Friday, January 31, 2014

A Walk on the Headlands

I have started a new painting. It is from a photo I took during a walk with Rob along the headlands at Villa Nova de Milfontes, in the Alentejo region of Portugal. In fact, it was the same day that I took the photo of the seascape at Milfontes which I later painted. I have written about it here.

As you can see, I am just getting started. Working on this painting has made me reflect on how I get started on a new painting. It seems that I do not always start the same way. 

When I do a landscape, whether painting en plein air or from photo references, I always spend a very long time thinking about the composition, and sketching the main shapes lightly on the canvas. Although I do not use a grid or any other aids, and I do not do a really detailed drawing, I am very careful about getting the shapes and their placement relative to each other accurate. 

However, if I am doing an abstract painting,  I do not do a preliminary drawing at all. My abstract paintings often are quite organic and playful. 

With a landscape, after doing the drawing, my next step is to choose my palette of colours. Again, I spend a long time at this. Mostly, I limit my palette to 2 reds, 2 yellows, 2 blues, and titanium white. I mix my other colours from these primaries. Which reds and so forth that I choose depends on the effect I want to achieve, and the quality of the light. However, there are a few supplementary colours that I am quite fond of, such as mineral violet, Indian red, and magenta, and occasionally one of the umbers or siennas. 

The next step in my process varies. Usually, my aim is to block in the basic shapes and cover up the white canvas. Sometimes I start by doing a wash of the main colours that I see in each section, without really considering the values. In this case I correct the values later. 

Other times, I start with a monochromatic value study, either using a main unifying colour in the scene, or using a complement of the main colour theme. An example of this is the orange underpainting I did in this painting of my (mostly green) back yard. I do this complementary underpainting when I want the complement to bleed through, add visual interest, and make the main colour pop. Because I use impressionistic colour principles, I never do my underpainting in grey or brown. I want my colours to be clean, not muddy. 

In the painting that I have just started above, I haven't followed any of my usual processes of blocking in. Instead, I put in the sky and hills, and then painted in the fences and figure in a preliminary way. I was worried that if I did a wash, my fences and figure would disappear into the ground. I felt I needed to define them first. I also wanted to establish my darkest values, and these were in the figure, the fences, and some bushes and shadows. 

However, that left me with a problem -- a lot of white everywhere. When the white canvas predominates, you can't see the colours and values properly against each other. I started blocking in the background colours, and at first I tried to capture the actual colours that I saw and the values at the same time. However, that was not working, maybe because of all the white. So now I am just putting in the basic colour areas, and I can see that many of them are both brighter and darker than I want them to be. However, the colours and shapes so far have given me something interesting to work with the next time I paint. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wind Warning - Poem

Wind Warning

Walk into the valley of dog walk
Yip talk, stick toss into the wind
Its susurrous shush, its raucous roar
Muscles my auditory am
Roils the curls of winter trees
Their arms, their fingers sweeping, bending
Earache of listen, flagellated face
I toil against its bulk
Meltwater royal blue path, slush pillows, puddles
While the black dog bounds through undulating grass
Yellow field
Eats snow, looks back
Wind warning, gusting to 100 k.

Lately, I have not written many poems. Unfortunately by the end of the day, my work tends to suck all language out of my temporal cortex, leaving no playful words. However, today on my walk with the dog, a sunny day with big wind, a poem crept into my thoughts. 

So here it is, first draft.

I have included a photo of the area where we walked. This photo was not one I took today, but a few weeks ago. If I had taken one today, the snow would have looked soggier. The wind? Not so easy to represent in a photo. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Bright Possibility of a Day

Today I awake, and the sun is shining brilliantly on fresh snow. Although it it is cold outside, minus twenty, there is no wind. My first thought is that a little later, after breakfast and a slow leisurely morning, we will go out and cross-country ski at the golf course. 

Rob groans at this. Yesterday we made an excursion to the nearest ski hill (a slow two hours each way because of icy roads) and spent the afternoon pounding the slopes. In his mind, that means that today should be a day for relaxation - a bit of reading and internet surfing. But for me, every day is filled with possibilities, potential new projects, excursions, and accomplishments. Getting some exercise outdoors is always on the list, except in the most foul weather. 

Yes, I have a mental list of things to do. Some of them are "should do's" that hang about on the list for weeks, months, or even years. These are things like: hem those pants, unpack the last ten boxes of books from our last move, organize my digital photos, and frame my degrees. This last one has been on the list for more than 20 years! About two years ago, I did get around to purchasing the frames, but it still have not framed the degrees. At this rate, I will be retired before my degrees are framed and on the wall. On the plus side, last month I ordered, shortened and hung curtains in the guest bedroom and my home office. These rooms had been curtainless since our move, and I was prompted to finally obtain curtains by the pending arrival of Christmas guests. Another "should do" that was done over the holiday break was taking our discarded clothing to donate to a local charity. 

There are also standing items on the list, tiresome must do's pressing forward demanding attention, like housecleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, car maintenance, and so forth. If I am not careful, these types of tasks can fill up the best part of a day, leaving little time for creative and enjoyable activities. 

Aside from the "must do's" and the "should do's", I spend a great deal of my leisure time on lazy but enticing activities like reading (novels, nonfiction, art magazines, newspapers and news magazines), and reading blogposts and articles on favourite websites, or watching Ted Talks, or how-to demos, watching movies or series, talking on the phone with friends and family, cooking, shopping (only as much as necessary), going out to dinner, and social events. If I am not careful, a beautiful day full of possibilities can slip away before I realize it.

The things I would really like to spend more time doing include: outdoor excursions and adventures (hiking, skiing, X-C skiing, cycling, fishing, kayaking), writing (blog posts count), painting and other creative projects, gardening, cooking/ baking/ preserving foods, and spending time with friends and family. I spend so much time at work that non-work time is precious. 

It is time to throw another load in the washing machine, and then grab those cross-country skis and get out there in the sunshine!