Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Plein Air Painting Boo Boo

“The Plein Air Painting Boo Boo”
        A couple of weeks ago I wanted to try out my new field easel, a variation on the thumb box idea I put together after looking at others I had seen.  So, I took a trip with my family to a parking area accessing the Legacy Trail, just off of the Legacy Parkway in Davis County.  Here we had a panoramic view facing west, taking in a nice distant view of the marshes of Farmington Bay and the mountains of Antelope Island in the distance.  There I began the painting.  It turned out to be a great thing to have my family there to chat with and keep me company.  This parking area was on a hill, and it gave us a nice high vantage point as we looked west.
        In the fields right in front of us we became engaged in a struggle between human control and bovine rights, as a couple of teen-aged boys chased a young bull they were trying to separate from a herd of cows being kept in a pasture.  One was on a four wheeler, and the other on foot.  They appeared to be trying to get the bull into a holding pen at the far north end of the pasture.  After an hour, and a couple of collisions between the four wheeler and the horns of their would be captive, they had to give up.  We cheered as the bull trotted off in tired triumph joining the herd, while the boys sped off, most likely to tell dad of their attempt and failure.  At that point I felt that I had enough of an image to work with back in the studio at home and closed up the easel.
        Now, I designed this easel so that when it was in its closed position it would hold a painting on one side, while the palette was just an inch away from the face of the painting on the other side.  Both secure in their place and safe from touching each other, all for the sake of quick take down and easy transport.  Can you see what’s coming?  Sure enough, as soon as the easel was closed the painting slipped from its hold and landed face down on the palette below.

        And here we see the result.  Now, as a young student it might have been enough to kill the whole thing for me.  I would have just tossed the panel and maybe the field easel in the garbage and sulked about it for a few days.  Perhaps my family, at that gut wrenching moment, was thinking that I might just do exactly that.  But no, I’m an older, wiser, and calmer person now, more centered and at ease with life and its little ups and downs…really!

        The task now was to save the image.  I scraped off the extra blobs of primary colors, and let the painting sit for a few days to dry.  Then, I lightly sanded it with fine grit sandpaper, re-oiled it, and began a whole new painting by essentially restating the image.

                            "A View West, Antelope Island"             Oil on Panel
                            6" X 8"                                                              2011

        With a bit of imagination, fed by the memory and the experience of having been there, a new image emerged from the old mess.  It is now a better composition with stronger colors, and generally more engaging the eye.  This is plein air painting.  It should always be a joyous experience, and one should keep in mind that, like the fly fisherman, an artist’s worst day of painting is better than the best day in the office.  Until next time…

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Artist's Sketchbook

                                                    "Jenny"  2011  Graphite
      The Artists Sketchbook
      I realized a couple of days ago that before I was able to get out and start plein air painting again this year, that I tended to use my sketchbook to get some of my art fix that helped get me through this past winter.  So, I thought that talking about the artist’s sketchbook might be fun to do.  As a teacher I require it of my students as a part of their grade.  My hope with each student is that they will learn to develop the life long discipline of drawing.  It has been my experience that you can learn a great deal in a class, but if you don’t practice--daily if possible--you will lose much of the skill and knowledge base that you have developed.

      This drawing of my daughter Jenny, is just one of those drawings that I try to do once in a while, that helps sharpen and maintain my skills.  She is also the only one out of my children so far who I've been able to get to sit for a portrait from life.  All the rest say, take a picture.  Arrg!!  They're missing the point.  I'm trying to not work from the easily delineated frozen image of a photograph, but rather from life.  It is much more challenging, but much more rewarding and satisfying.

                                          "At the Concert"  2011  Graphite 
      Not only does an artist’s sketchbook serve as a great personal classroom, it can also be great therapy.  Sometimes it is a good way for me to get through an occasion where I have to do a lot of sitting and waiting.  This drawing of Ms. Greenfield and one of her students in my kids recent concert, got me through the waiting period for it to start.  It also kept me quiet so that my wife Marilynn could enjoy the music.  I grew up with a "quiet book" that my mother put together for me to play with in church.  I guess my sketchbook has become my adult quiet book.

                                                 "Sycamore"  2010  Graphite
      It also serves as a problem-solving tool, where I don’t have to worry so much about the finished product, but just solve drawing or compositional problems before doing the finished work of art itself.  This drawing of one of my favorite trees will one day serve as a great resource when doing the finished oil painting.

                                "Stephanie's Hanging Garden"  2010  Graphite
    At other times the sketchbook can be just the right size and graphite can be just the right medium for the moment, where you can capture your subject best.  Again, while at my sister in laws house for a summer party, I was able to preoccupy myself with this little scene in her back yard.  Here I was able to use my sketchbook to record a fond memory.

                                  "A View South From Camp"  2008  Graphite
      This scene was across the creek from my campsite in Spring City Canyon back in 2008 as I was on a plein air painting trip.  It was evening, and the light was going fast.  So, instead of hurrying to setup my field easel, I just whipped out my sketchbook and jotted down this image before the day ended.  

      For me the sketchbook is an essential artist’s tool.  However, one does not have to be an “official” artist to keep a sketchbook.  Formal training is not even a factor.  Anyone who has half a notion can get and keep a sketchbook for themselves, and they don’t even have to show it to others if they don’t want to.  Just because I’m a bit of a show off doesn’t mean you have to be.  If one finds themselves inclined to doodle or draw on whatever scrap of paper happens to be in their hand, a sketchbook can become a great organizer and repository of those things.  In many ways for me, it not so different from a journal or a diary.  The great cowboy artist from Montana, Charles M. Russell wrote in a letter to a very young Maynard Dixon these words, “draw, draw, draw”.  I in turn have come to say to my students, “draw baby draw!!!”  It's just so rewarding.  Until next time...

                                    "Sheep in the Meadow"  2009  Graphite

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Lone Peak

March 20th, 2011
“How does a 53 year old man spend his Spring Break?”
This past week, the 3rd week of March, I was finally able to take the time, as well as find enough clear weather, to paint plein air.  I met my good friend Dennis Millard, and a friend of his, Bob Winegar, at Wheeler Farm.  We intended to paint there, but everything was too gray yet, especially in the rather flat light of the mostly cloudy day.  So, I had the bright idea of heading up on the east side of the Salt Lake Valley, along Wasatch Drive, and painting from that vantage point.  It actually turned out to be a good spot.
Lone Peak, just south of our vantage point, became my subject for the morning.  Dennis chose the view west across the valley, while Bob did a watercolor.  The painting wasn’t as important at the time as it was for me to just be out there working from life again after the long winter.  Plein air painting for me is a way of connecting with the real world, face to face, and capturing life and nature as it is happening.  Working from photos I’ve found is easy, sometimes too easy.  Bad habits can creep into an artist’s working process. I feel that plein air painting helps keep me honest and sharp as an artist.
Wednesday I went to Sanpete County to visit my good friend Doug Fryer.  My apologies to his wife Teresa for taking up his time and taking him away from his studio and family for most of the day.  We met up with Brad Aldridge, and then later on Ron Richmond, both artists, at Juanita’s in Moroni for lunch.  It was great to see Brad’s studio, talk shop with friends, and get energized for the new season of painting.  By season I mean every time of year but winter.  Not that I have anything against winter, but you’ve got to admit it sure feels liberating when the snow has melted and the weather warms.  Doug is working on a body of work for his show at Meyer Gallery in Santa Fe in June.  Now there is a guy with some pretty outstanding images on his blog.  Check it out,  Ron finished up a mural last fall that was installed in a new facility in Vernal.  It turned out to be very successful for him.  Way to go Ron.  Thursday I started some new panels and canvases for new works.  Friday I started painting in earnest on a couple.  I went with my family to the Gallery Stroll in Salt Lake that night, and had dinner with my wife Marilynn and our oldest daughter Meghan.
Well, there you have it, 53 year old man gone wild.  I hope to make a habit of writing every once in a while, and I hope you find this little view in to an artists routine engaging.  Along with these occasional writings I will be posting new works.  They could be new oil paintings, charcoals, or watercolors.  Until next time.