Zagreb Nocturnes

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.

Gupceva Zvijezda Zagreb Nocturnes

The Bar at Zvijezda (2011). 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

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).

mightybright Zagreb Nocturnes

My set-up for nocturnes.

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.

nocturne Zagreb Nocturnes

Zagreb Cathedral Nocturne #1. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

cathedral Zagreb Nocturnes

Zagreb Cathedral Nocturne #2. 30 x 20, oil on panel (unfinished).

kolovdor Zagreb Nocturnes

The Central Train Station at Night. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

More to come. In the meantime, here are a couple more from the heavy snows we’ve had this month in Zagreb.

Britanski Trg Zagreb Nocturnes

Winter, Britanski Trg. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Mirogoj Zagreb Nocturnes

Mirogoj in the Snow. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

Kazalište Zagreb Nocturnes

Steps of the HNK. 30 x 20 cn, oil on panel.

Ulica A.G. Matoša Zagreb Nocturnes

Ulica A.G. Matoša. 28 x 18 cm, oil on panel.

Croatia: The Local Talent

Continuing my series of great ‘regional’ painters (previous ones were Holland, California, Italy, and Russia), here are a few great painters from Croatia.

Vlaho Bukovac

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.

Gundulićev san Croatia: The Local Talent

Gundulićev San (Gundulic’s Dream). 1897

vlaho bukovac barun vranicany Croatia: The Local Talent

Baron Ljudevit Vranyczany. 1898

vlaho Croatia: The Local Talent

Courtyard in Cavtat. 1899

This nude reminded me of his teacher’s famous painting:

Recliningnude bukovac Croatia: The Local Talent

Reclining Nude. c. 1900

Cabanel Alexandre The Birth of Venus ca. 18641 Croatia: The Local Talent

Alexandre Cabanel. The Birth of Venus, 1864

Miroslav Kraljević
was only 27 when he died of tuberculosis. He studied in Munich and Vienna. (He kinda looks like Valdemar Lethin).

Kraljevic Croatia: The Local Talent

Self-portrait with Dog. 1910

Unfortunately the above image quality is rather poor. Below is a great detail of the dog from Croatian painter Valentino Radman’s blog:

img 9619 copy Croatia: The Local Talent

Self-portrait with Dog (detail).

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.

img 5887 copy11 Croatia: The Local Talent

Self Portrait (detail). 1906

josip racic portret sestre copy1 Croatia: The Local Talent

Portrait of the Artist’s Sister. 1907

8 Croatia: The Local Talent

Pont des Arts. 1900

Another good 20th century painter who’s work is in the museum here in Zagreb, but is hard to find online, is Vladimir Filakovac. Valentino Radman has a couple of blog posts on him here and here.

Other interesting historic Croatian painters are Čikoš SesijaRobert Auer, Mato Celestin Medović, and Mirko Rački.


A Short Fenske Plein Air Video

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.

November Exhibitions

I thought I should briefly mention a couple of exhibitions I have on this month. The first is a number of small sketches at Ann Long Fine Art in Charleston, SC and the exhibition webpage is here. The second is the Converge show organized by Allison Malafronte in New York. It opens this Friday and the website for the exhibition is here.

Lago Maggiore to the Simplon Pass

Here are a few recent sketches from a trip to Lago Maggiore with Ben Fenske. We went up to the Simplon Pass for a day, but never made it back as the weather was uncooperative.

verbania1 Lago Maggiore to the Simplon Pass

Evening at Verbania. 24 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

1140058 Lago Maggiore to the Simplon Pass

Feriolo. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

ossola valley 398x600 Lago Maggiore to the Simplon Pass

Sunset Sketch, Ossola Valley. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

1140063 Lago Maggiore to the Simplon Pass

Monte Rosa from the Simplon Pass. 25 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

Here is a short time-lapse video of the above sketch:

1140065 Lago Maggiore to the Simplon Pass

Towards Monte Leone. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

lago dorta1 Lago Maggiore to the Simplon Pass

Evening Fog, Lago d’Orta. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

domodossola1 Lago Maggiore to the Simplon Pass

Rain, Domodossola. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

1140057 Lago Maggiore to the Simplon Pass

Cutting Garden, Stresa. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

stresa Lago Maggiore to the Simplon Pass

Villa near Stresa. 40 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

islesborromeo 451x600 Lago Maggiore to the Simplon Pass

The Promenade at Stresa. 40 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Here are some of the plein air landscape sketches from Bordeaux and Chianti painted the last month. We stayed in the little village of Pujols near Saint-Émilion (Bordeaux) in France, and then in Chianti near Tavarnelle val di Pesa.

My liver will need some time to recover.

haybales2 408x600 Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Haybales near Pujols. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

The Dordogne east of Bordeaux is especially interesting for plein air landscape painting as it is unusual to have such strong tidal effects so far inland.

dordogne Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Boats on the Dordogne. 23 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

dordogne2 Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

The Dordogne at Castilion-le-Bataille. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

petanque Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Petanque. 30 x 40 cm, oil on panel.

branne 505x600 Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Branne. 30 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Saint-Émilion is a beautiful little city for plein air painting. We took the workshop students there a couple of times with great success.

st emilion Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Gate at Saint-Emilion. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

gensac Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Gensac. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

pujols church Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

Sketches of the Church at Pujols. 20 x 15 (ish) cm each, oil on panel.

Here are a couple of plein air landscape sketches of the annual grape harvest, or Vendemmia, in the Chianti region of Tuscany. It was interesting to paint the workers en plein air as they moved quickly up the vineyard rows. I would paint the vineyard row ahead of them, then move row to row to paint the grape harvesters as they worked.

vendemmia Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

La Vendemmia. 25 x 35 cm, oil on panel.

onion patch Bordeaux and Chianti Sketches

La Vendemmia #2. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

I’ll post the rest of the Chianti plein air landscape paintings later in the week.

Chasing Effects

As a follow up to the ‘into and out of effects’ post below, here is a short video of a plein air landscape sketch from this week. It was painting as the light moved from late afternoon into sunset into evening.

(Apologies for the quality, I need to upgrade the slow-as-molasses-in-winter netbook I do all this with while traveling).

The great thing about working from life, be it in landscapes or portraits, is that as effects or expressions change you can either add them or leave them. Many painters coming to landscapes from studio work find the changing effects challenging. In their studios everything is controlled. The trick is to see the constant mutations in nature as a blessing. Leave what was better before, add what improves.

I find this especially true in portraiture, where working from life allows you to capture fleeting effects such as the moment the sitter’s face lights up when a loved one enters the room. You also end up with a likeness that expresses a number of different facets of the sitter’s personality, as witnessed over the week of sittings.

In the painting video above, the final work becomes a montage of the best effects from the various changing light and cloud positions over the two hour session.

(Here is the final image):

santa maria novella1 Chasing Effects

Santa Maria Novella. 30 x 40, oil on panel.

The Dalmatian Coast

korcula sunset2 The Dalmatian Coast

Sunset on Korcula. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

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.

Sveti Nikola The Dalmatian Coast

Corner at Sveti Nikola, Korcula. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

Korcula Street 2 397x600 The Dalmatian Coast

Bar in Korcula. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

korcula street 368x600 The Dalmatian Coast

Rampada, Korcula. 35 x 23 cm, oil on linen.

P1190798 428x600 The Dalmatian Coast

Street in Korcula. 35 x 25 cm, oil on linen.

Primosten The Dalmatian Coast

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.

Dubrovnik Cathedral2 395x600 The Dalmatian Coast

The Cathedral from Poljana Boškovića, Dubrovnik. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

lokrum1 425x600 The Dalmatian Coast

Gardens on Lokrum. 35 x 25 cm, oil on panel.

Gundulic Square 396x600 The Dalmatian Coast

Umbrellas in Gundulic Square. 30 x 20 cm, oil on panel.

Church 413x600 The Dalmatian Coast

Church in Dubrovnik. 25 x 17 cm, oil on linen.

Dubrovnik 395x600 The Dalmatian Coast

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.

Painting into, and out of, an Effect

korcula sunset Painting into, and out of, an Effect

Sunset on Korcula. 20 x 30 cm, oil on panel.

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.