Tuesday, March 27, 2012

East End Gothic

Langdon House 9x12 pastel, copyright 2012

When friend of mine found this charming little house and posted a photo on her Facebook page, it called out to me to be painted.  I stayed with her during the pastel workshop and she and her husband kindly drove me past it so I could take my own photographs.  It was early evening and the setting sun really lit the house in a wonderful way.  It's been bouncing around in my head ever since, while I continued to work on other paintings.  Finally yesterday I couldn't resist any longer.

Trying something new, I packed up my pastels and got it started while sitting in the car during my son's soccer practice.  It was a bit cramped, the lighting wasn't right, and I got pastels all over my lap. The entire house ended up a bit crooked on the paper, but I was able to compensate for it a bit with some careful cropping and then spent some time this morning straightening lines and reworking shadows and highlights.  I rarely paint houses - there are too many straight lines to deal with - but this one has me rethinking that aversion.

The house, called the Langdon House, dates to 1855 and is near the Cincinnati neighborhood of East End.  As one of the few remaining Steamboat Gothic houses in the Cincinnati area, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It even has its own entry on Wikipedia, something I didn't realize until I was writing up this blog entry.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Early Morning Flight

Early Morning Flight 12x16 pastel, copyright 2012

I wonder how many of my paintings have been inspired by my early morning walks?  One of these days I will have to count them up, adding this one to the list.  What makes this one different though is that it is not based on a photograph.  I neglected to take my camera with me, and so had to stare and memorize the constantly changing scene, then quickly get it on paper before it was forgotten.  It's the first time I've tried working from memory, and I think it worked out well.  And of course you just can't go wrong with lots of blue.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Morning snow

Light Snow, Bright Morning 12x9 pastel, copyright 2012

It's hard to believe given the unusually warm weather we are experiencing now, but two weeks ago we woke up to a bit of a surprise: an overnight snow.  It was only and inch and was gone by midmorning, but it is the most significant snowfall we've had this winter.  Naturally I grabbed my camera and walked around a bit after the kids got on the bus.

Watching the light slowly creep over the trees and chase back the shadows has become a highlight of my morning, a justification for getting up before the sun.  While I can see this happening from my kitchen window, I realized that morning that I've never watched it in this particular field, which is in the floodplain of the creek and completely surrounded by trees.  It can't be seen from the road, making it almost a secret space, a little hidden surprise at the end of the lane.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ray Hassard pastel workshop, Day 2 Part 2

Still Life on Black 9x12 pastel, copyright 2012

When I concluded that the previous painting was finished, mostly because the paper wouldn't allow me to do any more, Ray came over for a look.  After discussing the paper and techniques for a bit, he noted that I seemed to emphasize deep shadows and dramatic lighting.  I also like to use the side of the pastels to block in large areas of color rather than making careful, precise marks, which he said made my painting very expressive.  That comment in particular has me walking on air.

Then he told me, "I'm going to give you a piece of black paper.  There's about an hour left, lets see what you can do."  Talk about pressure!  But then I realized that really, the pressure was all in my head - after all, it was just a workshop and I only had an hour so if it turned out terribly, no big deal.

To my surprise, it didn't turn out terrible at all.  In fact, I'm quite pleased with it.  Working on black requires a different mind set since typically with pastels you start with the darks and the go lighter, adding the lightest bit last.  With black, your darkest bits are already there so you need to start more in the mid range.   Actually, the biggest problem I had was that the green avocados in a green bowl were rather dull.  Ray pointed out, again, that I needed to place more red around the painting to give it balance and that I needed to make the background more interesting, both of which were true and improved the painting significantly.

So what did I get from this workshop?  I already knew about the underpainting technique and the various papers and pastels.  But I had never tried them before, and reading about these things on the internet is never as good as seeing them and trying them myself.  In the end though, I think it was mostly about getting feedback to reinforce my strengths and point out areas where I need to work.  Keep it loose, keep it simple, keep it dramatic.  Don't ignore the background.  Watch that the colors are well balanced throughout.  Use more red!

I think what I got out of more than anything else is the confidence to see where my strengths are, and especially to see where I need to improve.  I've already framed and hung this painting up in my studio as a reminder both.

Thank you Ray!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ray Hassard pastel workshop, Day 2 Part 1

Still Life with Gravy Boat 12x9 pastel, copyright 2012

Day 2 of the workshop was all about a technique I knew about but had not yet tried: underpainting.  The idea is to paint first, then lay the pastels over top of the painting - the underpainting then influences the pastel painting.  This is especially useful on white and light colored papers when it can otherwise be difficult to get good, saturated darks and brights.  Again, Ray did a demonstration in the morning, then let us loose to try it ourselves.  I chose another paper that I had not used before called UArt.  It holds up well to liquids without warping and can even be scrubbed off with a sponge, and comes only in white and off white.  

This was a fun technique to play with.   First the still life was sketched with charcoal, then pastels applied in whatever color you want.  The apple was painted orange and the green bowl a bright yellow, for example.  Then the pastel is set into the paper with a brush dipped in rubbing alcohol.  Turpentine and mineral spirits can also be used.  The pastel can not be removed from the paper after this, except with a wash of the same solution, and it can not be blended.  Water works too, but the pastel can be removed and blended a bit.  Drips, washes, splatters and weird colors all can make for a very interesting, even abstracted underpainting.  

After that, it's up to the artist how much is covered.  Some cover it entirely and some incorporate it into their final painting, including leaving drips and splatters visible.  I mostly covered it, except in the green bowl where the yellow made a nice highlight.  But while working on the background and the red cloth I discovered that the paper became clogged with pastel and reached a point where I could add no more, which was rather frustrating as I wasn't quite done yet.  More washes with alcohol and water didn't help much.

Ray admitted that he usually doesn't use this technique much, except to change the tint of lighter colored paper and to set really dark darks.  I think that's probably what I will end up doing as well.  While it was fun to play, it doesn't suit my methodology that well.

Tomorrow I'll post the second painting from Day 2, and my thoughts on the workshop.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ray Hassard pastel workshop, Day 1

Still Life with Mangos 12x9 pastel, copyright 2012

This weekend's workshop with Ray Hassard at the lovely Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center in Covington, Kentucky marks the first time I have had any formal instruction in pastel techniques.  It was designed to be a beginning class and while I wouldn't consider myself a beginner, in a way the lack of training puts me in that category.  The whole idea was to play with new techniques, new papers and new pastels.

First of all I have to say that Ray was an excellent teacher.  He was patient and helpful and encouraged me to do more, which is what I needed.  He started out with detailed discussions about the medium, then moved on to a demonstration all the while answering students' questions and enthralling us with stories of his extensive travels overseas.  He was familiar with the methods of other artists, often pausing to point them out in the many instructional books he had brought along.

In the afternoon it was time for the students to have a go at various still lifes he had set up around the room.  I chose a paper I had never used before, La Carte by Sennilier, and was told not to get it even a little bit wet or the water based texture of the paper would simply come off, taking the pastel with it.  While most of the time I used my own pastels, I did dive into his big box of miscellaneous sticks.  This painting is the result of the day's work.

I've decided that I don't really care for the La Carte paper, it's a bit too rough in texture for my tastes.  But I do like the very soft pastels and went back often to a very dark purple from Great American Art Works, a Cincinnati based company.  But what I really got out of the day was Ray pushing me to spread the colors around, especially the red, so that one item (believe it or not, it's a bowl) did not become isolated or pop forward too much.  And he really had me work to keep the background more interesting, always a challenge for me.  Some aspects of it, such as the background and jar, came out well and others like the red bowl and mangos, not so much.  But it was fun the see what works and what doesn't.

Day 2 tomorrow...

Friday, March 9, 2012

A show and a workshop

The reception for the Randolph County art show was last night and I'm sorry to report that once again I came up blank.  It's the fourth year I've walked away with nothing, and while I will continue to participate, I'm not so sure I'll make the one hour drive on a week night for the reception.  I actually knew once I looked around that I was not likely to win, the competition was pretty stiff.  In fact, a pastel won the Best of Show, which is unusual as oils are much more likely to take top honors.  The winner was Carol Strock-Wasson, a Union City artist.  As soon as I saw her piece I thought it likely to win, it really was that good. Unfortunately it's not on her website but if I see it somewhere I'll post a link.

Seeing all that talent in a small town made me realize that while I've improved hugely over the last two years, I still have a lot to learn.  Lately I've felt like I hit a bit of a plateau and have reached the limits of what I can teach myself through books and the internet and looking at other's work.  So this weekend I am taking a workshop from Cincinnati pastel artist Ray Hassard.  He is pretty well known regionally and I expect to learn a lot from him.  I'll post my thoughts on it next week.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Sometimes they come easy

Edge of the Pasture 12x16 pastel, copyright 2012

Our neighbor's property has an open view to the west, and on clear evenings the sunset lights everything up rather dramatically.  I've taken dozens of reference photos from our driveway trying to capture that moment.  Most of the time I've focused on their red barn, but this time is was a large maple tree that caught my eye.  And despite my struggles the past few weeks and the difficult subject matter that trees make, this one didn't give me too much trouble.  The hardest part was in reminding myself to not do too much.  I actually started painting in all the little branches on the maple and all the bushes and trees in the background.  It became obvious rather quickly that so much detail would take forever to paint and would only serve as distractions.  Keep it simple is the best philosophy.

In the news, the annual Art Association of Randolph County juried show is this month, and I've entered two pieces:  October Fields and Morning Mist Near Alexander Bay.  Experience has taught me that larger, more dramatic work is more likely to get noticed, especially in a show as crowded as this one gets.  The reception is next Thursday the 8th at 7:00pm.  I plan on going, assuming the weather holds up.