Saturday, October 30, 2010

Evolution of a Studio Piece

I've been asked periodically to show a progressive series of images on how I work. It is a lot more convenient to document one's work in the studio than it is outside, as the working pace is not constrained by the changing light. There are natural stopping points indoors... a phone call, a meal, a bathroom break, or just to step back and judge the progress, assess the overall balance, decide what's left to do, etc.

I am doing some new work for a group show of Pixar artists at the Holton Studio in early December. As gallery owners and framers deserve to be kept in the loop when the clock is ticking down towards a show, I initially shot this to apprise Tim Holton of what was coming his way (and to assure him that I was actually working on something). Anyways, I took the opportunity to document the progress of this work, as much for my own curiosity as to to satisfy anyone else's interest.
The images below were taken over a week's time, some the same afternoon or evening. This is from a pastel study I did on my last Sierra trip in August to the Little Lakes Valley on the East side of the Sierra. Some notes on my process are given below each image. I should mention that I enjoy studying the game of chess, and a great part of that pleasure stems from reading over the annotated games of players, where they record their strategic ideas, plans, hopes and fears throughout the process of a game. There is a similar process in the creation of a painting, in my mind.

Here's the starting point. I'm working large (for me). This is a 17 x 21 sheet of Canson Twilight taped onto a piece of foam core. I have my field study and a reference photo off to the right. Working in the living room on a Saturday. I'm just laying in all the big shapes. A painting is a 2 dimensional pattern of value and color relationships, regardless of the subject, so my initial marks are just to cover all those areas with a basic foundation color and value. Basic proportions are judged relative to each other. Trying to avoid jumping into any one area, and just keep moving, but you can see I want to play around in the trees against the background on the right. There's some rich color and interesting edges up there.

Clearly started on the right, and headed left. Keep in mind pattern relationships are not necessarily object based, they are simply the major visible differences in the image... masses of things, shadow shapes, etc. These shapes and relationships form the underlying structure and composition of the final image.

Continuing the journey to the left side of the image, but starting to work back into already established zones with the color I'm aiming for, pushing values and temperatures around, and refining edges. This is where a field study is invaluable, as opposed to only having a photograph. One's own color impressions and perceptions are often significantly different than what a camera is necessarily capable of recording. I usually reference my field study for the range of color, value, and my subjective impression of the experience, while the photo provides a more accurate reference for detail and placement of edges and forms.
It was fun to knock in the boulders on the lower left like a bunch dinosaur teeth. Most marks are kept pretty chunky, but I am starting to gradate color in the sky and the background peak that runs off to the right, as it moves towards the light. The upper left needs a cloud, and two layers of overlapping forms before I can justify more work in the foreground. Overall, I've probably put 90 minutes into the work, broken up into a few sessions over one afternoon and evening.

Sunday Session: It's raining out, I've got a Flemish pot roast burbling away in the other room, and the music is turned up. Olfactory and auditory sensations are good! Time to immerse. The upper left has been laid, bg peak, and midground blue cliff all have some level of detail in the appropriate value and color range to keep it subordinate to the main contrasting zones of the image. I may make subtle adjustments and refinements to these areas, but they are pretty much done.

Monday Evening: I've got a cold, and am sneezing and dripping. You can see some evidence of that condition right at the horizon of the sky and the curving ridge above center. I've added warm light to the cloud and pushed the atmospheric light temperature on the upper right side of the image, behind the trees, and in front of the snow patch. The entire tree line has been indicated across the top of the cliff. At this point I've got the whole image up and running, and am now looking to balance and refine certain areas. At a glance, it can almost feel done, and the challenge from this point on is not to overwork it, but find a way of gracefully exiting the process after further resolving certain areas. The cliff is full of creases, crevices, and a range of differing temperatures on its faceted surface. Danger! The boulder field on the left needs to progress further, the cool talus slope below the cliff in shadow can use some more definition, as can the trees on the upper right. I again refer to my field study to see what I thought was important information when I was there, as the photo reference shows 'everything' in excruciating detail, and a far blander color scheme to boot. The lower right quadrant of the image has a level of loose handling, and luminous color relationships that I'm happy with, so I use that as a guide towards resolving the rest of the image.

About an hour later I've reached this point, and am feeling good enough to send a picture of it to the gallery. There's still more to go, but it is a careful dance of leaving out detail you know is there, but may not necessarily improve the image, or throw it out of balance. I've touched the meadow, the talus, the trees and the cliff, moving and adding color, levels of detail, and form description. Still need to remove the sneeze spots...

The High Country
16 x 20
Pastel on Canson Paper

My real job kept me busy the rest of the week, so I wrapped this up the following Saturday morning, working the lower left boulder field, the more distant cliff slope behind it, and readjusting color temperatures and contrast on the central cliff. I think I missed a bit of the earlier more luminous trees up top, but I at least managed to quit at this point.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Talk tonight at the Studio Gallery....Go Giants!

I'm slated to give a talk tonight at 7 pm at the Studio Gallery in San Francisco during a heck of a pennant series. I expect I'll be hearing the crack of the bat and the roar of the crowd from the corner bar down the street from the gallery, and hopefully there will be a few others in the gallery besides me to hear it as well. ;-)

I recall my first solo show at the gallery last year opened right around, if not on, the income tax filing deadline. We were a bit concerned over the prospect of having an exhibit in a month where folks may have just written 2 big checks to the government, but things worked out fine. May tonight have such a rosy outcome.

For those that won't be attending my talk because they want to watch a penultimate game, (and you know who you are) all is forgiven! But If you happen to be in the corner bar watching the game, feel free to run down the street to the gallery during the commercials, for brief tidbits of art wisdom between innings.

Hey, some of my best artist friends are major Giants fans.. A love of sports and art are not mutually exclusive, he opined, deftly sequeing into his closing remarks. For those that want to read a hilarious article on the potentially vast gulf between die hard sports fans and sensitive 'arty' types, I point you to George Plimpton's Marianne Moore in Yankee Stadium in his wonderful book George Plimpton on Sports.
Go Giants!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Upcoming Art Show(s)

I have 2 shows coming up, and one of them is just around the corner. I'll be exhibiting at the Studio Gallery in San Francisco, from Oct. 13th-Nov. 7th. The reception will be this Saturday, the 16th, from 2- 6. There are 41 paintings focussed in three areas, the Sierra, the Grand Canyon, and local views and foliage studies. I've done 4 studio pieces for this show, and the rest were all done on location. An online catalog of the entire show is available here. Selecting 'view slideshow' allows you to see all the images without having to click on each one. Meanwhile, here's a few of the pieces that are in the Studio Gallery show with notes.

Black Butte Aspens I

Black Butte Aspens II
I spend a week in Oregon every year at a family reunion/vacation at Black Butte Ranch. It is one of the places I first started using pastels outdoors in the mid-90's. There is an enormous meadow in the middle of the property with a bicycle path running across it, bordered on the south side by small aspen groves. I have been whizzing by them on my bike for over 15 years, but this year I stopped, and spent 3 quiet afternoons working in this dappled space with flickering circular aspen leaves and pale trunks exhibiting beautiful colors. I'll probably be sitting here next summer as well.

Emerald Afternoon
This is a studio piece from a packtrip to Pear Lake in Sequoia National Park in 2009. I had already stopped at one lake to paint, and walked off the trail to look at this one, but wanted to keep moving. This small lake had several great rock falls, cliffs and beautiful green depths of water.

Granite Shoreline
This was from a non-mule, weekend packtrip out of Tuolomne Meadows to the Ten Lakes Basin. I brought with me a very small
set of pastels, and did several studies while I was there. This one was a good candidate for a studio piece, due to the level of complexity in the smaller forms. You can see the field study for it in this post.

Grand Illumination
I have ten pieces in the show from a Grand Canyon trip I made in 2008. I hope to return there and paint some more.
It really is an overwhelming experience for an artist to be immersed in a world of such complexity, scale, and the strength of reflected light and color into shadows. Combine that with 100+ degree heat, 48° river temperature, thundering rapids, and all your senses are fully loaded. I could only paint when the rafts were pulled over, and we were on the water from about 8 am to 5, so we motored past an extraordinary number of views I desperately wished I could paint. This image is a typical example of me gawking at a massive display of reflected light into a shadow as it casually drifted by one morning never to be seen again. That's where the studio comes in.

In Deep

Even in the confines of the canyon, one could periodically see a fair distance, and when the light got low enough, quite a bit of atmosphere was visible. The river would make a turn, and suddenly you were looking down a long corridor towards the light with large shadowed portals on either side. You were always in motion on the water, so the scale was dynamic in nature, as a slow parallax effect told you how 'big' the world really was.

I'll also be participating in a group show of Pixar artists that opens in early December at the Holton Studio in Emeryville. Tim Holton handcrafts beautiful hardwood frames, and also maintains a gallery space. The other artists are Ernesto Nemesio, Dice Tsutsumi, and Sharon Calahan. I am excited to see what everyone is doing, as we've all been busy at work on different projects, and I haven't been out painting with any of them in quite awhile. I'll post more details on this show when I finish the pieces, and the opening date is firmed up.

I hope to see some of you at the reception this next Saturday, the 16th at the Studio Gallery.