Carlson, trees and me

Well I really do need to stop saying I'm "back in business", because no sooner do I say it then something goes awry. Mid-way into the James River studio piece I posted about in my last blog, Ma Nature delivered to us a belated white Christmas and sub-freezing temperatures. School closed for three days (!) but in fits and starts I got 'er done.

"Take Me to the River", Oil on linen, 24x30: ©Jennifer E Young

"Take Me to the River", Oil on linen, 24x30: ©Jennifer E Young

There's quite an investment in paint in this piece, but since I was able to work at least a little bit on it each day over our surprise break, it stayed open and wet enough that I was able to work up a nice texture without the dreaded gumming up of paint that can lead to over-work. 

Lately I've been looking at and thinking a lot about one of my painting heroes, John F. Carlson. If you paint landscapes (or are the connoisseur of them), you may already know about his well-loved book "Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting". If you haven't heard of it, I highly recommend picking up a copy if you are serious about the study of painting in this genre.

Carlson was a Swedish-American Impressionist born in 1875. His family immigrated to New York in 1884. Carlson went on to study art at the Art Students League in New York City, and achieve a fine career as a landscape painter, with prestigious exhibitions and a position as the director of the Woodstock School of Landscape Painting.

While he painted a variety of subjects, he made many powerful works based on scenes containing primarily groupings of trees. Carlson really was a master of form and negative space. The simplicity of his subject matter in many of his better-known paintings belied the abstract power of his compositions.

So in addition to thinking about light and shadow, variations in color, etc., I thought a lot about variation in shapes, both negative and positive. The James River series really does lend itself to this kind of study, as many paths to the river are wooded before you arrive at its rocky banks. Twisted roots along the forest floor add an additional element of interest to the composition. I had such a good time with this painting that I am developing a companion. More about that coming soon.

French village work in progress

The weather's been great here lately, but I haven't had much of a chance to do any plein air painting because I've been working on a large commission. I'm not sharing that today because I want to "unveil" it to the client first, but I'm doing a happy dance that it has reached a state of completion that I am satisfied enough with to present it. 

All clients are special, but this particular client commissioned me to create a commemorative piece in memory of a beloved family member. This client is a lovely lady and so very sweet and kind, and the sense of pressure I felt for "getting it right" has been all mine. 

Often times  when I have labored over a large or involved project, there is no better palette cleanser than painting a new small canvas, fast and fresh, of a completely unrelated subject. 

beynacvillagewip_jenniferyoung
beynacvillagewip_jenniferyoung

I almost always seem to forget to photograph the painting after I paint the shadow patterns, but before adding the sunlit areas. Oh well, this is close. I didn't have time to finish yesterday because it was getting late when I started it and I had to pick up my daughter. I like this stage though, because if you get the majority of the shadow areas down in the beginning, you really see the potential and the armature it provides to the design.

La Barchetta Rossa

I had such fun with this little painting that I am thinking of doing it again as a larger piece. My goal in the execution was to keep it loose and not get bogged down in too many details that can happen so often when approaching architectural scenes; especially when working from photo references. 

"La Barchetta Rossa", Oil on linen, 12x9", ©Jennifer Young

"La Barchetta Rossa", Oil on linen, 12x9", ©Jennifer Young

As with plein air painting, sometimes giving yourself a handicap can be very helpful. Squinting, for instance, allows one to reduce visual information down to shapes, patterns, and values. These days taking off my glasses serves a similar purpose (*SIGH*). Another method that I experimented  with here was to "blur it up"  using one of the artistic filters in Photoshop. This has the effect of removing the detail while still providing the shapes and values. I used my blurry image for most of the painting, and then referenced the detailed photo at the end to see what I may have missed and add the finishing touches. What was interesting is that I liked the freshness of my initial round so much that I found very little I wanted to add or adjust once I referenced the detailed photo. I have often used Photoshop to adjust shadows and highlights in my photo references, or to crop for ideas on composition, but this was the first time I have used it to remove detail. I really liked this method and will likely do it again, especially for complicated scenes like architecture where it can really be helpful to turn down the visual "noise".

A new thing-a-majig and a new painting

In the wake of the plein air weekend I wrote of in my last post, last week was mostly a recovery week for me. I did manage to get a new studio painting started, however. This is the initial tonal sketch on a 20x24" linen canvas.

Tonal sketch

Tonal sketch

This painting  may prove to be a challenge for me because much of this scene is in shadow. But there are a few pops of light that I am arranging in strategic places that I hope will carry the painting. Hey, you never know unless you try, right?

As with the other recent studio oils, I'm working with water miscible paints. One thing I'm noticing with these paints is that the paint blobs on my palette tend to gum up a little quicker once they are laid out, especially when I can't get back to the studio within a day. The manufacturer, Royal Talens recommends in their product info to mist the unused paints with a little water and cover  with foil to keep them moist and reduce the exposure to air. I have never liked putting plastic or foil directly on my paints though, because I feel that it wastes too much in the removal (yes I realize there is a bit of faulty logic in there but we all have our pet peeves).  So I'm experimenting with this:

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What you are seeing is a basic 9x13" cake pan covered with a silicone doo-jobby that I found on Amazon. It is supposed to create an airtight seal, and the cake pan is deep enough that this cover-thing doesn't actually touch the paint. Whether it will be sufficient to keep the paint from oxidizing remains to be seen. I haven't been back at the easel since Saturday so I guess I will find out this morning when I go to work. I will report back with my findings, as well as an update on my progress with the painting, in an upcoming post.

Plein Air Crush

This week I am coming down off of an exciting weekend in Floyd County, Virginia, where I participated in the inaugural plein air event called Plein Air Crush. In total there were about 19 artists participating over the course of the weekend, with judging and awards taking place on Sunday. This year the event centered around Chateau Morrisette Winery, which has some interesting architectural features, lovely gardens and vineyards, not to mention a fine restaurant and some pretty tasty wine. It sounds luxurious doesn't it? But keep in mind I was not doing much sipping. Instead I was schlepping; schlepping a bunch of art gear and standing for hours, out in the elements. It was hard on the body but rewarding for the spirit, and I had a good time painting the new-to-me scenery and meeting other artists.

We converged on Friday evening for a little meet and greet, but the painting portion of the event kicked off on Saturday, where we faced the threat of rain and some pretty dark skies. Painting in these conditions is really challenging because the value range is very limited and the light fairly flat. So I decided to set up in the vineyard where I found opportunities for some strong linear elements and soft edges that provided interesting compositional options:

"Vineyard in Gray Light", oil on panel, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young. To purchase,  contact me !

"Vineyard in Gray Light", oil on panel, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young. To purchase, contact me!

In the afternoon I decided to venture a little further afield to paint a view of Buffalo Mountain: 

"Buffalo Mountain View" , oil on linen, 8x8"  ©Jennifer E Young

"Buffalo Mountain View" , oil on linen, 8x8"  ©Jennifer E Young

Sunday was the quick draw. It was incredibly windy. Worse than clouds and rain, wind conditions are a nearly impossible situation for the plein air painter because of the danger of having your entire setup topple and/or take flight.  The wind at the winery required that most painters seek a shelterd place unless they had a good way of weighting their setup (which I didn't).

Down at the vineyard though it was much warmer and virtually windless. I hadn't really planned on doing another vineyard piece but I figured it was my best option for success when we had a time limit.

"Sunlit Vines, Oil on linen, 9x12"©Jennifer E Young.  Contact me  to purchase!

"Sunlit Vines, Oil on linen, 9x12"©Jennifer E Young. Contact me to purchase!

Jennifer painting the vineyard at Chateau Morrisette during the Quick Draw.

Jennifer painting the vineyard at Chateau Morrisette during the Quick Draw.

We had three hours for the quick draw (which is actually pretty generous). At the alotted time we had to deliver our quick draw painting and the other works we had completed during the event and set up for judging. Steve Doherty, artist and editor of Plein Air Magazine was the judge. I didn't win any awards but it was cool to meet him and I learned a lot about my painting, and even a bit about myself as well.

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Setting up for the judgement back up at the winery

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Here I am happy and tired. The wind blew up a bunch of dirt on my paintings. I have managed to get most of it off of the two vineyard pieces, but the Buffalo Mountain one was painted really thickly and I don't think that stuff is going to budge. Oh well...that's plein air for you! It was good winery soil at least.

I came home to a messy house and a bunch of dirty laundry, but it was a fair trade for having had time off from mommy duties to do my thing for a whole weekend. (Thanks honey!) :-)