The Schmincke set I got for Christmas has a nice Sepia in it. I have so far just used it to quickly darken colors, but I assume the real value would be for monochromes. To test it out I did this loose and imprecise 4×6 study of William Gilpin’s Lanscape with Ruined Castle from 1790.
I like Hercules Brabazon Brabazon’s works on toned paper. I am starting to do more on toned paper (Canson Mi-Teintes) hoping that’s it’s a good way to get quick impressions of a scene. These sketches make sense in front of good vistas. Maybe not so great for close up studies.
Here’s a quick study of his sketch of Salamaca Cathedral in Spain. I got a few things wrong because I rushed, trying to think of the energy in it at the expense of the accurate placement of some shapes. Not a big deal. I learned from it. Get the shapes right then be quick. I think he used a dryer bush at times than I did. I will do more of these to refine the technique.
I’ve been wanting to try a Turner copy for some time, and I’ve been interested in whether or not blue paper was something for me. As a guide I used the book the Tate put out “How to a paint Like Turner.” Interesting exercises. I didn’t follow along too closely other than for the color mixing tips. Anyway, here’s how I did it.
First I tinted a 5×7 sheet of Fabriano Artistico a cool blue (a mix of Prussian and French ultramarine. This worked out pretty well. I might do this again when I want to work on tinted paper of whatever color, though I can’t imagine that will be common.
Once it dried, I laid in the sky with the red and yellow, using a mix of quinacridone burnt orange and ultramarine for the brown clouds. The bridge was cobalt and ivory black, and the distant buildings were cobalt and cad red, though other colors got in there too. A bit rough, as I’ve never worked with these mixes before. In fact, I never use ivory black, and the other colors I rarely use and if I do it’s not for their mixing properties (except for quin burnt orange and ultramarine, the two of which make an incredible range of glowing browns). The barely distinguishable cart and people were a mix of things, burnt orange being the main one.
A few things I learned:
The trick of the dab of sun and then the calligraphic swipe for reflection is an effective (Monet used it too) but strange shorthand. Does a setting sun ever look like that? For a sketch I suppose it’s fine, but it doesn’t get at the diffusion of light that Turner did nicely with the rest of the work.
Ivory Black is useful. With Cobalt Blue it makes a nice deep blue. Cad Red and cobalt blue make a nice purple grey. I see how I could use all of these in a decent “old style” palette. I am rethinking my decision to use quin red just because the one I have (Maimeri Blue) seems pretty weak. I will put the cad back, especially now that I see how nicely it works with cobalt blue. Will Ivory Black creep in, perhaps as a replacement for Burnt Sienna?
Turner’s painting has a lot of atmosphere, no doubt in part because he knew what he was doing. I laid things on too thick, and couldn’t really lift them out. In other places I was too weak. For a first time with the blue paper, I got a lot out of it, though seeing them side by said after the fact reveals how off I was. Then again, this wasn’t about exactitude, just experimentation.
Cad Red Light
Quinacridone Burnt Orange
Titanate Yellow (with a touch of titanium white)
Thanks for reading.
On Monday my dad and I took lunch at the National Gallery to see the Andrew Wyeth Exhibit, “Looking Out, Looking In.” The National Gallery had recently acquired “Wind From the Sea,” so they built an exhibit around his paintings of windows. The reviews appeared mixed, but that wasn’t the point at all for me. This exhibit was mostly watercolors, with very little attention paid to his tempera works. Fine with me. His watercolors, especially when viewed up close, are truly incredible. It’s hard from prints to get a full understanding of just how rough and aggressive his watercolor painting style was, how much he paint he laid on in the dark areas, how thick his abstract applications were, even though they were always well structured. This gave me a greater appreciation of his work.
Looking back to my commentary a few posts ago on the Jamie Wyeth exhibit at the MFA in Boston, I used Andrew Wyeth as a bit of a counterpoint for Jamie, saying I prefered the range in Jamie’s work. The National Gallery show, by nature of its subject, stuck within a narrow range, but that hardly mattered when looking at the works up close. There was so much to admire, so much to learn from. I’ve been fortune to be able to see Sargent last summer and both Wyeth’s this year. They’ve all really helped with my painting.
Coming out of the museum, we could see the Washington Monument enshrouded in clouds and steam on a cold rainy day. Really perfect to see Wyeth’s work on a day that used his color palette, and perfect inspiration for a quick vertical painting.
Thanks for reading.
When the weather gets cold I get more studious. Now that I have a daily bus ride to and from work that totals about 2 hours a day I have plenty of time on my hands. Therefore it seems right to declare this to be Winter of Study, even though it’s still fall.
On the reading side, my winter of study will be focused on the human side of housing, finance, planning, and architecture. I have some background in architecture history, but there is always more to learn, and now is the right time to be deliberate about it. To start it off, I am reading Oscar Newman’s 1972 work “Defensible Space,” a concise summary of which happens to be on the front cover in the picture above.
On the painting side, I want to take a more deliberate approach to my work in a few ways. First, I just want to do more small works of whatever for practice more frequently so I can get better at working quickly and confidently. Second, I want to focus more on people. On the first subject, I did a small tree study of a tree in my backyard. My house is on a hill and backs up to woods and a creek, so there is no shortage or leaf and tree compositions to do. I like the way David Tripp has done small studies of these on his blog, so thought I should start my winter of study on the painting side with something in his style. Here’s a close up on it under a mat.
And for anyone interested in what’s in my sketching palette:
Daniel Smith French Ultramarine
Winsor and Newton Cerulean Blue
Sennelier Turquoise Green (pg50)
Maimeri Blu Prussian Blue
Daniel Smith Lemon Yellow
Daniel Smith Quinacridone Burnt Orange
Sennelier Yellow Lake (py150–nickel azo yellow)
Sennelier Viridian (mix of viridian and pg7. I thought it was pure viridian when I bought it)
Sennelier Cad Red Light
Maimeri Blue primary red magenta
Daniel Smith Perylene Maroon
Sennelier Titanium White (will likely replace with white gouache as it looks better on toned paper).
Thanks for reading.
Yesterday I had a really awful sketching session from which I realized that I need to shift my methods when working in my sketchbook outside. I need to find a better balance of speed and patience, especially if I want to get out for lunchtime sketches when I really only have 30 minutes. My loose strokes end up just being blobs and then I get frustrated.
I like the sketches of John Lidzey, who was featured in a book on sketching my wife got me a couple years ago. He’s really good at making sense of the blobs, so to reset myself and test the limits of the Stillman and Birn Alpha series I tried a copy of one of his loose studies of light. I probably should have worked off of one with more structure, but oh well. Here it is.
Turner seems to have accomplished some awesome atmospheric effects quickly and roughly, especially in his sketches, where he used his fingers as well as a brush to move paint around the page.
Today I tried a quick study of one of his sketchbook works of Eddystone Lighthouse. I have been reading about the paper he used being gelatin sized and the sizing being very resistant the first time around then breaking down. This reminded me of the Moleskine sketchbook paper, so I gave that a try with two colors: Payne’s Grey and Burnt Umber. The smoothness of the paper made these effects easier to accomplish. Here’s my sketch of his sketch:
And here is the original. The point in my mind wasn’t to duplicate the marks he made, but instead to get a sense of some techniques and apply them myself. I am looking forward to putting some of this to work out in the world.
Thanks for reading.
In college I didn’t get Louis Kahn. This was contrary to the prevailing understanding. Maybe it was his manifesto “Order Is” which seemed a bit silly in its semi-poetic seriousness or his 1944 essay “Monumentality” in which, among many important points, he proclaims that his generation “accepts the airship as a vital need,” that gave me the wrong impression, or maybe it was the magnitude of praise that didn’t quite click with the justifications provided, or, as I am discovering now, maybe it was just me. I knew the interior of the Exeter library was incredible, and the photos of the Salk Institute were also impressive, albeit apparently cold (the architectural photos never show the view of the ocean or the people who work there), but based on what the slides revealed, these didn’t resonate with me as much as I thought they should have or as much as other works of architecture did. As an aside, why are architectural photos so often uninhabited? These are buildings, not sculptures. Perhaps that’s why Julius Shulman’s iconic image of Case Study House #22 by Pierre Koenig stands out so much: the cocktail party happening suspended in the air.
Fortunately, this week I finally watched “My Architect,” and started to think about Kahn and his buildings differently based on the views of the buildings and interviews with others who worked on them and in them. There were some duds to be sure, such as the Richards Medical Research Lab, which seems blandly imposing on the outside and was, as revealed in the film, uncomfortable for the people working inside, but the Exeter Library, the Esherick House, and the National Assembly building in Dacca warranted further study.
As part of this study, I did a few quick pen and ink sketches based on some pictures I found online. I wanted to spend only a short time sketching, hence the crudeness of the renderings, so I would stick with the core impressions to understand what really jumps out. Then I thought about those points in more detail in the context of the film, photos, and other readings.
I will key in on two examples here:
Using a photo by Ezra Stoller, I looked at the exterior of Esherick House, which revealed a few things I didn’t appreciate on first glance that might be telling. I hope my sketch helps to illustrate these things.
I noticed the use of depth and volume. The house is fantastically open, but in that openness there is a lot of framing, often in ways that crop the view from the outside. It’s almost like looking at a gallery wall, but instead of paintings, there are shadow boxes. This is because of the receding perspective in each frame. These aren’t just lines, they’re planes, which serve to situate the frame in space and vary the depth of the views. It was a nice variation on the tendency at the time to put Mondrian onto building facades, something that can be seen on some of the townhouses in Reston.
Looking at the National Assembly building, I was struck by the play with darkness and light, and heaviness and lightness.
From the outside, the building is hulking and imposing, despite the softening element of the water. This hulking aspect is enhanced by the large geometric cutouts which appear exceedingly dark in the images.
But when you look at the same shapes from inside the building, they are a fantastic source of natural light. The building interior, while still massive, is incredible and inclusive and symbolic–a true realization of what Kahn meant by monumentality. This was apparent in the film, especially when seeing the architect being interviewed starting to cry while discussing what Kahn did for them in Bangladesh. It was that moment, that humanization of the work, that made me connect with Kahn. Between that and my small sketching analysis here, I have a new interest in his works and hope to see a few in person some day.
Thanks for reading.
I find in working always the disturbing intrusion of elements not a part of my most interested vision, and the inevitable obliteration and replacement of this vision by the work itself as it proceeds.
I like this quote by Hopper. It’s liberating. If even Hopper couldn’t achieve his vision, then the rest of us are in good company. We are free to paint as best we can and let what happens happen. It’s still right to have a vision, understanding that failure to reach that vision isn’t failure at all but the ultimate beauty of work, of art, of life (Simenon would have cut most of that sentence). If Sisyphus had a paint brush instead of a boulder, things would have been pretty good for him.
Last night I spent some time learning from Hopper. I wanted to understand better his approach, which seems so nonchalant at times but also so precise, and how he made such compelling images. I’ve heard him criticized as flat, but upon close inspection, he is anything but.
Here are some of the key points:
1. He seems to have no concern for apparent “transparency” or “luminosity” of watercolor. He seems to layer glaze after glaze to the point that it almost looks like an oil painting, like he wants to make “mud.” Interestingly, this seems to be accomplished because of the transparency of the medium–at least that’s what I took advantage of in trying to duplicate his look–though using some more opaque pigments helps. I relied on yellow ochre to produce a thicker look in some places, which is something I don’t usually do.
2. The subtlety of his use of color is impressive. Though both slapdash and controlled (he colors inside the lines, but varies the colors and brushstrokes a fair amount), his application of paint and judgment give a lot of depth. Take the screen on the right. It has blue and green in it. They’re buried, but they’re there. They’re also present in the downspout and the siding on the screened porch facing the viewer. Unexpected but important.
3. The little bit of building on the left is a critical detail. Another painter would probably have left this out, but it goes a long way in situating the house and focusing the view. This makes it more than just a portrait if an old house. Coupled with the pronounced chimney shadow and the mysterious red house in the distance, there’s some hint of an untold story there.
4. The simple lightly abstract sky is an important backdrop. The subtle clouds frame the building in space, and the slight glow accentuates the chimney shadow. I used a little raw sienna in parts, while the rest was a very thin Ultramarine and Prussian Blue. To get the clouds I used a 1/4″ one stroke on its edge with the same paints and a touch of Quinacridone Red.
5. Hopper did some interesting things to the field leading up to the house, things I didn’t duplicate in part out of laziness and in part because I wanted to see what I could do just with a brush. He seems to have sanded and scraped out lights from a series of loosely applied washes and glazes and dry brushed areas. I applied the under washes, then using my 1/4″ one stroke dry brushed on some grasses. I didn’t bother with the sanding and scraping this time, but I do want to study how to do convincing fields at another time.
Here are the results of my efforts.
Thanks for reading.
I have been taking some close looks at Winslow Homer this past week, and decided it was time to get into his painting through an attempt of my own–a copy of “On the Stile.” His style is a nice blend of freedom and precision, with a surprising hold to it. Given my last post on Quickness, the timing seemed appropriate.
I remember when I last took up painting in high school before turning to history and literature, I copied a Winslow Homer and enjoyed it very much. That was my favorite class in high school, and I am not sure why I didn’t stick with it. I also started to appreciate classical music during that class, and it has since become a staple in the house.
Looking at Homer recently, I found myself at first wondering what the “greatness” was. I think I see it in the sense of immediacy in his Houghton Farm watercolors. He doesn’t waste our attention on extraneous parts of the composition. I think the pastoral sophistication also has a timeless appeal, at least to me, who spent some time with pastoral literature in my last novel.
I wanted to work on a few things in this exercise:
1. Use a limited palette of Prussian Blue, Permanent Yellow Deep, and Primary Red Magenta (all Maimeri Blu). I have relied on the earth pigments in prior attempts, so wanted to understand how I could get good browns and greens with only this palette. I wondered if I could get a more transparent result without the earth pigments. Also, it seemed Homer worked with these three or similar pigments for this painting.
2. Understand how Homer focused on his subjects and where he got a little more haphazard, or at least opted not to spend so much time, so I could better decide how to do the same in my paintings. I was struck by how much the perception of his paintings can change when viewed over a short period of time. At first they’re compelling, then they seem flat, then, upon closer study they become very interesting, far beyond the first impression. For example, the girl’s dress has a lot going on in his painting, and it seems so effortless.
I am reminded of one of the selling points of creative writing programs: even if you don’t make it as a writer, you will be a better reader. This exercise has made me a better reader of Homer’s paintings.