Saturday, August 31, 2013

Dynamic compositions: the Isle of Skye

I wasn't able to spend a lot of time in my studio this month, but what time I did spend was working on watercolors based on the Isle of Skye sketches I developed in Barbara Jaenicke's  Landscape composition class at the Spruill Center for the Arts in Atlanta Georgia.  

The Isle of Skye is full of dramatic scenery.  It is the most northerly isle of the Inner Hebrides on the west coast of Scotland.  Wind, water and sky have shaped the island, and these elements are ever present in the landscape.  About a half dozen settlements hug rocky shored harbors around the isle.  The coast is a sinuous line of bays and rivulets radiating out from the center of the isle.  The central part of the isle has numerous mountains called Cuillins.  The Black Cuillin's are mostly basalt, while the Red Cuillin are mostly granite.  Hill walking on Skye is popular and often challenging.  The Cuillin's stark colors stand out against the contrasting blue sky and green moors.  The lack of trees allow the ubiquitous clouds to paint shadow patterns across the land.

I ended up painting two versions of the first sketch.  In the first one the fields in the foreground are a green that shades to blue, and the blues of the water are close to the blues of the sky and clouds.  The feel of this painting reminds me of the Isle of Skye, when the clouds were building for another afternoon rain shower.

In the second painting the green shades to yellow, and the blue of the water has more red in it. Bringing the color of the water closer to the blue-purple of the distant mountains and clouds.  This painting feels more like after the rain had finished and the sky was clearing.  It would rain multiple times a day, but be wonderfully clear in-between each shower.

The painting of the second sketch used a palette similar to the second painting, where the foreground green shades to yellow.  It has a bit more burnt sienna and the closer mountains have more green than blue in them.  I masked the house group while I painted the rest of the landscape, which made the washes much easier to do.  I finished the foreground field with some dry brush strokes while the paper was still wet to let them fade and mix.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The beauty of glass beads

Steve has been busy in his studio creating lots and lots of beautiful glass beads.  Over the last several weeks dots, encased dots, plunge dots, wraps, spirals, florals, dichroic, monochromatic, hollow, beads within beads, and organic beads slowly but surely began filling bowls in the kitchen and dining room.  It seemed that anywhere you looked there was a container of beads.

While beautiful by themselves, the beads were not meant to fill bowls, but to be used in earrings, bracelets and necklaces.  We enlisted the help of Steve's sister and niece, who have been making jewelry for awhile, to design some jewelry with the beads.

While they were busy making jewelry, Steve went back to making more beads.  The bowls quickly filled up again and it was time for us to start making jewelry too.

We needed earring and necklace designs for all the new beads.  We looked at examples of lots and lots of jewelry, and I worked up a few sketches based on what we liked.  The designs would highlight the beauty of the beads, not overshadow them.  In the mean time, the beads Steve's sister and niece had been working on came back all neatly wrapped.  We looked at what they had done with the beads, and had several conversations about styles, color combinations, materials, tools, sources, etc.

With beads and designs in hand, it was time to put it all together.  We spent several evenings matching colors, stringing beads, bending wire and wrapping beads.  Now instead of bowls of beads we have beautiful earrings and necklaces!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Developing dynamic compositions in landscape paintings

I recently attended a one day class on landscape composition at the Spruill Center for the Arts in Atlanta Georgia.  The instructor, Barbara Jaenicke, is an accomplished pastel and oil artist.  The workshop, however, was open to artists of all media and drew artists who work in pastel, acrylic, oil and watercolor.  The focus of the workshop was blocking out dynamic compositions.  No finished work was created during the workshop.

Barbara did two demos to explain the concepts of blocking out dynamic compositions from photos, one in pastel the other in oil.  It was very interesting to watch an artist working in a media I have never work in.  Creation of composition and value sketches are the same for all medias.  The real difference between the medias is in the next step.  For both pastels and oils an under painting outlining the values (oils) or temperature (pastels) is created.  This underpainting is dark, and later layers will be lighter.  Underpaintings in watercolors are light, and later layers will be darker.

Over the course of the workshop I worked from three photos, one taken on the Isle of Skye, Scotland (photo to left), one taken at the John C. Campbell School, NC, and one taken while fishing a Trout stream near Asheville NC.   I developed pencil sketches diagraming the overall compositions and values.  The next step was to use the pencil sketches to create watercolor block sketches.  These sketches do not have details, just colors with the same values as the pencil sketches.

I used the Isle of Skye photo (above) to develop sketches for two distinct paintings.   One focuses on the water as it flows through the land.  swaths of land and water zig zag across the paper, drawing the eye through the foreground into the mountains in the background.

The other focus on the buildings sitting between the hills and the water.  The angular shapes of the land and water draw the eye to the buildings.

Barbara encouraged us to develop our sketches, and helped us focus on the compositions in the sketches and not jump into working on full paintings.  The small sketches are used to decide if the composition warrants a full painting, or needs some additional refinement.  I am currently working on watercolor paintings, based on these two sketches developed during the class.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Project Robin: fourth painting

The Robin in the third painting was much better, but due to flaws in the paper, I needed another painting.  As long as I was doing another painting I planned on some additional refinements.  I decided a less distracting and chaotic background could improve the overall composition of the painting.  I made a pencil sketch massing color areas in the background and foreground.  I used the sketch as a basis for developing an overall color pattern that would flowed across the page.  

Next I took a closer look at the leaves of the Japanese Red Maple, Acer palmatum atropurpureum, to better understand their individual and combined color ranges.  Early spring leaves are orange-red, they turn red-purple to green in summer, then back to red in the fall.  The variety of color combined with the shape of the palmate leaves make it easy to understand why these trees are so popular.  To the left is the page for the Japanese Red Maple that I added to my Tree journal.  I started the journal way back in 2011 as part of a course I took at the John C. Campbell Folk School.

Finally, I tested how the color pigments I would be using for the leaves would combine and play together.  I used what I found from these tests to decide which colors to lay down first to create the orange and green shades in the painting.

In the fourth (and final) painting all the small branch in front of the Robin were eliminated, leaving only a few small branches in the background.  I painted the Robin, nest and branches first, and then uses the same wet-on-wet technique to add one swath of color at a time, letting them run together, covering the branches and edges of the nest.  I came back and defined a few distinct leaf shapes.

The colors in the fourth painting are muted, similar to the first painting, but because the colors are massed the red-oranges create a distinct foreground and the greens push into the background framing the Robin.