Monday, February 15, 2010

Spring is coming

Though it is only February, yesterday was warm, sunny, and dry, so I took a long hike on the Rocky Ridge Trail out of Rancho Laguna Park in Moraga. This is a path that runs through East Bay watershed, and has easements through several parcels of grazing land up to Rocky Ridge, which is a few thousand feet in elevation. I only walked in about 2.5 miles, but had plenty of climbing and descending, as I was curious about the views towards the ridge. The light was pretty flat in mid afternoon, looking in that direction, so I started hiking back and became intrigued by a view to the southwest, looking downslope and towards the sun, which backlit all the grasses, turning them insanely green, as well as illuminating the atmosphere tremendously.

I've also been painting closer to home, as in my own backyard, or wandering on the hill behind my house. There is a large buckeye tree that appears to be dead every year, and then miraculously blooms in spring. Uncanny. I am intrigued by that patterning of the branches as well as the different tangles of foliage one encounters at close range amongst the oaks, blackberry vines, dormant fennel stalks, and lurking (and abundant) poison oak. Here's a few studies looking at some of those subjects.


ti-igra said...

Wow! This is superb! I look at these enchanted hills and inhaled air and sun! And branches that intertwine in the branches of trees - this is something! I can not get away from your work! I still see and see!
Let spring come soon! :-)

Anonymous said...

Bill, these rock! Can't get enough of the atmosphere - I just wanna eat it!

I have a technical question if you don't mind; on the bottom image, I'm curious about how you decided on the hue of the background bushes. On my screen it looks like a violet gray. Is that how it appeared to your eye? or is there a subjective decision to lean toward violet as opposed to another hue, and if so what's the thinking process?

when I do a similar light situation, those muted backlit stuff in the distance is usually so ambiguous (I'm only talking about hue) that I end up making it up. I'm wondering how you arrived at your solution~

Looking forward to seeing you in Sonoma~

Kendra Melton said...

These are all incredible. Such gorgeous work.

Unknown said...

masterful work! I love it!

Bill Cone said...

Ti-igra: Thanks for your comments. One thing I'm slowly learning to understand and enjoy is patterns and local color.
I have been on an atmospheric light path for about 10 years, but when the sun it is overcast, one can start examining these other qualities. They can be equally beguiling.

Terry: Thanks, and that question is a beer drinking topic, so you owe me a beer (or a good glass of wine) at Sonoma.
I think it is Carlsen, in his book on landscape painting, that goes into a brief rhapsody on ambiguous atmospheric colors...'those colors that have no name..." Truthfully, they often live in the realms of grey, but that sense of luminosity, of similar valued warm and cool colors adjacent to each other. What colors do that?
The violet grey range really does appear to my eyes from time to time. Of course, it helps that a surface I often use is Canson Twilight, which is pretty much a mid-value muted violet. However, I generally cover up most of the paper when I work.

I agree that bright atmospherically lit objects can be ambiguous in terms of hue to the eye. Here's a way of thinking about a color like violet, and why it works under a range of circumstances....especially those ambiguous ones. Violet and green both possess the property of containing both a warm and cool component. In the case of violet, it is red and blue. In the case of green it is blue and yellow. What makes these colors so interesting, and violet seems more 'pliable' than green in this regard, is that their dual nature of warm and cool means they can function in different ways in areas of your painting. Something that is violet in your painting could be an object that is cooled by atmospheric distance, yet has a warm local color. Conversely, it could be a cool hued object that is bathed in warm light. Or... it could be a shadowed mass that is getting a cool component (blue) from the sky, yet one is looking through a warm haze of atmosphere between you and the shadowed mass, so the overriding mix of cool shadow and warm air can push color towards violet quite readily. Once all that light, atmosphere, and local color is reduced to a singular pigment, it doesn't really matter what object, or light source, was what color, it is just a question of 'what color sums up all those qualities'. I find that colors with an intrinsic dual nature are often useful in expressing that behavior.

That image was painted around early afternoon, looking towards the sun, with a fairly high altitude haze, combined with a local haze. The violet in the shadowed masses was quite apparent. You can see in the other painting of light streaming around the bush, that the background shadowed mass of foliage is not violet... it has warm and cool greens and browns, as well as blues
and yellows. The light was just not expressing violet under those conditions, so violet is not some sort of 'cure-all' formula for ambiguous color. At the same time, I would encourage anyone to go looking for it when they are confronted with ambiguous atmospheric light. You may suddenly see it operating.

Kendra, Bobby: Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Hey Bill, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my beer drinking topic~ The first round's on me.

It was very insightful and I love that it's so logical. Often those ambiguous colors can be bent any which way, but I don't always have a logical explanation for the decisions I make. This one is really going to make me think about the roles of violets and greens when painting atmosphere.

Thanks for a valuable lesson!

Bill Cone said...

Terry, You're welcome. Some of that thinking came out of dealing with color substitution challenges when sitting with students outdoors with a small selection of pastels at hand. I had to resort to using the lightest green I could find to indicate some warm light on buildings in the distance. I had no creamy, off-white or yellow in the box, and figured the green was about the right value and saturation... it had yellow in it, and the mild blue component could be the atmospheric attenuation of the yellow over distance. It was basically desperation, but It worked alright, and got me thinking about the colors 'hidden inside' other colors, once you get out of the primaries, and how they can be used to express the cumulative effects of light, atmosphere, and local color.

Most of my color and value perception when painting outside is simply one of comparing adjacent masses:
lighter than? darker than? warmer than? cooler than?
I also want nature to teach me something, or inspire me, but can get confused and challenged by what is before me. You sit out there long enough and you start thinking about why you're seeing these colors, what are their causes. It has helped me to go looking for answers to those questions...
especially if I'm stuck.

Painting is so absurdly reductive in some sense, taking local color, atmospheric color, and atmospheric light, and stating that a single color represents all three of those properties (and possibly more) simultaneously. When it works, that's one of the rewards of painting, When it doesn't, fix it, or tear it up and try again. When I rationalize the uses for color, it is partially because it is one of the few physical properties we can manipulate in our respective mediums. Might as well try and get all we can out of it!

Janice L-H said...

I'd like to be a bug on your easel when you try and solve some of these problems, however I'd also be hoping you wouldn't swat at me! Looking forward to seeing both you and Terry at Sonoma when they have the show.

olgastern said...

Amazing Bill !

So inspiring. Beautiful lighting as usual.

I wish it was warm here in toronto aswell i want to paint too.

Unknown said...

Bill! I just got my Utrecht field easel in the mail yesterday. Forget the 30" of snow here near Philadelphia, this thing will soon be put to use.

Beautiful painting, by the way ...

Tim Bower said...

Hey Bill, your pastels are amazing. And equally amazing is that they're somehow, mysteriously, so clearly by the same hand that made those great little pen and ink drawings and gouache paintings I liked so much back in the Chronicle days.
It was a treat stumbling on these, 'hope you're well.

Bill Cone said...

Janice, I'll see you at Sonoma! Hopefully drier than last year.

Olga,Thanks! The weather here has reverted to a chillier, gloomier state. It was just a tease.

westbynortheast, Thanks for the comment. Are you in the workshop? Put that easel to work!

Tim, Good to hear from you! The Chron was a formative period. I guess we never escape our roots, eh?

sponie said...

Always great to visit your blog and check out your great work! Thanks for the posts!


really cool gre8 great to visit your blog

Steve sculpts critters said...

This stuff is great!
You ever heard of Frank Brangwyn?
You'd love him if you haven't.

Jala Pfaff said...

That middle one really moves me.