Monday, July 30, 2007

Landscape Composition

"Near Chimney Rock", Oil on Panel, 7x9 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

A few days ago, I promised to write something about landscape composition, so here it goes.

The hardest thing to understand about landscape painting is tone. When painting outdoors, the first thing to understand is that the range of tones (from the lightest white to the lowest dark) is much wider than you can accomplish with artist paints. JF Carlson explains this well in his book (see reference below)---noting that the range of tones outdoors is many times what you can produce on your palette. The tendency is to paint in the high range of tones, since sunlight makes everything appear so radiant. You must avoid this tendency to be a successful landscape painter. My friend Mitchell Johnson once told me that when in doubt he would take off his white t-shirt and put it out in front of what he was painting. Try this, bring a white cloth with you if you are painting outside and put it out in front of you. In comparison, nearly everything (if not all) of what is out in the landscape will appear darker. So, tone it down.

Landscape painting is also unlike most other types of painting for several reasons. First, in landscape painting, the tonal relationship between the various planes (for example, sky, land, mountains, etc.) are relatively consistent. For instance, in nearly all cases, the sky will be the lightest tone of the landscape--even on a cloudy day. The next lightest tone will be the flat ground plane--followed by sloping planes such as mountains. The darkest parts of the landscape will be those things directly up and down (i.e., uprights), such as trees, foliage, etc. To confirm this you can follow the lesson I used for the "Yellow Cup" and apply it to a landscape. Take a photo of a landscape you want to paint, then turn it into a black and white photo. You will notice the tonal relationships are quite different from the color relationships. If you are a beginning landscape painter, I would recommend you start with a monochromatic underpainting as I have been posting about over the last few weeks.

To learn more about landscape composition and how to control your tones, I would recommend two books. The first is by JF Carlson and has been around for many years--but is worth buying. You can get it in paperback on Amazon: Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting.

The second book I highly recommend is by Edgar Payne, Composition of Outdoor Painting. This book is harder to find, but has been reprinted lately-so you should be able to find a copy. I know there is one copy left at Franz Bader bookshop in Washington, so give them a call if you need it.

Anyway, that's it for today. Just some thoughts and recommendations. Hope they help. Keep painting, even if only for sixty minutes a day. Sxtyminuteartist

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Painting-a-Day--does size matter?

"Marie's Window", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007

You will have seen that the last few paintings I have used for demonstation have all been 6x6 inches. Which seems to be a good format for me. It is square, and thus flexible for both landscapes and still lifes, and not so big that it cannot be painted quickly.

Yesterday I started a 7x9 landscape, which I will post when finished. One thing that I learned in starting a larger painting is that bigger is harder, if not always better. For example, I noticed that in a wider landscape format, composition becomes much more important. I plan to do a posting on composition in the next few weeks--but suffice it to say at this point--bigger requires more thinking about composition.

Another issue when you start to enlarge your painting is that things that did not matter in small paintings--start to stand out. For instance, where a quick stroke may have stood for a shadow or for plane in a small painting, that single stroke may not work anymore in a larger painting. As Scott Christensen says in his DVD, "Ugly and small is one thing, but ugly and big is a another matter altogether".

You will notice that most Painting-a-Day artist tend to keep their painting small. For example, if you look at the paintings of Duane Keiser or Justin Clayton, you will see that most of their daily paintings are 6 inches square or smaller. There is a reason.

So I think one of the lessons to be learned is that there is a lot to be gained by painting many smaller paintings and studies. These smaller paintings both allow you to complete a painting quickly, but also there much to be learned about color and composition by doing smaller paintings. When you move to larger paintings, you will have worked out many of the tonal and color problems--and recorded the key information needed to make the larger painting work. In this regard, I highly recomment Scott Christensen's DVDs. I own them both and have learned a lot from his working process. In the first, he takes a small study and shows you how to develop this into a larger painting. In the second, he takes you through three quick studies.

So that's it for today. Look for another post tomorrow. I am also thinking about posting my daily small paintings for sale. So stay tuned--and keep painting. Sixtyminuteartist

Friday, July 27, 2007

Short-Cut to Making Monocromatic Paintings

"Red Rocks Near Abiquiu", Oil on Panel, 6x6 inches
Jerry Lebo, 2007
In the past several posts, I have been demonstrating how to use a monocromatic underpainting to speed up your painting process--by identifying the major shapes and tones in a painting early. Today I am going to give you a short-cut to mixing tones.

Personally, I prefer working from a warm underpainting--and thus have shown you how to mix sap green and cadmium red to make a warm darker tone, which can be modified with white or ultramarine blue to make lighter or darker tones.

Recently I have been using Holbein Aqua Duo paints, which are water-based and thus easy to travel with. Holbein makes a variety of traditional colors, but also makes monocromatic tones to simplify the painting process. These monocromatic tones tend to be on the cool side (blue hue) but are easy to use and can be used to mix various tones quickly--or to modify colors to bring down their intensity or bring down their tone. Another advantage is that is very easy to mix five or seven tones for making a monocromatic painting. The Holbeing colors are called Monochrome #1, Monochrome #2, and Monochrome #3, respectively. The higher the number, the darker the tone.

It is pretty easy to mix these three basic colors into more tones. Here is an example of five tones I mixed in only a few minutes from these ready made tubes.

If you have been following this blog, you will know what to do next with these five tones...start painting. See my painting lesson on the "yellow cup" to learn more.

Good painting. Sixtyminuteartist

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Making a "Painting-a-Day"--is it possible with a full-time job?

There are an increasing number of artist following the Painting-a-Day (PAD) approach. One of the most famous is Duane Keiser, who has been doing it for a few years--and has inspired a lot of other artist. There is even a blog for painters following the PAD approach. There are so many artist following this approach, that it would be impossible to list them all. Type "painting a day" in google and see what I mean.

When I started this blog, I did not want to repeat what was being done in these blogs or discussion space. My purpose is more specific--that is how to be an artist at the same time you have a full-time job. In sum, as my blog "objective" states, to provide practical methods and advice on finding more time to pursue your art, more efficient ways of making it, and more effective ways of getting your artistic vision out of your mind and onto paper, canvas, or any other material you can find.

I have been thinking lately about how this relates back to the PAD approach. Can a artist with a full-time job follow the PAD approach? I believe the answer is "yes". And, I hope over the next few months and maybe years I will be able to prove it to you.

In the meantime, let me give you a concrete example of how to make a small painting is a short time. If you have been reading my "yellow cup" painting lesson then you are familiar with my approach. I have followed the same approach for this painting, "Crushed Styrofoam Cup". In fact, I think it there is more to learn from this example, as the tonal variations are much more interesting.

As with the "Yellow Cup" painting, I started with a pair of photos, one in color and the other in black and white. There were printed on a portable photo printer.

Next, I start painting in a monochrome color, a mixture of sap green and cadmium red. In the underpainting my concern is to make an interesting tonal painting. In my experience, if the tonal painting is interesting to look at--then the final painting has a good chance to be interesting as well--but the converse is not always true. In fact, in my opinion, if your tones are wrong or uninteresting, adding color will almost never make things better. I spent about 10-15 minutes blocking in the major tones, simply by adding progressive amounts of titanium white paint to my sap green/red mixture.

Of course, the monochomatic painting is not meant to be a finished painting, but a guide to establishing and keeping the right tones as you move the painting forward. Once I felt I had these working, I took the time to set out my palette by matching the tones within each of the colors that I would need for the finished painting. For this painting, these were a reddish brown, similar to the underpainting, a bluish red, and yellow/orange.

Once the mixing was done, which took around 5 mins. I went back to the monochrome painting and started to fill in the major blocks of color. Once I was satisfied with the color relationships, I moved to the edges and drawing to make sure the cup was convincing and sitting firmly on the table. The last part of the painting that I completed was the straw. It gave me the most trouble for some reason, I suspect because it was easy to make it too obvious. In my mind, the key to this painting is to make the lid and straw convincing--and I hope I have accomplished this.

Anyway, here is a painting that I completed in les than two hours of work. So, as I said above, one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening is all you need to join the painting-a-day movement. Here is my contribution for the day.

Hope you enjoy. Send me your comments. More tomorrow, Sixtyminuteartist

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Painting Lesson--Yellow Cup (final)

Today I am going to take you through the final steps on how I approached the painting which I started posting about two days ago--the yellow cup. The painting itself only took about two hours to paint in total, but I wanted to cover a lot of material and not let the posts get too long--so I have stretched it into three posts. In the first post I went over how I selected a subject and photographed it--both in color and black and white--so as to be able to better understand the tonal relationships. In the second post, I covered how to develop a monochromatic underpainting based on the black and white photo. Today I am going to take you through how to take that tonal painting and develop it further by adding color--without losing the tonal relationships.

Before I start, let me make a point about being prepared. I have to admit that I started this painting without being totally prepared--and I wanted to show you the results so you could avoid the same mistake. I am a firm believer that you must be prepared to paint when you approach the easel.

When traveling--and particularly when working with water-based paints--I like to use disposable palette paper. When I use oil paints, I use a wooden palette. In this case, as I am using Holbein Duo paints, so I had intended to buy disposable palette paper at the art store, but forgot. Instead of going back and making sure I was prepared, I followed my wife's suggestion and used a paper plate. I took a photo of what my palette (paper plate) looked like after the monochromatic painting.

It was a miracle I could control any of the tones. My recommendation is that you have the right equipment (including a good palette) before you start painting--an organized palette is essential. Anyway, I went back and got some proper palette paper for this stage of painting.

Let's get started by reminding you of the final monochromatic painting as it stood at the beginning of this post.

Now that I have proper palette paper--I start by mixing the piles of paint in three major tones in the monochromatic painting. Below is a photo of my palette--although the piles of paint are nearly gone--as I had been working for some time, but I think you can still see my point.

I set out my colors across the left, which are the same I use for all nearly all my paintings--red, light yellow, sap green, ultramarine blue, and white. I start by mixing three tones equivalent to the main tones of the underpainting across the top--a light tone, dark tone, and mid tone--moving left to right. After that I mixed the background colors, and color of the cup trying as much as possible to keep the colors in the same tones as in the underpainting.

You will see that the yellow I have mixed as the main color for the cup is a mid-tone and much darker than you might think if you only were looking at the cup. I work this way for around 5-10 mines, not so worried about making a finished painting--but primarily focusing on keeping the drawing and tones consistent with the monochromatic underpainting. Here is photo I took after around 10 minutes of laying down paint.

Obviously, there is still a lot to be done to make this an interesting painting, but I am mainly trying to get the color relationships correct--without losing the tonal relationships.

To make sure I was on track, I took a photo of the painting at this stage in black and white to make sure the tones were being maintained.

Satisfied that the tonal relationships were roughly correct--I move into a phase where I was trying to move the painting towards a more finished stage. I won't go into all the details, but generally speaking, this is a phase where I working the edges (the points were two or more tones meet). In the case of this painting, this meant focusing on the shape of the opening of the cup, to make sure it was well-drawn and met the sides of the cup, table, and background on the right correctly. Secondly, I wanted to make sure the cup sat on the table convincingly, so I spent some time on the edges where the side and mouth of the cup meets the table.

I worked the painting for another 30 minutes or so, and here is where it finished.

At this point, I could have keep working on it a bit more, but felt that it was in a state I could live with and there was a real risk I could ruin it my overpainting it. People always ask me, when is a painting finished--and there is never an easy answer. In this case, it was when I felt it captured my initial sense of why I started the painting in the first place--a certain glow of the yellow of the cup. I also wanted the viewer to feel as if you could feel the opening of the cup--that it was a real cup that could be used.

Anyway, I'd be interesting in you views on this lesson. Did you find it useful. What could I add to make it better. I plan to add other lessons in the future, so your feedback is appreciated. sixtyminuteartist

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Painting Lesson--Yellow Cup (part 2)

In the first part of this painting lesson, I showed you how to get started by chosing a simple subject. In my case, I have a Canon A510 portable photo printer that I brought with me on this trip, so I printed a copy of each of the photos of the yellow cup (one in color and one in B&W) for reference while painting and taped these to my easel.

To get started I start by mixing a monochrome color. My favorite is a mixture of sap green and cadmium red. It makes a nice dark which can be easily modified with white (for a lighter tone) or ultramarine blue (to go darker). Here is a shot of my palette before I start.

I started by drawing with a small brush the basic shapes of the cup and the foreground, and then darkening the foreground (shelf) to make sure it was the darkest tone. I had to add a small bit of ultramarine blue to ge the foreground to be the a dark enough in tone--relative to the cup. I could have simply lighted the cup, but I liked how dark the shelf was--and wanted to keep it that way in the final painting.
At this stage, if I get something too dark or what to correct the drawing, I like to use paper towels slightly dampened or q-tips to wipe back the paint and get back to the panel based color (white). You can never wipe away all the paint--as it tends to stain the gesso, but it allows you to continue to correct the drawing. In some cases, if I think the painting needs to be started again, I simply wipe the whole thing off and start again. I am only planning at this point to spend 10-15 mins on this stage of the painting--so I will not have lost much if I have to start again. I primarily use paper towels to correct the drawing and tones, but as you will see from the below shot, I also use my share of q-tips.
After working the monochromatic underpainting for around 15 mins, I felt I had reached a stage where I had nailed the tones down pretty well and was ready to start adding in the color. You will see it looks rather blueish (cool in color). This was due to the fact that I starting adding in ultramarine blue into the mixture. If you leave it out, you will get a much warmer underpainting.

And here is the original photo I was working from. You will see that I am a bit darker on the cup than the photo, but some of that is due to the camera--which tends to darken all tones. That is why I would not recommend you entirely paint from photographs until you have been able to paint from observation. This is especially true when painting outdoors.

Well, that's it for today, I will show you how to finish off this painting tomorrow. All the best, sixtyminuteartist.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Painting Lesson--Yellow Cup (part 1)

Okay, let's get painting. If you haven't been painting regularly or are just starting--it is best not to jump into a complicated painting. You may end up getting frustrated and discouraged.

One of the first things that caught my eye for a possible painting when we arrived in Santa Fe was these little cups my kids like to use for drinks. They are brightly colored and brought back memories from past visits. Also, they demonstrate one of the aspects of painting that is hard to master--the difference between tone and color. So let's get started.

While my wife was off doing something the first morning, I grabbed a couple of these cups and put them up on a shelf near the door of our condo--and took some photos. I chose this shelf for the photo for a simple reason that it did not need much modification. It had good light, so I did not need to set up a light, and it had a large contrast between the background and the foreground. I didn't know what size of panels I would be using yet, since we hadn't been to the art store, so I took a wide shot--so I could crop it later. After a few shots, it was the yellow cup that seemed the most interesting to me.

Later that day we went to the art store and I ended up buying a couple of 6 inch by 6 inch panels, which I primed with a brush and some acrylic gesso. Acrylic gesso is readily available and dries quickly--so you can paint pretty quickly. Oil-based gessos take at least 24 hours to day, so you need to plan ahead.
To make my photo consistent with my panel, I cropped the photo down to roughly a square and then increased the contrast and color saturation to make it a bit more interesting. I did all of this in less than five minutes using the Microsoft photo editor on my laptop. Even to most basic photo editor can make these changes easily.

Now, here's a question. What tone (how dark) is the yellow cup relative to the foreground and background. I think most people can see the cup is darker than the background--which is white--but it is surprising that it is actually much darker than most people think--and closer to the foreground color than the background. To prove this, I simply turn the photo into a black and white photo using "desaturate" on my photo editor.

Now, we have a relatively straightforward painting, with three major tones-the foreground, the cup, and the background. In fact, they key to this painting will be to get the tones correct--the colors are secondary. To demonstrate this, I am going to start this painting with a limited palette--which means I am going to paint it with only a few colors. I am going to start by only painting the tones--and not the colors, which I will add later. I have found this approach a good way to make a painting where the tones dominate and the colors are relatively straightforward. An example of a painting done this way was posted the other day on my first posting. This painting of a sprouting onion was done in two stages, first purely as a monochromatic painting (in a red mid-tone)--with the colors applied on top later. This lets the warm mid-tones peak through the overpainting and brings a certain harmony to the whole painting. Most importantly for our purposes here, it will help us keep the tones right--which will be essential to the yellow cup painting. It is going to be all too easy to want to bump up the tone on the yellow cup which will ruin the painting. In fact, this is one of the most common faults I see in new painters--they want to add white where there are colors that seem bright or have a glow to them, when the acutal tone is much darker.

I will start my demonstration of the painting of the yellow cup in my next posting. Sixtyminuteartist.

Dealing with Travel

Travel can be a big hassle. Friday and Saturday we have been traveling and settling in--and I have had my share of painting problems. But I have also had some opportunities. So let me take you through a few issues and ideas to keep in mind when traveling and how to prepare to be ready to paint when you arrive.

We spent nearly the entire day traveling from Washington to Santa Fe New Mexico on Friday--and did not get in until late. The kids were antsy--the food was terrible, and it was mostly an organizational nightmare. But, I am always on the lookout for something useful for painting. And it came in the form of a thunderstorm in Dallas. My wife had run to the bathroom with the kids and I looked up to see a great sky scape outside the airport window, so I took a few shots for the reference file later. You never know when you will need a great sky shot for a painting later on, which demonstrates one of the principles of the sixtyminutepainter--always be on the lookout for something that will inspire or getting you going later.

Anyway, the key to painting and traveling is simplification. I recommend taking the minimum you need to paint. I decided that I would get my canvas/panels here is Santa Fe, as well as a couple of tubes of paint. I also decided that I would paint with water-based oil paints. I have been using Holbein Duo paints for a few years and find these are great for traveling or making quick studies. They are good quality and are available widely.

Keep in mind, these days the TSA will confiscate paint if you are not careful--so I recommend clearly marking your tubes of paint "artist paint--do not confiscate" or in my case "water-based paint, do not confiscate". Artist paints are allowed in luggage, but the TSA guys sometimes don't discern between artist paints and others, and I have had several people tell me their paints had be taken. A 120ml tube (or larger) of cadmium yellow can cost a lot of money--so beware.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the setup I am working with in Santa Fe. First I pack simply, a couple of brushes, knifes, and paint. It all fits into a pretty small package, which I seal up tightly in case there are any leaks.

My wife was very generous a couple of years ago and bought me a pochade box easel, which is very portable and useful. This year I decide I would go with the minimal, the easel from the pochade box (without the panel carrier), the box itself, and a tripod. The paints, brushes, easel, and knifes all fit into one box (including my wife's watercolors)!

Here is the easel attached to the tripod. I put the box and tripod in my luggage--so there was nothing to carry--which is very important considering I was carrying car seats, luggage for the kids, etc.
You don't need something as fancy as this--an old cigar box can be adapted in a similar manner. If you want more details, send me a note. If your interested in the one I use, here is a link to the manufacturer, Open Box M.

More later, the sixtyminuteartist.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Road Map and Disclaimer

"If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate." Thomas Watson, Sr

Okay, day two of being the sixtyminuteartist. I was thinking about failure coming into work this morning, so I looked up the above quote. I think an artist has to take failure as a given--and I expect to have a few coming here in the next few weeks, so I thought I'd give you some quotes about failure. Be prepared to fail.

Anyway, I didn't sleep very well last night, so I am a bit tired--but I spent part of my commute into work thinking about how to structure my next few posts. I am lucky that I started this blog two days before I go on vacation--so I hope this will give me the time to get things going. However, just because I am going on vacation--doesn't mean I will get more time to paint. First, there is the family--who has their own plans of what I will be doing on vacation. Day trips, restaurants, outings, shopping, etc. I still need to be efficient and effective when I do get my hour or so of painting time per day. So, this blog is not for just the working stiffs around--I hope all artists will get something out of it. It is more that anything else about increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of your art making process--so can work for anyone.

That said, here is the structure (Road map) that I am thinking of following over the next few weeks as the blog gets going. First, I want to do a couple of posts on preparation--that is, "what to paint", "how to prepare to paint", "materials", and "studio organization". These are all the things you need to know, or do, to be ready to paint effectively in the least amount of time. In fact, I think this is the most important part of the process--if you are not ready to paint when you step to the easel--the amount of wasted time and likelihood of failing goes dramatically up!

Second, I want to take you through a series of one-hour painting sessions. In these, I will breakdown my approach into specific phases of making a painting and discuss key issues, such as, tonal control, colors and mixing paint, drawing, etc. Of these, controlling tone is probably the most important--so I will start with this one. The other day in fact I ran across the website of this guy who is getting a lot of discussion in the blogosphere due to his inventive approach to tonal art. Basically, he is taking tones in the form of pictures (or in one case blood on band-aids) and placing them in the right order to make a larger picture. There is a giant painting done by Chuck Close in the National Gallery of Art here in DC that is basically the same principle, but done with his fingerprints--and it is much better in any case. No to take anything away from Phil Hansen, but you can be the judge. Chuck is a master of tone and color--and it shows in his work.

So, there is a rough idea of where I am headed with the blog. Any suggestions on areas to cover are welcome.

Let me finish with a bit of a disclaimer about the sixtyminuteartist concept--which I think is what keep me up last night--so here it is:

DISCLAIMER: The methods and approaches that are presented on this blog may or may not make you a better artist. The author does not claim that by only spending sixtyminutes a day painting, you will become a better artist. The objective of the sixtyminuteartist is not to make you a better artist in only sixty minutes a day--that may take a lifetime, or may never happen. The purpose is to provide you with practical methods and advice on finding more time to pursue your art, more efficient ways of making it, and more effective ways of getting your artistic vision out of your mind and onto paper, canvas, or any other material you can find. Your choice to pursue these approaches in whole, or in part, are at your own risk and peril. Expect failures, hope for success. Sixtyminuteartist

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sixty minute artist? Why I blog.

I am starting this blog for one very simple reason: I need to make art to keep me from going crazy, and I have very little time to do it. So a few weeks back, I set a challenge for myself. Give myself a minimum of sixty minutes a day for making art--and within this time achieve what I am after--to develop as an artist. So, through this blog I am going to let you follow my progress. An example of the type of work I do is above.

The myth of the starving artist is dead. We are real people, many of us have full-time jobs, family, and we have been forced by circumstance to fit art into an otherwise hectic schedule. I have come to the conclusion that there are a lot of other artist out there with the same problem I have--how to fit art into a busy life. Even full-time artist don't paint all day. So, the natural question is "how much time is enough?"

After years of trying various approaches, I have come to the conclusion that the minimum amount of time you need to make art on a daily basis is around one hour (hence, the sixty minute artist). On the other hand, more is better...up to a point. So, I am not trying to convince you that you can make or sustain yourself as an artist on sixty minutes a day--some days you will have a bit more time (weekends?) and some less. What I am trying to say--is that as a practicing artist there are ways of achieving what you want out of your art if you can give it a minimum of sixty minutes a day.

I am not advocating this system for everyone. Like all artist, I have my fantasies, of course. I would love to be a full-time artist and sit around the studio making paintings all day--and then suddenly be discovered by an art gallery and live happily ever after. But, after 15 years of painting, I realize this is not very likely to happen. In fact, I took two years off from my job and tried being a full-time artist-and I can tell you it is not all it is cracked up to be. I moved to New Mexico, had two solo shows, and made a grand total of $8000. And I was successful by most standards. What did I get in return? First, I had 12-16 hours a day to worry about my art--was it going in the right direction, would it sell, etc. I spent a lot of time admiring other artist making more money, trying to sell art, thinking about marketing, etc. I did a lot of fishing--mainly to avoid painting. Let me tell you, being a full time artist was a full time job--and I actually only spent around 4-5 hours a day painting on my best day. The rest was mostly an unstructured neurotic mess.

In following blogs, I will start on the details of how to do it--or at least the secrets I have found. That is, how real people, make real art on a daily basis without quitting their job.
In the meantime, just to let you know I am not crazy--here is a link to a guy who is doing something similar--a painting a day (PAD). Duane Keiser is an artist living in Richmond, VA, who decided that he needed to reach a broader audience with his work and started a blog. It is worth a look. And BTW, we both went to the same college. He has been written up in USAToday.

Also, check this book out if you are a painter. It gives some good practical advice on how to paint more efficiently and grow by doing sixty minute studies--or less. I have tried the exercises in the book and they work.

More later. The sixtyminuteartist.