Playa: September 19 & 20, 2013

Thursday Sept 19

As I walked back from the Commons last night, I saw the moon rising in the east over the playa. It was not a huge moon like one sometimes sees but it illuminated the entire lake bed. More stunningly, it was golden, so bright that I didn’t need a flashlight. I was awe-struck, but grabbed my camera to attempt photos. The photos can only approximate what I was seeing. But they do give some sense of it.

MoonGold1The rising moon reflected in the pond, about 8 p.m.

MoonReflectionWLReflection in the south pond

MoongoldVerticalwlAs the moon rose higher, the playa came more clearly into view.

Then early this morning, on the way over to the Commons, I saw the moon setting over Winter Ridge to the west.  The color was much cooler this morning, which, I suspect, has to do with the dust in the atmosphere that settles during the night.

MoonAMwlThe moon over Winter Ridge in the morning; the windows in the cabin are facing east, where the hint of the rising sun can be found.

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The Figure in the Landscape: Summer 2012

I just completed a 2-week, six-day workshop on the figure in landscape. I have decided that this year I will concentrate on painting figures and faces, so in June, I reviewed portraiture with Jeff Burke at Hipbone studio (see the previous post). And in July,  I took this workshop.

Our schedule was fairly routine: We did a lot of gestural sketching of the models during the early part of the day and then, just before lunch, we began to lay in the primary painting of the day.

By 4:30, we were supposed to have a somewhat finished painting, in my case on an 18 x 24″ Masonite board. The pace of the sketching and painting was fast, purposely so, as our instructor wanted us to work on the whole scene and not get hung up on specifics of the figure.

The first week we painted in Laurelhurst Park, which is lush and green and lively. It’s an important Portland park, designed by a student and colleague of Frederick Olmstead, using his ideas of what urban parks should be. Laurelhurst is on the National Historic Register because it has kept the basic Olmstead design intact. It’s a magical place to paint.

JOU, Summer Workshop 2012 Day1, 18 x 24″, oil on canvas, 2012

Above is the painting from Day 1, not revised thus far.

Not only is Laurelhurst beautiful, but the models were beautiful, and skilled. It isn’t easy to pose out of doors, even when the weather is fine. We always had two models. We chose one of two different scenes, and the models would alternate between them; the artists would paint both models serially, seeing them together only briefly at the beginning of the long poses. A small group of models, four altogether, reappeared in various couplets during the the 6 days of the workshop.

JOU, Workshop Summer 2012 Day 2, 18 x 24, oil on board, 2012

On day 2, after an extended discussion of color, Impressionism and post-Impressionism, I decided to use arbitrary color, specifically blue skin tones. When I finished at 4:30, I rather disliked the blue skins, but later came to think they worked in a peculiar sort of way. Which, come to think of it, is what was said in the final critique.

Day 3 we came back to the park. I felt more and more at home with two models and the pace of the drawing/painting:

JOU, Workshop summer 2012 Day 3, 18 x 24″, oil on board, 2012

This is the only painting from the workshop that I worked further in the studio. The basics are the same, but some of the colors got pushed in one direction or another. And the instructor had told the male model to sit on a stool toward the end of the session. I painted him in, but later took the seated figure back out.

The sessions were held three days of the week, and the second week arrived with threatening weather, so we moved indoors, to a renovated warehouse in NW Portland.

[Here’s a 2006 article about the warehouse and its primary purpose, to house an extensive model train set-up. Since the article was written in 2006, Larry, the owner, has designed and gardened a natural landscape outside the warehouse for the trains to move through. We got to make use of that landscape on Day 6 of the workshop.]

JOU, Workshop Summer 2012 Day 4 (#1), 24 x 18″, oil on Masonite, 2012

JOU, Workshop Summer 2012 Day 4 (#2), 18 x 24″, oil on Masonite, 2012

On Day 4 (see the paintings above) I began the large painting with a very dark toned board. I usually paint some under-color on my boards, but the darkness of my color choice threw me off. At some point I simply couldn’t “see” the painting any more and the instructor suggested I start a new one. I think I worked on #2 for about 15 minutes before I had to quit altogether. Again, neither of these paintings has been retouched — yet. The computer may have lightened #1 more than it appears in real life — that under-tone was a real pain.

On day 5, we continued in the warehouse, as it threatened rain again. The instructor began with an interesting challenge, having us draw a sketchy door and mat at the top of our papers. We then began quick sketches, as he moved the models closer and closer to the group. What that did was to enforce our sense of spatial distancing through size — the closer the models got to us, of course the larger they appeared. The original door and mat served as reference points for our sketches. A very effective way to make a point, albeit exhausting.

JOU, Workshop summer 2012 day 5 (#1), 12 x 16″, oil on Masonite, 2012

JOU, Summer Workshop 2012 Day 5 (#2), 16 x 12″, oil on Masonite, 2012

For the day 5 paintings I decided to use some materials I had worked on earlier in the summer. I had been painting with greens and had a number of boards whose surfaces were basically 57 or so versions of the hue. These were 12 x 16″ boards, smaller than the others I had brought to the workshop.

The night before Day 5, I scraped and sanded the small green boards, muting the greens, and the next day I used them to make studies for what I hoped would be a larger panel with the wild green undertone. I thought this intrusive undertone would force me to integrate the figures and landscape even as they were separated by doors and walls. I was determined to bring the landscape into the warehouse.

It was a disappointing attempt (I’m showing Day 5 works only out of honesty and a need to be complete). The greens were a muddle, distracting me; the rocking chair one of the models sat in seemed to defeat me; the composition got out of hand. In short I felt these two studies went way astray. Because of this I decided against bringing in a larger green-toned board the next day.

JOU, Workshop summer 2012, Day 6, 18 x 24″, oil on canvas, 2012

I think this final work is the painting I’m most fond of, although of course, it needs more work. We were at the warehouse again, but the weather, while cloudy, wasn’t as threatening, so we went outside into the exotic garden beside the warehouse. The scene included landscape and industrial elements — both of which I’m very familiar with. The two models had been with us off and on for the last five sessions, so they were quite familiar, thus easier to paint. And we didn’t do any preliminary sketches, so I was less exhausted when the process began. In short, this is a work I shall revise, with the thought that I can turn it into a successful final product.

To summarize this experience: I had begun hoping to gain more clarity about the figure within the landscape. I finished with no more ideas about the interactions of humans and landscape  than I had when I started. Figure painting is as stylized as figure drawing, or at least it was in this workshop. There was no instructional attempt to find the relationships between the figures and the landscape in the modeling set-up and my feeble attempts were pretty much failures. On the other hand, I gained confidence in my ability to paint the figure, at least in this Impressionistic mode. I played with color in ways I might not have without the workshop. And I may have a painting or two that I like from the process.

The critique session, begun about 2:30 and finishing at 6 or so on that last day, included comments about my work as “surreal” and “innovative”, (although “not really.”) My own critique about the workshop says that I now have a clearer comprehension of where my weaknesses with the figure lie, and, more importantly, that I have not resolved the issue of the figure in landscape. So I have my work cut out for me over the next 9 or 10 months, as I work further with the figure and with the figure in landscape, and continue to play with the landscapes I love. –June

Dateline: Mitchell, Oregon, Day 5, Sept 10, 2011

We zoomed out to Picture Gorge extra early today, hoping to catch the shadows and avoid the heat.

We were carrying the large canvases in the carrier Neighbor Jim made for me; the carrier protects the car from oil paint, and me from sorrowful looks by Jer, who loves his 1994 Honda and can’t bear the thought of it sullied with, gasp, paint:

The carrier is to the right with the canvases facing inward. The slatted piece sits on top the carrier, acting as a lid so the canvases don’t get holes poked in them. The white rectangle (bottom center-left) is the box for the 18 x 24″ boards. My usual small boards (12 x 16″) fit into the smaller boxes beside the white one.

At Picture Gorge, I set up the canvas, this time using an extension cord instead of my belt to secure the canvas to the easel. The cord was long enough to go around the fence against which I lodged the easel, so the canvas and I were secure against the wind gusts that come through the gorge early in the day.

Draft one of the big canvas (30 x 40”) was basically just about getting the composition and large planes (forms/shapes) onto the canvas. So this is where I started this morning.

Picture Gorge, 2011, Draft 1, 30 x 40″, oil on canvas

I worked over the canvas for about 3 hours, then we loaded up and went off to visit a friend whose acquaintance dated from my 2006 residency at the Fossil Beds. True to form, Alicia fed us, gave the tired artist (me, me) a beer, showed us the glorious spread (200 acres) that she and her husband bought a few years ago and generally made us feel very welcome. About 2:30, we trundled back to Mitchell.

I unloaded the car and carrier, and brought the big painting to the porch to join the two smaller ones:

The three paintings that I’ve been working on are perched here on the front porch of Hollyhock Cottage. You can see their relative sizes. None is as small as my usual “vignette” plein air work.

Here’s what evolved from today’s session:

Picture Gorge, 2011, Draft 2. 30×40″, oil on canvas.

It still needs work — I ignored the sky after yesterday’s laying on of a single ultramarine layer, so it needs some white+pigment  paint; I also need to bring out the highlights on the columns, work up the grasses and sage brush, and fracture and facet the columns a bit more.  I was thinking about collaging natural foliage forms over the top, but since I have another large canvas with me, perhaps I’ll just finish this as is (probably another 3—5 hours of work), leaving it as a “straight” landscape. Then I’ll do a new loose version, layered with the local fall foliage.  But that decision can wait until I have a fresh eye – or 2015 — whichever comes first.

Of course, I also have the first two canvases to work on. So tomorrow we will stay in Mitchell, I’ll eat bon-bons (or Peets chocolate blueberries), sit on the porch, commune with nature, and paint.

So think of me on Sunday afternoon, slaving away, surrounded by lush green growing things, with the usual questions of paint and form and hue and temperature circling around my head.  –June