Spending weeks gathering inspirations before a photo shoot is a regular part of my process.
For this particular session I came across an image on a site about french farmhouse design that inspired me. The soft vertical lines of the girl’s apron as they descended downward toward the rounded shapes of yarn was intriguing.
I considered the possibilities of this scene – eggs could replace the yarn…hmmm. After purchasing a dozen brown eggs the next step was to boil them, it wouldn’t be fun if they cracked while we were trying to get the picture.
The day of the shoot my model, Harley, looked wonderfully earthy in her dress and linen apron. Then the eggs……eggs weight a lot more than yarn. Gravity was not our friend as we angled and lifted, but it wasn’t working. Forget the eggs.
Next the wind, didn’t plan on that, what’s next…..? Holding the apron from flying in her face, we were both laughing by now, and….snap….that’s the painting, didn’t expect it, but thank you nature for the unexpected!
About two months ago my husband John and I had a tent at the Summerlin Art Festival. It was a terrific weekend, great weather and good sales. On Sunday as the fair was winding down I realized I had not even gone over to check out the entertainment on the stage, so phone in hand, (you never know when a good photo op with show up), I found myself watching a Mariachi band made up of teenagers. They were super high energy with their shiny instruments gleaming against a background of black uniforms with crisp white shirts. But alas, the stage backed up to the bright sun light, it was impossible to get a good shot. I realized the photo wasn’t meant to be and enjoyed the lively music. At one point the band broke for a few minutes. Walking toward me was a beautiful mexican girl with a violin. Quickly I asked, “do you mind if I take your picture?”, I knew at the time, this would be a painting.
Days after the event I opened the image and found my optimism was well founded. I could see what made me want to paint this, it just needed some adjustments.
First the three value thumbnail sketch would help to “clear out the clutter”, kind of like having a garage sale, it gives me a fresh start.
Yes, it’s coming into focus now, at this point I begin to see the manipulations that need to happen to “make it my own”.
This is a subject I’ve been wanting to paint for some time. When John and I visited Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia this summer we had to see the Woodshop, of course, John being a woodworker and all.
What was so awesome about it was these men were dressed in 1800’s era clothing and building real furniture, filling orders for pieces built with only hand tools, unplugged, as they did over a hundred years ago. As we listened to this woodworker talk about constructing these pieces the wonderful smell of sawdust filled the air while the sound of hand sawing hummed in the background.
A sketch helped me to explore some possibilities within the scene, but more importantly it’s the bridge between reality and the painting; it gets me even more excited about the potential in the subject!
During this block in I could fully see where I wanted to go with this. On the left side of the image were a jumble of chairs in various stages of being built. I wanted to include them, but a sketch would help me to boil them down to their simplest form.
Again, the bridge between reality and the painting. Thinking shapes, not things makes it so much easier to decipher what may first look like a complex area.
So many times I’ve heard John say “it’s all about the wood”, so that title just seemed my natural choice for this painting.
Back in the studio, from our trip to Virgina I was really looking forward to closing the door and getting lost in some paint. This new painting “In the Garden” was from a photo I took while on our recent vacation to Colonial Williamsburg.
My favorite area in the settlement was the garden. Every time we passed this area I said to John “what a minute let’s see what they’re doing now”. They were growing all kinds of herbs and vegetables, a small stand sold small plants while there were at least four costumed people doing “regular” chores in the garden, like using a sickle to clear weeds, hoeing with iron picks and sweeping with hand made brooms.
This young women really caught the feeling of the 96 degree, 80% humidity day. A little wilted, she appeared to me to be a great subject for a painting.
I started this differently that usual. My goal was to get the head in the right place, the right size, than work outwardly from there. I liked the feeling of working this way, there was a freedom about it.
Since this day was overcast the temperature of the painting was to be cool in the lights, warmer in the shadows.
Working downward and outward, adding more shapes, comparing them to what I already had on the canvas. Just had to interject this picture of my dog, Brandy. She was almost as happy I was to get back in the studio, she was in this position for most of the day.This is the hardest part. Looking carefully, not at what to add, but what to take away, a simple image is a strong image. I decided to remove the distant house in the upper left. The idea of a distant house was what I kept wanting to hold on to but the design element it made was doing nothing to help the movement in the painting and was instead acting as a distraction. There was also a horizontal fence in the photo which I put in, than took out.
In the final version I suggested some flowers at the horizon to bring the color in the skirt and apron upward.
John and I returned to Las Vegas from our trip to the historic east coast last night. The jet lag is fading and we’re finally getting up to speed.
Did I find the painting inspiration I hoped for…..yes and more!
Beginning with a tour of Washington D.C., the Freer Gallery was a wonderful stop. The Whistler Peacock Room was deconstructed in London and transported to the gallery.
It was a fascinating feeling to stand in this room which Whistler painted and redecorated in 1876 resulting in the owners disapproving shock, unpaid for the massive project Whistler filed for bankruptcy.
A John Singer Sargent painting “The Loggia” was a joy to view up close. Look at how simply he dashed in that head and hands.
On to Colonial Williamsburg. We just couldn’t get enough of this authentic city which was founded as the capital of the Virginia Colony in 1699. The fascinating thing to me was that the people weren’t just costumed actors but functioning 17th century tradesmen filling orders for handmade furniture, hand sewn clothing etc.
It was truly a beautiful place to learn as well as just walk around the gravel pathways to see what could be discovered. Just a few of the hundreds of pics I took there are below.
This is the time of year when John and I love to travel and experience new places. Going somewhere new is a great way to get inspired with fresh ideas.
One thing that always interests us both are places with history, so this time it’s Colonial America and going during the 4th of July seems like a good idea. What better place than Jamestown, Virginia , where the first colonial settelment was started by the English, followed by Yorktown and Williamsburg.
The kinds of inspiration I hope to find? Costumed characters, people working at old word crafts, floral and fauna not usually found in my familiar southwest landscape.
Several years ago I painted this type of subject in “Braiding her hair”, (above)
and another of a seasoned woodworker in “At the Bench”, (below)
It will be interested to see what we find!
Have you ever looked at one of your finished paintings and thought “what if”. What if I made this area brighter, duller, lighter, darker…you get the idea.
I was viewing my recent painting, in the previous post, The Traveler, with this question… what if this painting had a large dark area? It might add an anchor and make a more graphic image because I would be using both ends of the value scale and cutting out the middle. It’s funny how value is relative, the painting as it is (was) is light, and middle value with dark and light accents. When a large dark is introduced, the rest of the painting is all of a sudden thrown into the light value category in relation to the large dark.
O.K., go for it, what color to use? Either a darker value of something already in the painting, or something that is the absolute opposite of everything in the painting, yes, red was my choice.
The color red has some special characteristics that no other color possess. It is one of the only colors that reads as a dark even in it’s lighter shades. So I could still get the light effect and the weight of a darker tone.
I was happy with the outcome, a stronger, more graphic image.
Lately I’ve really been concerned about conserving values. When I first learned to draw, the number one challenge was to see how many shades of grey I could capture in my sketch, after all, the visual world is made of hundreds, maybe thousands of shades from black to white. But the more I paint, the more I have a respect for other artists who exercise restraint with their values, which in the end produces a much stronger image.
For an example look at this painting by one of my favorite artists, Robert Lemler. The image on the left is the finished painting, the image on the right is the grey scale version. Removing the color in an image makes seeing the framework of values easier. This painting is mainly composed of three values and a dark accent but wow, the impact!
Another artist I admire is Casey Baugh. Here he uses two values from the high end and two from the low end to produce a more solemn, moody piece.
I decided to work from this photo. A great subject, but as you can see the scattering of many values makes a fractured image. This happens a lot outdoors in bright sunlight, the camera makes the shadows too dark while the lights get blown out. I decided to keep the girl in the 8 to 9 value range in order to stand out against her surroundings, while everything else in the 3 to 4 value range with a few dark and light accents.
Conserving the values gave me the cohesion I was after, staying mid to light on the value scale gave the painting a freshness.
This is the kind of scene I love to paint, relaxed, casual and fresh. The vintage feel of the old porch and Adirondack chair set the perfect mood.
I have a sort of scale the I rate the difficulty of a subject on, this painting was right up there on the chart.
List of challenging things
+2= Full body, requires accuracy.
+2 =A small head, requires accuracy and softness.
+1=A small head at an angle, things are not where you expect them to be.
+2= Wild foliage, needs to be greatly simplified.
+2= Layered subject, foliage in front of a chair, in front of a girl, in front of a house.
This was almost a ten on my scale, which made it fairly complex, but that’s ok, as long as I realized what I was getting into, the frustration level was kept to a minimum by slowing down and really concentrating on what I was looking at.
I used my limited palette of White, Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Red Medium, Viridian and Cobalt Blue.
Everyday rain or shine I take my mini dachshund Brandy for a walk. Recently I’ve noticed yards beginning to green up and flowers blooming. I took my camera on our walk the other day and was lucky to see these roses fully opened. What I like about this subject is the organized chaos of nature, the twisting, turning and curling of forms.
The palette was Cad. Yellow Light, Cad. Yellow Deep, Cad. Red Light, Cad. Red Deep, Viridian Green and Cobalt Blue.
At this point I figured out the basic color blocks and was happy with the placement. Continuing around, developing areas, being careful to not spend too much time in any one area.
How can I take this to a place that only paint can go? Heavy application in the lights, softer in the background, sharper in the flower and leaves…
The beginning of the second day is the most important five minutes of the painting. I have to resist the urge to grab a brush and start painting.Instead I pull up a chair, set my phone for five minutes and just look. This is a great time to train my eye, how can I move this to a conclusion? Searching for distracting areas like that bit of light blue in the upper left hand corner that pull my eye out of the picture, searching for ways to make the things I like about it better, like carefully going over that top edge of the flower, looking for the little variations that make it interesting.
These seem like small things, but I’ve found that many small things add up to a big impact. When the alarm goes off I might set it for another five minutes until I feel I have a solid plan in mind.