A Venetian Companion

This week I am working out a companion piece to the little Venetian painting I posted the week prior. I often find that small paintings do well in pairs. Certainly a small piece can stand on its own, but it is often nice for the little guy to have someone to talk to. A pair can flank either side of a large mirror or mantle, or stack together on a tall narrow wall:

outerbankspaintings_jenniferyoung

I love grouping paintings, and while it doesn't work for every piece, I have started to try and think in terms of finding a  buddy for my little friends when it's possible. This is the start for our little Venetian companion:

venetiansepiasketch_jenniferyoung

A rough lay-in in burnt sienna gives a first pass at my light and shadow family. When I start to add color, I will keep those two families in mind. First up is the shadow family:

venicepainting_wip_jenniferyoung

You can see that even some of the "white" colors (around the door frames, etc, are still in shadow and will therefore generally be a darker value than anything in the light family. The eye can really trick you once you bring color into the picture, so it is something to be aware of at all times! More to come! Stay tuned.... 

A new thing-a-majig and a new painting

In the wake of the plein air weekend I wrote of in my last post, last week was mostly a recovery week for me. I did manage to get a new studio painting started, however. This is the initial tonal sketch on a 20x24" linen canvas.

 Tonal sketch

Tonal sketch

This painting  may prove to be a challenge for me because much of this scene is in shadow. But there are a few pops of light that I am arranging in strategic places that I hope will carry the painting. Hey, you never know unless you try, right?

As with the other recent studio oils, I'm working with water miscible paints. One thing I'm noticing with these paints is that the paint blobs on my palette tend to gum up a little quicker once they are laid out, especially when I can't get back to the studio within a day. The manufacturer, Royal Talens recommends in their product info to mist the unused paints with a little water and cover  with foil to keep them moist and reduce the exposure to air. I have never liked putting plastic or foil directly on my paints though, because I feel that it wastes too much in the removal (yes I realize there is a bit of faulty logic in there but we all have our pet peeves).  So I'm experimenting with this:

cakepan_lid.jpg

What you are seeing is a basic 9x13" cake pan covered with a silicone doo-jobby that I found on Amazon. It is supposed to create an airtight seal, and the cake pan is deep enough that this cover-thing doesn't actually touch the paint. Whether it will be sufficient to keep the paint from oxidizing remains to be seen. I haven't been back at the easel since Saturday so I guess I will find out this morning when I go to work. I will report back with my findings, as well as an update on my progress with the painting, in an upcoming post.

Lessons from the workshop

I thought I'd share a few of the studies I worked on during the Matt Smith workshop I posted about earlier this week. I will first preface by saying that my haste in preparing for this class came back to haunt me, so while I was well prepared in terms of my art supplies, I misunderstood what I was supposed to bring in the way of reference materials. The support documentation said to bring plein air studies and/or photos, and for some reason I took that to mean that plein air studies were preferred (maybe I was just hooked on the idea of plein air!) I probably should have asked beforehand about this because I did feel a little puzzled when I was packing about referencing a small scale plein air to make another small scale painting. (I usually translate small plein airs to larger works in the studio, but the recommended canvas sizes were all under 12x16"). In any event, I packed a number of my plein air pieces for reference, and then as a total afterthought printed off a few of my photos "just in case."

After seeing one demo and hearing the discussion though, I realized the error of my ways. I talked to Matt about what I should work from and he said he would rather see what I could do with my photo references for this class. Matt did bring a number of his own photo references for people to use, but I really dislike using other people's references. Even though we are composing with light and form, I want references that reflect my real experience of having seen (and felt) a place.  So I did what I could with what I had, but I really wished I had brought a more extensive selection of my hundreds upon hundreds of photos I have in my personal archive.

This  first painting is also the most incomplete:

In all of my paintings the common feedback from Matt was to take my brush and "knock back" some of my brushwork that competed with my statement or focal area. For instance, in this painting, our conversation went something like this:

MS:  "Is this painting about the light or shadows?" JY: "Well, I like the highlights on the edges of the poplar trees the best". And with that he took my brush and blended back the rather boisterous brushwork that was beginning to take shape in the shadow passages. MS: "You're giving equal weight to both." Next he mixed a bold tree highlight and swept it upwards on the edge of one of my poplar trees calligraphically, making the highlight really jump out. JY: "Ah, I see! But...I wouldn't just leave it like that...would I? It looks pretty unfinished." MS: "No, not necessarily. But you may restate and knock back several times before you get it right."

 I have such a love of brushwork, but it probably can work to my disadvantage sometimes. The hard part, I think, is figuring out what, exactly, is "right", and what is too little or too much. It's all about finding that balance, where active areas are juxtaposed with quiet passages. It's the quiet passages that play a supporting role and allow the more active ones to take center stage. To paraphrase something Matt said in one of his talks, it can't all be "important". Filter the noise and find the important elements.

I soon abandoned the first study, deciding to just keep that as an annotated lesson.  The second 8x10" painting below is more complete, and may look familiar to some long time blog readers. That is because I painted this scene before en plein air, and blogged about it here. The photo in the link is too dark overall but even so, I think this second study is much more infused with light. (So this exercise will be very helpful to me when I translate the concept to a larger painting, which I really am excited to do now! ) For the painting below, though,  I thought I'd try it again using just my photo reference and see what kind of feedback I could get, and whether it would look decidedly different as a result.

 "Rooted II" (Study) Oil on panel, 8x10" ©Jennifer Young

"Rooted II" (Study) Oil on panel, 8x10" ©Jennifer Young

I really loved the composition as it was, so it remains relatively the same in this second attempt. But in terms of paint application,  I got some helpful hands-on feedback from Matt again. Again he took my brush and knocked back the brushwork of the distant trees to make them sit back more and look less stylized.  Fair enough. He then demonstrated "opening up the shadows, using reflected light cast from nearby objects to cast color into the shadows. He put a touch of blue, for instance, on the shadow side of the tree trunks reflecting the water, and the warmer tones reflecting warmth from the stones or earth. That was awesome. After that he showed me how an assertive hand used to apply just a few intense highlights could suddenly make the painting pop. I reworked some of what he put in but played with those general ideas. But that rim light of his along the trunk and the 3 or 4 dabs of bright green paint on the tree leaves remain just as they were applied. (And don't they just sing?)

I felt I was finally getting somewhere on this final painting (below), though we had some helpful discussion early on about using perspective to direct the viewer to the focal point. He again knocked back the distant mountains with no paint, just several swift blending strokes (sigh.)  I don't consider this painting really finished either but I love the composition and I think I would like to try this again on a larger scale. It's the Dordogne as seen from the top of the Chateau de Beynac.

 "Dordogne River" (Study) Oil on canvas, 9x12" ©Jennifer Young

"Dordogne River" (Study) Oil on canvas, 9x12" ©Jennifer Young

I think overall his main critique of my work was that he wanted to see both more paint and a more deliberate, assertive handling of paint. And it's really hard to do the latter without the former. As he put it, you need to have enough paint there so that it expresses the character of the medium. Otherwise you need to ask yourself, "Why are you painting in oils?"

The class was listed as an intermediate-advanced class and I felt the instruction and the students lived up to that. I left the class pretty exhausted but with a lot to think about on my 6 hour drive back home. It will be interesting to see how I can apply Matt's feedback and insights to my work, while still making my paintings "mine". Once or twice the feedback was hard, but I soon realized, as with any class, it's important to leave your ego at the door and come with an open mind if you really want to learn.

Studies

I'm baaaack. And I'm kicking off my return to blogging with a new Varenna study. I actually hesitate to call this a study, given the amount of time it took. I guess a month away from painting has left me feeling a litle rusty and slow! In any case, this painting will serve as a preliminary study for a larger piece.

  Varenna Study Oil on canvas, 6"x9" ©  Jennifer Young

Varenna Study Oil on canvas, 6"x9" © Jennifer Young

We have had rounds of winter sickness followed by school closings due to snow, so with my foray back into painting being thwarted quite a bit, I had the thought to develop a number of small scale studies of some larger painting ideas that  I've been wanting to tackle. I'll be painting some of these to scale up to my larger sizes. For example this 6x9" piece will scale up to 24x36".

I've painted various views of this harbor a few times now, which you can see herehere, and here. I guess you can tell I am enamored with this particular view of this lovely Italian lake town! This composition emphasizes the strong horizontal of the walled town jutting out onto the lake, contrasted by the verticals of the buildings and tall cypresses.

While I almost always sketch out my composition on paper before I tackle a canvas, I usually leave the painted study for when I am out in the field painting from life. In fact, I have painted lots of studies and lots of larger scale studio pieces and quite a bit in between. Not all small paintings warrant a big statement, but I haven't been all that great about developing my viable studies into larger, more fleshed out studio concepts.  My schedule has been so sporadic for such a long time now, and with not much chance of an end in sight, I really feel like I need to have a more methodical  approach to my work habits. I am hoping that by tightening up my studio practices a bit, I might find more equilibrium when I do get a chance to enter the studio, and I will waste less time and feel less at a loss about what I am going to tackle next.

Well, nothing informs like experience, and since these small ones can presumably be completed in a fraction of the time, (ahem!) I thought it was worthwhile to have a go at a few of them, done, specifically with larger paintings in mind. I will also mine some of my other small works, in particular the plein air pieces I've done, as I think a number of them have potential for further development. I have worked from a number of them here and there, but I think there is more potential (especially in my James River series) and it could be something fun to do during these cold winter months when I'm not getting outside.

Ansouis/French village painting in the works

France village painting sketch by Jennifer E Young
France village painting sketch by Jennifer E Young

 Not a great photo here, but I'm doing a bit of mobile blogging and the image editing options on my phone aren't optimal. Nevertheless, I  thought I'd share the rough sketch I've started on a 20x24" canvas of a French provincial village street scene.  Even though I mapped out the composition more or less to scale in advance, it took a little more editing than usualto get the layout the way I wanted it (the first pass had things too centered).

The plan for this painting is to portray a square in the center of the charming village of Ansouis. I have a busy next few days with family, but I hope to be able to get back to this soon. I'll post further developments as they unfold!