Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Dark skies

Winter Sky study 9x12 oil, copyright 2013

Connected study 8x10 oil, copyright 2013

Since taking the workshop with Steven Walker I've been playing with my oils, trying to work out how they will work best for me, and I find myself focusing more and more on the sky.  Really, that shouldn't be much of a surprise as that is what I have been doing for some time in pastels.

These two are the most recent of those studies.  During the workshop Steven pointed out several times that my clouds were rather dark and ominous looking, and these are no exception.  I like the drama that dark skies create and have many, many reference photos of storm clouds.  After finishing the second one in particular though, I realized he had a point - it's a bit too dark.  It may not be obvious on a computer screen, but it is obvious when it's on my living room wall.  It appears that I need to learn to compensate for the fact that a typical room in a house is not as well lighted as my studio.  I think I will try the second one again, but larger and brighter, while keeping the drama.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Thoughts on the Steven Walker workshop

The first week in April I took an oil painting workshop with Steven Walker, and it quite an eye opener on so many levels.  I learned so much, but more importantly rediscovered the joy of oil painting.  It's a long post, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the experience.

Steven working on his first demo.
The first day we introduced ourselves - more than half of the other artists were watercolorists, some were full time artists, and most already knew each other - which meant there was lots of chatter and laughter.  Then Steven talked about himself and his background in illustration and how he ended up in Ohio from Richmond, Virginia.   He takes his work seriously - but not himself, a good combination.

After that he showed us his set up, going over colors and additives and techniques in detail, answering questions as they came up.  Then the first demo, again talking as he worked.  It was mostly finished in about and hour and a half.

Then it was our turn.  I rather unwisely chose a single cluster of clouds as my reference photo for the first painting.  I say unwise because I struggled with it for the first two days - it was far more complicated and difficult than it seemed at first.  Watching the professional artists next to me breeze through their paintings with beautiful results made me feel rather inadequate.  By the third day I was done with that cloud whether or not the painting was finished.  One of my fellow students kindly told me that I was being too hard on myself.  I didn't see it at the time, but he was right.

The troublesome cloud painting,
with a study and the reference photo.
Finally found the "zone" with this one.
A landscape was chosen as the next painting, and that just clicked.  I was able to relax and get into the flow of things during the rest of the week.  The fields were painted with gusto and a pallet knife, a first for me.  It is such a wonderful feeling, being in the "zone" and such a relief to finally get there.  The rest of the week went very well I am happy to report.

What I learned

1) Relax.  I put too much pressure on myself to get it right immediately, instead of just going with the flow and letting it happen.

2)  Don't compare to others.  There were some impressive artists in the workshop, far above my skill level.   Experience counts for a lot, and I still have many, many hours of experience before me.

3) Plan.  As fast as Steven works, he still takes the time to think about what the final product will look like.  He had a stack of small scale studies that he often paints before starting on a larger painting, and encouraged all of us to do the same.

4)  Simplify.  It's a painting, not a photograph and not every detail is necessary, so worry only about what's needed.  At the end of the week he made a point that I had never thought about before.  If the painting is small, the viewer will automatically step closer to see details.  If it's large, the viewer will step back to take it all in, so larger paintings can have less detail than smaller ones.

5) Soften.  This goes along with the don't fuss over details idea.  Hard, sharp edges don't often occur in nature so having them in a landscape can make it look forced or artificial.  I was about doubtful about this with my clouds, but I went along with his suggestion to soften and blend cloud edges on my last painting.  The response from other artists and viewers was positive, so it turns out he was right!

Softer clouds on this one -
 I still need to finish the fields though!
There is much more I could talk about, but those are the basics of what I got from the workshop, technique-wise.  But most important of all was confidence.  I feel much better about my abilities with oil and believe that there will be a big improvement in the quality of my painting.

If you ever get the chance to take a class or workshop from Steven, I highly recommend you do so.  He really is a wonderful teacher.  And a special shout-out to Dan Knepper and his son Jordan for encouraging me to participate in the workshop.  Thanks guys, I'm sure I'll be seeing you around soon!