Here are a few recent larger landscapes. They will be going to the Grenning Gallery for my solo show this August (hence the sizes in inches).
I dislike working from photographs. I was trained over many years working exclusively from life and my work from photos is often weak. I find there is too little information in a photograph compared to life, and I can’t trust a photo for values, shapes or colors. While I have pulled out a decent painting or two from photos, it was mostly a case of luck.
Occasionally for commissioned portraits the clients wont give me enough sittings and I’m forced to use a photograph. A problem specific to painting portraits from photographs is that you only get one expression from the sitter. The beauty of working from life, for me, is that you can change the subject’s expression as you work. A portrait painted from life ends up as a composite of many aspects of the sitter’s personality. One painted eye can say one thing about their personality, the other eye can say something else.
An idea I’ve had over the years as a means of resolving this problem is to paint from a looped video of the sitter, rather than a static photograph. That way I would be able to study the changes in expression and pick the best moments to use for the features of the sitter, thus creating a more complete portrait of the subject’s personality.
An advantage of a looped video over even a live model is that portrait models often get bored while sitting. I find it difficult to keep them entertained with conversation and concentrated on the portrait at the same time. Below is a short looped gif of my wife posing for a portrait I’ve been working on, showing the moment she lights up and laughs. By playing the loop on a television next to the canvas I could, in theory, choose various frames to study for a more animated expression.
Tina sat the whole time for this particular portrait. I did play around with the shapes and studied the muscle movements from a looped video on the tv (since neither of us watches tv, I’ve moved it to the studio to experiment with). Below is the result.
The best DSLRs on the market for video at the moment are the GH series from Panasonic. I have two old GH1s I got for next to nothing when the GH2s came out. Both the GH1 and GH2 can be hacked to greatly improve the amount of information that the camera records. This, for anyone attempting to paint from video, is a big advantage.
I think video could be a good addition to the arsenal of any professional portrait painter who works from photographs.
Plein air landscape painting in the Alps can be some of the most rewarding art creation anywhere. When the weather is good, the majesty of the mountains is just stunning. The Swiss have also done a good job of keeping their (rather unfortunate) modern architecture concentrated in pockets, usually in the valleys.
Below are my plein air landscape sketches from a week of teaching a workshop with the Alpine Atelier in Gryon, Switzerland.
We had pretty bad weather. The previous sketch is from when we drove up to Gryon to get over the low clouds which sat in our valley for much of the week.
We stayed above Bex in the picturesque little village of Les Plans. Above is the farm where we ate everyday on the course.
The Alpine landscapes are a real joy to paint when the sun comes out.
Unfortunately, the sketch below shows what our valley looked like much of the course. As I mentioned in the last post, difficult conditions can often be more conducive to good painting. Overall I’m pretty happy with the work both I and my students produced over the week.
(This was my second plein air painting trip to this area of Switzerland. You can see my ‘barn series’ from Gstaad and Saanen in 2009 here).
My car broke down in the little Italian town of Soave on my way home. It also happens to be where they make my favorite white wine. Here is a quick sketch from the rainy morning after.
Here are a few photos from my week of teaching plein air landscape painting in the valley around Les Plans in Switzerland. I was working for the Alpine Atelier based in Gryon.
They are very unrepresentative photos as we only had a few hours of sun all week. Most of the time it was low clouds and snow. Nevertheless, the students managed to squeeze out a lot of great work.
It’s often the case that sparse subject matter produces better work while painting en plein air. In my experience, having too many wonderful views to choose from can be more paralyzing to the painter than struggling with difficult or meager subject matter.
Update: Here are a couple more off my phone.
I also shot a video of the 40 minute demo I gave on the first day of the course. You can view it below or on my youtube channel:
At the end of March I’ll be teaching a plein air landscape painting course in the Swiss Alps. The class is organized by the Alpine Atelier in Gryon, Switzerland. I’ve always loved the views in Switzerland and this particular area has been one of my favorite places to paint.
Here are a few of my favorite Alpine landscape paintings by historic artists.
Edward Theodore Compton was a British painter, trained in Munich (probably at the same time as Duveneck). He was an avid mountaineer and climbed 300 mountains, including 27 first accents. He settled in Bavaria and traveled the world painting mountain views.
His children were also painters, and his son Edward Harrison Compton produced some of the most incredible landscape paintings I’ve ever seen. He unfortunately suffered from polio in his late 20s and had to give up the Alpine views. His English and Sicilian views are equally stunning though. The BBC has three here and this German auction house has more (unfortunately small) images.
Eugen Felix Prosper Bracht was a Swiss painter. His dates are 1842-1921. The Athenaeum shows he painted a lot in the Middle East, but it’s hard to find any information about him online. For a country with so few well-known painters, they should step up a bit and promote these amazing works.
Luckily the Americans are never short of promotion. Here’s a great Sargent from the Simplon Pass.
And Edgar Payne.
Isaac Levitan painted some Alpine views while traveling in Switzerland in 1897.
I’ll post more when I have time. In the meanwhile, John Mitchell Gallery in London always has a great collection of Alpine scenes. You can see this years selection here.
Mountain Paintings has more Alpine art on their website as well.
Here is the sixth installment of my Minute Painting Videos. It’s about how to grind your own lead white.
Hand-ground lead white handles differently than tube paints, much more so than any other color. It’s the only color I still grind myself as I find there are many impasto effects a painter can not achieve with machine-ground lead white. Unfortunately lead white in powder is getting harder and harder to find.
Be very careful in handling lead white. Wear gloves and a mask and work in a space with proper ventilation. Lead white in power is very toxic.
A short post with four small plein air sketches from a weekend in Venice in January.
Since the days are so short here in Zagreb (and I’m losing my mornings to language classes), I’ve been trying my hand at plein air nocturnes lately.
Last winter I tried one nocturne of the small bar around the corner from my house. The idea was to sketch the composition in pencil and then begin the lay-in on site. However, for the bulk of the work I had the painting elsewhere and, in the evenings, I would stop and try to memorized the view and then paint later from memory. It was like sight-sizing from a block away. The idea was based on the quote by Degas about memory drawing:
“If I were to open an academy I would have a five-story building. The model would pose on the ground floor with the first-year students. The most advanced students would work on the fifth floor.”
This year I’m more prepared. These new clip-on LED lights work very well, and have a much cooler light than the ones you could buy, years ago, when I last tried plein air landscape painting at night. The brand I’m using is Mighty Bright from Santa Barbara, CA and I have the two pronged ones they make for orchestra conductors. (Edit: As Jerry Campbell commented, these lights can be slightly blue. I also found myself compensating to knock down the oranges. Pushing the light right up to the canvas warms it up a bit, but if anyone one has a suggestion for a more neutral plein-air-at-night lighting solution, I’d love to hear it).
A second set of lights would be great as I don’t get enough light consistently across the panels and have to move the light to where I’m working.
Painting in the snow at night can be really cold. I wrote a post last winter on keeping warm, which you can read here.
More to come. In the meantime, here are a couple more from the heavy snows we’ve had this month in Zagreb.
Bukovac was born in a small town on the coast south of Dubrovnik to an Italian father and Croatian mother. He studied in Paris with Cabanel and worked in Zagreb, Belgrade and Prague. His life story is quite interesting and included a stint in a reform school in New York and painting trains in Peru (more here).
While famous for his large Salon-style pieces and portraits, he also painted a lot of beautiful plein air sketches.
This nude reminded me of his teacher’s famous painting:
Miroslav Kraljević was only 27 when he died of tuberculosis. He studied in Munich and Vienna. (He kinda looks like Valdemar Lethin).
Unfortunately the above image quality is rather poor. Below is a great detail of the dog from Croatian painter Valentino Radman’s blog:
Josip Račić also died very young, only 23, but is considered one of the most important modern Croatian painters. He was part of the ‘Munich School’ with Kraljević and a couple of others.
Other interesting historic Croatian painters are Čikoš Sesija, Robert Auer, Mato Celestin Medović, and Mirko Rački.
Below is a short video of fellow plein air painter Ben Fenske painting a quick (2 hour?) oil sketch of the road to the farmhouse where I’ve lived in the summers for the last few years.
I filmed the plein air video a couple of years ago and found the footage today while organizing old files on my computer. A couple of people have written to me asking about Ben’s technique, so here it is in all it’s badly-color-graded glory.
Update: Some people were having problems watching the video, so I uploaded a new version.