Monday, April 28, 2008

Ebb at the Flats

pastel on sanded hot press
10x8 in (15.5x20 cm)

There is a memory here: a child poking around in the exposed flats, looking for special treasures. Happy birthday to my youngest daughter, no longer a small child, but a grownup, still with a sense of wonder and exploration. Thank you for all the delight you have brought to my life. I love you.

After a month of doing mostly other things, like knocking crumbling plaster off walls and finishing up matting and framing for a show, I really needed to get my hands dusty with pastel again. Something immensely satisfying about painting with pastels. So last week I did several, and thought I'd post this one here.

When I know a place as intimately as I know this one, I have a tendency to put in too many details as the place comes back to me. Then I take out what I need to in order to convey the essence of the place. I spent a lot of time here when I lived on Puget Sound: one of the many places where streams ease their way into the Sound, creating rich estuarine flats where shellfish thrive.

In the flats, on calm days when there is no wind to disturb the surface, you can see the bottom as clearly as if through glass. As the tide ebbs, water level simply drops, the only apparent flowing where water drains off exposed slopes. But if you look under the surface at the channel, you can see the patterns where water is flowing out, bending seaweed and moving particles of sand.

And out on the open Sound, as the currents from the various convoluted inlets gain force, they collide, creating debris lines and sometimes raising ridges as high as a couple of feet. Sometimes you see sea lions and kayakers playing there.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Playing around again...

Early Spring Bog Meadow
oil on linen panel, 9x12 in (23x30.5 cm)

So... it's been a whole month since I posted. What in the world have I been doing all that time, anyway?

Well, here's part of it. (Get ready, I'm about to embark on another story...)

I love doing landscapes. I paint from photos only if it is a photo I have taken, of someplace I know and have a feel for, because photos simply don't capture that. I like to paint from life. So I decided I wanted to start doing plein air someplace other than my back deck. I'm not particularly enamored of hauling pastels around, and the more I hung out around plein air folks, the more I admired what they could do with oils. Now, I haven't painted with oils in a very very very long time. I quit using them because of an extreme sensitivity to either turps or mineral oil, or both.

But as I listened and read, I realized that neither of those are really necessary. Finally, I took the plunge, and along with a small plein air easel, I ordered some basic oil painting supplies, some canvas panels, and selected a limited palette of colors to work with.

Colors! Brushes! The day they arrived was so exciting-- until I realized that I had not the slightest idea what to do. Oops. I had to relearn mixing colors, how different brushes work, oh, my gosh, where do I start? I don't even know how to start a painting anymore!

Calm down. At the beginning. Play. First, make color charts. One for each color, so eight charts, each with 40 squares. Well, for some reason, the first one had 56 squares; I'm not sure why. After that I decided squarish blobs were perfectly adequate and a lot less bother. More fun, too.

Believe it or not, color swatches are fun. No pressure, just color, and good practice wielding the palette knife (with an occasional oops). You can make messes and not worry a lot about outcomes other than color. (Except it helps to develop a methodical approach, for reasons that may become clearer below.)

Watching the magic of colors changing each other, new colors emerging. A feeling of accomplishment from entering the results in my studio journal. And then scraping up all the goop left after doing a chart and seeing what kind of mud color I got from it. Using it to tone one of my panels and setting it aside to dry. Cleaning the palette and starting a new chart.

This painting came after my second chart. This was the chart with yellow as the base color, Um, I had a lot of extra paint left over. Way too much to just tone a panel. I didn't realize how far Azo yellow could go. So I made this painting, using a photo of an early spring bog meadow at the base of a hillside as a reference. I chose that photo because, frankly, it was a scene I could do with what was on my palette! My personal challenge was to use up that paint and then quit. So I tended to work pretty much all over the canvas, and at the very end, used my palette knife to add foreground detail in the winter-ravaged rushes, leaving the background hillside kind of vague.

I think I only broke one major compositional "rule", too. Well, two. I doubt Edgar Payne will roll over in his grave over it, though. After all, it is only my first oil painting since most people on earth have been alive. It's here so I can come back in two years and say, "Oh, wow, I've come a long way since then."