Nimrod Hall 2019 – Part 2: The Art

I apologize for this really long post. I wanted to capture the whole week-long journey all at once. I love Nimrod Hall!

Day 1-sketching and getting my Rhythm

We arrive on Sunday afternoon. Actual painting days are Monday through Thursday. On Friday, check out time is about 11 AM. So that’s four full days of painting. A rare luxury of which I planned to take full advantage!

Monday morning I decided the best approach was to go out with my sketchbook. This would give me a chance to loosen up and get comfortable. Laura Loe is good at putting cute little paint-able things around. Last time I visited I noticed this bicycle at the front entrance to the property with geraniums and other flowers planted on it. I regretted not taking a photo of it since my last visit, so I decided it would be my first subject. I chose watercolor pencils as my medium, but did the foliage on the trees with regular water color. The challenge with this one is that it was our hottest day and I was sitting on my uncomfortable folding stool in the blazing hot sun. I could only tolerate that for so long. I did get a fun little sketch.

After that, I decided I needed to get 1) out of the sun, and 2) into a more comfortable chair, so I decided to paint the two red seesaws on the lawn between Square House and the Post Office. This allowed me to sit in an Adirondack chair under a tree. It was much more comfortable.

I chose line and wash as my medium. I did the sketch and inking (mostly) before lunch. After lunch the sun had moved so I was forced to move my chair. The charge in light and perspective did not matter too much since I’d already captured the drawing. I spent the afternoon finishing This up and felt it was a good second effort for the day.

Day 2- Landscape Painting in My studio

Monday evening our teacher, Kesra Hoffman did a gouache demo for our class. She said she resisted the medium at first but then decided that she could just use it like watercolor and grew to love it. I’m not sure I totally agree with that, but I do agree that if you start with a wash and build up, that first layer is similar to water color. Watching the demo was humbling because Kesra is so comfortable with the medium. I knew I needed to try it to see what kind of results I could get.

Another factor that helped set my direction for the day was my realization that I should get over needing to do plein air and paint in my studio. As I said in my earlier post I have always thought of Nimrod as a plein air location, but found that many of the artists there with me did not subscribe to that way of thinking. I figured I had paid for the studio so why not use it?

I went for a nice walk on Tuesday morning and took some nice pictures. I decided to spend my day painting a landscape from one of my photos in both watercolor and gouache to compare the two mediums. The reference photo I used is below. I like it because of the clouds and the contrast between the green grass and trees and the golden fields. I also noted the clump of trees right at the end of the road. Technically this is a composition no-no, but I kind of liked it so I decided to run with it.

I painted the watercolor and the gouache together, switching from one to the other during drying time. There are similarities and differences between the two mediums. I learned that the gouache can get undesirable “blooms” just like watercolor. The gouache yields harder edges where soft edges are easy in watercolor.

When Kesra came by in the afternoon and did her critique she pointed out a couple of things. First, my road did not go far enough into the center of the painting. She showed me how I’d made an error in the proportions as they appeared in the photo. Second, she pointed out that the trees at the end of the road weren’t really working. I’d hoped they would, but I was wrong. She also pointed out that the variations in color along the tree line in the gouache were really nice, but the watercolor was too consistent.

I was able to cover and move the road in the gouache, but that was not possible with the watercolor—a distinct difference between the opaque and transparent mediums. I also lifted some color on the tree line in the watercolor, but in a subsequent critique Kesra pointed out that it was a little too formulaic. Here are the two paintings. They are 10” x 4” on Arches 140 lb. cold press paper.

Watercolor

Gouache

I really liked doing the same scene in two different mediums. It was very educational, not only in learning about the different media, but also in studying and interpreting the scene. I decided to keep it going the next day by doing the same scene in oil and acrylic.

Day 3 – More Landscape Painting in my Studio

When I was packing to go to Nimrod I packed way more than I needed for art supplies, because I didn’t know what I’d be doing and wanted to have whatever I needed. I am happy I did that, because I ended up doing some things that were out of the ordinary…like painting in acrylics. I had these two little 12 x 6 stretched canvases that I tossed in. I like the 2:1 footprint for landscapes, although I usually paint bigger. Painting smaller has its advantages if you’re painting plein air or trying to do a lot of quick studies.

So on Wednesday morning with my two little canvases in hand I set out to paint the same scene in oil and acrylic. I haven’t painted much in acrylic in years. I get very frustrated with it because once I switched to oils, I couldn’t take acrylic’s fast drying time.

Once again I switched back and forth between the two. Of course, that didn’t allow the oil to dry…that takes weeks or even months. Switching still gave me a break. It’s always good to look away.

Similar to the gouache, the acrylic yields much harder edges. The fast drying paint makes it hard to blend the colors, but the oils are very difficult to get hard edges with. You can do it if you wait for it to dry, but that takes a long time. 

I like the colors better in the oil version. There is more variation. Some of that is the nature of the slower drying oils, but I also had a more extensive palette of oils to start with. I only had a limited number of acrylics, even after supplementing them by buying more in “The Art Box” bus which is parked at Nimrod every summer to provide artists with materials they find they need but don’t have with them.

When looking at all four versions I found that I got bolder with the skies on the second day, so the oil and acrylic versions have much more dramatic clouds, which I think is an improvement. I found myself wishing I’d been more daring with the skies in the watercolor and gouache versions.  Here are the two paintings from Wednesday.

Oil

 

Acrylic

Day 4 – Another Day of Gouache and Watercolor, but Not the Same Subject

I had one last day to paint and after spending two full days interpreting the same scene I was ready for something different. I did two more paintings on Thursday – one watercolor and one gouache.

On Tuesday evening we had a thunderstorm followed by brightening skies and a rainbow over a nearby ridge. I brought out the camera and took a lot of pictures. While I was doing so I pronounced, rainbows are nearly impossible to paint. So what did I do? I painted the rainbow!

Several years ago I did an oil painting of a rainbow from a photo a friend had taken. I was not happy with the result. I decided that watercolor might be friendlier. I hoped that if I did a wet in wet approach I could get the primary colors to bleed into a full ROYGBV* spectrum. It kind of worked, but not nearly as well as I had hoped.

The criticism Kesra had for me was that I did not get enough atmospheric distance in my mountains. They were too green, which is never the case when you’re looking at them at a distance. This is something I’m still trying to train my engineer’s brain to do. I need to learn to see, and paint what I see, rather than painting what I know to be true. Yes, the mountains are green…and yes they look green to me in the picture, but they are much bluer than I think. I really need to work on this! Here is the painting. (10” x 7” Arches 140 lb cold press)

And here is the reference photo.

* red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet

In the morning I’d gone for a walk and I found a pretty scene with a dead tree (dead trees are great fun to paint) and a field in the background with hay bales. I decided it would be fun to do as a gouache study for my final painting. This is probably the one I spent the least time on. We had the walk-through that evening and so there was a lot of pressure to get it done.

Kesra didn’t have a lot to say about this one. I like the sky but the rest of it is a little flat. I could probably correct that if I spent some time on shadows and highlights. I may also do this again in watercolor. Here is the painting. (6” x 12” Arches 140 lb. cold press)

Each Nimrod art week finishes on Thursday night with a walk through where everyone displays what they were working on and people walk through and see it. As Laura Loe explained, it’s not really a critique… it’s more of a “love-fest”. I must say, people did some lovely work.

I painted up until almost the last minute and then tidied up my studio, which of course was a mess. I did take a break to shower, but most everyone was well dressed and I was still in my shorts and t-shirt. Oh well.

People seemed to like my story about my scene that I painted in different media. They were interested in which I liked best and I explained that all had their pluses and minuses, but the process was very educational. Here I am with my work.

Is I said in an earlier post, Kesra did her own thing in the morning and did critiques of our work in the afternoon. She did some beautiful work. Her gouaches really pop. I’m hoping to keep practicing my gouache. I’m inspired by how beautiful hers are. Here she is with her body of work from the week and a few other things she threw in. The two landscapes on the upper right were the demo she did for us on Monday evening.

Nimrod is a magical place and it’s wonderful to spend time with such creative people in such an inspirational place.  I’m already looking forward to next year. 

Subscribe, New Watercolors, and a Return to Oils

Finally, some things are settling down and I’m doing a bit of painting. Before we get to that, I want to let you know that you can now subscribe to my blog. I’m thinking that if those of you who are really interested subscribe I will post less on Facebook and stop annoying those who have no interest in my art journey. So please…if you like this blog, provide your email in the “subscribe” box on the home page and you will receive notifications when I add a new post. I promise I won’t sell your email or post too often.

Given that I took a couple of months off to move and did very little painting, I felt pretty rusty when I got back to it. For a while, I felt uninspired and disappointed in the results. I’ve done a few pieces lately that I feel a little better about. I decided that the best way to get my confidence back was to return to a subject that is comfortable to me. With that in mind, I painted Three Ridges from the overlook. I used a photo I took on a pretty day a few weeks ago. I changed the angle a little from past works to give it a different composition with trees in the foreground on the left and the fence running away from the viewer rather than straight across the scene. There were some pink flowers in the foreground, and if there’s anything I don’t like about this piece it is my attempt at capturing those. In retrospect, I probably should have masked them out so they could be lighter pink, or left them out of the scene altogether.  This is 12×9. 

The other thing I’ve been playing with a lot is wooded scenes. A while back I did an oil painting of a mountain stream in the woods and I really like that painting. We’ve been doing a bit of hiking and I’ve been trying to capture some shots of sunlit wooded paths. I did this watercolor study from one of those photos on a hike to the White Rock Falls (off the Blue Ridge Parkway). It took a bit to get the path to look right. At first it lacked depth, so I darkened up the foliage on either side and it started to pop. This one is still taped to the board, so I might mess with it a little more. This is also 12×9.

I’ve been threatening to get the oils out again, and my experience painting this scene in watercolor inspired me to do an oil version. The last couple of oils I’ve done, I’ve tried to learn from my approach to watercolor to give my paintings a more impressionistic look. I may have taken that a bit too far in this one, but I like the result well enough to say it’s not bad for the first oil painting I’ve done in over a year. (Note that the photo is not the best. It is still very wet and difficult to move somewhere where the light is better.) I tried some new techniques I’ve wanted to try including painting with a palette knife. This painting is a combination of brushwork and palette knife. I did the original sky and some of the foliage using the palette knife and then used a brush for more foliage, the path and the tree trunks. Finally, I finished the sunlight on the tree trunks with the edge of the palette knife. I did this quickly, as I would a plein air. I went back to it after a day because I thought there was too much sky showing through the lower trees. I think correcting that was a big improvement. This is 20×16 on canvas. 

As always, thank you for taking the time to read my musings about my journey.  Comments are always welcome. 

 

Monet’s Garden

I did a post a while back on my trip to Paris and more specifically to Giverny. I continue to find inspiration in the beautiful photographs I was fortunate enough to capture.

I’ve been doing a lot more watercolor lately, and as you know I find it very challenging, but I love it. I also believe that it has the potential to make my oil painting better (as I also said in an earlier post). I continue to believe that is true.

Recently I completed an oil painting of Monet’s Garden. I spent quite a bit of time doing it, not because I was working on it, but because I would get distracted by watercolor and then would go back to it. I did it in the studio at our mountain home, so that also slows me down since we are not there as often as I’d like.

I tried to keep this painting loose, focusing on shapes and colors, not starting from the background and painting forward as was my tendency when I started painting. Watercolor simply doesn’t allow that approach and I’m also trying to apply that limitation to oils. I think it makes my work more impressionistic.

I have to admit, it’s humbling to paint a scene that was immortalized by the great Claude Monet. That said, I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to stand in the place where he produced many masterpieces and to use that as an inspiration for my own interpretation.

Can Watercolor Painting Improve my Oil Painting Skills?

So I’ve been doing a lot more watercolor painting these days.  I find it a beautiful medium that is very difficult but I really want to master it.  With a few exceptions, I’m less than thrilled with the results I’m getting but I recognize that it really takes practice.  

Watercolor is beholden to the laws of physics in how water behaves. You have to learn to manage it, but you can’t really expect to fully control it.  It also requires a different technique because it is transparent, so you can’t paint lighter colors over dark and expect them to cover the dark up.  If you want white, you have to leave the paper white.  You can protect the areas you want to keep white with masking fluid, but that’s is a skill that requires practice, just like everything else.  

A few weeks back I set out to paint from a photo of one of our mountain streams.  It was a really pretty scene where the light was dancing through the leaves onto the forest floor and the rocks and water.  I had also just watched a video on pouring watercolors by an artist named Leslie Redhead.  While I recognized I am not ready to try pouring, I did learn a lot about mixing color on the paper and doing repeated washes to get deep rich colors.  I used some masking fluid to mask out white areas where the sun was coming through the leaves and some of the light on the tree trunks.  I ended up liking the deep washes, but not really the masked areas.  They looked too contrived.  I tried to fix this by adding some light colors (yellow and blue) but this didn’t really fix the problem.  I also ended up embellishing some of the light on the water with white ink.  The result was a good practice painting but nothing to write home about. 
Stream Study 1

Then I set out to try it again.   I changed the masking technique to do some spatter.  In both cases I applied the larger areas with a sponge, which in hindsight was probably part of the problem.  In this painting, I like the sunlight in the background more than the previous version. I left it white but painted in the light yellow leaves to make it look less contrived.  I did not like the effect of the light on the water.  The shape of the sponge was not correct for water flow.  I also didn’t leave enough areas white on the water, and lifting did not work.  I did not resort to white ink to add more as I did in the previous painting.  Once again, I ended up with a good practice painting, but nothing more.  I really like the foliage and the tree trunks.  I hate the water because it is too flat and does not show movement. 
Stream Study 2

Because I am impatient, I have a hard time leaving a watercolor painting alone while my layers are drying.  I need to find other things to occupy my time so while I was painting my second study I started doodling a version of the same scene on a small piece of paper.  I didn’t use masking fluid. I did some wet-in-wet, but didn’t so a lot of broad washes.  In some ways I like this one the best of the three watercolors. 
Stream Study Little

So what does this have to do with oil painting and the title of this post, you ask?  Good question!  
While I was doing these paintings I became very attached to the scene. I was also missing my oils.  While they are a greater time commitment and more difficult to set up and clean up I still know my oil painting skills are better than my nascent watercolor skills.  I decided to do a version of the painting in oils.  I also committed to use two things I’d learned from my watercolor studies.  First, I learned a lot about the scene and the way to capture the light.  Second, I decided to try something a little different. I decided to approach the painting more like I do a watercolor painting.  I primed the canvas in a light orange acrylic and then began by panting the white and yellow areas peeking through the trees.  Normally I would paint the tree trunks before the foliage and would then paint leaves over the trunks.  Of course you can’t do that in watercolor since the trunks are darker. You have to paint the trunks later, only in the areas where the foliage doesn’t cover them.  I used this same approach in the oil painting.  I painted the light leaves, followed by the darker leaves. I painted the rocks and the water and captured areas of the bare forest floor between the leaves.  The last thing that I painted was the tree trunks.  

The resulting painting was probably the most impressionistic thing I’ve done.  I think it really captures the dancing light and the peaceful dark areas of the forest while not focusing on realism. I really like the result, especially if you step back from it a few feet, not something a photograph really allows for.  
Stream Oil

So yes, what I am learning from watercolor does have the potential to improve my oil painting. I’m going to keep at it, and maybe someday I’ll be a good watercolorist too.  

15th Annual Falls Church Arts All Member Show

Falls Church Arts is opening a new gallery, and its just two blocks from our Falls Church home!  In the past they’ve always shared Art Space with Creative Cauldron, Falls Church’s theater group. So exited that they are getting their own space.  The grand opening is Saturday night with the 15th Annual All Members show.  
Show Announcement
The new space is in the retail portion of The Kensington, which is a senior living building that has just been completed in Falls Church. The building owners are very excited to have Falls Church Arts as a neighbor because they see it as a good fit with their residents.  

I have entered two paintings in the show. Depending on space availability one or both will be included.  I will also be at the opening gala!  Below are the two paintings and yes there is a vineyard theme 🙂 

Afton Mountain Vineyard oil

Rockbridge Vineyard Chairs

Pollo Mexicano

I had such fun with this one!  These paintings were done from a photo taken by Joan Wells, a long time friend and former owner of The Queen Victoria, an inn in Cape May, New Jersey. Bill and I visited Cape May and stayed at the QV most summers and other times for a span of about 20 years, and during that time we got to know Joan and her husband Dane quite well.  A few years back they sold the inn and now they are happily retired and traveling the world.  The rest of us are living vicariously through Joan’s posts on Facebook.

I used to only paint from my own photos.  I thought it was wrong to paint from a photo taken by someone else.  Recently I’ve broadened my perspective. I have friends who go to so many interesting places and are wonderful photographers. I’m now allowing myself to paint from some of those if they inspire me, but only if granted permission to do so.

A few months ago Joan and Dane were traveling in Mexico and Joan posted a beautiful photo of a rooster walking along the edge of a canyon with a backdrop of cliffs and rugged mountains.  I knew instantly I wanted to paint it and asked if she’d mind.  Thankfully she said she was fine with me doing that.

First I did a watercolor study.  I’m not crazy about the background in that painting.  I’m still honing my newfound watercolor skills.  I do like the chicken.  Doing the study allowed me to study the scene and become familiar with the details of the rooster.
Pollo Mexicano WC

Then I did the oil version.  This is a small painting – it is on a 12×9 Belgian linen panel.  I had the paint the background a couple of times to get the atmospheric depth.  The earlier version didn’t grasp the feeling of the canyon because I didn’t capture the distance of the mountains on the other side.  I now feel I’ve captured that feeling.  I also love the rooster.  The red sets off the painting.  His plumage is quite colorful as well.
Pollo Mexicano

Finally, here is Joan’s original photo. I hope I did it justice.
Joan Wells Chicken
Falls Church Arts has a show coming up in a few months called Whimsy. I’m not really sure what that means. I think I will enter this to see what happens.  After all, what’s more whimsical than a free ranging Mexican chicken?

Speaking of Falls Church arts, I’ve entered the painting below, Carmel Sea, in this years’ All-Member show.   The show opens Friday, April 1st.  Unfortunately I will miss the opening because we will be in the mountains.  I hope others can go.  The Falls Church Arts All-Member shows are always very nice.

17 Mile Drive

Three Ridges in Snow

It was time to finish the last season of three ridges. I’d done summer, spring and fall.  I actually did do winter but with ice on top and clouds in the valley. It is also stunning in the snow.  The photo I did this from was actually from a few years ago.  Unfortunately, we weren’t in the mountains for the spectacular storm we had a few weeks ago.  It doesn’t matter though.  More than about a foot of snow (which happens fairly often) and the mountains become a winter wonderland.

This painting shows a beautiful clear, dark blue sky in contrast to the white, new fallen snow. The mountains in the distance have snow, but also the dormant trees making them an icy purple color.  The trees in the foreground were very red on the top – the color of the twigs, but the larger branches were covered in snow.

The fence on the right challenged my engineer’s brain. I worked hard to paint the shapes and colors, and not to focus on the thing it was supposed to be. I hated it while I was painting it, but the result was quite good.  It shows the shadows and light and captures the illusion of the deep snow.

I also had fun with the shadows and light in the foreground snow. The seedlings and grasses poking out from beneath the snow helped add to the interest of the scene.

This painting is 24×12 on canvas. Now the four seasons are complete. Does that mean I will stop painting Three Ridges? No way! It looks different in the color and the light of each new day.  I need to branch out more, but I will never tire of painting Three Ridges.
Three Ridges in Snow

A New Painting for My Fireplace

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was working on a new version of Three Ridges in Cloud to hang over my fireplace in our mountain home.  I finished it this week and I thought I’d share it.

This was an interesting experience.  While I paint the same subjects a lot, Three Ridges being a favorite, I don’t usually try to duplicate paintings.  Sometimes I’ll do a study in watercolor and then an oil painting, but that’s different because there is no chance they’ll be the same.  In this case, I really liked the original painting, but I needed a bigger version of it because of the space where I wanted to hang it.  I thought about painting from the painting rather than the original photograph, but decided against it for a number of reasons, not the least of which I didn’t want to minimize my creativity.

During the process of painting I found myself not liking the new one as well.  First of all, my brush technique has changed quite a bit.  I painted the original in January and February of 2015, which wasn’t that long ago.  However, I’m still new at this, so I’m evolving quickly.   In the last year I’ve read and studied books and sites, and I’ve taken a few classes.  Now I dab more and make fewer long strokes.  This difference is very obvious in the clouds.  I also liked the muted colors in the original, but I’ve been experimenting more with bolder colors, so I captured more color in the sky and the trees in the foreground.  When I finished it on Tuesday (my birthday) I decided I liked it better.  The additional color gives it an added richness.  I still like them both a lot – mostly because it’s a very pretty scene and a nice photograph.  I was lucky to be there on the day I took it.

Below are both versions with the most recent one first.  The original is 36×18 and the new version is 48×24.   It will look nice above my fireplace – much better than the print left there by the previous owners.  I consider it a nice birthday gift to myself.

Three Ridges in Cloud 48x24 Oil on Canvas

Three Ridges in Cloud
48×24 Oil on Canvas

Three Ridges in Cloud 36x18 Oil on Canvas

Three Ridges in Cloud
36×18 Oil on Canvas

 

Three Ridges Overlook in Fall

This is my latest work created in my Northern Virginia studio. It is a familiar scene – Three Ridges.  This was painted from a photo taken in the Fall from the overlook at the top of Devil’s Knob.  I “enhanced” the fall color a bit.  I also included the fence, something I didn’t used to do but now that I’m practicing more man made objects I’ve been including it.  This painting is 16 x 12 Oil on canvas.
Three Ridges Overlook in Fall

I’m also working on a larger version of my earlier painting of Three Ridges in Cloud in my mountain studio.  I want to replace the picture over the fireplace in the mountain house and it needs something big. It’s interesting redoing something that you’ve done before.  The original impressionists did it all the time. I really like the first one I did so I want this one to be just as good.  There’s no doubt it will be different. It is 48×24, so it will be my largest painting.  It will be a while before it’s done, but I will post it when it is.  Below is the first one I did (36×18) which I covered in an earlier post.
Three Ridges in Cloud