Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Deciding on a Focal Point

A few weeks ago I was bicycling around Hull Massachusetts when I came upon this scene, right next door to my brother-in-law's house. The sun dappled stone steps leading up to the kayaks stored away for the winter intrigued me. I grabbed the camera and took a few shots. I had to wait another week before I had a chance to get back into the studio to paint that particular scene. I had just finished a very soft, subtle watercolor (actually the subject of the previous post: Painting the Mist) and as much as I loved working with the delicate colors, I was more than ready to get back to acrylics and indulge in my passion for pure, rich colors! I had taken several photos for reference, but the one I liked best captured the steps, the stone wall, the fall vegetation and the kayaks. The steps are cluttered with leaves and the fall garden is shouting its last hurrah before the first frost of the season. The fall colors have been somewhat subdued, a bit more golden, more burnished, but I loved the challenge of mixing just the right shade. Although the painting is very colorful, my palette consisted of just a few colors to begin with. New colors, shades, tints and lively neutrals, were created with the existing colors on my palette. A word about lively neutrals; I do like my whites, grays, browns and dark areas to have a bit of life in them. Grays and browns are always mixed by adding two complementary colors together, and then tweaking with another color to play up either the gray or brown undertones. My dark areas are always created by mixing dark red, blue, purple and green together. Color temperature is controlled by the amount of red (warm) or blue (cool)used. And white...is never really white. It reflects all of the colors around it, and the colors of the shadows on the white surfaces will depend on the surrounding colors. One of the hardest decisions to make with this painting was deciding on the focal point. To me it was obvious that the kayaks, nestled in for their long winter's nap were the focal point. But that might not be apparent to the viewer. As a kayak owner, I am familiar with the silhouette of the kayak in storage...upside down, piled on top of a bunch of other kayaks...I have always loved the contrasts of colors as they lay piled on top of each other. But the viewer would need more information. Another look at the scene told me that good luck and nature had solved the problem for me by providing a path of light from the bottom of the steps to the house at the top. And so my focal point shifted to include the stone steps, curving up the hill and leading our eyes to the area where the kayaks were stored. The light color of the steps and the stone wall draws our attention immediately. The light color, with a few subtle changes, is repeated in the trees and the house in the background, drawing our eyes through the entire painting. Areas of vivid color provided by the fall vegetation, weave in and around the path of light. Dark areas provide needed contrast. All of the trees, leaves and other vegetation are painted with a soft edge and no details which would distract our attention from the focal point. Although the focus on the kayaks has been minimized, I am still intrigued by them and plan to paint a close-up view...perhaps for my next painting! I titled this painting "Early November".

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Painting the Morning Mist

What is it about mornings on the lake? Waking to the call of the loon, watching the mist rise off the lake as you wrap your hands around a steaming mug of coffee anticipating the day's adventures. A paddle to the far end of the lake? a swim? a hike to the rookery or perhaps to the waterfalls? The whole day lies ahead of you, but for those first few moments of the morning you give yourself over to those ethereal wisps lifting off the water, slowly exposing the lake, the trees, the land.
Two weeks ago I came across a photo that my husband had taken of the morning mist rising off of the lake. Trees, rocks, loons and water were swathed in a fog which was slowly burning off in the morning sun. Not much color, or form, but lots of atmosphere. I chose watercolor as my medium. Using the photo as reference, I began to paint using lots of water and letting all of my edges diffuse and flow into each other. A paper towel came in handy to blot excess water and color. I had chosen a few different greens and blues, a bit of yellow here and there, but was unsatisfied with my results. I wanted to feel as if I was in the middle of the mist viewing the scene in front of me. I began to experiment a bit more with color adding pinks and a bit more yellow. It worked! Although the overall palette is subdued to convey the misty atmosphere, the warmth of the pinks and yellows created the push/pull effect. Or in other words, the warm colors came forward, the cooler colors receded, creating movement in an otherwise very still scene. The veils of warm color seem to be on a different plane than the cooler colors which adds dimension to the painting, making the viewer feel as if they are a part of the scene. When the paint was dry, I painted in the bare tree branches to create a bit of definition and contrast.

Monday, November 12, 2012

You're painting WHAT????

You're Painting WHAT????

Well, they always say you never know where inspiration might strike and I guess this proves that "they",(whoever they are) are right.

Whenever I am painting a still life, I usually look for interesting objects to group together or objects that somehow tell a story. But every once in a while, a mundane object, something I don't usually consider as an item to paint will beckon me. In this case it was the combat boots. My son Ben had left them behind, when he was home on leave in summer 2011.

The boots were probably left behind intentionally because they didn't fit well. Ask any military person about their boots and you are likely to get a long story about the trials and tribulations of finding just the right boot. The right boot is usually never the one they were issued; nearly always the one they had to pay for later. But...I digress. Somehow I kept looking at those boots, deciding; acrylic? watercolor? pencil? And why? Why do I want to paint the boots? They really hadn't gotten to the point of being beaten down and grubby...artists always love that stuff. But they did appeal to me.

Maybe because it would force my left brain to pay attention to a right brained activity as I made sure I painted every turn of the laces as they wove in and out of the eyelets. Hmmm. Maybe... But most likely I was intrigued by the universal symbolism of the combat boot. The boots, more than any other part of the uniform, show the wear and tear of the daily routine of the soldier. I had read an article written by a soldier's wife who lived in military housing. She mentioned the eerie stillness of the housing development when the troops were deployed. One of the things you miss is the sound of their boots on the stairs in the early morning hours as they left for work.

So with all of those thoughts circling around in my mind, I painted the boots in watercolor and my left brain was intrigued by the laces and the eyelets and my right brain was just happy to paint.

I later used the boots in two of my greeting card designs, adding a stylized patriotic background.

The traditional Irish verse (below) was later added in a graphic design program to create a poster.
May the road is up to greet you, may all your days be bright,
May love walk by your side by day and keep you warm by night,
May all you meet along the way be glad to call you friend
And may the road rise up to greet you, and bring you home again.