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Ask the Expert…Ned Mueller

Question: Are value studies really worth the extra effort?

Answer: It never hurts to work out your design as early as possible.

Just turning 76 and being marginalized with some frustrating physical issues I have just so many “great” paintings left in me and as a result I have been increasing my process of doing more value and color studies. I will mostly discuss doing the value studies as the color studies get more complicated and we only have so much time and space here to discuss things.

As an Illustration major in art school we were trained to do multiple value and color studies, comps as we called them, to work out design or composition ideas before doing a finished Illustration. They helped clarify our ideas and design and enabled us to make sure we were on the same page as the Art Director in charge of the project. I found this process to be incredibly helpful when I got into the Fine Arts and was faced with multiple choices of what I wanted to paint and get some successful results. When I am Plein Air painting I will do quick little idea/value studies to get some design ideas down on paper and especially when I am working in the studio with a more complicated landscape or multiple figure composition.

Value study 1. Color study 1.

My failure rate goes down with this process and although it is not always foolproof, I seem to end up with a lot fewer clunkers when I do a study or two..it helps me sort out confusing areas and to get a more unified painting. I use to do the value studies in oil and sometimes still do, but now am doing them mostly in conte as it is more manageable, quicker and easier to do right on the spot. Every other month or so I will take a batch of photos and do around 20 or 25 conte value studies and then pick out the best 10 of those that I feel good about, then do oil color studies of those ideas. Lastly, I pick out the best 5 or 6 of those to take on to finished paintings.

Value study 2. Color study 2. Value study 3. Color study 3.

By the time that I have gone through this process I am pretty confident that I have worked out most of the major design and color issues and am not faced with as much doubt about what will work best. That is not to say that I don’t also dive right into a canvas and let things happen as they may without doing all of this preparation – I come up with some pretty satisfying results and am convinced that there does not need to be some formula that works for me or anyone else at all times. I do find when I am doing complicated multiple figure compositions of 5 to 25 figures I need organize it with more preliminary studies to get it to where I feel that it works well. In my teaching, in general I find most students doing value or color studies usually get caught up with detail and that defeats the purpose of doing the study in order to work out the values and shapes that make up the design. It is dependent on getting an interesting arrangement of values (darks, midtones and lights), shapes and edges for a value study and for a color study an interesting arrangement of colors (which includes values), shapes and edges.

Value study 4. Color study 4.

We need to ask ourselves questions as we work these studies out and try and remember that usually balance in art means unbalance. A good example being a large dark tree will be balanced by a small dark tree – equals become boring and so on. One usually would like to have your picture more dominant with darks, or with midtones or with lights. More dominant midtones would be balance by a smaller group of darks and so on. We usually see too much, so generally work from bigger value and shape relationships to smaller.

Value study 5. Color study 5.

As we usually see too much squint down to try and see the larger value and shape relationships and not the detail and minor accents at the start Try and think in shapes and not in line. It sometimes helps to define shapes with a line but it is the massing and relationship of values and shapes that are important. Do I have a nice arrangement of large, medium and small shapes and values, some busy, busier and quiet areas to enhance the picture?

 

 

Value study 6. Color study 6.

Do I use dark and light shapes and similar colors to move my eye around the picture and sharper, softer and darker and lighter edges to help lead my eye to where I want to viewer to go?  Am I using shapes of different color, but similar values to form more interesting or dominant shapes, and the same with lights and midtone? Can I change a shirt value and color, add a bush, a group of rocks, or take out things that will make the picture more compelling or beautiful?


Value study 7. Color study 7.

It really helps to be familiar with the subject so we can add or subtract things that can enhance or hinder the picture. Use  imagination and ideas that will make it more of our unique voice. I hope this helps you with creating studies They don’t have to take long. They are usually quite fun and often better than our more “finished” paintings. The color studies take a bit longer but can really give a heads up on resolving a lot of major color relationships and issues early on.

Visit Ned’s website to learn more about him and wonderful work.


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Ask the Expert….Cheryl Magellen

Question: Any advice for artists who want to become portrait painters?

Answer: Getting Started as a Portrait Painter

 

01_screen-printer
The Screen Printer, 16×12, oil

Generally speaking, artists who choose to paint portraits have an undying passion for painting people. Although they may paint other genres, they will find their joy and a challenge in portraying the human form. They may have particular types of people they prefer to paint—children, women, family members, ethnic groups, etc. — but the common thread among these artists is the ever-expressive face.

As long as there have been artists, there has been a need for portraiture. In most cases, the end result portrays the character and unique attributes of the sitter but the style of the artist will set each work apart. In early Egypt, portraits were done in profile, romantic portraiture was more animated, and Expressionistic portraits were more colorful and garish. The Grand Style depicts more idealized or larger than life forms, whereas prosaic style is more realistic in nature. Then there are the types of portraits: religious, historical, celebrity, nude and vanity portraiture. And, portraits do not have to be limited to people. Several portrait artists use pets as their subjects.

Portraits can range in scope from closely cropped images similar to Ivan Kramskoy’s “Portrait of Unknown Woman” (1833), to complex figurative pieces with multiple subjects as in Joaquin Sorolla’s “Seville, the Dance” (1915). When painting to please yourself, you can choose to paint as much or as little of a figure as you want, but when working with clients, you may find yourself limited by the client’s budget.

FINDING YOUR STYLE AND YOUR CLIENTS

In today’s world of contemporary portraiture, it is difficult to find an artist who works in a style that is totally unique. Whether intentional or not, each piece of art produced will have some similarities to the work of another artist. What we want to do as artists is to find the subject and style that works best for us. This certainly does not mean we can’t experiment or change, but it is helpful to have at least one thing about our work that sets it apart. This can be as simple as using a similar framing style, using the same light source or body position, using the same color palette, or by obscurely placing the same symbol or item in each of your paintings.

Ask yourself, what style of painting are you interested in producing? Do you enjoy tight, photorealistic styles, or loose, impressionistic styles? Totally abstracted portraits and figures? If you aren’t sure how you would like to draw or paint your subject, do some research to seek out artists who paint in a style or method that appeals to you. Try duplicating sections of their work to see how they were able to get the effects they did.

04_dealer

                                                The Antique Dealer’s Daughter,  18×24, oil

Most people who have been classically trained to draw will more than likely continue to paint realistically, but realism is not the only way to paint. Sometimes being less realistic and more creative in your painting style may lead to more decorative artwork that would be desired by persons who don’t care to hang a portrait of someone they don’t know in their home or office. Or, if it is someone they do recognize, perhaps they want the painting to portray the character of the person rather than their likeness. Character sketches are a testament to this. The clients who publicly sit for character sketches seldom expect the finished work to look just like them. The upside of abstracted portraits is that they are sometimes easier to market because they are more generic. Clients who seek these out may be looking for a particular color scheme that goes with their decorative style. Painting a repetition of the same color harmonies may lead to multiple sales, as well.

The upside of realistic portrait painting is that it is a field of study that is highly respected. Many top awards are honored to artists who are successful in their craft and these artists are sought out to do commissions for people from all backgrounds and artists can make a decent living if they are among those chosen artists. Other artists may also choose to purchase paintings from these accomplished artists.

05_crew
Crew of Four, Private commission, 18×24, oil

Finding those clients can, however, be quite challenging without extensive marketing efforts. Popular thought on who buys realistic portraits of recognizable people suggests locations where family history is of value. These commissioned works become treasured family heirlooms, made to be passed down from generation to generation. The lives and accomplishments of the subjects portrayed turn into stories to be told over and over, throughout time. Another group of clients may come from the business and professional world—presidents, CEOs, professors, and other distinguished persons, and clients who commission these works will more than likely be found through referrals.

If you are new to portrait painting and don’t yet have a body of work, choose a location where your chosen subjects might be found and ask a few people if they wouldn’t mind sitting for you for the practice. This is a great way to build your portfolio, and there is a chance you might end up selling a finished piece. Just make sure you get a good quality photograph for your portfolio before you let it go!

Lastly, if you are painting the subjects you have chosen to focus on, your sales will probably come from the same group of people who are providing you with references. For example, if you visit religious organizations to gather reference materials, this will also be your target market. Leave business cards on bulletin boards, advertise in their newsletters and talk about your art with people who are gathered for a public function. Offer to display one of your paintings in a prominent area.

If you truly love painting figures and faces, you will be motivated to find new and interesting subjects and figure out ways you can make your paintings stand out from the rest. The important thing is to keep painting. Remember the saying: “If you build it, he (they) will come.”

Visit Cheryl’s website to learn more about her and her work.


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Featured

Paul Kratter – From Sketch to Finish

Question: Painting plein air can be challenging. Do you have any suggestions for getting the most out of plein air sketches?

Answer: From Sketch to Finish.

One of the most overlooked aspects of plein air painting is the thumbnail sketch. This seemingly simple step can solve so many early problems in both composition and design.

When I arrive at a painting location I will wander around looking for a unique point of view with four to six strong, graphic shapes. I don’t get my paint kit out, but rather just take my sketchbook with me. Once I’ve decided on a subject, I determine the format – whether it’s rectangular, horizontal, square, or panoramic.

Morning At The Pond, Sketch w

Next, I sketch in an outline of the outside format (a square for instance) and determine the horizon-line, or eye-level. This is a very important element to establish. As I sketch in the main elements using a ballpoint pen, I’m looking for three values, which fall into categories: black, white, and grays.

I use a crosshatch technique to create my values. Overlapping different directional lines creates a value pattern. I may also darken the outside lines of specific shapes to strengthen the graphical work.

Morning at the Pond 9x12 oil w

As a former illustrator (22 years), I see the major elements as graphic shapes. I try to simplify them clearly, looking for hard edges. In the paining, I’ll lose or soften edges, but not in my sketch. This is also the time to edit elements from the scene. I ask myself what’s important to the composition? Does this shape help tell a story or compliment the scene?

Glory Days, Sketch w

If there’s an architectural element, I work out the perspective and the shadow pattern on the building. This can be really helpful as the shadow often changes with weather; I can refer to my sketch for the shadow shapes. Organic elements like trees are important and need to be designed well. I give them specific, well designed shaped, keeping in mind their unique characteristics.

The whole process might take five to ten minutes, but it solves so many issues before I pick up a paintbrush.

Now, I get out my painting kit. I redraw my composition in pencil on my board, just so I know where the elements belong. I then use thinned burnt-umber oil paint to block in the painting. I may make slight adjustments, making sure my perspective is correct.

The View Between 12x12 oil w

Now I’m ready to paint. At this point, I ask myself what is going to change the quickest that I must capture first. It might be a long shadow. It might be the sky or the reflections in the water. I might paint these areas completely and work in other areas later. I prefer to block in the whole painting first, but that’s not always possible.

Using a fairly thin oil wash in the shadow areas, I block in these darks first using large, bright brushes. I’ll mix my colors on my palette in one general area shifting colors slightly to give them more interest. The next step is to block in the major light areas, using more opaque colors and slightly thicker paint. The goal is to have a harmony of color and capture the light of the day. These areas are mixed separately on the palette and I use a clean brush for each major color.

In Good Company, Sketch w

Next, I’ll block in the major light areas, using more opaque colors and slightly thicker paint.

At this point, my canvas is covered and I always step back to see the overall look of the painting. This is a critical step. Again, I ask myself, what adjustments do I need to make in value and color? What jumps out that I need to fix? It’s easy to fall in love with a brush stroke or a passage of color, but stepping back let’s me see the whole painting.

The last step is refinement of shapes. I’ll go back to the shadow shapes and refine color and value. In the light areas I’m building up a thicker, more opaque paint using directional brush strokes. I soften the edges of the trees and add sky holes.

In Good Company 12x16 oil w

I may add some texture with a palette knife and/or add smaller details, like telephone poles, fences, or tree branches. Sometimes the sky is done last (if it is a small area) and I’m careful to keep it clean. Often, I scrape my palette and add more white paint so the color is clean. Stepping back frequently during the last stage allows me to get a better overall view of my piece.

The thumbnail sketch may seem like a quick exercise to get to the finished painting. I find it to be an essential aspect of the process and critical to the success of my painting.

Garnet048To learn more about Paul Kratter visit his website by clicking here.

 

 

 

 

 


 

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Ask the Expert…Mark Fehlman

Question: Why should I paint en plein air?

Answer: You’re Invited to the Best Party Ever!

Do you want to join the best party that you have been to in years?

mf1

This party includes fun, interesting, creative, and positive people. It is ongoing and will take place in interesting places, with people doing things that they don’t normally do. The “games” will get you to do things that could possibly be embarrassing and people will talk about it. You might even get written up in the local paper or national magazine for what you did. The best part is that you might even get a party prize for your antics.

This party is called plein air painting. Eric Rhoads, publisher of Plein Air magazine says “plein air painting is the new golf.” There is fun for painters of all talent levels at this party and you just need to do one thing—show up.

mf2I was an architect for over 30 years. I loved my work and thought that I would do it until I was an old man. There was a gallery two doors down from my office that I used to visit a couple of times a week to marvel at the works of art. It featured plein air based art. The owner taught classes, so I decided to try it.

Once I started, I was hooked. Within 5 years, I sold my successful practice to paint full-time. I have never had more fun, made more great friends, traveled to more exotic places, and sat and contemplated beauty, more than I have done as a painter.

The community of artists

mf4

Artists are very fun people. I always have fun on a painting trip with my fellow painters. They are interesting, adventurous, motivated and well educated. These are the type of friends that you want to have.

Are you good enough to play?

When I first started to paint outside, I was invited by artists who were much better than me. These were people whose work I admired. The “Great Artist’s Club” is not exclusive. I started to going to week long workshops which were a blast. The teachers, who are painting gods, are normal people, who are fun to have a drink with. Everyone is good enough to play this game.

You can do this anywhere!

mf4Wherever you go, you can paint what is around you. Our family went to Fiji when I was just starting out. I took my plein air setup and painted for two hours every morning. You look at a place differently when you try to capture it on canvas. On the plane over, I sketched people on the plane. I actually traded some of my paintings to the resort for the rental of diving equipment.

Join a group. Get involved.

There are a lot of painting teachers, groups and organizations where you can find artists at all levels. I used to go to Laguna Beach Invitational every fall to watch the top artists paint in the 3-hour Quick Draw and was amazed at their mastery. I joined the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, LPAPA because I wanted in on the fun. The California Art Club is another organization that has lots of events for painting and exhibition each year. If you’re not in California, look for groups around you.

Subscribe to publications

There are plenty of good magazines like Plein Air, Southwest Art and American Art Collector that will get you into the world of art.

Participate in an event

mf5There are lots of local and national painting events. I started at the San Clemente Plein Air Festival. It is an open events with lots of artists. It was a lot of fun and I actually took a fourth place ribbon in the Quick Draw. I’m currently in Hawaii for the Maui Plein Air Invitational. This spring, my calendar is full. It is packed with events, travels with friends, and exhibitions. I am having more fun than I could have imagined. This party just keeps getting better.

I have been painting full time now for 10 years and identify myself as an artist and not an architect with a hobby. I like to jump in with all fours when I do something, but you do it your way. The world of painting is open to everyone including artists, collectors, enthusiasts and admirers of all ages. A good party needs all of these types to be a great party.

Mark Fehlman lives with his family in San Diego. He is a signature artist in LPAPA and an artist member of the California Art Club. You can see his work at www.markfehlman.com.

 

Ask the Expert…John Lasater IV

Question: How do you approach painting nocturnes and not arrive home with a bad painting?

There are a lot of subjects I’m interested in, but not all of them are easy when it gets down to it, like posing a model, or waking up early for a sunrise. Plein air nocturnes are difficult to get motivated for because it’s at a time of day I’d much rather be sinking into the couch. All of my nocturnes have come with some element of struggle, so that has to be part of the experience for me. It might explain some of the “bad paintings” as you put it.

The start is always the hardest part, but there’s a meditative mood to the night. Once I have a piece going, nocturne painting becomes one of my favorite experiences.

Here are a few of the basics when it comes to setting up and painting a nocturne.

Equipment

Good equipment is obviously important, especially the lighting. I used to clip flexible book lights to my canvas and palette, which was simple and cheap. Recently I’ve upgraded to a Revelite, which distributes the light more evenly. The Revelite also allows you to dim the lights to your pleasure. One warning though: I’ve found you can easily over-illuminate your canvas. A dim light is better, because you can see the value separation more truthfully.

This is Revelite

 

Color Control
This is the Revelite
Color Control

Because there is typically one main light source in a nocturne scene, you will observe a tonal, or monotone, key. One of the biggest hangups I’ve noticed with beginning nocturne painters is they color their piece as if they were painting a daytime scene. The alternating light sources of sun and blue sky makes a myriad of color vibrations in the daytime that are significantly missing from most nocturne scenes. For this reason, I practice color control, which means, I keep a limited color palette for the scene. Below are some examples.

The first scene, entitled “South and Carroll,” was under complete influence of two or three incandescent streetlights. This gave a very warm, or orange, tone to the whole painting. Instead of pushing any of the cool colors in the sky and shadows, I made sure they were strongly influenced by the warm colors I was mixing into everything else, because the shadows had no significant light source.

"South and Carroll"
South and Carroll

The second scene, called “Elkhorn Avenue,” was strongly influenced by the dusky cool sky light. The colors I chose for the shapes influenced by that light were limited to give it a more monotone effect. Also, knowing that I wanted to emphasize the warm points of light given off by the city, I made sure to grey the cool colors surrounding them.

"Elkhorn Avenue"
Elkhorn Avenue

The third scene, called “Corridor,” has a more divided concept. I was struck by how the brilliant, warm section of town was framed in by its surroundings. To accomplish this piece I literally divided the composition and divided the light sources as well. The diagram shows how you can see a similar temperature and color brought about by the two distinct types of light sources.

"Corridor"
Corridor
Movement

Because of the various isolated points of light in a nocturne, composing is trickier. In the daytime, it’s easier to see compositional shapes connecting with one another, but at night they appear more isolated. Finding a scene with midtone shapes that can connect the lit areas helps.

In the scene below, called “Cellar Door,” I demonstrate the movement of the eye, and how the midtones play a role in directing the eye to the brighter shapes. This is a large painting (24×30) created on location in a basement at a local resort. No photo of the scene would do it justice.

Cellar Door
Cellar Door
Going the extra mile

Beyond the unique considerations that a nocturne requires, I like to take my paintings a step further. One of the exciting things to study at night is the effect of glow around a light source and the colors that vibrate around it.

Oakes Street
Oakes Street

In this painting, “Oakes Street,” I looked carefully into and around the street light and the neon sign. It would be easy to be formulaic as often as I’ve painted things like this, but for this one I took my time. It was my hope that the painting would look like it had an internal light source. I’ve included details of those areas, so you can see the color treatment around the lights.

Detail
Detail
Detail
Detail

Get on out there and give it a try. Don’t worry about the failures. Simplify your colors, get a good composition going and go the extra mile!

We usually do a nocturne a day in my workshops, so check out the schedule.

John lasaterJohn P. Lasater IV developed a love for art working as a designer and illustrator for a division of Hallmark Cards.

John now paints full time, both from his studio in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, and on the road painting “en plein air.” He also teaches national workshops. John’s honors include many Best of Show or First Place awards in national outdoor painting events, an Award of Excellence from the Oil Painters of America national exhibition, Artist in Residency’s, dozens of mentions in art magazines and feature articles in Southwest Art and Plein Air Magazine. He also served as a faculty member for the 2015 Plein Air Convention put on by Plein Air Magazine.