Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Sketch, From Plein Air to Studio

Sometimes making art on location (plein air) just doesn't work out.  There are all kinds of challenges.  There's a time limit, you don't have long before the light changes so much that the scene you started to sketch just isn't there anymore.   Then there are environmental factors, wind, sun, rain, noise, bugs, animals, people, etc, all kinds of things that interfere or distract.  There's also the challenge of having a limited "studio" with you.  You just can't pack all the supplies and materials your studio holds and it seems like almost without fail you forget to pack something.  For these reasons and more my attempts at making a finished work of art on location more often fail that not.  This is a story about one of those failures that was later resuscitated in the studio.

On Memorial Day I decided to spend half the day up in a local canyon to attempt the charcoal sketching techniques I'd been developing in the studio, on location.  I had some success in the studio so I was confident, well nature humbled me pretty quick.  I parked along the highway where I could see this copse of trees growing on the mountainside.  I applied some watercolor washes mostly in green.  My intent was to keep the color subtle, it came out even more subtle than I expected.   People complain about color shift with acrylics as they dry, my experience is watercolor is far worse.   It's darned near impossible to draw with charcoal on a damp surface so waiting for the paper to dry is a bit aggravating. 
Remember those environmental factors I mentioned before?  Well, it was a nice enough day, a bit breezy but not enough to be annoying but made things a little cool for comfort.  The big problem I had was noise.  I was sitting just a few feet off the highway and being a holiday, thousands of people were traveling to the mountains, the traffic noise was irritating to say the least and by the end of the morning I had a headache.  The main thing the noise did was make it hard for me to get into the "zone", that state where the world disappears and you are alone with your drawing or painting.  It also didn't help that my subject was on the other side of the highway so I was seeing all those noise makers rushing by.
Finally the paper was dry enough to get serious about applying the charcoal.  The session seemed to be going well enough but I just couldn't seem to really get into it and was dissatisfied the whole way.  This makes it sound like I was having a bad time, I really wasn't.  To steal from the fisherman's mantra; "A bad day of plein air is better than a good day at work".  At the time I just chalked it up to experience and learning and pretty much forgot the artwork I'd produced that day once I unpacked it at home.
Fast forward to nearly a month later.  I was looking for some watercolor paper to use for the next project and instead accidently dug up that first sketch from Memorial Day.  With the passage of time I could see it with fresh eyes and realized there was some potential there.  Instead of starting that other project I started reworking that plein air sketch and this is the result;

art sketch plein air nature tree charcoal outdoors

"Nature Study No 3"

Charcoal on paper with watercolor wash 9.8" X 6.9"

The end result has a classical feel that I really like, it was definitely worth the time to refine this plein air sketch in the studio.  Occasionally I find that I can save previously failed artwork attempts...sometimes, some still die on the easel despite all attempts to save them.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Resurrecting Paintings

I have a box full of rejected paintings.  Many of them are plein air paintings that just didn't work out, which is most of them since my success rate with plein air is very low.  The majority are studio paintings that I gave up on.  Then there are those paintings that I haven't given up on that just kind of hang around the easel.  Every now and then I put the painting back on the easel, fiddle with it a bit and take it back off out of frustration. I see potential there so it doesn't go right into the reject bin but I'm not sure how to save it, so it languishes near the easel waiting for another shot.  I have one painting that's resting near the easel that's been on and off the easel for over a year, but at least I haven't given up.  Every once in a long while I decide to look through the paintings in the reject bin and see if there's any potential there that I missed.  Today's blog post is about two paintings from these categories that have been saved, one a "hanger on" and one a "reject".

This painting has been on and off my easel for over a month.  I'd work on this painting when I wanted a break from charcoal drawing.  The painting just didn't seem to be coming together.  I thought the composition was solid but the execution was lacking.  Finally I decided it was "do or die" and got the palette knives out and went to town on it and threw lots of thick paint at it and pushed it all around, this is the result;

art painting landscape autumn palette knife nature tree


"Edge of Autumn"

Acrylic on panel, 12" X 9"

I acknowledge that it's a bit weird to be painting an autumn scene in the middle of spring but I just can't resist the warm colors of fall.  I was pretty happy with how this one turned out so I decided to go though the reject bin and see if there was anything in there I thought I could salvage with some judicious palette knife work.  I pulled out a few paintings, one an 8 x 10 failed plein air piece made it to the easel first.  Unfortunately I did not strike gold that time.  Either I need more practice with palette knives or not all subjects are good candidates for that technique.  Needless to say I won't be sharing that one here. 

However the rummaging through the reject bin did net me one little gem.  I'm not sure why I rejected this one, I just spent a few minutes with it and decided it wasn't half bad.

"Lone Pine"

Acylic on panel 8" X 6"

This was originally a plein air piece painted in Big Cottonwood Canyon about two years ago I think.  It was an experiment in taking different elements  from my surroundings and creating a scene on the spot that doesn't actually exist.  In this case the rock was in one area and the tree came from another and I combined them.  I think I moved the other vegetation around a bit as well.  In the studio I just adjusted some values and added a bit more color.

It's a good idea to save your failed paintings, besides giving you something to measure your progress as an artist against, as your skills develop you might find you can resurrect those failures and turn them into something worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Another Charcoal Study

I can't explain how meditative charcoal drawing can be, at least the way I do it.  While I enjoy doing it I'm not sure I'd call it fun, it seems too quiet and serious for that.  I've always felt a close connection with the subject when drawing, more so than with painting I think.  When drawing I'm going much slower and studying the details deeper and without the distractions of mixing color.  Sure, color has it's place and can be a lot of fun, but the simplicity of only having grays to work with has it's own reward.  Anyway, without further delay here is my latest small charcoal study;

art drawing truck international charcoal abandoned rusty derelict

"Vehicle Study No 1"

5" X 7" Charcoal on paper

This abandoned early 1950's International Harvester truck resides right in the middle of the suburbs of Utah County in Pleasant Grove.  The immediate area is still somewhat agricultural but is also surrounded by housing developments, it's kind of like the calm in the eye of the storm.  In the actual scene there is a tractor parked behind the truck, to keep the drawing simpler I replaced the tractor with bushes from another reference photo.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Sketchy Morning in the Mountains

I decided I need to get back into some form of hiking shape, for two reasons; 1. for my health, 2. to spend more time in nature.  So, the plan is to go hiking once/week weather permitting and get in plenty of walking time in during the week.  Maybe by the end of the season I'll be able to hike uphill for more than 100 yards without running out of breath. Of course if I'm going to be out in the mountains sketching must happen, as a bonus carrying a backpack full of sketching supplies and equipment (16 lbs worth!) adds to the work out.  The Wasatch Mountain canyons are just a 10-15 minute drive from my house, of course this easy accessibility to the mountains from a heavily populated valley means you've got to get up early to get a parking spot at the trailhead. I arrived at the "Mill B" trailhead parking lot by 7:00 am and the primary parking lot was already mostly full.  It was a little cool for comfort that early in the morning but bearable, I knew the hiking would get me warm soon enough.

My first sketch was by where a tributary creek empties into Big Cottonwood Creek, this sketch is of a small waterfall in Big Cottonwood Creek and was done in charcoal in a Stillman and Birn Beta 9x12 sketchbook;

I'm not sure I care for the paper in the Beta sketchbook for charcoal drawing, or maybe it was just my lack of experience with working with charcoal on location, I may have to adjust my technique.

Next, all I had to do was turn around walk a couple steps, sit on a rock and sketch this scene by the tributary creek with a large pine tree leaning over the creek.  The tree seemed to have sprouted out of a pile of rock.  I used a 7" X 10" Stillman and Birn Zeta sketchbook and pen for this sketch.

The paper in the Zeta sketchbook is thinner and much smoother than the Beta, it was great for pen work, the pen flowed very smoothly, very little resistance which helped to sketch a very complicated scene quickly.

Finally I got to hiking up the actual "Mill B" trail.  Previous to this I'd just walked up a paved pathway, it was uphill but nothing too strenuous.  The "Mill B" trail is very rocky in spots and can be challenging to climb, especially for a heavy, old guy with bad knees but I made it easy enough to my next stop, another small waterfall.

Even though the paper in the Zeta sketchbook is fairly light it takes watercolor very well, I didn't experience any buckling, however I didn't put down any large, heavy and wet washes.  The watercolor seems to more sit on top of the paper than be absorbed by like it would be real watercolor paper but it worked just fine. I combined the watercolor with some pen work.  I held the sketchbook and watercolor palette with one hand and used a waterbrush to paint with the other.  However this sketchbook is larger and heavier than the sketchbook I used to use for this and my left hand tired easily.  I'll have to use my homemade stand next time.

I managed to hike up the trail quite a ways but I didn't want to overdo it on my first outing of the year.  I could tell I was reaching what should be my limit for the day when I spotted the perfect rock to sit on and sketch just off the trail so I walked up to it and looked back to see if there was anything worth sketching, I decided the view back down the trail was good, though would be a challenge to simplify.

I decided to use charcoal again in the large Beta sketchbook.  I was also smart enough to get out the sketchbook stand this time.  The stand is just a platform I made that attaches to a small tripod which I also carry.  I've been carrying this stuff around the whole time I might as well use it right?  There is a trail in that sketch, can you see it?  Probably not for all the rocks!  Yes, you have to scramble over the rocks as part of the trail, it can get a bit challenging at times, especially on the way back down. 

Well, it was a good first "hike and sketch" outing for the year.  I hiked further than any day I did last year and it wore me out pretty good but I didn't push it too hard.  Hopefully I'll make a weekly habit of this and actually lose some weight and be in some semblance of hiking shape by fall.