Here are my plein air landscape paintings from last weekend in Copenhagen. Technically it was really four days.
Cafe, Kongens Nytorv. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
The weather was beautiful but very windy. After a couple years of painting with the Art in the Open in Wexford, Ireland I have no problem painting in heavy rain, but wind still annoys me to no end as the panels move the whole time. Many of these views were picked because they were sheltered a bit from the strong winds.
Back of the Glyptotek. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.
Path in the Ørstedsparken. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Towards City Hall Square. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Market in Christiania. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
They don’t allow photography in parts of Christiania, but they let me set up and paint. I did have a few ‘guards’ come by to check the tripod though. That said, everyone was very friendly when they saw what I was doing.
Grafitti Artists, Christiania. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Boats behind the Opera House. 20 x0 30 cm, oil on panel.
After my last post on painting back-lit paintings, these were almost all done with front-lighting. Not for any particular reason, that was just the effect that I found inspiring.
Bus Stop, Copenhagen. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.
English Garden in the Rosenborg Castle Gardens. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
I had been to Copenhagen 25 years ago, but remembered nothing of the city. It’s much prettier than google images would have you believe. The hotel had bicycles to rent which made it much more convenient to navigate the city with all of my landscape painting kit, though I always find bicycling in places like Denmark and Holland scarier than driving in Southern Europe.
I was trying it out recently on this large plein air figurative piece, and in my sketches from Copenhagen. The Blue Ridge version dries faster than what I’m used to using. I know that’s a plus for a lot of artists and it certainly is for me when I travel. During longer projects though, like the one posted above, I sometimes like to scrape down a fresh painting at the start of the next session, and this medium dries too quickly for that -just a heads up.
The recipe is a variation of the medium developed by Charles Cecil and is originally based, in part, on the writings of Theodore de Mayerne. De Mayerne was a Swiss doctor who was friends with Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyck. He wrote one of the rare documents discussing painting materials of the 17th-century, and he appears to have consulted with both Rubens and Van Dyck regularly on their opinions. His writings discuss straw-colored Strasbourg turpentine and thickening oil with lead in the sun, as well as many other art material related topics. You can buy an English translation online.
While I much prefer the smell of Strasbourg turpentine to Canada balsam, the Strasbourg turpentine sometimes beads a lot when beginning again on a dry painting. (Looking closely at Isaac Levitan’s paintings you can see the same beading, which makes me wonder what he was using).
At any rate, it’s a great medium for laying-in (add some turpentine), as well as glazing at the end of a project. I’ve been using it for over twenty years now and my early pieces are all in fine condition.
Ray Mar Art Supplies makes these great wet panel carriers for plein air painters. Unfortunately they’re only available in inches. I tried to get Sandro at Zecchi to make them with centimeter sizes but no dice. Since I’m about to go painting on a boat for a week I decided to make my own with that hollow plastic sheeting they sell at hardware stores, and I just copied the Ray Mar design (actually my wife figured it out, I discovered I can’t visualize a 3D object as a flat shape).
Here are few pictures of it:
And here is the design, for 20 x 30 cm panels, if anyone wants to make their own. I just sealed it up with electrical tape, and made the slots from slices of the plastic sheets. I would get a medium thickness for the plastic, the one I used was the full-sized one and it’s too thick. Also, next time I would rip up an old CD case for the slots to hold the panels.
Afternoon Shadows, Ribnjak. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel
Here are some recent plein air landscape paintings from Zagreb and the surrounding countryside.
Tina Practicing a Speech. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Modern Sculpture, Ribnjak Park. 20 x 15 cm, oil on panel.
Garden, Zvijezda. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.
While the Croatian coast is rightfully famous for it’s beauty, the countryside inland has a lot of charm to it as well. It’s a very peaceful place to work since there is a real emptiness in some areas. Often I’ll paint on the side of a road and no more than one car or tractor will pass during the hours it takes me to finish a painting.
Šišinec. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Chapel near Brkiševina. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Below is an updated image of a large plein air painting of a path in Maksimir park. It’s for an even larger studio painting that was requested by a gallery I work with.
Path in Maksimir (updated) 60 x 80 cm, oil on linen.
Below are some paintings from a very short (weekend) trip to Tuscany. Since I had so little time to paint I chose only subjects that were backlit, i.e. had the sun behind them.
Market Stall in Piazza Santo Spirito. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
It’s probably different for every painter, but I find I can work much faster and get better results when painting towards the sun. It becomes much more about drawing and values. Frontlit subjects require a painter to capture every small nuance in hue and chroma which, for me, takes much longer.
Burning Leaves, Montisi. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Piazza del Carmine. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
Fishermen on the Banks of the Arno. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
It’s interesting to look at historic landscape painters and their preference for lighting in their views. For example, the Spanish painter Carlos de Haes went for the backlit subject in many of his plein air and studio landscapes.
Carlos de Haes -La Torre de Douarnenez
Carlos de Haes – Picos de Europa.
And Camille Corot’s best works are usually backlit:
Camille Corot – The Bridge at Narni.
As are Dennis Miller Bunker’s:
Dennis Miller Bunker – Brittany Town Morning.
The French Impressionists were also big on the midday backlit view, which is surprising since their draftsmanship wasn’t the best and they seemed so focused on color.
Claude Monet – The Cliff of Aval.
On the other hand, the Spanish painters Joaquín Sorolla and Martín Rico y Ortega seemed to love the bright whites, dark skies, and strong hues of frontlit subjects in Spain and Italy. And the Italian painter Rubens Santoro painted some amazing sunlight-filled views of Italy which are also often frontlit.
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida – The Return of the Catch, Valencia Beach
Martín Rico y Ortega – View of Paris from the Trocadero.
Rubens Santoro – On the Mediterranean Coast
Isaac Levitan’s best paintings are usually frontlit (or overcast).
Isaac Levitan – March.
And finally, on the other side of the world, the great Australian painter Arthur Streeton also used the frontlit view often to show the heat of the Australian summers.
Arthur Streeton – Sunlight.
Obviously, all of these great artists tried to capture a wide variety of light effects in their paintings. Still, looking over a single painter’s oeuvre, it’s fun to try to discern a pattern. Some of the other great landscape painters I (briefly) researched for this post were John Singer Sargent, Telemaco Signorini, and Edward Seago, but I wasn’t able to see any preference in their work (even Sorolla was a bit of a stretch).
Cliffs at the Cape of Good Hope. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.
I was in Cape Town, South Africa for a week last month, escaping the long European winter. It’s a beautiful part of the world. The foliage, colors, and climate are all very similar to Central California.
Here are a few of the sketches:
The View from DeMorgenzon, Stellenbosch. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Vineyards near Stellenbosch. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Banana Trees in the Kirstenbosch Gardens. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Lion’s Head from Victoria Road. 22 x 33 cm, oil on panel.
Above Sea Point. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.
Afternoon in Hout Bay. 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.
The wine and food are terrific and their currency is way down too so it was a very reasonably priced stay. I would highly recommend the place for anyone looking to paint in the Southern Hemisphere in February. I hope to go back soon.
Since my current larger projects are taking a while I thought I would rehash some older work. This is part of a series of paintings I did in 2008 of the small Piaggio Apini or ‘worker bees’ (as opposed to the Vespas or ‘wasps’ made by the same company). They were used by the artisans and tradesmen in Florence until they were banned recently by the new mayor.
Ape, Via del Campuccio (?). 25 x 35 cm, oil on linen.
Amore Ti Amo. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.
Since they move pretty quickly and I couldn’t always stand in the road with my easel, some were done from photographs. This was the only time I ever tried working solely from photography and I decided it wasn’t for me. I spent too much time training my eyes to work from life.
Apino, Via Maffia (#2). 40 x 30 cm, oil on linen.
Ironically the ones I painted from life often look more photographic than the ones painted from photos. I think it’s because one has so much more information available when working on site.
Nymph in Arcadia. 40 x 30 cm, oil on linen.
The title of the post comes from a show I had in 2008 in a local cafe showing these little sketches. They say selling art in Florence is like selling ice in Antarctica, but these proved surprisingly popular.
I’Trippaio di Sant’Ambrogio. 20 x 30 cm, oil on linen.
When I wrote about photographing paintings last time, I discussed hiring professionals and the equipment they use. In the years since that post, digital camera technology has developed a great deal and in a direction which works well for photographing paintings.
What an artist needs in a photograph of their work are the correct colors, values, and chroma of the piece, with a distortion-free lens, in a very high resolution which can show the detail in the brushwork, as well as the varying sharpness and softness of the edges. For years the best way to do this was with a medium format camera with a digital back. The price for this equipment could run easily into tens of thousands of dollars. The major recent change in consumer digital photography is that the camera companies have engaged in what technology writers derogatorily refer to as the ‘megapixel war’. This race for better sensors with higher pixel counts has pushed the capabilities of DSLR sensors into the range of the low-end digital backs, potentially saving the DIY painter a ton of money.
Obviously hiring a professional photographer will achieve better results. They will have better equipment and the experience to know how to use it. They are also incredibly expensive (in Italy I paid €100 per photo, or about €1000 for an hour’s work). You can buy a whole set up for the price, and since photographing paintings is really a one-trick pony, getting it good enough isn’t that difficult.
To photograph artwork well one needs the following equipment: A tripod, proper lighting covered by polarized film, a color calibration system and gray card, a decent DSLR body which can be tethered to a computer, a computer with tethering software, a good macro (micro) lens with a circular polarizing filter, and software to edit and archive the work.
First place the painting on an easel with two bright, full-spectrum, lighting sources at 45 degree angles to the artwork, put the camera on a tripod so the lens is parallel to the surface of the painting, as shown below. Lights, painting and camera should be at the same height. There should be no other light sources, and anything white that can cause a glare on the painting should be covered. (Professional studio photographers recommend not using the camera’s auto white balance, so I first set my white balance in the camera to 5400K (which is similar to the color temperature of the light given off by my bulbs). I then made a preset in the camera, photographed a group of paintings over and over, and tweaked the color settings until my light balance looked correct when the image first comes out of the camera) .
My set-up for photographing paintings.
Put your calibration card in front of the painting, photograph it, then run it through the included software (if needed convert RAW to DNG with Adobe’s free DNG converter). The software finds the color squares, measures them and makes a preset for your camera. Save the preset. Remove the calibration card and put a gray card next to the painting.
X-Rite ColorChecker Passport software screen.
Photograph the painting by first putting the camera in mirror-up mode (or set the remote connection to use mirror-up mode). Set ISO to the lowest number, usually 100, and operational mode should be aperture priority or manual (program mode will work too if you can change the aperture setting). Set image type to RAW. Set the lens to manual focus mode. Turn the polarizer on the lens until the glare on the painting is gone.
Next turn on live-view monitoring in the tethering software on your computer, put the tethered image in full-screen mode, zoom in to the maximum and manually focus the shot by hand. If your tethering software can take the photo in mirror-up mode, shoot from the computer screen, otherwise use a shutter-release cable or remote. Do not use the shutter-release button on the camera as it can move slightly and blur the shot. Experiment with various f-stops to find the sharpest for your lens, normally with a macro lens the middle range from f/4 to f/11 will be best.
Import the photo into your editing software and apply the calibration preset (click the eyedropper on the grey card if the white balance is off). Make any other corrections, i.e. rotation, crop, lens profile adjustment, etc… I then tag the paintings with the year, location and subject, so I can find them easily later. I’ve also made export presets for all the possible uses I’ll have for the photos. It makes preparing images trivial.
Some tips for larger paintings: If you don’t have polarizing sheets, the lights can be at angles greater than 45 degrees to reduce glare. If there are problems with getting an even light across a large painting, find an area with even lighting and take multiple photographs, moving the painting on a flat plane at the same distance from the camera until you have photographs of sections of the whole painting. Then use stitching software such as Adobe Photoshop, PTGui or the free Microsoft ICE to put the individual images together. This method can also be used to get ultra-high resolution images of larger paintings while using a low-megapixel camera. With a bit of work you can capture an amount of detail which would give medium format cameras a run for their money. Subtle HDR is another idea if the value range is too great for the camera.
Williamsburg makes some of the best tube paints (in my opinion). And finally, after years of my badgering, Zecchi in Florence is selling some of Williamsburg’s better colors.
Their cadmium colors are as good as anything I ever ground myself. Their cadmium red light, for example, is the best warm vermilion substitute I’ve found. It reminds me of the older, real vermilion pigments I learned to grind paint with. Their other cadmiums (red medium, yellow light and medium, and orange) are all staples on my palette. They have beautiful hues and, because of their great tinting strength, one tube will last a long time. Cheaper paints usually have a lot of filler in them, so you go through the tubes much quicker as changing a color will require much more paint.
Their cerulean is beautiful -not Old Holland beautiful, but half the price. Their cobalt blue is also good, though it seems hard to botch a cobalt blue, I’ve never used a bad one.
Not all of their colors are great. For ochres I prefer Old Holland’s golden ochre or Zecchi’s own Roman ocher. I also find the Williamsburg ultramarine totally unusable, Old Holland’s ultramarine dark is much, much better.
Williamsburg’s ivory black is the closest to hand-ground that I have found, though it is still a touch lighter. They sell a flake white too, but hand-ground lead white is really essential to good studio painting.