Friday, July 31, 2009

The Right Color

Back to the leopard and the tree.
(continued from blog entry July 27th)

In some paintings, one element can mean the difference between a successful painting and one that falls short. The color of the leaves of the acacia are crucial to this painting’s success. If they don’t capture the light and airy nature of the tree, I don’t think the painting will be effective. So, I spent quite a bit of time mixing greens. I like to have all my colors for something like this mixed before I begin. That enables me to study the color combinations and I can gage more accurately how they will work in the piece.
With so much foliage to paint, I decided to start in small sections. At least I could feel like I accomplished something as I completed section after section.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"Cash for Clunkers" Poster Child

Oh, I could talk more about the painting and the tree, but I just have to share this. Yesterday, I bought a car. But this was no ordinary purchase. It was a car we have been eyeing for a long time. The Suzuki SX4 Crossover.

What makes the purchase exciting is that our 1985 GMC Suburban with over 322,000 miles qualified for the $4500 Cash for Clunkers rebate. We purchased the Suburban from our folks in 1989 for $6500. And after 20 years and 280,000 miles, we get 69% of our money back in the trade. Amazing! And we received an additional Suzuki $2000 customer rebate, a dealer rebate, and a Suzuki "gas for the summer" certificate.

I did have to drive the Suburban in 100 degree heat (with no air conditioning) for almost 3 hours to the dealer. Would it make it? Would it overheat? Could I even open the hood? Not to worry. Like it has for many years, the Suburban was a trooper and delivered me to the dealer safely.

Of course, EVERYONE at the dealership had to come out to see this clunker!!! When asked what color it was for the forms, the answer was easy. Two-tone. Blue and Rust.

So long Blue. You were a wonderful vehicle and you can be proud of all the times you: pulled other vehicles out of the snow, conquered rock strewn mountain trails for geology field work, drove us to Alaska so we could camp and go fishing, and carried heavy construction loads .....without complaint. You served us well and we will remember you fondly.

I kissed the Suburban good-bye.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Next Step

Now with the turpentine wash completed, I can start with my oil paints. I begin with the sky, which is really minimal background to the silhouette. A slight blue in the upper right and lower center. In softening the sky in the lower right, I painted over the "curve-up" of that lower right most branch. It was the only way to avoid hard edges for the sky. No problem. When I get to the fine detail of the leaves and branch, I’ll paint the curve in.

I thought rather than working top to bottom (as is my preference), I would "build" the structure of the painting and put the tree in next. Also, since my browns usually dry in a day or so, the green leaves of the acacia will paint nicely over the top. There will be a little mixing of color. That will give the painting a natural look, but it won’t be enough to make the greens muddy. With the tree so dark, I need that lacy, clean color to bring out the light.
Now I am done with my basic structure. I’ll be making modifications as I continue painting, a little sunlight on the branch here, some dark patches there, a lot more little branches. But, the framework is going in the direction I had hoped.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Painting in Progress

A step I find very important for my oil paintings is the under-painting. Once I finish a drawing on the gessoed board, I use a turpentine wash to establish values before I begin with my linseed-based oil paints.
On this leopard painting, the tonal under-painting was quite complicated. I wanted to immediately get a sense of where each limb of the tree was in the depth of field. Was the composition going to work?The under-painting gives me a feeling of the balance in the final painting. Right now I don’t see any problems for which to prepare. If there does appear to be a balance issue at this stage of a painting, I make a mental note that I will need to add light or dark to an area to compensate.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Not 1, not 2, but Three!

I just received notice that THREE of my paintings were accepted as finalists for the Artist’s Magazine’s 26th Annual Art Competition. They are still tallying numbers for this year, but there were 11,400 entries for the 25th Annual competition.
The 5 categories for the competition were Abstract/Experimental, Animal/Wildlife, Landscape/Interior, Portrait/Figure, and Still Life/Floral. All of my winning entries were in the Animal/Wildlife category. I am thrilled to have this honor bestowed on not only 1 of my paintings, but three.
The winners:

Snow Flurries
Original Oil by Linda Besse
24" X 48"

Flamingo Dance
Original Oil by Linda Besse
16" X 30"

Giraffe & Company
Original Oil by Linda Besse
27" X 13.25"

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Finished Painting

Higher Ground
Original Oil by Linda Besse
10" X 17.5"

I didn’t get around to taking photos of this painting in stages, but hopefully, I can give you a feeling of some of the decisions which went into the final piece.

First off, I began painting the sky. After numerous renderings similar to the sky in the mountain reference photo in the previous blog, it became clear that the sky needed to be simplified. There would be plenty of "busyness" in the painting and the sky did not need to compete for attention.

The near left mountain in the photo is a soft yellow ochre which just didn't work. Once I tried a purple tone, a feeling of distance began to emerge.

I decided to go with 6 sheep. Yes, there were only 5 in real life, but I liked the idea of 5 and one. The group of 3 sheep in the previous blog photo inspired the piece. Something intrigued me about the right most bighorn looking back. He added a story. So, I started with those 3 and then placed the others to round out the composition.

Originally I had more snow in the lower right corner of the painting. It made that corner too white and distracted from the sheep. Considering that the bighorns are roughly at the same elevation as the near purple hillside, less snow works from a realist point of view. And, I think, from an artist’s point of view.

I scanned this painting before I varnished. The varnish will intensify the darks which tend to dry a little dull because they contain VanDyke Brown in the mixture. Fortunately, the varnish I use does not yellow so the snow will stay crisp.

Last step, choosing a frame. I’ll probably head into town next week and spend some time at my framer’s looking for just the right frame and liner to enhance the painting. The right frame will make a painting sing, while a poor choice or even a boring frame will diminish the piece.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Where do paintings come from?

There are probably as many answers to that question as there are paintings. For me, it can be as involved as an extensive field trip followed by research, or as simple as a sighting along the road. My current painting had its birth from the latter. Some huge Bighorn rams could be seen from Interstate 90 in Montana. A quick exit from the freeway and a few back roads led to some nice photos, but not a painting ....unless I made some artistic adjustments.

The background is uninteresting. While the 3 rams in the photo are nice, there were five. Four together and one a little distant. A painting with a fuller grouping will be more dramatic. The curls on their horns were impressive and might need only a little tweaking.

I have some distant mountain shots from the Rocky Mountains which I think will add some depth to the piece. The sky is a little busy, but I like the shape of the mountains. With some color adjustment and painted as a mirror image, this might work. (Of course if it was a distinct mountain scene like the Tetons or an individual mountain like the Matterhorn, I wouldn’t think about a mirror image.)

The next consideration is size. It this a showstopper piece? A large signature work, a medium sized painting, or a miniature? Sometimes the idea dictates the size. Sometimes I look to see what sizes I need to achieve a varied inventory. Sometimes I just want to paint a particular size. This time I thought it would be fun to paint an expansive scene in a small format. I have chosen 10" X 17.5"
Stay tuned for the finished painting.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A softened heart

Other than the pigeon, the "sea"gull is probably one of the least popular birds. It doesn’t have the beautiful feathers of a goldfinch. It doesn’t have an alluring song, but seems to yell. It also eats the precious eggs of ducks.

But, a few years ago, I developed a soft spot for the Great Black-Backed gull. This gull is the largest in North America and nests along the East Coast. We were driving along a remote area on Martha’s Vineyard out past the Cape Pogue lighthouse, only accessible with 4WD. To our amazement, we found a breeding colony of Great Black-Backed gulls. This gull has little tolerance for other birds, but it will nest peacefully in colonies. I couldn't begin to count the nesting birds. While I had seen juvenile gulls, I had never seen a chick. Even the most hardened heart toward these aggressive birds will soften when its sees these adorable chicks.

A few weeks ago, I was back at Martha’s Vineyard. I made my way out onto the sand spit, always carefully watching for straying birds in the sand tire tracks. Not only did I see the chicks, but also oystercatchers, osprey, Herring gulls, and the endangered piping plover.
Photo by Linda Besse
Black-Backed Gull chicks