Saturday, February 27, 2010

Lighting and Color

Green Bowl with Bottle in Natural Light, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14."

During last week's class we painted with natural light only (on an overcast day). Compare it to the painting posted on Feb. 6--this is the same green bowl, red apples and tablecloth (with a different backdrop, which also influences color). The difference in colors from one to the other is quite marked. The natural light is much cooler; the local color is more obvious under natural light, and the shadows are warmer with softer edges.

This useful excercise showing how different objects look under different light is helpful for painting on a "cloudy day" as opposed to a "sunny day." We had done this in last year's class and it proved so enlightening (if you'll pardon the pun), we repeated it. You can see last year's exercises here and here.

Blue Bowl with Bottle, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14."

Yesterday we were back to painting with studio lighting. This blue bowl is one of my constant challenges--it's robbin's-egg blue seems to defy color rendition, as does the olive-green backdrop. I didn't have time to work any of the reflections from the apples into it, or other subtleties. I think the color modeling of the white pitcher is the most successful part of the painting.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Afternoon of a Fox

Herb told me he'd taken some photos while I was out painting yesterday. I figured he'd seen something unusual in our back yard, but I wasn't ready for this--a red fox taking an afternoon nap! He (or she) must have been really enjoying the warmth of the sun on the tiny patch of bare ground under our cedars.

Today at about the same time, another red fox came by and lay for a while in the same patch of ground. If you look closely you'll see that this fox has a small notch on the left ear (yesterday's fox didn't) so it's clearly a different individual. I figure they must be mates, since they seem to share the same turf, but which is the male and which the female?

A few years ago on a summer morning we were privileged to see a lovely family group: one red fox was followed by an adult female with her two kits.

Winter Plein Air

Covered Bridge at Loy's Station, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14."

Yesterday I went out with my teacher, Lee Boynton, and another student, for a winter plein air workshop. It's so rare to have this much snow on the ground for this long in Maryland, it was a great opportunity to paint winter scenes on location. Temperatures were in the low forties (milder than they've been for weeks), but even so, one must dress for the exposure. Padded with thermal undies and layers of Polartec, this time I wore special insulating inner soles and took my gardening gloves to slide under the old paint-stained gloves, and these kept my hands and feet warmer.

In the morning we painted the covered bridge at Loy's station park. This is one of three surviving historic covered bridges in Frederick county--the largest and most traveled. I got there a bit late under an overcast sky. Lee and Maggie were already set up on top of some packed snow and they tamped down a space for me.

The light was very subdued and I had a hard time toning down the red of the bridge to match the light. Lee helped me considerably to achieve the resulting painting. In retrospect, I would have done better to make the bridge smaller and allow more space around it, particularly the road leading up to it. As it is, the bridge dominates the painting too much.

It was one-thirty by the time we stopped for lunch in nearby Thurmont. The Cozy Restaurant was packed--in order to avoid a long wait, we opted for the steam-table buffet to allow time for another painting before dark.

I had told Lee about another of the covered bridges on Roddy Road. We headed there after lunch, but the parking lot at the tiny park had not been cleared. We walked all around the bridge and in deep banks of snow looking for a nice view with some water, but the compositions were awkward and much too similar to the morning's painting, so Lee led us to another site a bit farther south, Utica Park, where there were some old buildings with the Catoctin Mountains in the background.

House on Utica Park, oils on panel, 12" x 16."

By this time the sun was bright and casting beautiful shadows on the snow. The park was deserted so we were able to set our easels on the paved road instead of the snow. Maggie slipped on a muddy patch while setting up, and attempting to help her recover her gear, Lee also slid. They were both truly hearty to stick around to paint with wet & muddy trousers. They both did wonderful paintings while I struggled with this one. The composition here is better overall, but a bit pedestrian. I hate to make excuses for myself, but my tiring weekly commute and long work hours seem to be taking a toll on inspiration.

The park ranger drove by to tell us the gate would be closed at sundown, so we packed up and left just as the sun was setting. I was so tired I could barely drive myself home, and sniffles were setting in. When I got home, Herb had a very nice suprise for me--take a look at the photos in the next posting.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Second Anniversary Gift

With the stress of two record-setting snowfalls in one week, I had forgotten that yesterday, Saint Valentine's Day, marked the second anniversary of the Maza Studio blog.

Mother Nature sent a special gift--a beautiful group of five to six bluebirds, a pair of which I managed to photograph here, perched in my back yard. If it's true that bluebirds are a symbol of happiness, then my cup runs over.

Our ice palace is decorated with giant icicles--here is a huge one by the door to the deck, and some by the garage sparkling in the sun.

As I begin my third year of blogging about painting and nature, I hope to bring all of you, my readers, as much inspiration and happiness as possible.

Friday, February 12, 2010

After the Blizzard

After the Blizzard, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14," $200 unframed.

When the first rays of the sun appeared Thursday morning after the blizzard, they revealed this enchanting sight in my back yard. The sun sparkled on the ice crystals while the trees cast long fingers of blue across the snowy expanse. I took some photos for reference, since I knew the shadows would not last long enough for me to get my palette loaded and ready for painting.

Painting would have to wait until after I had helped Herb dig out the driveway (again!) and put in a bit of time telecommuting. By that time the lovely mounds of snow weighing down the trees would likely be gone. In fact, sometime during the morning, two big branches of one the cedar trees in the back snapped and crashed down, as did most of the juniper's by the front porch. I wish I'd thought to shake the limbs free of snow before they broke, but I had been reluctant to go out in the thigh-deep snow. Now we'll have a lot of trimming to do come spring, and our porch looks so naked!

Our Friday morning painting class was cancelled because the parking lot had not been plowed yet (the schools were closed too), so today I had the opportunity to paint this scene with the help of my photos. I painted from the dining room window where I'd left my easel. It's the same view painted the previous Saturday while it was snowing. The difference in the colors due to the lighting makes for an interesting comparison between the two paintings.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Even Deeper Snow

Looking out the front door

This past weekend's 29-30 inches got topped off by yesterday's, continuing on through tonight. I took this photo just before dusk today(Wednesday), recording 34 inches on our rear deck. One has to keep in mind that the snowpack had melted about six inches since last weekend.

It's neat to look out over the deck from inside. I don't think I've ever seen this much snow at one time in all my years here. They are saying it may be a record not seen since the 1800's. I've been telecommuting for my job so I haven't had a chance to paint; I hope to get a chance to tomorrow, after we dig ourselves out. I wonder if I'll be able to make it to painting class in Annapolis on Friday?

Here's Mr. Cardinal--one spot of bright color in the monotone of the landscape. I feel sorry for our poor birds in this blizzard. I think the cardinals are nesting in the junipers around our porch (they usually nest at this time of the year). The missus is probably brooding in her nest under the snow cover while the mister tries to forage. I'll set out some bread crumbs for them in the porch tomorrow, in hopes of seeing the nestlings in about three weeks.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Really Deep Snow

Really Deep Snow, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12."

Since mid-week, a great blizzard had been forecast for our area, starting Friday morning. I debated whether to go to painting class only to be forced to leave in the middle or to simply stay home. I took a chance--the first flakes started about halfway into our paintings. Fortunately the snow was very light at this point, and the temperature high enough that it wouldn't stick to the pavement until later in the day, giving us plenty of time to finish and drive home.

I didn't get back until nearly three, after a stop at the bank--it seemed the entire world was out shopping, laying in supplies in anticipation of the blizzard. After lunch I noticed the flakes were starting to stick to the grass, but it hardly seemed possible we would get the 20-30 inches predicted. I dismissed the forecast as the usual killer weather hysteria the media so loves to amplify.

By twilight a few inches had accumulated, and stillness descended over everything like a vacuum bell. The wind picked up during the evening... looking out the front door the snow was now blowing sideways, piling up comical caps on the lamposts, mailboxes and bushes. Our backyard table, which Herb and I nicknamed the "Mazometer" because it's easy to visually gauge the amount of snow on it, looked to have about twelve to fourteen inches when I turned in. The snow was blowing down in torrents.

It's a cozy feeling to be snug under the covers of one's bed in a warm house during such a storm. I could hear the wind howling as I dozed off while watching TV. At some point in the wee hours through sleep I fancied I heard a deep rumbling... could it be thunder? I've heard thunder during a snow storm only once before, during the "Storm of the Century" as the late March blizzard of 1993 has become known. During that one we actually saw flashes of lightning along with the thunder, but in our area that storm dumped only about fourteen inches, as I recall.

In the morning we awoke to a winter wonderland of deep snow, still falling. It was so beautiful that I set up my easel in the dining room, to paint the evergreens in the backyard bent way over under their heavy load. It's hard to believe the two cedars (on the left in the painting) are actually rounded in shape. I wonder if they will ever spring back to their normal shapes once the snow falls off or if some of the limbs will break first.

By the time the snow stopped in the afternoon, the level on the deck appeared higher than the top the Mazometer, which is 28-30 inches tall. It seems we really did get the predicted thirty inches; actual measurement will have to wait till tomorrow when we dig out. This is the most snow I can recall getting at one time in my nearly 48 years here in D.C.

With the storm I had almost forgot all about the still life painting from class the day before. Its rich, warm colors contrast nicely with the iciness of today's Really Deep Snow painting.

Green Bowl with Bottle, oils on canvas panel, 14" x 11"