I've recently returned from an interesting and fantastic trip to Nova Scotia. I am in the process of writing about that experience and it will become my next post. This past weekend, I taught a plein air workshop in my hometown of Woodstock CT and I want to write about it today.
This workshop is an annual one to paint the Autumn color. This year, apparently due to Hurricane Irene dropping a ton of rain on us, which had a lot of salt in it from the ocean, the color is not as spectacular as I had hoped for. As a painter though, I am not really interested in a cacophony of bright colors all competing for a place on the canvas. A little bit of intense color goes a long way. We as painters, have the opportunity to tone down the color a bit to create harmony and we can brighten color where it is needed to help to create a focal point. If a painting is all full of bright color, nothing gets heard over all that loud noise. A canvas like this is hard to look at. For the person who is taking a scenic drive or walk, the bright colors can be cheerful and fun to take in. Hand that same viewer a painting done of this same scene done verbatim and he won't feel the same about it.
Harry Ballinger said in his landscape book that the peak of Autumn harmonized better when painted on an overcast day or could be better unified when painted in a back-lit situation. These are excellent points to consider. I personally prefer to paint the early Autumn color or late Autumn when the trees have lost a lot of their leaves and I can see through the foliage. A scene like this attracts me because their is still some bit of Autumn color that plays off the beautiful purple tones that make up the distance.
This was a three day workshop. Students were given the option of participating for one, two or all three days. Everyone liked having these options and I am considering doing more of this. I would love to hear feedback. It appears that everyone has such busy lives these days and although someone may want to register, they can't always make the commitment for the full number of days. Students who came for just one day of this Autumn Workshop were very pleased with this option and confided that they got a lot out of the one day. One student said that she was taking home a lot of new ideas.
On the first day we had an extremely rainy day and I brought everyone into the studio for the day. This makes the most sense on a day like this. There are plenty of points to discuss about the painting process and an indoor demo is always well received by students. I chose a photo reference of a complicated scene that had a lot of potential for a good painting but needed some thought behind the final idea. I am reminded about a James Whistler quote: "To say to the painter that Nature is to be taken as she is, is to say to the player that he may sit on the piano!"
In the name of 'simplicity' I made some changes as I composed the painting. As part of the 'less is more' belief system that I have, it is my sincere hope to get at something in the simplifying of a subject that will say and feel more about that subject than the subject itself. It doesn't always happen, but when it does it is special. It's why I paint. Here is another quote, this time by Thomas Eakins: 'In mathematics the complicated things are reduced to simple things. So it is in painting.' And Albert Einstein said, 'Out of clutter, find simplicity'. And the kicker of them all is this one, also by Einstein: 'Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not one bit simpler.' Eureka! Now THAT is what painting is all about!
I'm putting up some images of the indoor demo and also one of the outdoor demos. In the first demo you can easily see the changes compared to the photo reference. I played up the size of the larger building and played down the size of the barn to the left. I did this for the sake of balance. If things are too similar in size, they cancel each other out. The big describes the small and the small describes the big. Emile Gruppe was a master of this idea. I avoided some of the clutter of the hodgepodge of trees to the right and gave the viewer some room to see beyond. I exaggerated the angle of the shadow to the left and also the dark shape near the stone wall, all for the sake of getting the viewer into the picture. I toned the linen canvas with raw sienna and then I blocked in the painting with raw sienna and a hint of purple. I wanted to show the relationship of the big shapes and to strike a well composed balance with my dark and light pattern. This my 'big idea'. I always think about someone saying..Hey! What's the big idea? ..The big idea in a painting is what makes the painting work. It holds it all together.
Here is an outdoor demo that I painted on Sunday morning. This was a quick one and I really stressed the importance of the big relationships.