Archive for the ‘My way of doing it’ Category

Culling, culling, gone!

Monday, October 15th, 2018

The time is approaching to tackle one job that’s never much fun: (Have you guessed it?)  Identifying and ridding my studio of all those paintings that “didn’t quite make it.”

It isn’t easy. And it’s certainly not fun to recognize (and admit) that not everything is saleable … or should even be kept. Some pieces that seem to have made the grade a year or two ago, upon later consideration may not live up to current standards. So it’s time to do some aggressive culling.

When too many recent paintings are culled, it’s a warning signal to me that I may be getting careless and not giving it my best effort.

I tend to hold onto paintings for which I feel a personal sentiment–usually of family members or those with special personal significance to me–despite any compositional weaknesses.  But those don’t remain available for public consumption.

Yet the temptation is to try to salvage some of those other “almost” efforts, as well. Though it is occasionally possible to correct or overcome a weakness, it’s usually better to face facts and to put on my Critical Teacher cap.

At the top of the agenda is identifying specific weaknesses and acknowledging yet another lesson from The School of Oops: Were the colors poorly chosen, or wimpy, or overstated? Was the value pattern weak or too busy? Could the compositional design have been stronger? Was the perspective a little off? (If you’re looking for an example of how I critique, you may want to sign up for my monthly newsletter “Around and About,” in which I always include a painting critique—what works, what doesn’t, and how it might be improved.)

It’s worth spending time on an in-depth critique to figure out not only what did work well but exactly what went wrong with each one and why it didn’t make the grade. Only then can I consider modifications. If a piece is going to be culled anyway, I might as well play with it, experiment, and try retouching it to learn what I can from it. Yes, it’s gratifying to be able to salvage a cull or two.  But they’re the exception, and the rest must be dispensed with.

The culling process also brings to my attention that, while I may have succeeded in my primary focus goal (this year it’s been on small, plein air watercolors), I may have neglected other areas. (This year, for instance, I’ve done fewer figurative pieces, larger-sized paintings, and oils.) These are areas I will need to consider giving more attention to in the coming year.

Another benefit (and greater comfort) as I face another session of culling is recognizing once again that although not all my work may live up to my highest standards, it’s because those standards are continuing to rise that they become more difficult to meet.

No matter how good our work may get, the artist’s challenge is always before us:  to observe more closely, to stretch our skills, and to strengthen our work overall. So … onward! Are you with me?

En plein air – Taking a closer look

Monday, October 1st, 2018

Plein-air subjects don’t have to be “wide-screen,” capturing an entire landscape view.  I’ve found that it can be just as satisfying to take a closer look at a more limited subject.  Like this viburnum twig I found on a very misty morning.

"Vibrant Viburnum" by Charlotte Mertz (6"x6" watercolor, #180905w)

“Vibrant Viburnum” by Charlotte Mertz
(6″x6″ watercolor, #180905w)

The early morning light was diffuse, not providing the strong contrasts I had been hoping for.  But the berries were glowing against a darker, nondescript background, and I saw an opportunity to paint the translucence of the leaves and berries that were catching the light from behind.  I simplified the background and focused solely on a single twig to depict the essence of that momentary pleasure.

I took artistic license by manufacturing my own value contrast with the background to make the most of the subject.  Using blends of the same colors throughout, I also incorporated temperature contrasts between the subject and its background by selecting warm colors for the subject and limiting the background to cooler mixtures.

En Plein Air – Follow-up

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

Besides learning techniques for painting outdoors, my recent plein air experiences have alerted me to some of the logistical issues, as well.

Early lessons learned included the need for proper equipment.  In Key West my backpack carried the easel and all my other paraphernalia, but it was slightly too small to allow me to zip the main pocket fully around the easel and shelf.  I used a bungee cord to hold it all together.  And though the tripod fitted into the side pocket and was anchored with straps up the height of the backpack, its length was unwieldy.  The pack also had so many pockets that I actually couldn’t access my camera, which had slipped down to the bottom of an inside pocket.  As a result, I wound up using my phone camera instead, from which it was more difficult to transfer images to my computer, as well as providing poorer quality images that were difficult to see on the small screen in bright sunlight.  Upon our return, I promptly ordered a Plein Air Pro backpack designed specifically to encompass my entire Plein Air Pro easel kit and tripod.

As I had long suspected, experience also confirmed that I needed to find a good painting umbrella both to protect me from the direct Florida sun (which makes temperatures seem noticeably and uncomfortably hotter than actual temperatures in the shade) and to protect my eyes, which tend to lose an accurate sense of color in high glare.  So that was another purchase I made this summer.  The model I chose is the EASyL Plein Air Umbrella, which is comparatively lightweight, forgiving of windy conditions, and fits, as the tripod had on my Key West trip, into an outside pocket of my new backpack, bound up the length with support straps.  Both the easel and the umbrella fit into a large, checkable suitcase but not into carry-on sized luggage.

I also picked up a small folding stool to have along in the car when I use with my pocket watercolor kit but when I don’t want to take a full easel setup.

And of course, techniques and equipment are only part of the equation.  As you have probably already seen in recent posts, time, energy level, and prioritization also play important roles.  We have to actually get ourselves out there to paint!  We can’t get out of our efforts what we don’t put into them.

 

En Plein Air – Composition

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

I’ve been having some fun this past month playing with less common aspect ratios for my compositions.

As I considered this live-oak tree, for instance, with its resident bromeliad, fluffy tufts of air plants, moss, and multi-colored patches of lichen, I chose an elongated vertical composition (10” x 5”) to emphasize the height of the trunk, allowing the contrasting lines of the branches and the bromeliad blossoms to visually counter-balance the dominant vertical thrust, and the mass of the bromeliad to counter the lines and puff-points in the rest of the composition.

"Arboreal Tenants" by Charlotte Mertz (10"x5" watercolor, #180701w)

“Arboreal Tenants” by Charlotte Mertz
(10″ x 5″ watercolor, #180701w)

In order to feature the other plants that have nestled into the vertically textured bark, I took the artistic liberty of drastically minimizing–to a wash of merely suggested color–the densely wooded background and entirely eliminating the tree’s own foliage, both of which would have created visual confusion.

This process of visual simplification also narrowed my own focus down to the key elements, which can be very helpful when working en plein air, where it’s easy to become distracted by other, extraneous aspects of the environment.

En Plein Air – Quick-Sketch Tips for Watercolor

Sunday, July 1st, 2018

When doing very quick watercolor sketches en plein air I find that it helps to keep the sketches small, use a limited palette, and lightly sketch out a simple composition in pencil before I ever begin painting.  This is particularly true when planning to do more than simple studies with pen and a loose wash.

"Sister Bay Marina Light" by Charlotte Mertz (4"x6" watercolor, #180605w)

“Sister Bay Marina Light” by Charlotte Mertz
(4″x6″ watercolor, #180605w)

In this simplified sketch of the marina light in Sister Bay, Wisconsin, I also simplified the palette, using only two blues (cobalt and indigo), two reds (scarlet lake and brown madder), burnt umber, lemon yellow, and permanent sap green.  It could have been simplified even further, but I like to work with warm and cool versions of the primaries.

Rather than using frisket to reserve white, when working this small, I often simply paint around areas I want reserved as white, such as the sunlit portions of the marina light and the masts on the far side of the harbor.

The quality of my sketches usually improves as I continue to paint more pieces in the same outing.  There are several reasons for this:

1) First, I am usually over-eager to begin actually painting, so don’t always take time for accurate drawing to undergird my initial watercolor sketch.  However, the longer I work, the more relaxed I become, the less pressure I put on myself to work fast, and the more accurate the drawing tends to be.

2) Working as quickly as I am inclined to (particularly at first), my wet colors often bleed and shadow areas have a tendency to lose definition,  If I can stay on location long enough to allow the paint to dry sufficiently, I can retouch the darker areas to compensate for the loss of definition or any value lost in the drying process.  But this is not always possible when working quickly on location due to legitimate time constraints, such as encroaching weather.

3) The earliest sketches help me determine how quickly (or slowly) the paint will dry in the pervading atmosphere, allowing me to judge and apply color values more accurately in subsequent sketches.

4) When pan paints (or tube paints that I have allowed to dry in the palette) are first used, they tend to release fewer pigments into the water, but as they soften with use,  they release their pigments more readily.  This affects the proportion of pigment to water, ensuring application of stronger colors in later paintings than in the initial efforts.

So for several reasons, it’s often advisable to take time to do a few warm-up sketches before tackling the more important scenes.