Here are a few of the sketches I did the past two weeks in Southern Croatia. The Dalmatian coast is stunningly beautiful. We had beautiful weather, the food and wine are great, and it’s still relatively inexpensive as far as European beach towns in August go.
Corner at Sveti Nikola, Korcula. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Bar in Korcula. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
Rampada, Korcula. 35 x 23 cm, oil on linen.
Street in Korcula. 35 x 25 cm, oil on linen.
Jet-Ski Rental on Primosten. 18 x 25 cm, oil on panel.
Dubrovnik is especially beautiful, though the crowds in August are not for the faint of heart.
The Cathedral from Poljana Boškovića, Dubrovnik. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
Gardens on Lokrum. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.
Umbrellas in Gundulic Square. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
Church in Dubrovnik. 25 x 17 cm, oil on linen.
Street in Dubrovnik. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.
There are a few more that still need a lot of work. I’ll post an update when they’re finished.
I’ve been painting the fleeting light of Southern Croatia for the last couple of weeks and thinking a lot about painting into, and out of, effects.
Landscape paintings usually depict one moment or effect of light. When painting outside, light effects change the whole time the artist is working. Part of the responsibility of the artist is to decide which of the various positions of the sun and shadows will be in the final image. Furthermore, when it’s the painter’s first time somewhere, it can be difficult to visualize perfectly what will happen with the light over the course of a multi-hour plein air painting session.
For the last few years, the light effect that has most interested me is the high sun at midday. My subjects are also often north-facing, and thus back-lit. It’s usually an easy route to take for plein air painting. The number of hues is greatly reduced and the values and shapes become more important. Though it would seem the opposite, I find it easier to get an effect of sunlight or heat, than working with the sun behind me. Most of my favorite historic plein air works are back-lit (it’s hard to think of a good Corot, for example, that isn’t). Also, the light changes very slowly in the midday hours. I’ve worked for up to six hours straight on a midday painting where the shadows and overall effect didn’t change a great deal.
When I first started painting outdoors, however, I really loved the late evening light. Charles Cecil taught me much of what I know about landscape painting, and his own favorite subject is the orange light of the Tuscan evenings, or ‘Golden Hour’. The problem with late light is that the effect lasts only a few minutes. In order to paint a sunset or sunrise painting, you either have to work for only 15 minutes a day, or paint into the effect. Painting into the effect simply means as the afternoon light turns to the golden evening light, the effect will become more and more what you’re after. (Presuming, of course, that the evening light is the desired effect. If the afternoon light is your subject then you’re painting out of the effect).
The trick to painting into an effect is to work on the drawing until the desired effect is present, and then change the colors and shadow shapes at the end. For painting out of the effect the opposite is true. You start with color notes and the shadow shapes, and then polish the drawing as everything changes.
In the sketch of Korcula at sunset above, you can see the blue around the palm tree from when I did all the drawing with the afternoon light. I then changed the whole color scheme when the sun set. I’ll later polish things up in the studio when the paint dries.
Understanding the mechanics of changing light and how to deal with it is an important part of plein air painting.
Here are some of my plein air landscape paintings of Ireland from ‘Europe’s biggest plein air painting festival’, the Art in the Open plein air landscape painting festival in Wexford. It was my first time in a painting festival like this and I had a good time.
I’ve painted the Irish landscape before, so I knew what I was getting into weather-wise. Last time I worked a lot from inside the car. This time I bought a full waterproof kit and just painted through the showers. Both methods have their drawbacks.
Kilmore Quay. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen (on board).
The Parking Lot at Kilmore Quay. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen (on board).
Approaching Rain, Hook Head Lighthouse. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen (on board).
Hook Head Lighthouse. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen (on board).
Buildings at Hook Head. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen (on board).
Main Street, Wexford. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen (on board).
Boat in Wexford Harbor. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen (on board).
Wexford Sketch. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen (on board).
The Quay at Wexford. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen (on board).
Huntington Castle. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen (on board).
Enniscorthy Bridge. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen (on board).
Irish landscape paintings can be quite a challenge with the radically changing weather. The Irish landscape is stunning though and I look forward to going back to AITO next year.
Cornelissen in London makes the best bristle brushes I’ve ever owned. They finally have an online store which is great, as getting to central London is a pain and their staff aren’t particularly friendly (I got in trouble there once for checking unfamiliar turpentine brands for mineral spirits and the clerk thought I was getting high). The series 44 are the ones I use. They are more expensive than other brands but they are built like tanks and last forever. Mine usually get worn down to a triangle shape after years of use.
For sables, Zecchi has the best quality brushes I’ve found. The red-handled ‘cat-tongue’ sables are very useful for drawing with your paint. They are also pricey (though cheaper than much of the competition), but will last a long time if properly looked after.
I get asked a lot about brush care. I clean mine about once a week with soap and cold water*. In the meantime I keep them in the freezer at night so they wont dry out.
Bristle brushes I wrap individually with a little piece of paper towel to pull out the water and keep the shape. Sables I leave a bit of soap in and make a point with the hairs so they dry with a sharp tip.
*It’s important to use cold water as warm water can expand the ferrule of the brush and the hairs will come out.
Here are few sketches from the past week in Bergen, Norway. It stays light here until midnight at the moment, but the weather has been iffy. I hope to come back next June for a more intensive landscape painting trip.
Sailboats, Bergen. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.
Bryggen, Bergen. 18 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Sailboat, Solheimsviken. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
This summer I’m skipping my usual solo show. I missed half a year of painting in 2011 and wont have enough work unfortunately. I will have new work at the Haynes Galleries in Maine and with the Grenning Gallery on Long Island. In September I’ll have some work on show in London with Constantine Lindsay.
This is a portrait I did of a friend a few years ago. As a last-minute idea I set my old cellphone on a chair and had it take a photo every few minutes over the course of the week. The battery kept dying and people kept bumping into the chair so the already-poor-quality image jumps around a lot. My apologies. I found the pictures recently and threw them together:
Wind Turbines at Aachen. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Traveling across Western Germany recently I was amazed at the number of wind turbines they’ve put up. When I was a kid I remember seeing a farm of them outside of Los Angeles and thinking they were spectacularly ugly. These new ones are much larger, and more spread out, and they’ve started to grow on me. I’m also aware that we probably need to be looking for alternative sources of energy, preferably clean ones.
Often I’ve wondered why we are attracted to beauty. Is there an evolutionary reason for it? Are we biologically hardwired to feel the direction our lives should take based, even if only a little bit, on individual aesthetics? Can there be a collective human aesthetic? And can it change over time? Is it controlled in some way by a rational understanding of the direction we should be taking as a society?
I was thinking about these turbines driving past. I once saw them as blights on the landscape, now I find them fascinating in a way. Is it possible that our sense of beauty can be changed in a subtle way by the rational part of our brains?
And what is the artist’s purpose in this? To reflect society or guide it?
I was back in Holland for a day to pack up the house, so I went over to the German border at Aachen to paint the wind turbines and think about it all.