Edges, mark-making and tools

Happy New Year!🎉 Okay, granted I am a little late to the party, but I’ve had a busy couple of weeks moving into a new exhibit space for 2019. More on that soon, but today I wanted to share a bit about mark making, and neat little tool that I stumbled upon along the way.

I didn’t have tons of time over Christmas break to paint, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been on my mind. I have been thinking a lot about how I can loosen up, to create pieces that are truthful but not quite so literal. One of the things I struggle with is varying not only color but brushwork, so that there is not so much sameness everywhere. I vary brush sizes and shapes, but it still can leave me feeling a little bit like there must be something more. Sometimes I want to push a bunch of paint around and brushes alone don’t always do that.

Then one day, I purchased a Color Shaper. I actually bought this to spread gesso, because I have some pre-gessoed canvases that I bought that have been sitting around in my studio unused because are still a bit too rough and absorbent for my liking.

Before I even used it for gesso, I got curious. I had heard of other artists using these tools fairly extensively for applying paint in their work and I got to wondering whether it might be a useful tool for varying my edges and textures in my painting.

It didn’t really do what I was hoping for. These shapers come in varying degrees of firmness and the tool I ordered was an extra firm. Good for gesso spreading, but not for my painting. Still, I saw the potential so I went back online to see if I could get another one with more flexibility. But before I got that far, I stumbled upon these do-hickeys and fell in love.

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These guys, officially called Princeton Catalyst Wedges, are made of some kind of silicone or rubber and come in a variety of shapes . They are more flexible than my prior purchase but still firm enough to move the paint. They don’t have handles, but frankly I prefer this handle- less variety because it allows for more control.

What does it do? Well, for starters it pushes a heck of a lot of paint around, creating the ability to make bold, impasto passages or thinner, more ethereal ones.

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I can use it to make a fairly straight edge with the straight, thin side of the tool, or use it t scrape down passage to create softer edges.

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I can use it as a blending tool, or a tool to separate out colors and make them stand out. In short, I can use it to exploit the properties of the paint in a way that is a nice variation from straight-on brushwork .

I first ordered the white tool, pictured above, left. Then then I discovered the black, which I like even better because you have greater versatility with both a long and a short edge. “Why not just use a palette knife,” you might ask? Well, I do love palette knife paintings but I always just end up switching back to brushes and reworking them because I have never been quite able to achieve that combination of softness and boldness I aim for. These little tools act like palette knives with more of a brush feel, if that makes sense.

“Coral Reflections, Late Summer”, Oil on linen, 24x36” ©Jennifer E. Young

“Coral Reflections, Late Summer”, Oil on linen, 24x36” ©Jennifer E. Young


I’m still not ditching my paint brushes; they are the work horses in my studio. But I’m having fun playing around with these new tools and exploring what I can do with them in my paintings.

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.

James River plein air

Oh happy day! Oh cold morning; but nevertheless, happy day. This week I finally managed to get back outside, to visit one of my favorite painting muses, the James River. The James River Park system in Richmond, VA, continues to fascinate me and remains one of my all-time favorite plein air painting sites.

* SO LD*  Autumn Morning on the James River", Oil on canvas, 6x8" ©Jennifer E Young

*SOLD* Autumn Morning on the James River", Oil on canvas, 6x8" ©Jennifer E Young

I painted this at Pony Pasture, where I stood wedged between some boulders.

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Pony Pasture is on the south side of the river, in Richmond VA. I've always wondered where this part of the park got its name, but only today did I think to look it up. According to Richmond.com, "The name came from the 1960s when the area was suburban and people who were into housing their horses near the river," said Ralph White, who is the (now retired)  manager of the James River Park.

While there are no ponies today (though what a cool sight that would be) there are plenty of other creatures to observe, including Canadian geese and herons, as well as dogs and their owners, fishermen, kayakers and canoers. Oh, and you might occasionally see the odd painter too. ;-)

Treasure Hunting at Avalon Pier

What a fall it has been so far. I thought once school started things would normalize (ha!) but the  schedule continues it's craziness. Most days lately I have just enough time (and energy) to paint, and maybe quickly post here and there on social media. Last week was major at my husband's job, and he had to pull some of all-nighters out of town while I played the single parent at home.

Unfortunately this blog suffers during times like these, and my rhythm tends to stumble. I don't feel comfortable venturing too far away from my daughter's school when my husband is also far away, so I opt for studio painting instead of painting in the field. The set-up and cleanup is just quicker and more efficient when I need to head for the pickup line at the end of the school day, or should Iget a call from the school nurse or whatever. When the weather is gorgeous and fleeting as it has been, this sometimes makes me feel a little sad not to go out to some beautiful countryside location and paint outdoors.

On the up side, the studio allows me to experiment and try new things. Not only can I paint larger (yay!) but  I can spend more time designing and composing. I can also decide how loyal I want to be to the image I'm working from, or whether I want to push that edge and see if I can manipulate the color more to create a certain color harmony or mood. So yeah, I was definitely going for a mood with this piece, and I have to admit I had a good time doing it!

"Treasure Hunting at Avalon Pier", Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

"Treasure Hunting at Avalon Pier", Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

Due to the cloud cover and my auto settings on my camera, my photo references were somewhat washed out in terms of color. So, much of the color is inspired by my memory and another plein air painting I did in the summer:

"Anchored at Sunrise", Oil on panel, 9x12" ©Jennifer E  Young

"Anchored at Sunrise", Oil on panel, 9x12" ©Jennifer E  Young

The image above has more warmth to it due to the time of day and the location of the sun so close to the horizon, but I loved the beautiful soft pastel colors in the sky and water and I felt that something similar would work well for the hazier light of a cloudy early evening, with just a tinge of the sunlight warming up the clouds as touches of blue sky break through. 

During our beach trips to Kill Devil Hills, I often walk down toward Kitty Hawk to the Avalon Pier and enjoy the people watching as I go. I especially love to see the kids playing by the shore, so in-the-moment and involved in their play. I know that feeling all too well. It's the way I feel when I'm painting down there, though my time always seems to end all too soon.

Painting Pippin Hill Farm

Last spring I had the good fortune to take a day tour with friends along Virginia's Monticello Wine trail. There are so many pretty vineyards tucked into the valleys of this part of the Blue Ridge, that it's really difficult to pick a favorite. But Pippin Hill Farm definitely hovers around the top of my list. The winery is located in Albemarle County, about an hour and a half from where I live.  

The winery itself is dreamy, with landscaped walkways leading to a beautiful tasting room and restaurant. But the real kicker is the landscaped terrace and the surrounding 360 degree breathtaking views of the countryside. While the surrounding gardens were quite lovely, I'm always a sucker for fields of wildflowers. Throw in some vineyards, mountains and good wine and I'm in heaven!

"Cloud Dance, Pippin Hill Winery" Oil on linen, 30x40", ©Jennifer E Young

"Cloud Dance, Pippin Hill Winery" Oil on linen, 30x40", ©Jennifer E Young

The winery is just far enough away from me that a spur of the moment painting excursion (ideally followed by a sip and a snack ;-) ) is out for me. On the weekdays I generally paint at or relatively near home to be here for the kiddo when she gets out of school. But I really need to plan a visit again soon as it is definitely worth the effort. Given how pretty it was in the warmer months, I 'm curious to know what it's like in the fall.