Sunday, January 29, 2012

Along the Erie Canal in Lockport, New York

Steps to the Erie Canal, Lockport 6x6 oil, copyright 2012

Taking a brief break from pastels, I did this one just for me.  Every time I paint steps or stairs I think to myself, "Why don't I paint these more often?".  There's something meditative about the simple lines and repeating pattern.

These steps lead down to the Erie Canal in Lockport, New York, just upstream from the lock.  We couldn't go down them - they were roped off, and looked a bit crumbly.  I have no idea what purpose the tunnels serve or how deep they are, but was intrigued by the contrast with all the straight lines.  The concrete made for a rather monotonous color scheme, so I tried to make it a bit more lively by painting the ground on the board bright orange-red.  This was a quick little study and the details were not important to me, just the lines and patterns and shadows.  I have no idea if anyone else will find it interesting, but I'm happy with it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

October fields

October Fields 12x16 pastel, copyright 2012

Corn and soybeans are the most commonly planted crops in my area, and most farmers rotate their fields yearly between the two.  Corn is more interesting in midsummer, when the long leaves are dark green, topped by pale yellow tassels.  But in the fall, soybeans have them beat.  The leaves on the plants turn bright yellow before they fall off and the remaining stems and seed pods are wonderful shades of warm brown.

I noticed these fields along Twin Creek about five miles north of our house, on a bright October day last year.  There was actually quite a bit more going on in the photograph, with trees along the road and shadows and weeds on the fence line.  The bottom right hand corner got quite complicated - and very distracting.  An eraser solved that problem, and put the emphasis back on the yellow soybeans where it should be.  I have to keep reminding myself that photos are to be used as guidelines only.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Valentine's Day flowers

Just a quick note today to let everyone know that I am having a Valentine's Day sale in my etsy shop.  For the next two weeks I will be offering my four 6x6 flower paintings at a 10% discount.  These are the perfect gift, they won't wilt and die or make you sneeze!   Here's the link to the shop section.

Unfortunately, I doubt that I can get them to anyone outside of the US by Valentine's Day, at least not using the postal service.  If you live outside of the US, you can contact me directly and we'll discuss other options, such as FedEx and UPS.

Pink Azaleas 6x6 oil, copyright 2011

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Art of Cropping

In the Conservatory 7x9 pastel, copyright 2012

These are the two pastels I was struggling with last week.  In the Conservatory is based on a photograph I took some years ago during a visit to the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus.  If you are ever in the city it's worth the visit, especially during the butterfly exhibit in the spring.  They have some Chihuly pieces on permanent display, making a wonderful backdrop of color for the butterflies and the koi.  

Ice on the Creek Bank was my attempt at plein air, when I succeeded only in freezing my fingers.  Both of these started out as 16x12 paintings that just would not work to my satisfaction.  I nearly gave up on them but there were just enough bits in both to make me think they were worth keeping.

Just the other day it occurred to me that maybe the best parts could be salvaged and the rest discarded.  Exacto knife and right angle ruler in hand, they were cut up before self doubt could stop me, and both ended up the better for it.

Ice on the Creek Bank 5x7 pastel, copyright 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Toronto skyline

View from the Airport Ferry, Toronto 8x10 oil, copyright 2012
click to purchase this painting

This past week the weather has been wrecking havoc on my sinuses and my attempts to work on another plein air pastel.   One day I started out for my chosen spot to catch the moodiness of light freezing rain, only to turn back home when the rain became heavy snowfall in a matter of minutes.  Once the snow and blowing wind stopped a few days later, I headed out to the creek to catch what little snow had not yet been melted by the sun.  But I'm a bit of a cold weather wimp and gave up after about 45 minutes.  It's hard to hold onto the pastels when your fingers are freezing.  Thunderstorms blew through yesterday and now the sun is shining again, but it's uncomfortably cold again.  I think I will wait for summer to paint plein air.

During my frustrations with the weather I took breaks periodically to work on this oil painting.  After posting a pencil sketch back in November a friend asked if this was the prelude for a painting.  At the time the answer was no.  But I've found that when things get difficult with one piece, sometimes it helps to completely switch gears - oil for pastel, summer for winter.  The amount of detail in this one became a meditation of sorts, shutting off most of my mind to concentrate on shapes and shadows and light.  It really is amazing to me how little detail is required to make a building look like a building.  The biggest challenge is keeping all the exterior lines straight.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

January Sunshine

Bank Barn, January Sun 16x12 pastel, copyright 2012

I've been thinking about tackling the challenge of plein air painting a lot lately, building up the courage to try it again.  My last few attempts have ended in frustration.  The most difficult thing for me is finding a focal point.  Using photographs is so much easier because I can crop and shift the frame around until it suits me.  And the light never changes in a photograph.

But the light and the colors aren't 100% accurate in photographs and subtleties can get lost.  So I decided to try it again yesterday, taking advantage of what was most likely the last unseasonably nice weather for awhile.  Our bank barn is a natural focal point and one very familiar to me.  In the warm afternoon sunshine I sat out on our driveway for a little over an hour and painted this pastel while fending off a cat that wanted to sleep on the pastels and a German shepherd mix that thinks she's a lap dog.

Working quickly is essential since the light is constantly changing, so I left out a lot of details like brush and stonework and focused on basic shapes, light and shadow.  By the time I finished the shadows had shifted and were creeping up the side of the barn.  I was pleasantly surprised with how it turned out - the high contrast is something that probably would have been lost working from a photograph.  A few minor touch ups this morning finished it off, mostly just cleaning up the lines.  Now that I know that I can do it, I'll have to try again next time the sun shines.  Of course it may be awhile before that happens.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Warm thoughts

Midsummer Barn 16x12 pastel, copyright 2012

I hope everyone had a wonderful and safe holiday season.  We live fairly close to much of our family and were able to celebrate with them.  My many cousins and adorable little nephew are always good for smiles.  Needless to say, I haven't done a whole lot of artwork for the past weeks.

However, on the second day of the new year we had our first measurable (about 1 inch) of snow, and it got me wishing for warmer weather already.  I sorted through the many photos taken over the summer and fall, finally settling on this one.  If it looks at all familiar, this is the same spot and same barn I painted late last year from a frosty morning.

This one was more of a struggle for me as I had a lot of trouble getting the shadows of the trees to look right.  First they were too patchy, then too purple, then too solid.  And I had grasses with seed heads on the lower right, but found it too distracting and so took them out.  When in doubt, simplify!  Making the middle foreground lighter helped too - without that light area, the barn was far too strong of an element.  I think I finally got it right, and am pleased with the depth it has.  The road/field looks like it just keeps going off to the right - which it does.  One of these days I will get permission to walk down that way.  Once it gets warm again, that is.