Thursday, June 24, 2010

Even Traffic...

...can be beautiful (thank you Stephanie).

I am amazed how we can experience the same moments day in, day out and not really "see" them...their simple beauty. Sometimes as artists, we spend so much energy searching for that "beautiful" composition, subject, landscape...and then sometimes (as is most often the case for me) finds us.

"The landscape listens and we hear it call our name."
Emily Dickinson

Friday, June 18, 2010

Simplifying Mass Shapes

Before focussing on the details and extra "stuff" in a painting, I first try to focus on the mass shapes and values...the simple [or not so simple] elements that make up the structure of the composition. As noted from my previous post, I have divided my landscape into 3 mass shapes of light (sky), middle (foreground pavement), and dark (mid-ground treeline) value. Breaking down the scene into abstract shapes, I am assigning color to those mass value shapes, disregarding (attempting to anyway) the smaller value and color accents.
These value masses, serve as a reference to relate other values in the painting. Now I can expand on the mass shapes, adding subtle value, color, and temperature accents. Supporting the value structure (and perspective) identified in my thumbnail sketch, will enhance the paintings overall "readability."

"The most important ally in the study of painting is the art of thinking."
Edgar Payne's Composition of Outdoor Painting

Friday, June 11, 2010

A little planning

I often spend the first day of beginning class (watercolor or pastel), convincing beginning painters the value of a little planning. Most beginning artists want to jump right in, not wasting time looking for a good composition or value sketching. These terms are almost as dreaded as the capital "D"...drawing. However, as I have mentioned in many previous posts, this step is crucial for me and will save me (and beginning painters) much time and frustration...and will most likely produce a better painting. The principle for me... vision in a concept and a little pre-planning in composition, design principles, and value (and yes, a little drawing) are what will make a painting work...technique will come with time and practice but will not make a painting successful (though well crafted). I am sure some will argue this point.
Keep the plan simple, simplify mass value shapes...light, mid-value, dark...doodle, sketch, erase, play with various perspectives, cropping, and value patterns. Value and appreciate this step. There isn't any pressure here, no need for a finished drawing or painting.

Some tips for "testing" your design. Follow your eyes as they move around the sketch.

1. Does our eye travel effortlessly around the painting, through the light and dark shapes?

2. What is the visual movement in the painting? Have I directed it using line, repetition of shapes, overlapping shapes, "linking" values in a painting, via soft and hard edges in a painting?

3. Do I have a pleasing arrangement and variety of shapes, patterns and values? How did I break up the space? Is the space divided in a pleasing way?

4. Is my perspective "readable"? (Even a 3 min value study, simplified to mass values and shapes, is "readable" on paper).

5. Are my eyes led to a focal area?...away from the focal area and back in again? Do I have a secondary area of interest? How does the viewer travel from one to the other?
6. And finally, do I have visual excitement and spatial organization?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Funky Pigeon Facts

Finishing up the couple of pigeon paintings I had started last week, I thought I should research a little about the birds. Never really thought twice about them, until I put the painting together. Now I have a new respect for the birds and their position in the world. I can't exactly say why I chose to do these little paintings other than I really enjoy the simplicity and structure of the compositions.
Circle of Friends 11X14, watercolor on Ampersand aquabord (above)
Pecking Order 11X14, watercolor on Ampersand aquabord(below)

1. Homing Pigeons have been known to fly 700 miles in a day. A 10 year study carried out by Oxford University concluded that pigeons use roads and freeways to navigate, in some cases changing direction at freeway junctions.

2. Pigeons achieved a 98% success rate in the missions flown in WW II, despite enemy fire, and often with mortal injuries to themselves.

3. Pigeons are still used today by the French, Swiss, Israeli, Iraqi and Chinese Armies.

4. Noah's Dove was most likely a homing pigeon.

5. They were used by the Greeks more than 5,000 years ago.

6. They are bred, raised and trained as good as Thoroughbred Horses (four million or so worldwide).

7. They have been known to see very well over a 26 mile distance.

8. Scientist believe they may hear wind blowing over mountains from hundreds of miles away. The ability to hear sounds 11 octaves below middle C allow the pigeons to detect earthquakes and electrical storms.

9. In the late 1800 the most heroic recorded flight was from a pigeon that was released in Africa and took 55 days to get home in England. Traveling over 7,000 miles.

10. Unless separated, pigeons mate for life. They have been known to live over 30 years. Both parents feed their young milk.

11. In the 17th century, King George I of England, decreed all pigeon droppings to be property of the Crown—and the “lofts” were policed to enforce the law! (Pigeon manure was used in making gunpowder)

12. The pigeon has the rare ability for a large bird to be able to fly nearly straight up.

13. Advanced studies at the University of Montana conclude: “Pound for pound, columba livia (the pigeon) is one of the smartest, most physically adept creatures in the animal kingdom.” The pigeon can pass a mirror test, recognizing it’s own reflection, and is only one of 6 species, and the only non-mammal, that has this ability. The pigeon can recognize all 26 letters of the English language as well differentiate between photographs and even between two different human beings in a photograph.

14. Pigeons are the only bird in the world that do not have to lift their head to swallow water.

15. When the pigeon is in long flight, it reaches back and holds on to the short tail feathers with its feet in order to save energy from holding its legs up.

16. During breeding season, when there are more than a few babies on the floor, all parents will feed all babies, even if they are not their own.

17. Why do you never see baby pigeons? Pigeons lay only 2 eggs at a time, and then spoil those babies shamefully. The parents feed the babies until they’re totally fat, happy, and freathered out. By the time they leave the nests, they are the same size as adults.