Just got back from a week in Vermont. I did some plein air sketching with Tombow brush markers. These are a great medium for quick, gestural sketching either in monochrome or full color. I started out doing monochromes in shades of sepia or grey, then I broke down and went back to the art store and got the full range of colors. These are perfect for sketching quickly and not having to drag around a lot of equipment and supplies. From the sketches and a few reference photos, you can easily create full scale paintings back in the studio.
Painting large works presents a whole new series of challenges, an idea that works beautifully as a small or medium size painting, does not necessarily translate well into a larger format. And even if it does, there are the technical aspects of getting the paint onto the surface that may present issues that are not a problem when working smaller. For example:
- Choosing a subject – whether you are working on a landscape, still life or figurative painting, you have to be sure you have “enough” material to warrant a large format. Are there enough elements in your composition to keep the viewer engaged on a large scale? Or, will they become bored after a quick glance?
- Choosing a surface – This is somewhat subjective, but knowing what choices you have and their characteristics is good to know up front. If you like a smooth surface, like to work in layers but with some all prima touches, Ampersand Gessobord is a good choice. However, you should be aware that it absorbs the paint rather quickly and you will likely have to adjust the amount of medium you use if you are used to working on canvas. The advantages of a smooth surface also include easier coverage of large areas. If you have difficulty covering your canvas on a small scale, this problem will be magnified when working large. On the other hand, if you like the texture and feel of canvas, and prefer working with thick paints or a palette knife technique, canvas is probably a better choice–but either way surface preparation is key to success.
- Surface Preparation – this is one of the most important steps when working large, preparing your surface. In this phase, you are beginning the process of covering the surface with paint. I stress this although it may seem like an obvious concept, many times artists don’t realize how much work it takes to get every bit of the surface covered with pigment by the time the painting is done. Regardless of the surface type, I always use a coat of tinted gesso, which I tint with a bit of acrylic added to the gesso–any color will work, I typically choose either a neutral color like yellow ochre or burnt sienna, or a color that is complementary to the predominant color harmony of the piece. This gives me a head start in getting tone and color on the canvas and gives me a middle value to begin working in the underpainting. I use a trim roller to apply the tinted gesso, it makes the job go faster and provides even distribution of the gesso.
- Underpainting – this is the most important stage of any painting, but it is critical with a large piece. This is where you work out composition and get all of the elements placed in correct position, proportion and perspective, and work out the values. Spend time on this part, don’t rush through it, get it right in this stage and your painting is almost guaranteed to be a success. Ignore this stage and you will be “fixing” things all throughout the painting process which makes for an unpleasant painting experience and a poor end result.
- Applying Color – once you begin applying color, be sure to mix enough up in order to cover all of the areas in the painting that require the color. Again, an obvious point, but one that becomes a nuisance if you have to constantly remix colors. However, using a limited palette (I use 3 primaries, a dark neutral and white, sometimes a warm and cool version of each) allows you to easily remix in the event that you have to.
- Finishing – last of all, you need to protect your painting with a coat of varnish. You’ll want to use a re-touch varnish if you cannot wait the 6 months to 1 year for applying a permanent varnish on oils, if you are working in acrylic, just wait at least a week or 2 to be sure the acrylics have fully dried (particularly if you are working with one of the slow drying brands like Chroma Atelier Interactives or Golden Open). Apply a THIN layer of varnish with a sponge applicator working diagonally from a corner. Do not put too much varnish on the painting, if it is pooling, you are using too much. Covering a large surface takes patience, don’t rush the process by glopping on the varnish, you will ruin the painting!
All of these issues will be covered in detail in a new course I am offering at the NJ Visual Arts Center in Summit this fall. The course is called The Big Picture and runs for 10 weeks from 9:30 am to noon on Mondays beginning Sept. 13. For more information or to register, please visit the art center’s web site , or call 908-273-9121. Register by Sept. 3 to avoid late registration fees!
Want to experiment with some new techniques? This is the class for you! In “Works on Paper”, a new course I am offering this fall at the NJ Visual Arts Center in Summit, the focus will be on experimentation while working on a variety of paper surfaces. On surfaces ranging from recycled cardboard to high-grade watercolor paper, I’ll demonstrate a variety of techniques including collage, pastel, acrylic and printmaking. All styles (both abstract and representational) of working will be discussed. One of the best things about this course is that all materials are provided!
The class will be held Tuesday afternoons from 12:30 pm to 3 pm, to register, visit the art center’s web site or call 908-273-9121. Be sure to sign up before Sept. 3, after that date, there is a $10 late registration fee on all NJ Visual Arts Center courses.
This is getting nearer to completion, I hope to finish it up in the next session. I still need to develop the buildings in the background a tiny big more, as well as “mess up” the unbroken large areas of yellow on some of the cabs. Also want to add in some more bits of color and loose details to unify the composition.
There is nothing quite like the vibrancy of pastels! This fall, I am offering a 10-week course, The Art of Pastel, at the NJ Visual Arts Center in Summit. The class is held Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to noon and is appropriate for both beginner and intermediate pastel artists. Throughout the course, I will do demos in each class with both soft and hard pastels on a variety of sanded papers. Form, value, proportion, perspective, color theory and composition will be covered in depth and detail.
In addition to this 10-week course, I am also offering 2 weekend workshops in pastel: Introduction to Pastel and Fall Foliage Landscapes in Pastel. For more information on dates and pricing for the 10-week course and the one-day weekend workshops, please visit the Art Center’s web site, or call 908-273-9121.
I’ve got all of the colors mapped in on this and will now begin adding detail. This is the fun part! Now I can begin to play with implied details, brushwork, and bits of color for enhancement. Working this large and wanting to keep things loose is a challenge. When you have more room for details, you have to put more of them in if you want to retain a sense of spontaneity. Fortunately, this image is packed with information and I know I will have no trouble breaking up large areas with implied detail and bits of unexpected color.
All of these concepts will be discussed and demonstrated in detail in my fall class at the Visual Arts Center, The Big Picture. For more info about the course, visit the NJ Visual Arts Center Web page or call 908-273-9121.
Thank you for writing about my classes at the NJ Visual Arts Center! It was a nice surprise for both me and the center, we appreciate your efforts.