Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Julia Child and an Orange

Back in the '60s I used to watch Julia Child on TV. She made cooking look easy. Each week, in just half an hour, she would effortlessly cook up some complicated dish. After watching her one week I thought, "Hey, I'll make a Salmon Case for my new husband. It won't take too long." After all, I'd just seen Julia do it. Result: I spent hours and hours in my kitchen. The Salmon Case was edible but, with the skills I had at the time, it wasn't easy and it didn't look like Julia's.

I learned the hard way that the pros make things look easy because, after lots and lots and lots of practice, they know what they are doing.

I recently decided to learn to paint in oils. To start I signed up for a workshop with landscape artist Marc Hanson. How hard could it be to transfer my pastel painting experience to oils? All the concepts I preach in my classes about having a firm idea about what you are trying to "say" in the painting, good value structure, a strong composition, etc. were stresssed in the workshop. So far, so good. But when I got to putting the paint on the canvas I felt like I was painting with my elbow.

So, what's with the orange painting below?

It is the first in a series of back-to-basics practice pieces I am painting. Last week I did several little landscapes in black and white--just to keep things simple. Working in black and white I could concentrate on values and forget the issues that crop up when color is introduced.

But the brush handling was still tripping me up. The Hanson workshop was invaluable for the demos he did. Just watching how Marc used the paint was huge. Before the workshop I'd been practicing with the oils but, in retrospect, had been using paint much too thickly.

Ever the font of good advice Roz Stendal suggested I take a look at some YouTube videos of Duane Keiser (the orginal Painting-A-Day guy) painting. Viola! He made it look easy.

Well, like my experience with Julia, it is easier than it looks. My first mistake was to make a thin Ultramarine wash as an underpainting. I wiped off the space for the orange and mixed up the various colors in the fruit, the background and shadow. Had I let the remaining blue dry thoroughlyI would not have muddied the orange background and I would have been able to have bits of the blue show through. Other frustrations came with not being able to paint in the fabulous pinkish purple shadow. Or even get the value of the shadow directly under the orange right. It is so easy with pastel!! The above photo (taken inside) doesn't capture much except to show I did attempt a simple orange. I actually painted the orange outside in the shade. The warm orange fruit against the cool orange construction paper was really interesting. The reflected blue from the sky made that great shadow color.

I'll paint another orange tomorrow.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Traveling Light??

I have a habit of carrying some sort of art supplies with me at all times. You never know when inspiration will strike, or you see something that absolutely must be captured by a drawing or little painting. So, if these are supplies in my purse of pocket, how do I keep the weight managable?

I learned some great tricks from my friend Roz Stendahl who gave me the two little mini palettes you see below. One is for gouache, the other for watercolor. The quarter in the photo shows how tiny they really are. One of these palettes along with a Niji waterbrush, a section or two of paper towel and some pieces of watercolor paper or a tiny sketchbook and you are equiped. The gouache palette carries enough paint for many outings. In my earlier blogs you can see some of the small paintings done with these supplies.

The tiny palettes have gone a long way to replacing the larger traveling palettes below. I continue to use these larger ones when I go away for a week or two and want to have some backup. I still take the tiny palettes and use the bigger ones for when I am settled in my hotel room or am at the cabin's kitchen table. They have the advantage of having more mixing space. Part of the tiny watercolor palatte is visible on the right so you get a sense of just how small it is.

My bigger black windsor Newton "traveling" palatte just sits in one of my supply drawers. It is just too heavy.

So, what is this seeming fixation on simple, small, light weight painting gear? After all I am a pastel artist and lug around an outdoor easel and a brief case full of pastels and the various paraphanelia that goes along with them. The answer: my shock at discovering how heavy oil paint is!

I'm scheduled to take a workshop next week in Taylors Falls, Minnesota from Marc Hanson. The plan (when I signed up) was to push my pastels to another level. Marc Hanson is a wonderful pastelist. Some years ago I was stopped dead in my tracks by a pastel painting he did of three trees shrouded in fog. But, as the weeks went by I began to wonder if this was the opportunity to return to oils. Bottom line: I decided to order some oils.

So, out came the catalogues. I thought I did my research fairly well about brands and pigments but I forgot to think about what is now obvious: cadmuim paint is heavy! I knew that if I was going to give oils a try I better have plenty of paint and it seemed like a good idea at the time to order the paint in a size that gave me the best value. Voila! The 200 ml tubes were a much better deal so I orderd them. Yipes! When the boxes arrived on my doorstep I could hardly lift them.

Even loading up tubes of watercolor and gouache when I go to the cabin did not prepare me for the weight of the oils. But I had not really factored in the relative size of the tubes either--20 ml watercolor and gouache tubes versus 200ml oil tubes. Gosh, they didn't look that big in the catalogue....

"Not to worry, we will be close to our cars when we go out to paint and you are wise shopper to get the bigger tubes (I paraphrase)," Marc Hanson graciously responded to my e-mail wondering if I should be concerned about schleping the giant tubes.

The whole episode has been good for some hearty laughs and right now carrying around the pastels seems awfully easy.