Friday, June 25, 2010

Old Crownsville Farm

Old Crownsville Farm, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12." Contact artist for price.

For our last class of the session we met at the same farm in Crownsville as the week before. It was a gorgeous June day: not too hot nor humid. We walked around for a bit, once again discussing the finer points of site selection for composition.

Sometimes as artists we can re-arrange the landscape a bit to improve a composition, such as moving a tree from one side to another, raising or lowering the horizon line, or re-arranging the line of a road or hill. But there are views and angles, no matter how interesting, that present problems too difficult for the painter to solve. These are best left alone--the artist can only invent so much, but when we get too far away from what our eyes can verify, our inventions fail to convince.

We picked this particular view because it has all of the elements for a great composition: a nice curving road to lead the eye into the painting, old ramshackle outbuildings in the foreground for a focal point, trees in the middle ground and a bit of distance in the background. We emphasized the distance by exaggerating the color differences between the rear plane and the middle ground, pushing the colors to the violet-blue spectrum.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fun with Cuban Zombies

Cuban Zombies (Clockwise from upper left): Zombie Raul, Zombie Che SOLD, Zombie Fidel, Zombie Dalia, Zombie Mariela. Five 3" x 2" oil paintings for sale at The Soundry, $75 each, or $250 for all five.

I signed up to create five tiny 3" x 2" oil paintings for the "Baby Canvases II" show at The Soundry because the idea seemed like a lot of fun (I'd done a similar project for Art House last year, the Canvas Project. and everyone loved my Zombie--it was selected for an exhibit at the Atlanta Airport).

That is how I came across The Soundry. It's a really cool new concept in independent artist spaces--a combination coffee shop/internet cafe/performance/artist studios/co-op gallery space that promises to start a new trend and put Vienna, VA on the DC art map.

Cuba has been in the news recently because of the death of one of the political prisoners on a hunger strike and the subsequent escalation of repression against their relatives, the Ladies in White, so it seemed timely to make a little fun of the old dictator and his entourage. If there's one thing evil can't stand it's being laughed at.

I turned each of these characters into movie-style zombies: a senile Fidel Castro maniacally poking his finger in the air--his brother Raul mimicking him; a woozy Che Guevara pointing his gun at you. The female contingent was represented by Fidel's current wife Dalia, an elderly fashion maven trying to look still beautiful, and Raul's daughter Mariela, who has been assigned the role of advocate for tolerance towards homosexuals (in a traditionally homophobic machista Revolution!) holding something that might be a bloody microphone, or is it a penis?

If you live in the DC area, go out to the Soundry, enjoy the show, and scoop these great original miniature paintings at a bargain price. The opening is next Saturday night June 26 from 7 to 10 PM. If the five little pieces don't sell there, they will auctioned off here on this blog at the end of the show in July. If they do sell but you'd like to have some Cuban zombies of your very own, I will be happy to produce a similar version of any or all of the zombies for you--just Email your request and contact information.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Chapmans Paint Out

The Potomac from Chapman's Forest, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14." Contact artist for price.

Last Sunday there was a MAPAPA-organized paint out at Chapman's Forest. Naturally, I wanted to be part of it, so I arranged to spend the weekend with my friend Patrise in Acokeek. I wanted to paint in Piscataway Park on Saturday afternoon, but it was so hot, I put it off until late afternoon, when the shadows started lengthening. I knew just the view I wanted: the small inlet at the mouth of the creek with a strip of trees framing the distant banks on the other side of the Potomac. The short walk to the bridge across the creek, dragging my equipment in that heat exhausted me, but the light was inspiring.

A small group of fishermen appeared up just as I was setting up. The clouds in front of me were a light peach color in the late afternoon as I was laying down the sky in my painting, while behind me, deep gray clouds were moving in. I had the hazy banks blocked in and started on the water. One fisherman leaving passed me, but the rest stayed put. I was beginning to hear the low rumble of distant thunder in the clouds... perhaps the storm would pass us by? I held off packing, but soon, the other fishermen started to pack up and I had to admit the deluge was about to overtake us. I knocked down my gear as fast as I could, barely cleaning my brushes in my rush to leave. I picked up my stuff and took off running; it started to pour as I ran down the path. The trees there are so thick they protected me from the downpour until I reached my car, where I got drenched getting my gear back in the trunk.

I changed into some dry clothes back at the house. In the evening we made a lovely dinner with some baby back ribs I'd brought; several of Patrise's neighborhood friends joined us for a potluck dinner.

Next morning we got a late start--it was already too hot for Patrise to join the paint-out (as a Michigan native she's not well-adapted to our muggy summers) so she led me there, to take her dogs for a walk. I dressed in my coolest linen & cotton painting duds, but by the time we arrived at eleven AM, the heat was already oppressive. It took me two trips to bring all my things to the house (I included a chair so I could sit comfortably while painting). There was only one logical place to set up in that heat: the back porch of Mont Aventine, where the view is fabulous.

The organizer, Barbara, and three other ladies were there. Their paintings were already quite far along, so they must have been there for a couple of hours. I started mine, trying the composition devices I'd found useful for this particular view, but had not covered all of my panel yet when Barbara asked us to break for lunch and a critique. She and the others had finished their paintings, (in fact one lady working in pastels had done two) and she and one lady left after that. I struggled with my colors all afternoon, trying to convey the atmosphere of the hazy, humid day, and chatted with some of the volunteers. I finished around four and packed up. On the second trip walking back to my car I saw my teacher, Lee Boynton, coming down the drive with his kit. He had told me he was interested in painting here, but wouldn't be able to get there until late in the day. As it was, he seemed to be arriving just in time for another afternoon downpour--the skies were darkening. He was painting furiously when I left.

On the way back to Accokeek, I drove through a bit of light rain--the tail end of a shower that seemed to be centered over Fort Washington--it cleared up quickly. I showed Patrise my day's work, packed up and said my goodbyes to start back home for our usual Sunday dinner with David. I drove home in the most beautiful light, wishing I could have stayed to paint at Chapman's until then. I can't wait for our Friday morning class to see how Lee's painting turned out.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Funky Barns

Funky Barns, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14."

Last Friday our plein air class met at a farm belonging to one of the students. There we found these wonderful old barns with sagging roofs and tumble-down pillars, old barrels and feed carts. The complex form of this group of buildings was the perfect challenge for the class at this point. It forced us to draw accurately in perspective and think of how to articulate the forms with color.

The weather couldn't have been better--a lovely June morning, not too hot nor humid. The space for us was a bit tight as the view was contained between other out buildings, but I managed to snag a corner where I was fairly certain the shade would last until around noon. We expect to return next week for the last class of the session.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Strange Flowers and Nocturnal Sightings

Photo by Herb Borkland

Yesterday afternoon, walking back to the house from the mailbox, I happened to see this strange organism in one of my flowerbeds. What on earth? It appeared to be the fruiting body of some fungus growing on the bark mulch, so I googled "orange-red fungus" and came up with the stinkhorn family. I'd never seen nor heard of these before, but evidently they are common in many parts of the globe and they are weird-looking, some might even say disgusting.

The most likely species I would say are either Clathrus columnatus or Mutinus caninus. According to the website, the brown slime that covers the tip of the fungus (and smells like rotting meat) attracts flies and insects which eat the slime and thus spread the plant's spores. This specimen was already disintegrating, so it's hard to tell what the original configuration might have been. The pine bark mulch must have carried the spores that grew with the recent rains. I'll have to keep an eye out for more, in hopes of a positive identification.

* * *

A few nights ago, Herb and I were outside sniffing the night air (we like to do this before retiring for the night during the warm weather) and happened to see a red fox high-tailing it up the street on the opposite side. The fox was carrying something in his mouth--a small rodent, a rat perhaps? He heard us talking softly and hesitated a bit as he was crossing under the street light. Herb remarked that the poor creature looked nearly starved, yet here he was taking his prey somewhere... I figured he was taking it back to his brood; fox kits born earlier in the spring would be weaned by now but not old enough to hunt on their own. The fox continued at a pace close to a run and disappeared up the street--our encounter lasted perhaps all of ten seconds.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Rain Garden at Londontown

Rain Garden at Londontown, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9." Contact artist for price.

Yesterday promised to be another scorcher, so I was happy our class met at Londontown again. The shady Rain Garden was a lovely cool spot to paint in.

This time we spent a bit more time developing our drawings, actually shading in the values in charcoal on the canvas before going on to the actual painting. This new start was immensely helpful to all of us. When we began to paint, Lee's specific hint to me was to try to use my brushwork more to describe the shapes, rather than relying on just flat strokes. He demonstrated for me, skimming the surface of the paint to suggest leaves and foliage. I like the effect this gives the painting.

I believe I managed to balance the val-hues to good effect: the patches of sunlight on the grass create a nice path to invite the eye into the distance, with a bit of mystery in the shadowy foreground.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Memorial Day Painting

Brookside Pond on Memorial Day, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12." Contact artist for price.

I'd planned to paint at Brookside Gardens with my friend Susan on Memorial Day. The gardens were beautiful in their late spring finery: the pink roses by the gazebo, a few late azaleas including a bright orange native azalea, probably bakerii species. The gazebo up the hill from where this was painted seemed the perfect location to try the same scene as last weekend, now under very different light.

Susan wasn't there when I drove in, so I just set up my palette and gear, and dashed off a 5" x 7" black and white study, with a horizontal format this time. After about hour, I walked back to the car to get my cell phone and find out what had happened to Susan. She was on the phone the moment I picked it up, wandering about the garden but not finding me, so I directed her toward my gazebo until she spotted me.

I explained to Susan what I had been working on while helping her set up her brand-new French easel, and that I thought a similar value study would be good practice for a budding artist (it's good practice even for experienced painters). I presented her with an identical blank panel and got her started with oil paints. Then I went on to work on my full color painting, telling her about Kevin McPherson's term "val-hue" and the orderly steps one should take from a sketch to a finished painting.

It was around 12:30 by the time I had my color painting blocked in and Susan was done with her B and W study--a good time to break for lunch. We chatted away pleasantly while munching. Of course, by this time the sun was coming around to the side of the gazebo where we were, making the temperature rise dramatically--typical for summer in our area. The humidity was palpable, giving a bluish haze to the distant trees.

It became so hot standing in the sun that I had to move my easel into the gazebo so I could stay in the shade. The light had also changed just enough that I decided to modify some of my colors and shadows to reflect the afternoon light. Meanwhile, Susan opted to practice on another black and white value painting, doing a larger version of her study.

We finished our paintings as the shadows were getting longer--it was almost five--tired, but pleased to have shared a wonderful day of painting on our holiday.