13 December 2011

The value and vice of small

I am always a bit pressed for time so small studies ( I don't like calling them "little gems")  are a must if I want to get the amount of practice I need. Drawing and painting in notebooks is a good way of not getting rusty. Recently I've been admiring sketches done by the likes of Nathan Fowkes and Mike Hernandez. Both are concept artists for Dreamworks Animation, my old employer. Their sketches sometimes are done with watercolor and gouache. 

Watercolors offer a quick way to block and simplify complex scenes in small format. The gouache comes in handy to add detail. Its opaque nature gives body to the painting. I have done small pieces in oil, in straight watercolor, in watercolor and ink, in watercolor and white gouache only, etc.... the value of the study is not in the medium used but rather in the simplification. 

"Huntington roundabout" watercolor and white gouache

These are some of the advantages and disadvantages I find in small pieces. The advantages are pretty obvious: 

1) One glance judgement. Small studies allow you to avoid getting lost in detail.  The shapes and composition , the tonal values and the color work or they don't and you can see that in the palm of your hand. 

2) Savings in time and effort. A small study can save hours in a large painting since it allows the artist to spend enough time solving problems before they rear their ugly head. 

3) Diary value. Over time, notebooks register advancement and state of mind, even improvement.

4) Options. Doing several studies at different times or different angles allow for a catalogue of choices if a final piece is desired. They also can be goals in themselves. Nobody says small studies need to end as large paintings.

5) Scope of ideas and experiments. Some things just don't grant a whole statement. A simple scene, a detail, a simple light effect...these things might grant a small study, not a more time consuming work. 

"Atlas street" oil on canvas 7"x5"

There are also disadvantages, mostly one:  I find it hard to launch into larger pieces when I know I can be "done" in two hours with an idea. Larger pieces require a preplanning, patience and discipline that is its own practice. After all, it is difficult to mess up the palette when its all used up in one session. 
The freshness of a sketch needs to translate in larger pieces but miniature practice can make one underestimate the "larger" scale  required, the use of the arm rather than the wrist so to speak. 

"Fishing pond" watercolor and gouache

14 November 2011

Jose Vera Gallery Opening. "City to a fault. Los Angeles and Environs"

Alex, me and Will Wray

Finally the day arrived fro the opening of "City to a Fault. Los Angeles painters" at Jose Vera Gallery in Eagle Rock, California. The artists involved were Oscar Arroyo, Jose De Juan, John Kilduff, Alex Schaefer and William Wray. The show was very well attended and the artwork was amazing. Alex brought one of his latest "burning bank" creations and so did I. Except mine was in the form of a cake with one of Alex's now famous banks printed of top. After all, our boy was turning 42 that very day and we wanted to surprise him. (see pic below). 
Alex conversing with Aaron Westerberg

Alex was displaying some large format plein air views of downtown L.A. His pieces showcased his usual talent to create very dimensional images with a great economy of brush strokes and little messing around. Placed alongside William Wray's loose masterpieces in bold colors and brushwork,  you had two radically different visions down a similar path. John Killduff's matter-rich urban landscapes were full of grit and gesture as well. Oscar's pieces were more contained and premeditated but he wasn't shy about subject matter or design either and given his youth, it can only get better from here.

Alex with a burnin' cake.
 All five artists attracted a fun crowd. Even Sean Cheetham and Aaron Westerberg among other famous and less famous artists stopped for a peek which was the best validation one could hope for besides a sold out show.

Sean Cheetham in front of one of Will Wray's pieces.

30 October 2011

Frank Eber - Workshop

I decided to take a half day workshop with Frank Eber at the Art expo in Pasadena. I am quite wary of these types of workshops because they usually are just means to push some brands unto the participants. Moreover, this particular Art Expo doesn't have enough vendors and sponsors to really grant a visit and purchase art materials at a discount.
However, the name of Frank caught my eye because I had seen some of his watercolors in San Clemente Plein Air and I thought his art reminded me a bit of Alvaro Castagnet and Joseph Zbukvic. There was more of a method to his paintings though so I figure it would be interesting to check his workshop out.

Here are some examples of his artwork:

Frank Eber is sponsored by Daniel Smith watercolors. Here is the palette he was sponsored with. 

Frank Eber watercolors are moody and crisp. 

So here is his setup. A simple table easel. A metal palette with his colors distributed between a warm zone and a cold zone. He uses Arches paper , 140 lbs. Usually half sheets.

Franks principles are few but solid. Mostly he emphasizes that TONE is the most important element by far. He quoted another artist (whose name I forget): "Colors get all the credit but tone does all the work."
In essence, color mixes do not matter as much as keeping warm and cold color temperature and thinking in terms of tone and temperature. The colors used in a painting are very few most times and Frank uses a "dominant" color throughout. 

As far as layering the watercolor, "it's about the right amount of water, the right amount of pigment, at the right moment, with the right brush." Of course that takes ages to master. The main goal is to create a mood. To that end, after creating an outline of the drawing, Frank creates a wash layer, a very simple wash with some paper white reserved for things like rooftops, windshields or people. 

Initial wash. Notice the deeper pigment in the foreground. 

 He also emphasized that, in watercolor, shapes have to be connected, literally. So as he started creating the main shapes, the color didn't stop at "things", buildings, people, cars, but created their shapes as he painted schematic shapes and textures as connected shapes.

This workshop in particular was about painting an urban landscape so he distributed his big blocks of building masses first , using thicker pigment for the closest structures, being mindful of the areas and edges we had reserved. 

My attempt at a wash.

Connected shapes and big shape washes. Observe the density of pigment at the base of the buildings and the connected shapes of the cars and buildings.

The watercolor process was really quick in itself . Frank let the car, tree and people details for the very end, carefully delineating their shapes sometimes, "messing them up"   a bit others by creating water splatters or dragging the brush to generate interesting designs. . It is easy to see in his watercolor that the roughly textured paper leaves some sparkle and allows for interesting dry brush work. He also taught us some tricks regarding car , people and building rendering. 

Frank Eber's finalized demo piece. 

24 October 2011

A quote I was left with.

No, not "Eat the Rich."

I spent the weekend sketching the "Occupy L.A" people at City Hall. Among the hemp whiffs and other kinds of whiffs,  the deep/obtuse/erratic discussions and the general lovely/disappointing/energizing  mess of it all  I read some of the scribbled quotes and bumper-sticker demands/prayers/statements. Some of them in flyers or scribbled on cardboard, some of them had to do with art and they boil down to one thing:  Fear versus being and loving. I found this quote by Ira Glass especially true:

"Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have "good taste". But there is this gap. For the first couple of years we make stuff, uit is just -not that good-. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it is not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I now who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it is normal and that the most important thing you can do is DO A LOT OF WORK. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece. It's only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take awhile. You just gotta fight your way through. "   -Ira Glass

I would add, we are all beginners anyway so while the deadline is a great idea, I don't see the closing of the gap as a final stage but an aspirational one.

And I would also add that "fighting" involves doing a LOT of work but also  being SMART about it so as not to repeat failure too often. In the case of painting, same habits will produce same results and delay our ambitions further. Someone  said it is unwise to expect different results with the same thinking that led to errors.  So capitalizing on partial successes is important but so is seeking out instruction and challenge.

Art 's function is to give shape to life experience. It is no wonder then that fear (of failure) shapes our art as well. I find it comforting  that this is  normal even if it is frustrating.

16 October 2011

Laguna Plein Air 2011

I had the chance to go see the Laguna Plein Air Festival. I am always amazed at the quality. Here is a selection of the paintings I liked. I know for a fact I didn't see more than 40% of what these artists did but there was enough to feast the yes anyway...So less talk and more pictures.

Jill Carver,  very interesting compositions.

Mark Bryan Taylor. Pictures really don't make justice to his atmospheric prowess.

Calvin Liang, his paintings have a beautiful luminous quality and wonderful color gradations that seem to cover the whole canvas.

Michael Alten, most improved, this guy has been just improving and improving without loosing the muted and subtle qualities.

Michael Obermeyer, always insanely accurate even in complex subjects.

A painter with East Coast sensibilities, Mrs Gavin Brooks.

Carolyn Hesse-Low, a sharp and luminous master.

Ken Auster. Bold strokes.

Debra Huse. Very nice silvery light.

Rolando Macedo, a discovery , very tonal.

Ray Roberts. Breathtakingly beautiful.

Ray Roberts, I think people will think twice before attempting this often painted corner of Laguna Beach , I don't think it can be done any better. 

Ray Roberts, wow. My favorite painting of the show, just the right balance of  color, design, compositional mastery and brushwork. 

Thomas Kitts, abstraction without obstruction. Fantastic painting.

Jeff Horn, simplicity and beauty.

Jeff Horn, the importance of a statement well made.

  I was really impressed, again, by Ray Roberts artwork. It is no wonder he won Best of Show. I probably really need to find a workshop with him. I wish I could create such clean and well managed artwork.

08 October 2011

San Luis Obispo Plein Air 2011

This year I was lucky to be juried again into San Luis Obispo Plein Air. It was my third event of the year after Telluride, Co and Sonoma,Ca. So I was a bit weary. Never mind that some people think nothing of doing 8 to 9 events a year. That's like a full time job, honestly. But fortunately, my hosts this years were out-of-this-world accommodating and gracious. My own room, with studio and workshop, can I just stay forever? Alas. No. But because I've done this event quite a few times, I felt very  comfortable with the area as well. I know where the ATM's and gas stations and tire shops and coffee shops are. Heaven.

"The Long Shadow" 11"x14

As a personal challenge and in order to not stress myself out too much: ALL my work was done in same route.  10 paintings total. From San Luis through  Los Osos Parkway to MontaƱa de Oro and Morro Bay. No running around like a mad man. The weather was amazing with plenty of clouds and some rain so everything was a study in shifting light and fresh cloud upheaval. 

"Passing clouds" 14"x11"

I never planned anything. Not even the Quick Draw day when you have to chose a spot and paint for a determined amount of time in a determined location. I just let things catch my eye. And so they did in abundance. I could paint here fro a year and never tire.  One weapon I have become accustomed to: I brought with me my Isaak Levitan book for inspiration . I would browse it in the morning and the lyrical mood of his landscapes would get my engines revved up. I think it is obvious that it had some influence. Not may buildings or people, just landscapes as lyrical as I could make them.  I think this bringing a book or clipping book with you is such an essential tool when you are ready to go painting. Just looking at what you admire sets your eyes into extra-preceptive mode. 

"Seagull Sunset" 9"x12"

In any case, I am happy that I am actually pleased with most of my work. Sales were dismal, ah, the economy, the economy. Plus I wonder how many more walls are left without paintings in a smallish area like San Luis. May be we have saturated the whole thing with our doodles? Many unhappy painters. 

"Morro Lagoon. Sunset" 8"x10"
I am not sure myself if I want to put myself through the ring again but I just enjoy it so much purely from the painting and company aspect of it. I am not sure if these events are going to be around for long supplying America with millions of square feet of painted canvas. All I know is that I will keep doing it as long as it is feasible.

"Morro Harbor" 12"x16"
Quick Draw "Gradma takes control" 12"x9"