Monday, April 23, 2012

In The Clearing, Oil on Canvas Panel

I have been working hard lately with little time to dedicate to my art. So I have been doing smaller works just to keep the art muscles from going into atrophy. I am also looking for new directions in my art. Tentatively working through changes and exploring and experimenting to stay fresh.

In The Clearing. Oil on canvas panel, 6”x8”

Colour and abstraction are the theme in this small work. I was less focused on rendering the trees and the opening in the forest and more interested in the feeling of light and colour. I am growing less interested in realism. The brain is so much more powerful than we can imagine and will complete a scene much better than any of us can with a brush. We just need to give it enough to work with and then let the viewer work his/her magic

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Utility Tray Addition to the Portage Pochade Box

I just finished building an addition to the Portage pochade. This utility tray attaches to the pochade and helps me keep all my gear together and not lose things along the way.
Here is the video on how to build it. If you need help let me know.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Importance of Keying A Painting

There are so many stimulants bombarding an artist painting outdoors that often important elements of painting are missed. Most notable of these is composition. I remember spending little time trying compositions in thumb-nail sketches and going straight to placing what I saw in front of me on the canvas. In the excitement of being in nature, I would skip slowing down and contemplating the scene before I commit paint to canvas. The results were and - yes I admit I still do it from time to time – some times still are mediocre. It is very rare for a good work of art to be a faithful representation of the elements in a scene as they are in nature. A good work of art should remind you of the scene and give you the feeling of being there, but it rarely does what a camera does in recording the scene faithfully.

Up The Hill, Oil on panel 8”x10”

Another element  is the process of keying a painting. In music – in general -  if you wish a piece to sound strong and energized, you are better off playing it in a major key, while if you wish the melody to be contemplative and smooth, you would use a minor or even a 7th key.

There are two essential ways to key a painting, and when that is done well, the painting can’t help but attract the eye. Just like in music, you key your work by choosing the dominant key and working the rest of the work around it.

PouringOnGlamourlake1a  morningfoglifting
Pouring On Glamour lake, 8”x10”                    Morning Fog Lifting, 11”x14”

The first keying decision is to choose a value key. Is your painting going to have a high value key (i.e. Light values dominate with a few darks representing full sunlight) or a low value key (i.e. dark values dominate with a few lights representing deep shadows), or even a middle value key representing mostly middle values (i.e. overcast day or fog where mid-values dominate).  The feel of the day should tell you what you should choose and for the most part it is better to comply otherwise you will have to be alert at every point to make sure you stay on … well key!

Another way to key a work of art is more subtle but no less important and effective. In fact it draws the line between the beginner artist and the accomplished one. That is the colour key. If you look through an artist’s early works,  you inevitably see a dedication to local colours. a Trunk is brown, a tree is green, a sky is blue etc… As the artist progresses, colour keying becomes more and more pronounced. Monet said he doesn’t paint objects in nature, he paints the effect of atmosphere and light on an object. We may believe that a tree is green, but the fact is depending on the time of day, and the type of light in the day and the distance it is from us, it could be any colour at all from orange to blue to violet to even black!

Travers In Blue Minor, Oil on panel, 8”x10”

Normally, there is a colour that dominates the scene. It could stem from a setting sun that bathes the scene in an orange glow (Orange Key), or it could be a bright day in the forest that vibrates with a green glow (Green Key). There are as many possible colour keys as there are different feels or types of days. It is important to spend the time and ask the question what colour key is the scene in? What colour key best reflects the day? What colour key best expresses the feel of the day? Once the colour key is establish, a sense of harmony and beauty permeates a work of art and it is a pleasing thing for the viewer.

DappledLight  Shade500
Dappled Light, 8”x10” Oil on panel               Shade, 5”x7” oil on canvas panel

The next time you look at a work of art, try to see these keys. They are subtle messages from the artist to you. A way to share a feeling that cannot be expressed in words.  Enjoy your art!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Tension As A Design Element in Painting

There are courses and numerous books that tackle the subject of design in painting, so I can’t possibly put together a small blog post that will spell it all out. But I will try to focus on an area that is seldom explored in art blogs or even art books: Tension as a design element.

 Round Hill Road
Round Hill Road, John Twachtman

When I want inspiration for design, I usually explore the works of John Twachtman. He was a true master of building tension in a painting. Tension as an element of design is something that few art books explain well. Granted a lot of artists instinctively feel it and build it into their work, but few have learned it formally.

If I were to teach someone the concept of tension as a design element in painting, the first thing I would do is to take them to an old 70’s style arcade hang-out and have them play a few pin-ball games with an eye to understanding the equilibrium point in the game. In painting, that point between two hills or the intersection of a slope and a trunk for instance, these are what I mean by equilibrium points; The points at which if you would imagine a ball rolling through the picture, would stop and rest in that nook. That point is the area of least tension. Kids instinctively put the sun rising or setting in the nook between two hills. It is a peaceful place to put something in. Whatever you place there comes to rest. It does not compel movement.


Now, up to a certain point, the further you pull an imaginary ball away from the equilibrium point on the plane of the picture, the more tension you load into the picture. To continue the analogy, that is because the ball will want to roll down from the spot you place it at down to the equilibrium point. I say up to a certain point because there is a distance beyond which the relationship between the ball and the equilibrium point becomes too weak and the theory falters, but in general it holds true.


So if you want to paint a restful picture of a couple picnicking in a field, positioning them right at or near the equilibrium point would be perfect and would exude the perception of rest. If, on the other hand, you wish to paint a picture of a boat battling the rough seas, lifting the boat away from the equilibrium point will create the tension you desire. The eye wants to move the boat to the equilibrium point to create stability and in so doing it completes the story. The tension is held in the picture and its resolution is in the mind of the viewer. By understanding the concept of tension, you can be in control of the anxiety or comfort that you want your painting conveys. I hope this helps you either enjoy art more, or apply tension as an element of design in your paintings.