartments contain my paint and one of them has cut-to-size water-soaked sponges. After the paint in the box is sprayed with water and the lid is closed the paint is protected from drying and is ready for use the next day.Water, the medium for acrylics, is of course readily available abroad and the paintings dry more rapidly than oils so they don’t have to be kept separated. I paint on watercolor blocks for an increased variety of sizes and, compared to the mahogany boards I had been using on foreign trips, a significant reduction in luggage space. Flammable materials are not required for acrylic painting which is important for airline security.

I have adopted the medium for these reasons and the results have been more than satisfactory.
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Acrylic Landscape   (Sospel, France)

Acrylic Landscape (Sospel, France) This bridge had to be restored because the Germans destroyed it during World War Two. It’s a little different from when Frank Brangwyn painted it from the same spot. I stole some ideas from a reproduction of his painting. He painted it, as did I, higher than the buildings on the left and above the line of the mountains. This painting took about three hours. In Europe, I paint at least two a day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The methods I employ for acrylics are the same as with oils apart from the particular requirements of the medium. The paint dries at a darker value than it initially appears so matching close values is difficult. By dry brushing the paint this can be overcome or the tendency for strokes to tell may simply be incorporated into the technique. Soft edges require a different paint manipulation than for the same result in oils, again dry brush, unless the edges can be softened while the paint is still wet. My overall aim is to make an acrylic painting look much the same as an oil. When changing media, however, it’s important to adjust to the new characteristics and use them to your advantage, ‘Listen to the paint.’ When I return home form a trip I mount the successful paintings on masonite, coat them with a protective transparent polymer and return to oil painting.

 

Painting with acrylics, Sospel, France, 2001

Painting with acrylics, Sospel, France, 2001

Finished painting

Finished painting

 

 

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MEANING OF ART

On a more theoretical level, I’ve spent a good deal of time gaining an understanding of the philosophy of aesthetics.

When art reaches the level of emotional response, it has the potential to purge our minds of unwanted feelings. The buildup of socially unacceptable feelings are given vent. Properly designed, art can provide an alternative to reality similar to the dream state, a variation of reality accepted by the mind. Art offers order, clarification, focus, transport, and escape from an chaotic world filled with conflict without resolution, confusion and doubt. In this chaotic world all of the arts are small islands of order. This cathartic effect is one of the reasons why art has had an almost mystic appeal to mankind down through the ages.

Art is accomplished in a state of high concentration. Time is suspended, skill sets are employed, there is the risk of failure and the opportunity for growth. It is this process of art, not the result, that is the destination of the artist. Robert Henri said, “The object of a painting is not the object of a painting, the object of a painting is a state of being.” Csikszentmihalyi titled his book on this subject, Flow, subtitle, The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

In order to concentrate my attention on the objective of growing the quality of my work, I find that public acclaim and financial reward are best relegated to the realm of desirable but de-emphasized consequences.

Art has the potential to afford the viewer and the artist expanded and illuminated experience, but for this to evolve the artist must be dedicated to growth. Growth implies change which may seem at variance with the desirable aim of automaticity, action without conscious thought. For change as well as automaticity to occur, new concepts must be discovered separately and if accepted folded into the painting process. I’m advocating here a lifetime of constant learning for the purpose of adding to, refining or eliminating the various methods employed. After John Singer Sargent sought out and painted with Claude Monet, he incorporated the theories of impressionism into his work and the benefits were self-evident. The deficiencies of an athlete are pointed out by a coach, worked on separately, folded in, and the result is improvement. We artists must be our own coaches.

The human tendency is toward misoneism, which is the resistance to and fear of change. We find countless rationalizations that allow us to remain stuck in our comfortable habits. This leads to developing a level of competence and moving horizontally through life. We encounter examples of this every day but I do not wish to be among their ranks.
In his book, Edgar Payne quotes Whipple as having said, “Nature does not capriciously scatter her secrets as golden gifts to lazy poets and luxurious darlings, but imposes tasks when presenting opportunities.”
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EXTREMES OF ART

The extremes in today’s art are, on the one hand, the trivial anecdote which is a tale of shallow, conventional, sentiment as well as a wide range of intended wall decorations clamoring for market approval.

At the other end of the spectrum is the shocking pretense which includes much of modern art. These are pseudo-intellectual offerings endowed with the appearance of meaning by the tortured language of self-identified illuminate. For more information on this subject, I would refer you to, “The Painted Word” by Tom Wolfe and “Yes, but is it Art?” on the Sixty Minutes television show. The tape purchase requests for the two Sixty Minutes segments surpassed any in their history.

Between these two extremes and in the hands of a gifted practitioner, contemporary realism in its many forms is a profound and beautiful art. Developed and passed down through the centuries, it is an art that accesses the imagination, that urges the mind, that embodies a timeless universality, that allows the viewer to suspend disbelief, that invites the viewer to participate and that provides a self explanatory visual reward.

“The man who has honesty, integrity, the love of inquiry, the desire to see beyond, is ready to appreciate good art. He needs no one to give him an ‘Art Education’; he is already qualified. He needs but to see pictures with his active mind, look into them for the things that belong to him, and he will find soon enough in himself an art connoisseur and an art lover of the first order.” – Robert Henri (who wrote at a time before gender neutrality)
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PROCEDURES

Painting at Smith Cove, Oil 20"x 24"

Painting at Smith Cove. A plein air painting viewed from the back of my RV in Gloucester, Mass. in May, 2004.

On the cover of the Dec. 2007 edition of American Artist magazine.

On the cover of the Dec. 2007 edition of American Artist magazine.

1991 American Artist magazine cover, Desert Light, Gallup...

1991 American Artist magazine cover, Desert Light, Gallup…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To paint on location means to paint a moment. After the first thirty minutes or so due primarily to the movement of the sun, I’m seeing misleading visual information. The moment is gone and I’m proceeding largely in conformity to the original statements. I had to learn as a plein air painter to anticipate that which would change most radically and make those statements early on.

For “Painting at Smith Cove” above, I first painted in my mind making such decisions as, focus, (blue boat), composition (arrangement of masses and horizon line), general value scheme, edges, relative sizes, and where I would reduce or heighten the intensity of color. Notice how the blue boat stands out as a result of the color choices. I then began to paint, first drawing with a brush (sometimes a pencil) and a neutral dark in a general way. Then, using vigorous brushwork, washes and at times fairly heavy paint, much of surface was covered. The darkest dark’s and the lightest lights were established in order to make comparisons within the extremes.

The idea at this and every stage is to be carefully careless. It is far better to make a ‘mistake’ and trim than to push the paint around and have it lose its vitality. Another choice for misstatements is to scrape and restate. When trimming, I take the trouble to mix and match so as always to work with a loaded brush keeping in mind the ensemble and not only the particular. Now and then a palette knife was used especially to indicate the jumble of objects on the wharf or for sharp edges. I softened the edges in the background tree line as a foil for the clarity of the various elements in the middle and near distance. The dock pilings and foreground rock arrangement are readily descriptive and I painted them keeping in mind the principle of unequal measures. Variety of color for the rocks and elsewhere was achieved by not over-mixing the paint on the palette. The thinking for the painting of the rocks and elsewhere is; top planes light, front planes medium and under planes dark. The danger is to paint piecemeal and extend the value range beyond the original mass decisions.

If the whites in a painting are surrounded with warms they become cool and with cools, warm, so I add a touch of yellow to white in sunlight. For this, and much more, I would refer you to M. E. Chevreul’s book, The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Color. His were the scientific discoveries that influenced the French Impressionists.

Then it was a matter of rendering small forms eventually employing the use of a maul stick to steady my hand and a small pointed brush. Small descriptive shapes were picked out such as boat rigging, the schooner to the left of the Blue boat and roof lines and windows. I placed my laptop computer on a shelf near my easel and added the figure from a photograph I had taken of an outdoor art class. The edge to the left of the figure and her painting was softened to place the figure in relief. This, and the background tree line, is in imitation of indistinct peripheral vision. This is an unconventional composition with most of the interest on the left balanced by a larger relatively empty space on the right. The idea was to suggest the largeness of the water and to gain the added dimension of the distant land mass. Additionally, if the blue fishing boat were to move it would have ample water to move into.

I have an antipathy for signatures, viewing them as foreign intruders, so I keep them as unobtrusive as possible.
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Oak Creek Village   Oil   22"x 30"

Oak Creek Village Oil 22″x 30″

Photograph of the scene.

Photograph of the scene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The psychology of why I find mountains intriguing and beautiful may have to do with a condition of childhood. Defenseless children look to their parents, comparative giants, for comfort and protection. Compared to human scale these huge Rock formations are certainly giants. Whatever the psychology, on a more relevant level, I could visualize a painting and believed the problems to be surmountable.

This was a difficult painting for two main reasons. The scattered clouds caused the light and shade to change each time I looked out of the window of my RV and also the foreground had to be invented. In front of me were a gravel drive, a trash container, a large pinion tree and a traffic sign. Just beyond all this I could glimpse some brush-covered terrain and that was enough to invent a plausible foreground. Before beginning to paint I determined the focus (rock formation on the center left), edges, the disposition of the sunlit and shaded areas, the horizon line and the color choices, both hue and intensity. Reduced intensity of color for ariel perspective is minimal in the clear, dry, high altitude, Southwestern atmosphere. For this painting, with the prominent rock features fairly close, color changes have to do mostly with the loss of yellow as the painting recedes (green more blue, cooler red). The values lighten slightly, especially the darks. After a rough drawing for shape and position, I laid in the masses and roughly indicated the composition. Then most of the surface was covered with paint so I could make relative comparisons.

Next I finished the focus, mostly with a palette knife, and the sky, keeping it closer in value than it appeared so it wouldn’t come forward and compete with the focus. The sky is mostly invented using reality as a mere suggestion. I had noticed some Poplar trees near the buildings and arranged them in dark values as a foil for the sunlit village. This contrast was to attract the viewer to the secondary interest, the village, and to coax the eye past what would become the foreground. The buildings were indicated with a palette knife. Cover the village and you can see how bland the painting becomes. At about this time it had become so hot, Arizona in August, that I decided to come back the next day and finish the painting during the more cooperative morning temperatures.

The first thing tackled the next day was finishing on both sides of the focus. The outside shape against the sky was painted in conformity to the principle of unequal measures. The idea for the painting of the rest of the mountains was to gain an understanding of the character of the formations and paint that understanding rather than each and every striation. Since what I was seeing was now in complete sunlight, I was additionally painting my memory of the shapes in half-light. I kept the subordinate areas as simple as possible without making their simplicity too obvious. The mountain behind the focus was painted as if in sunlight, in light, close values, to separate it from the focus.

Then turning my attention to the foreground, I fashioned a half-light condition to reduce contrast and thus limit its attraction power. The idea of the drawing of this area was to diminish the ground shapes and vegetation in size as they move into the painting.

The third day, away from the subject, I had made many small adjustments and signed the painting when something in the foreground suggested a dry riverbed. I invented this for added variety and as a devise to lead the viewer forward. Total time, the equivalent of one full day. Please take notice of how much of the linear geometry leads the eye toward the primary focus. The lines of the mountains against the sky, the movement of the riverbed and the Poplar trees pointing up. These and other devices may easily be employed and still remain within the confines of realism. If that which is exaggerated, eliminated, altered, invented, and subdued while painting, still results in convincing realism, the act of painting becomes much more of a creative experience. This is called artistic license, meaning deviation from fact for an effect gained. I hasten to add however, that the above is not intended as a formula for painting, but merely a description of an approach that fit the particular rather difficult circumstances.

Making decisions before painting and sticking to them, determining edges, masses and patterns by squinting, establishing the value extremes, finishing the focus after the lay in and that which surrounds it (painting the focus first allows for the rest of the painting to be accomplished with comparatively less attraction power) and then moving to completion of that which remains can be said to be my basic procedure for any painting.
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STAGES

“Drovers” in stages. Comments are embedded in the captions of the enlarged photos.

 

This was painted near Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico which was one of the locations for the motion picture “City Slickers”. The multi-colored cliffs can be seen in the film.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Above the Chama”  in stages. Comments are embedded in the captions of the enlarged photos.

"Above the Chama", 22" x 30". Oil on gessoed masonite

“Above the Chama”, 22″ x 30″. Oil on gessoed masonite

reference

Backup photographs. Useless for color but of some limited value for shapes and patterns.

reference photo

Backup photographs. Useless for color but of some limited value for shapes and patterns.

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“Campsite at Banner Peak”

 

Campsite - final

CAMPSITE at BANNER PEAK, finished painting. I added another figure, the tent and my Australian Shepherd, Whalley, who seems to appear in many of my paintings.

How “Campsite” came about was a group of artist and I rode horses high into the Sierras to camp and paint. Using a daylight painting of mine from that experience, I transposed it to night values and color from my imagination. My teacher, Frank Reilly, taught various light conditions including night values and colors. I chose an upright shape to accentuate the upward thrust of the mountain. I used a daylight photograph of a horseman I had taken a few years earlier in California at another location.

I found a line drawing of a tent with a shape I liked. Imagining what the tent might look like in these circumstances, I added the light source using spectrum painting. My friend, Paul Strisik had learned about spectrum painting at the Art Students League from Frank Vincent DuMond and passed it on to me. The idea is that when light darkens it moves through the spectrum from warm white to yellow, yellow-red, red and them to red-purple if you choose to go that far. In this instance I stopped at red. Then I added another figure and eventually my Australian Shepherd, Whalley, who seems to appear in many of my paintings.

 

“Santa Maria Della Salute”

This is one of a series of large studio paintings, 36 inches high and 6 feet 8 inches wide begun at the end of 2010. For reference material, I had three paintings I had done on location in Venice and five photographs showing Venetian boats and the Grand Canal as seen from the Acadamia bridge.

“Santa Maria Della Salute”, Oil 36″ x 6ft 8in

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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TECHNICAL TERMS

Action – is the direction of the movement of the model.
Cast shadows – any shadow cast on a surface by the light. A cast shadow has the sharpest edge near the form that is casting it.
Chroma – color intensity. The brightest colors are the paints as they come out of the tube. When a complement or Gray at the same value is added to a color out of the tube, the chroma of the color is reduced.
Complement – the colors opposite the primaries on a color wheel with three primaries. A complement is the mixture of the two remaining primaries. The complement of Yellow, for instance, is Purple, a mixture of Red and Blue, the two remaining primaries. The complement of Red is Green, a mixture of Yellow and Blue and the complement of Blue is Yellow-Red (Orange).
Counter change – when anything in a painting appears light against a dark and the same value then appears dark against a light. for instance, the mast of a ship may appear light against the land and then dark against the sky.
Drapery – any fabric which appears in a painting including clothing.
Dry-brush – is the light dragging of a loaded brush over nearly dry or dry paint.
Edges – On a figure, rounded forms have softer edges than where the bone is closer to the surface. This is because we are binocular and see farther around a round shape with one eye than the other causing a slight blur or soft edge. In any painting, the edges range from knife sharp to a complete blur.
Halftone – At the boundary between light and shadow on a form, or rounded surface, there is a soft edge called a halftone.
Holding the local – means maintaining relative comparisons of values and color in the light and in the shade.
Hue – color designation, Yellow, Red and Blue for instance.
Local – general color and value identification.
Mass – in the beginning of a drawing or painting, large areas which have been simplified and stated at the same value are called masses. In a drawing, the shadows are initially stated at the same value, (mass) and later divided into reflected light, darker halftones, accents and darker lines to indicate edges, forms and cast shadows but kept close to the mass value decision. In a painting all the large value areas are initially generalized at approximately the same value, (mass) to guide the eventual value decisions.
Memorized figure abstraction, (six line figure) – gives the artist an understanding of the figure underneath the clothing and is visualized in the initial stages of a drawing.
Plane – a flattened portion of a rounded form.
Primaries – Yellow, Red and Blue.
Pull point – a point on a figure or any other shape from which folds emanate. In the drawing of the coat draped over a chair in the ‘Early Years’ sample drawings, the coat was drawn so as to show the shape of the chair and it’s pull points.
Secondary colors – a combination of two primaries. Yellow-Red (Orange), Purple and Green.
Spectrum painting – As a light value darkens, an option for the artist is to move down through the color spectrum. From Yellowish White to a light Yellow Red then Red (Pink) etc.
Tertiary colors – combining three primaries. A primary mixed with a secondary is the mixing of three primaries.
Unity – A coherent general effect. An interrelated pattern wherein the parts contribute to the harmony of the whole. Unity may be lost by the use of abrupt or startling elements.
Value – White is the lightest value and Black is the darkest. The range in between contains all the Grays and colors. The image in a Black and White photograph is seen by values alone, Black, White and Grays.
Warm and cool, (temperature) – warm colors are Yellow, Yellow-Red, Green-Yellow and their many variations, cools are Purple, Blue and the Greens leaning toward Blue. Red is intermediate in that it cools a warm and warms a cool.
Washes – thin transparent paint applied with a large brush and used in the initial stages of an oil painting.

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