Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Advantage of Light

"Emergence of Spring", 12x16", oil on canvas

Last week, a friend commented that the area we were painting would be quite "spectacular later in the season when there is some color". Her comment surprised me as, I must say, for weeks, I've been quite happy painting at this and other nearby locations and never considered them to be anything but colorful. Later, looking at the small study I did that day between 11 AM and just after the noon hour it was brought home to me that the light was probably the reason for her comment.

Today, from a hillside, I painted "Emergence of Spring" (above) of the marsh below, filled with last year's grasses and dormant bushes and trees. This was a similar environment to last week's site. Was the landscape devoid of rich color? Not at all, as this painting testifies. However, there was a difference between the two painting sessions. Instead of the mid-day light we had last week, I painted "Emergence of Spring" today between 4:00 and 6 PM when the sun is low on the horizon and casting a golden glow on all it touches.

As anyone knows who paints outdoors from life mid-day light tends to flatten shapes and wash out color. As a seasoned plein air painter, I've developed two options that work for me when forced to work the so called, "noon day shift". First, to help eliminate that flat washed out look I face into the sun, as much as possible, to create a sense of back lighting and form, or if that's not possible, I'll very slightly heighten visible colors to create more temperature contrast. While not ideal, these options help an otherwise lack luster middle-of-the-day lighting situation.

Artists who, for what ever reason, elect not to paint the early morning or late afternoon light do themselves a serious injustice. If just once, they would work early or late they would be amazed at the difference the light makes in their work. They would never want to paint mid-day again.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dogs in the Field

Sporting and working dogs will take to the fields in April to begin learning the fine art of tracking, retrieving and herding, from their trainers. If you've never watched

"Friends", (detail), 16 x20 oil on canvas

them work you've missed one of the greatest joys in the life of these dogs. Joy is the only word I can think of as you watch them work a field. Their eagerness and quick thinking belies their remarkable natural abilities. They are bred to work and work they do with wonderful enthusiasm.

The detail of "Friends" above, shows "Jack", a farm dog, who, trained as a puppy, herded his owners cattle to the fields and back to the barn at the end of the day for milking without human commands other than, "Jack, get the cows". He did this daily with eagerness and joy for most of his life without human intervention. It is dogs such as "Jack" that gave me a life-long sense of awe and respect for their intellegence and for the folks who love working with them.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Miracle of Spring

There is so much more to painting outdoor then simply adding paint to canvas. Taking time to wonder and to really see the world around you is one of its greatest joys. The truth of this was brought home to me today as I sat in the sun next to a pond painting the tree study above.

Spring is such an extraordinarily exciting time of year. The air virtually vibrates with energy as days lengthen and new growth emerges from earth nourished by life-giving water moving through the ground on its march to the sea. As I painted near a muddy seep at the bottom of a hill I thought of the miracle of life that lay at my feet.

The movement of water in the mud was nearly invisible to the eye. Only by sitting and staring at a water filled deer track did I begin to be aware of its gentle flow ebbing towards the marshy pond in front of me. This particular pond, several acres in size, has no visible outlet. It is encircled by higher ground all around. To leave this pond water must either evaporate or flow underground.

To the east about a quarter of a mile is a large marsh with open water at its center that wildfowl love as it has been set aside as a sanctuary. On its eastern edge is a small freshet that falls quickly to a channel running north and south. Water in this channel flows north towards Vermilion Creek then to the Looking Glass River and finally the Grand River which empties into Lake Michigan near Muskegon.

As I considered the muddy deer track, I envisioned it's scant cup of water flowing along underground eventually merging with the waters of the nearby sanctuary, then racing down the eastern freshet to the channel and beyond on its trip to Lake Michigan, over 100 miles away. As a child, the book "Paddle to the Sea" fired my imagination and today, many decades later, water oozing in a muddy deer track reignited the miracle of a Spring thaw for me.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Last Hurrah of Winter?

"Snow Tracks", 8x10 plein air,
oil on panel

We've had a remarkable run of good weather in Michigan. For more than a week the days have been warm and sunny with snow remaining on the ground. This weather condition has been key to Mother Nature providing phenomenal abstract shapes for our enjoyment and material for artists to capture.

During this time, I've been busy in the studio working on several commissions but have made it a point to head out to my favorite location to paint en plein air from 4:00 PM until sunset each day. Being familiar with the area I usually have a feel for what I might want to paint before arriving which cuts down on set-up time. I get right into it and paint until just before 6 PM then stow my gear and wet canvas in the car. Then, with camera in hand, I enjoy the next one-half hour of the most extraordinary light imaginable.

The conditions have been remarkable. I'm not a scientist so have no idea what the official explanation would be but it must have something to do with the low trajectory of a very warm sun on moisture laden air and snow. It's at times like this that I wish every student I've ever had who has said, "I don't see all those colors you put in your snow", was with me. In these brief unique sunny days the snow has been a kaleidoscope of color. Strange colors have even shown on other objects as well as I was able to record below. Note the turquoise fence shadow on the side of the barn. This is accurate and has not been digitally altered. Unbelievable!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Experimenting with Technique

"Untitled" (detail), oil on canvas

Winters are seemingly endless in Michigan and at times I feel a need to scratch my creative in the studio during the white months. I have always enjoyed applying "what if" to my work. This winter I've jogged myself a bit by alternating techniques. To begin, I considered my normal process and the various techniques I use. I then switched the emphasis to lesser used techniques and found that my work took on a fresh look.

For instance, in "Summer Remnants" (see January, 2010 post entitled, "Winter Painting") I dramatized soft edges. In another, as yet untitled work in progress (see detail above), dry brushing dominates. The direct opposite of what I normally do. It's been fun to redirect my process in opposing ways that have created unexpected and happy results. I've not really changed my process, simply altered the emphasis.