Monday, February 24, 2014

Harmonious Color and Moody Neutrals

In my two recent watercolor paintings "Good Morning Beautiful!" and "Waiting for Spring" I am working with a limited palette. Both paintings were begun in my watercolor class at the Y Arts Studio, with the intention of using each as part of my lesson plan on limiting your palette. But each painting is quite different in subject matter and mood.

"Good Morning Beautiful! started with a simple arrangement of three objects: two eggs and a lemon. The composition is simple and follows the rule of thirds grid and all three shapes are similar in that they are ovals. The colors I chose are cheery shades of yellow, orange and a very pale red with accents of white. Yellow, orange and red are analogous colors, which means they all lie next to each other on the color wheel creating a harmonious composition.

I began the painting by sketching the three objects, then painting the perimeter of the eggs and a small area on top of the lemon with masking fluid. After the masking fluid dried I painted a very light wash of yellow and orange across the paper. After the wash dried, I peeled off the masking fluid and began laying in washes of color on the lemon and the eggs building up shadows and creating depth through successive washes of color.

The grid pattern was a afterthought. I had started the painting with the intention of using it as a study rather than a finished painting. But as I worked on the painting I became more interested in developing a finished piece, rather than just a study. So the grid pattern evolved as a way to unite the elements in the composition. Because geometric patterns are visually strong they can distract the viewer from the focal point. For this reason I kept the pattern light and somewhat fragmented.

My end result is a cheery good morning in the kitchen type of painting, hence the name "Good Morning Beautiful".

"Waiting for Spring" has a more subdued palette dictated by subject matter and time of year. The lighthouse at Tibbett's Point stands bathed in washes of pale neutrals; the February sun tries to peek through the clouds, bits of mist rise off the icy water. This painting is all about that time of year when winter has worn out its welcome: the sky, water and snow often seem to be the same color. Spring is still several weeks away.

This painting began with a light sketch. I masked one side of the lighthouse, the other two buildings and part of the snow to keep the color pure white. The sky, water and snow were created with a sloppy wet-on-wet wash of blues and greens mixed with Payne's Gray. Bits of pale red and yellow were added to create depth. As warm colors come forward and the cooler colors recede (push/pull) we create a sense of space and depth within the painting. All colors, warm and cool, were kept very light, very subdued to lend to that bleak end of winter atmosphere. The addition of Payne's Gray to the greens and blues created a series of moody neutrals perfect for a February sky in Northern New York.

The only spot of color is in the red roofs on two of the buildings and the top of the lighthouse. I tried to carry bits of the red through the painting, so that the viewer would not fixate on the red roofs. There is a light red in the shadows on the snow and a bit in the sky to carry our eyes across the painting. I added a darker wash of Payne's Gray mixed with blues and greens to the water to indicate areas where the ice is melting. Details were kept to a minimum lending a somewhat dreamy atmosphere to the painting. Perhaps to keep the viewer dreaming of Spring.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Each year when winter rolls around I find myself painting at least a couple of winter landscapes. Usually the paintings are in preparation for The Art of Winter Show at the Thousand Island Arts Center. This year is no exception; last week I delivered a watercolor and an acrylic painting to the Arts Center. The show opens on Friday, but there's always a chance that I will miss the reception due to weather conditions. Painting the winter and driving in it are two entirely different things!

The winter light as it sits low and pale in the sky always intrigues me. The early morning light and late afternoon illumination are the most interesting with orange, pink and golden hues bouncing off new fallen snow; trees casting long purple/blue shadows. I never have to go far for inspiration...especially this winter. The snow covers and hides a host of problems turning everything into a winter wonderland.

This year's entry in acrylic paint was started as a demo for my Painting class at the Y. I was scheduled to teach a class called "Painting the Winter Landscape", but due to a clerical error, my class was transformed into an Intro to Acrylics Class. But, I had planned on painting a winter landscape and I still needed something to enter in the Art of Winter show, so I stuck with the winter theme.

I was working from a photo and began by lightly sketching the major shapes: tree-line, a few drifts of snow and a stand of trees near the lower right corner, no details. I omitted distracting details like power lines and much of the partly covered fallen underbrush. I under-painted using complementary colors to add more vitality and depth to the "local colors".  In the original painting some of the orange underpainting in the sky and snow peaks through, but I am not sure that shows up in the photo below. Those little bits of warm color add a dynamic interplay with the cool tones of the winter sky and the shadows on the snow. The sky and snow were both painted by mixing colors directly on the canvas when wet so that the transition from color to color remained soft and diffused, lending a realistic quality to those areas. The tree-line running across the back was painted with a variety of dark hues including combinations of Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue and Pthalo Green. I used a bit of light purple, (almost a lilac color) to lighten and subdue some of the dark tones.

When the painting was in progress the trees in the far background became a temporary focal point, due to the path of shadows leading the eye back to them. After I added definition to the trees in the right lower corner and added the arch of the branch across the path the other focal point emerged: the trees in the foreground, especially the arching branch. The trees in the far background were subdued with less intense colors and no details. I added some bits of stick-like branches poking through the snow to help lead our eyes through the picture. I painted in a few fallen trees partially covered with snow to help transition from the snowy path to the wooded area.

The show opens February 7 and runs through March 31. If you are in the Thousand Islands area stop by the Arts Center located at 314 John St. in Clayton. The Art of Winter will run concurrently with a selection of fiber pieces and weaving artifacts from the Arts Center's Handweaving Collection. The town of Clayton is quiet in the winter, but there are still a couple of nice restaurants open serving lunch. If you are lucky you will see a few hardy souls zipping across the frozen St. Lawrence River in air boats!