Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Confessions of a Cloudy Day Painter

Before I packed my family and drove all the way to Idaho to study under master landscape artist Scott Christensen I felt I had hit a brick wall with my painting. I didn't understand color very well, and I seemed to only be able to paint well in overcast lighting conditions. Capturing the complex effects of sunlight and color was a mystery to me, even after reading all the right books. My paintings lacked harmony and conviction.

One day with Scott showed me where my problems were, and the remaining 9 days showed me how to go about fixing the problems. After the first day of the workshop I thought to myself "Why didn't I do this so much sooner? Why did I go for so long not being able to paint as well as I wanted to paint? Why pass the days stuck in frustration when the answers where there for me to acquire?"

If you can afford the $2,500 tuition and make the trip to Idaho, I encourage any aspiring artist to study under Scott in one of his 7-day workshops, it is an incredible experience. If this isn't possible for you, yet you would still like to learn the principles that helped change my painting forever, contact me at luke_tako@yahoo.com for private painting sessions for only $25/hour. We can meet in the studio or outside for plein air painting. I'll critique your work and set you on a path that will help you become the best painter you can be. I was so happy that I finally took the step toward my goals as an artist. Do the same for yourself and contact me about private instruction or future workshops.

Below is a short demonstration of a plein air study I did at a local apple orchard. This is an example of how I apply what I learned, and what you can learn.

See more about my work and instruction information at www.jasontako.com

This is a photograph of the apple tree that inspired my plein air painting. I loved the play of light and shadow on the trunk of the tree.
Finding something to paint is over half the battle. You need a subject that is interesting, or at least a subject that can be turned into something interesting. Many other variables need to be considered: is the light going to be consistent? Is there enough time to paint? Will the subject stay in one spot? Will multiple sessions be required? Does the subject inspire? And so on.
I set up my Open Box M pochade box and prepared to paint. I had to sit on the ground in order to get the view I wanted. When painting under a lot of foliage I like to use an umbrella to prevent the greenish ambient light from messing with my color perception.
I used a limited palette of Titanium White, Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Red and Ultramarine Blue to create this painting. I pre-mixed the approximate colors that I saw in the scene before I started painting. This technique that I learned from Scott really speeds up my actual painting time and lets me concentrate on capturing the light. Many times I need to make adjustments to these colors as you can see in the photo. Using a limited palette also lets me mix my pre-mixed colors together without getting mud.
I usually do my field studies on loose 9"x12" sheets of oil primed linen. I will tape this on Masonite or cardboard. I thinned some of the blue and green mixtures with 50/50 Galkyd and mineral spirits and applied them with a large brush. This established my color harmony and value range. The thin application allows me to easily paint over these layers as I progressed.
Next I go for the gusto and block in the main subject of the painting, the effect of light and shadow on the trunk. At this point I have been painting for less than 30 minutes. Values are so important in a painting. It is too easy to make the shadows too dark and the lights devoid of color. Greens and be very challenging, many people make them too intense and unnatural. Keeping your values and colors in reserve is always a good idea.
I'm also concerned about drawing, capturing the characteristics of the tree. It can be easy to make the curves too curvy, or miss proper perspective. Good training and experience can help on overcome these obstacles.
Confident that I have my colors, values and composition correct, I proceed with details. A lot of attention is being paid to the top of the tree. I'm still using a large brush at this point, along with a palette knife. You can use a large brush to create small shapes if you know how to use it correctly. This can give a natural look and help break any stiffness that your paintings may have. But you should never put in details until you're confident that your fundamentals are correct. The structure before the decoration.
The final version. This is a studio scan with more accurate color than my previous field photographs show. Along with details I add color variation, areas of warms and cools to create balance as well as indications of small dandelions and other flowers.
At this point it can be easy to get carried away with trying to capture every detail. Stepping back frequently and looking at the painting from a distance, or even taking a break can help. The primary goal should be to capture accurate colors, values and your feelings about the subject, things a camera cannot capture.
I hope you enjoyed this sample of my procedure. Come study plein air and landscape painting with me, contact me at luke_tako@yahoo.com. Best wishes!

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