Off the Side of Route 1

Looking forward to plein air season, I wanted to work on a single session 11×14 painting to start getting used to working quickly and not worrying too much. This one took about two hours based on our drive up and down route 1 a couple years ago. We were coming back from Monterey when I saw this. The road was narrow all the way, so pull-offs like this were common, though in this case it was private.

While there I was reading Kerouac’s Big Sur in which he talked about the remains of old Hudson’s crashed on the beach. Certainly made us drive carefully.

On a related note, I recently found the wikipaintings app, which is an incredible library of paintings to study, and you can zoom in very close on them as well to get a good sense of technique. I’d highly recommend it. It’s a nice learning tool to have. I was studying some Hopper closely this evening. I think that came out a little here.

Thanks for reading.

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Twilight in Old San Juan: Some Thoughts on People in Paintings

What is the role of people in non-portrait paintings? Scale? Narrative? After a very insightful comment posted on my last entry, I got to thinking about this topic.

The loneliness of Hopper’s figures was a key aspect of the mood in his paintings. The unpopulated paintings are very open for interpretation, either as outdoor still lifes, or arrangements of line, surface, and volume, or any number of things. When he adds people, what happens? His unpopulated paintings aren’t without evidence of human life–they never appear post-apocalyptic, for example, but what a difference a lone figure can make. There’s a new level of sadness conveyed, or perhaps not sadness but pregnant ambiguity.

I have three options regarding figures.

1. Add several figures in some form of interaction.
2. Remove all figures, and have an unpopulated building-scape.
3. Have a single figure, the man in the window, and remove the man on the bench.

The first option is inviting, full of life. Theres much to be made of a crowd, both in terms of potential drama, and in terms of composition. But in order for this to work, I might need to be a better painter than I am.

The second option is also interesting, but, thinking of my goal of conveying a sense of the fantastic, a space without a human to interrupt might be more easily viewed as without tension of the right sort. This isn’t a Wyeth piece where certain objects are imbued with so much meaning, drama, tension. I need a human to show that conflict of spatial identities that makes up the fantastic.

The third, for me, is the most interesting, the most full of mystery. Would could the lone figure, the shirtless sentry, be looking at? Theres no one else in the scene. What is he retreating from? What is going on in his mind? This is the key question. By putting a figure alone, all of the drama of the “scene” is mental. That mental state is informed by his environment, but his presence also interjects some value into the space.

As for the execution, I am trying to be looser with this one to showcase the humidity and the twilight and the the age. I have so far worked only with my quill. I am going to see how much I can do in this fashion. Here it is with some preliminary washes.

Thanks for reading.

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Outer Banks Modern Day Four: Breakfast Remembrances

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Far and away my favorite place to get breakfast on the Outer Banks is the First Light Cafe. Great food (especially the French Toast), and a great laid back oceanside atmosphere. Eating there always makes me want to open up an oceanside cafe of my own with some small batch coffee, good books, and good art. Making pancakes and listening to The Lovely Sparrows, Peter and the Wolf, Andrew Bird, and the other mellow indie bands in my morning mix with a warm breeze coming in through the open windows is a pretty good substitute.

I made some good progress last night, to the point where I am starting to get to the mood of the place. I think that might have something to do with the telephone pole. They are all over down there breaking up the view. They stick in my memory too. Plus, because so many of Hopper paintings feature them, the presence of the pole here seems to give the painting a little something extra. Next up will be working the sky some more, removing the masking and painting the trim on the house and finishing the power lines, then finishing the road. I am not happy with the two masses of foliage right now, but I will deal with them last. I want to see what the rest of the painting tells me about what to do there.

Thanks for reading.

Thinking of William Eggleston and Outer Banks Modern: The Start of a New Painting

Most of the houses in the northern part of the Outer Banks have Victorian influences with miles of decking corseting the exterior (granted, they’re pretty boxy corsets), which is why I was amused when I saw this house down the street.

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It’s very geometric, but something seemed a bit odd about it. Look at the siding. On the left of the house it is aligned with the angle of the roof, like hatching on a drawing, while on the front it is horizontal. But look at the front of the deck. It’s hatched at the opposite angle of side, which in a drawing would make it stand out from the the rest of the house front. Not sure it’s so successful on the house. It is as if the architect drew the house on canary paper with that hatching just as a matter of course, and the clients liked it so much that they said build it as is, color and all.

In editing the photo I wanted to see how this might look with an overly yellow house against an overly blue sky. It’s not right as shown, but I will fix that in the painting. I like how the clear part of the sky points directly at the house, perhaps inadvertently drawing attention to the funny siding. I will try to paint it with Eggleston’s color saturation in mind, “printing” the photo in watercolor as I want to see it, accounting for all the Hopper-sequence intrusions on the vision by the work itself (and my so-so drawing ability).

Here’s my framing sketch for an 11×14 painting.

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My Mistake

I have another Outer Banks painting to post in the next few days, but in the meantime I want to relay this story and finished image now that we are back home.

In my last post I showed a Hopper inspired plein air painting of a vacation home across the way in the Outer Banks. I liked this attempt because it was fun to do, challenging in its forms, and I thought I made some good decisions regarding what to paint on it.

The next morning as I was making coffee I had my paintings out on the dining table, and my 4 year old daughter wandered over there. Then I heard,”Daddy, can I have some paper?”

“Sure, hold on. Let me finish the coffee.”

When I went to give her paper I saw her over my painting with a green crayon. Then I saw the painting. You can guess what had happened.

“Audrey, did you draw on my painting?”

Silence.

“No, we never draw on other people’s paintings. I will give you your own paper over there. But don’t draw on my paintings. We have to respect other people’s art work.”

Silence.

I was a little annoyed, and there seemed to be an important lesson here. Then I saw what she drew on it. “DADDY.” Big and green across the top.

“Wait. Audrey, did you sign my painting for me?”

“Yeah,” She smiled as if I should have known that immediately.

I was really touched. She was proud of my painting and signed it just like she signs hers. I gave her a hug and a kiss and explained why I told her not draw on other people’s work, but that once I read what she wrote I thought it was so sweet of her to try to sign mine. I wasn’t smart enough to take a picture of it like that or keep it as she signed it. I wish I did now. Instead, to recover the original painting, I sanded off the crayon and extended the sky so it would look better in a matte. I miss the giant green “DADDY,” though. That’s what really made it special. The lesson to learn was mine more than hers.

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Oceanfront Plein Air

Here at the Outer Banks I have enjoyed looking at all of these large multi-family vacation homes in a new light. My recent close study of Edward Hopper has given me a different appreciation for these houses. Decking is very important down here, as are unexpected pop-out rooms with large windows. This leads to fascinating arrangements of line, surface, and shadow. I have been taking pictures of some of the more compelling houses, and I will likely use these for some in-depth paintings later.

In the meantime, I am looking do to some smaller works. Yesterday, while being interrupted by my two-year-old daughter feeding me cashews, I did a 30-45 minute plein air study of this house across the way from where we have stayed for the past several years thanks to a good family friend. I tried to apply some of what I learned from Hopper, such as the over-dark shadows. I got a little sloppy with some of the lines, so might have to go back in to clean up later depending on how this looks matted. I used ultramarine blue, pthalo blue, pthalo green, burnt sienna, and permanent yellow deep. The house was largely done in ultramarine and burnt sienna. The actual roof was a pretty dark grey, but I changed it to what you see below to add some more interest. The painting needed this and the bit of green of the plants on the dunes to counteract the coolness of the house. I hope to do another one or two like this while here showcasing the different housing variations.

Thanks for reading.

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Learning from Edward Hopper: Marshall’s House

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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.
-Edward Hopper

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.

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