Just 4 Colors

October 23, 2011

Pumpkins & Silver, 9x12 oil on canvas

This painting was done with just 4 colors: ultramarine, cadmium red light, cadmium yellow medium and titanium white. I painted it alla prima as a demo for my painting students in about 45 minutes. The painting process does not need to be complex in order to be successful. In fact, I find it better to keep it as simple as I can when it comes to the number of colors on the palette, particularly if I am painting plein air or doing a live demo.

I began with a mixture of ultramarine and cad red light, plus a tiny bit of cad yellow medium to make a dark neutral. This was used for the underpainting. For my darkest darks, I used the ultramarine and cad red light leaning more heavily toward the ultramarine. Next I pulled a bit of white into the mixture and added some of the cad yellow to neutralize it a bit for the greys on the metal tea pot. For the pumpkins, I used a mix of the red and yellow leaning toward the yellow, while the table cloth is the same mix but leaning toward the red. The white pumpkin and bright highlights are made up of titanium white and a bit of cad yellow medium. It’s amazing how many colors you can create from a limited palette. It’s a great exercise for getting to know the colors you have in your paintbox!

See the “W”?

October 20, 2011

City Hall, Philadelphia, acrylic 8x10 in.

I always look for a geometric or other form of recognizable shape in the overall shadows of a composition. For example, when I look at the reference source for this (you can do it when painting plein air as well), I see the letter “W” formed by all the dark shadows on the buildings on the sides and in the foreground. The little island median cuts into the bottom just enough to make the shape a “W” as opposed to a “U”. I also see a “T” formed by the sky and main building.

Looking for these shapes when planning your composition will help you to place them on the canvas as well as to create a strong design. The interlocking “T” and “W” above provide a strong structure. Once these basic forms are placed, they also provide landmarks so that elements of the composition and perspective can be seen more easily and therefore placed correctly.

Palette Knife

October 17, 2011

GWB Eastbound, acrylic on canvas, 48x36 in.

It has been awhile since I have posted, this has been an incredibly busy fall with both my exhibit and teaching schedules. I am currently working on several large paintings of NYC bridges. The first that I have completed is above, an acrylic painting of the GWB using a great deal of palette knife work and other alternative means of applying paint to canvas.

I began this piece with a light red ochre background, on top of which I created my under painting in Prussian blue acrylic. I used a 4″ sponge brush to block in the underpainting. The bridge cables were created by using the sponge on its side and soaking with water so that it created vertical drips. The cars and truck are just broad horizontal strokes (cars and trucks are really just boxes on wheels). I always focus on the gesture of the composition in the underpainting, this creates the strong sense of perspective drawing you in towards the tower of the bridge.

On top of the underpainting, I mapped in the sky in color with a palette knife using Chroma Atelier Interactive acrylics and their Impasto Gel medium, which creates a very buttery texture to the acrylics, not quite oil like, but close.

I chose to let parts of the underpainting show through on this and purposely kep some areas very abstract. To make this work, I started with a structured drawing in the underpainting, and then decided how much or how little in each area I wanted to retain. In some places, there is a lot of detail in color, in others, there is just the ghost of the image loosely mapped in via the wash drawing of the underpainting.

I find working this way allows me to get the right amount of energy and spontaneity that is so important to making a painting come to life.

Simple One Point Perspective Sketch

October 1, 2011

Iron Truss Bridge, pastel study, 6x9 in.

This is a simple but dramatic, one point perspective sketch done as a demo for my pastel students.

Whenever I have a piece that has one point perspective, I typically start out at the vanishing point and work my way outwards. Your lines in a one point perspective drawing can only go in 3 directions: vertical, horizontal or back to the vanishing point. If you are above the horizon line, your lines leading back to it will angle downward, if you are below it, they will angle upward. Forget memorizing this, just put it into practice a few times and it will become second nature. By putting it into practice, I mean sketching from life as often as you can and learning to see the perspective naturally. I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough. Once you understand and automatically see it, you can work from any source: photos, your on site sketches or as I typically do, a combination of the two. Remember, photos often distort perspective, you can include, eliminate or exaggerate as much of that distortion as you choose, as long as you understand the basic principles outlined above.