I read that you return to paint some locations several times as you get to explore it in various lights and times of day. When I paint at the same location my paintings look very similar. Do you have suggestions about returning to a location and painting in a fresh way?
--Cayucos Workshop Artist
Thank you for your question. It is one that I have been asked a number of times. The other question that seems to go with this one is don't you get bored with visiting the same locations? Both questions can be answered with the same answer.
On location I am excited to be in the air and ready to solve problems. It means being in the moment when nothing else matters. I have a connection with my subject matter, the changing light and a goal that I call my intent. If I am in that mindful spot, my paintings will not look alike even though there is a similarity. The beauty of painting on location is that with given light conditions, different seasons and changes in the landscape due to a number of different reasons, there will be differences.
Breaking my answer down even more concretely:
I think of my location paintings as field studies. I am a student learning all I can before I take on the task of making a painting. With that freedom I can set my sights on a goal.. I have an intent. I don't consider field studies as unfinished work... all my plein air work is a "field study".
If I am working on color, my composition could be simple or complex but not the main target of my work. If I am getting to know a location I will do a lot of drawing and composing in my sketchbook using different formats.
After visiting a location the day before, I generally have a good idea of the colors families I will be working with. I have also explored the land I am working on and hopefully seen it as the day changed so I know the direction the sun will travel and the time I will have light vs running into early darkness due to valleys and canyons. I make an intention. It could be capturing the morning light as the sun comes over the mountains or how the trees shimmer in the afternoon light. How do I paint that? How do I compose the idea to make the shimmering trees the focus and yet a part of a larger thought? A painting that features the trees versus a portrait of trees. After a couple field studies and time on location I am ready to create a larger painting. I know the time and day to go out and the format I want to use to express my idea. If there is complex drawing or designing involved I have done the footwork to understand what is needed.
Knowing that my paintings are for my library of knowledge and not a gallery or event.... or a painting demo to sell to students, sets me free from the idea of a product. As you saw in the class, the demo is to teach the knowledge I have gained and impart it visually and verbally. Again painting with intention is the only way I know how to work that keeps the paintings fresh and keeps me honest with the situation at hand.
Why do you use transparent paint with a mixture of odorless mineral spirits and alkyd based medium to start your paintings?
Why break down opaque paint when I have paint formulated to be transparent? The small amount of alkyd helps the paint set up on the canvas readily taking the next layer of paint. The bond created between the pigment and the canvas is stronger than thinning the paint with solvent alone. The under painting glows instead of becoming chalking looking when it dries. If I cannot get to painting the next layer. . .I still have the composition ready to go in the field the next day or the studio. The painting featured was painted with transparent pigments to start. I used transparent yellow oxide, ultramarine blue, quinacridone violet, quinacridone red, and viridian. There may also be a touch of a transparent red oxide.
When I'm ready for opaque paint, I can add white or another opaque paint to change the paint from transparent to opaque.
This painting is featured as a transparent example in my book
Oil Painter's Solution Book, Landscapes, page 128-129. Following is the progression from location work to the completed painting. The painting was completed in the studio. It was more than a 4 day painting.... the studio work is where the layers were built up and the colors adjusted. It is SO important to me to use the same pigments while these large paintings develop. More on that in another blog post.
Day One on Location Under painting 26 x 30 oil primed linen canvas Page 129
am in the south of France where the light is delicious, but very bright, even
late into the afternoon. I feel good about my work while I am on site, checking
first to make sure my values are correct, as you discuss in the book and teach
at the workshops. But then when I bring my studies indoors, the colors are
way too saturated and bright. Is there a way to gauge the color saturation
while mixing onsite in the bright sunlight? Both my palette and panel were
under the umbrella.
Susan, your painting location sounds fabulous!!
Congratulations on avoiding
coming in with dark cold paintings. That is often an issue in bright light.
With all of the bounced light you're having invade your painting, I would
suggest taking out a painting with correct chroma in a clear bag that you can paint
on to check color or make up a couple of premixed puddles of color. I would
premix colors from the previous day's work in the correct chroma and then go
back to the same location and make a new painting. By comparing the paint you
mix on your palette to the premixed puddles, you can tell if you're in the ball
park with the chroma you want. Once you know how to compensate for the light you should be able to reach your desired chroma.
run into over-saturation in my studio at times.
By using my plein air studies I am able to mix puddles of color that I want to use in my studio work. Then I have wet paint to compare to as I mix new color.
Comparing wet paint
to wet paint works for me.
This is another good reason to keep your field studies! They create our library of knowledge.
do we mean when we say,
Keep your painting in the same language?
Do you ever find yourself rushing to finish a painting on location, or running into the studio and painting before you get focused on your intent?
have been thinking of this recently with the work I am completing in the
studio. I have to rethink what my mood was when I was on location and the rhythm in which I
painted. Each painting has it's own energy. I have to think about the brush work and what size and kind of brush I was working with.
One of ways to change the unity and language of your painting is to paint carefully thru the foreground and middleground and then take out a knife and paint a large flat sky... get the idea? If you layer color in most of your painting make sure you layer paint in the sky.
All in all keeping your painting in the same language means making sure the painting doesn't look like someone else came up to your
easel and painted on your painting when you weren't looking!
Thank you for the questions I received for the book blog. I am so thrilled to be able to share ideas here! Next week, we will discuss keeping the language the same within a painting. Also, there will be pictures of the series of Maine paintings that I have been working on!
First question is from Joel,
your book regarding your use of the transparent oxides, I interpret that you
use the combo as your sketch-in base of the final painting and then either
cover it over or let it shine through in some areas or glaze over it altogether
just as another painter would first use some combo of colors to first put in
the elements of the final painting (bnt sienna+ultram or whatever. Am I
correct? anything else you can inform me about the transparent
red/yellow/brown oxides in oil painting (or refer me to some more informative
material about these colors).
have the right interpretation of how I use the transparent oxides. I also
add opaque to the paint when I want a full-bodied paint with out transparency.
transparent oxides are good workhorses. They make great glowing under paintings
and can be mixed with opaque pigments. I use them when I need to push a
temperature warmer. They make great greys when mixed with their complement.
The beauty of transparent yellow oxide is that it is a dark
in value yellow paint I can always bring up the value with a lighter value
For more information, you can click on the link on my
website for Gamblin Colors. They have a
wonderful website full of information for the artist to read on the paint they
Another question from Sheila,
I've been reviewing what I believe is the most complete instruction book to landscape painting. My only question would be is there anything you would have liked to have added now that there are several years since its publication?
Sheila, what a wonderful question! I would have liked to have
more paintings done at the same location. As a painter, I find that I learn and
discover so much more with each painting I make. I find that the poetry in my
work comes the longer I work on location.
For next week, we
will discuss keeping the language the same within a painting. Also, there will be pictures of the series of
Maine paintings that I am working on.