Wednesday, 30 May 2012

A Little KISS Goes A Long Way

Nature's canvas.

All you could ever ask for in a painting is right in front of you when you're painting "en plein air". Keep It Simple...

Let loose with all your visual soul when painting outdoors. But first smell the air, hear the wind, birds, insects all around you. Give yourself up to the experience and you will be exhilarated in the immersion with nature. Sit and contemplate what is in front of you before you start. Take your time. Enjoy it. This time out before you paint will prove to be valuable later on as you rush to capture the light. Your time "seeing" is well spent. Never, ever rush that time. Drink it in and translate that into paint on canvas or board. The memories of the scene will be with you for a long time, helping you when you're back in the studio. Try it.

The Old One -  10"x12" Plein Air Sketch  at
Pancake Bay, Lake Superior by Warren Peterson

Monday, 28 May 2012

Simply Put, Plein Air Rocks!

To KISS or not to KISS.....that is the question!

I'm going to post a few short examples of plein air work to illustrate how important it is to think shapes, light and values when painting outdoors.

I'm sure most of you have heard of KISS ( no, not the band) but in case you haven't it means - Keep It Simple Stupid. It's something that I try to subscribe to, especially when I paint en plein air. 

When you're outdoors at all kinds of different locations and weather it is doubly important to think KISS. Why? Because your time is valuable and light doesn't care about your time, so you need to learn how to get your impression of the scene down quickly, accurately and with your emotive response to it in paint. 

Fall on the Goulais - 8"x10" by Warren Peterson Fine Art

This small work is a good example of getting it down quick but with emotion and clarity. It shows the light direction, various species of trees and has a foreground, mid ground and background. The idea is to get the general shape of the hills and tree colours down fat while holding onto that first emotive response to the scene -  the OMG what a view! Here's another one.

Off Ranger Lake Road - 10"x12" by Warren Peterson Fine Art

This sketch is one of my favourites. It has all the elements of a good painting with delineated focal point and a simple handling of the background to keep the foreground trees etc as the focal point in the picture plane.

You can't replicate a fine fall day in Northern Ontario in paint but you can try to get that first emotion down while transferring what your eyes sees to what you feel on the board.

More to come on this.

You can see a whole range of plein air and studio woks on my web site, connected via "About Me" on the right hand side of this blog.

New Work

This is one of my new paintings. It's called " What a View". 24" x 48" on gallery wrapped canvas. It is currently available for purchase. Contact me for details.

"What a View" 24" x48" by Warren Peterson Fine Art

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Optimizing Photo Reference in Landscape Painting

To Crop Or Not To Crop! 

I take a lot of landscape photographs. Panoramic, far, near, close-ups, it doesn't matter. I'm a photo junkie. Just ask my wife who always complains that we have more shots of trees than relatives when we travel!

I paint from life en plein air and I also paint from photographs as I noted in an earlier post. When I shoot a scene I try to compose the best shot in the viewfinder so that any future composition is "ready made" but there are exceptions to this and they have to do with cropping a photo on your computer.

I look at enlarged shots on my computer screen to not only see details but to see if there is another picture inside the larger one just waiting to get out.

Making the best use of a photograph.

Using a simple photo editor I can crop out select areas of a photo to see if it makes a good composition. For example in this photo I took a small area, cropped it and then enlarged.

From photo by Warren Peterson, Warren Peterson Fine Art

It has the makings of a cool painting -  single focal point, good use of negative space and a strong foreground. It so happens that the original photo is a much broader shot. It has a lot of character and unique elements and the two photos are good subjects. Here's the full shot.

Photo by Warren Peterson, Warren Peterson Fine Art

Judicious cropping can solve a number of composition issues. Let's say you really like a possible subject and take what you think is a great shot of a great looking tree, as shown below but on review there is to much detail on the right side of the photograph and the composition is lop sided.

Photo by Warren Peterson, Warren Peterson Fine Art

In this crop I looked for the opportunity to tell the story of the main tree while getting some flavour of its setting. Here's what I did.

From photo by Warren Peterson, Warren Peterson Fine Art

The tree trunk here is now a small landscape unto its own! It would make a great 18"x24" painting and I would even consider taking out some of  the background trees.

Be picky!

Artists train their eyes to see the possibilities in a scene and in landscape painting training your eye to edit out too much information is very important for you to grow. Landscapes are rarely all made up just perfect for an artist. You need to be selective and learn how to edit a landscape, either while painting en plein air or in your studio using photo reference since reproducing the details in paint can drive you crazy. Some artists revel in this challenge, others like to let your eye fill in the blanks.

In this shot you can see a great looking waterfall with the fast flowing river descending into the foreground.

Algoma waterfall, with permission from Eric Peterson, Photographer

There's at least two other compositions in this shot. One is a close-up of the foreground.

Algoma waterfall close-up, with permission from Eric Peterson, Photographer 

The other is a close-up of the background.

Algoma waterfall close-up, with permission from Eric Peterson, Photographer 

Three paintings in one! Always edit from their original raw or largest dpi state to get the best results. Reduce their size by choosing a percentage lower than 100 before cropping so you can see the whole photo.

Get personal.

Getting close to your landscape subject is near impossible for some scenes unless you have eyes like a hawk or a telephoto lens. I don't have either so I rely on a few clicks on my laptop to see what a scene may look like. Then again some scenes are best left alone. For example, we all have seen some incredible sunsets and are overwhelmed by their beauty, but try to paint one to capture that fleeting moment. In this cropping I was looking for a section of the photo that would give me the drama yet not so detailed as to start to look too busy. I cropped it like this:

From photo by Warren Peterson, Warren Peterson Fine Art

A little plain looking at first but it has some great colour and the sky is the hero. The original shot is one of my favourites, taken one early fall evening at our cottage on Lake Superior. And yes it was really like this!

Lake Superior Sunset by Warren Peterson, Warren Peterson Fine Art

Get cropping! 

Whether you have a great selection of landscape photographs or a tired collection and little time to add to it you can jump start your painting by looking at them with your artists' eye and an editing function on your computer. Try some out. Play around with the editing settings and give your photographs a new chance to become a great work of art from your artistic interpretation of the scene.

Who knows what's lurking in your camera or photo file just itching to get out.

Happy cropping!

Friday, 4 May 2012

I'm a tree hugger!

A funny thing happened to me on way to becoming the landscape artist I am. I became a tree hugger! I love trees. Any kind of tree but especially Pine trees. Their hardiness, diversity and character all speak to me as an artist and naturalist.

I live in a part of the world where pine, cedar and spruce trees are common and if I drive a few hours north just about all I will see is pine since I live close to the edge of the Boreal Forest, where deciduous trees begin to make way for coniferous forests.  The White Pine is my favourite.

Pines dominate the landscape
It grows to a great height (up to 100 meters or about 300 ft.) and mature specimens can dominate the landscape vistas as seen here in these pictures. It's a great tree to paint in that it's branches look like out-stretched arms embracing the sun and the land below.

They offer shelter to birds and forest animals. One close to my cottage studio on Lake Superior has a Bald Eagle nest and the adults come back every year to raise their young.

It's not a hard tree to paint but it takes some finessing when you get down to details to help bring out their individual characters.

Detail -  The Wild One

To paint pines I like to start with a solid foundation that will either present itself as a forest or an individual tree. For this I use a mixture of Hookers Green, Dioxazine Purple and Burnt Sienna. This gives me a nice warm dark that suits their basic structure and will provide the shadow areas for the tree branches or masses.

Here in this detail from "The Wild One" you can see how I blocked in this mixture over the sky. I kept it very loose and transparent.

The Wild One

I don't worry about details at this point as all I am concerned with is getting the overall shape of the forest area and individual trees on the right down. Over this I rough in, with very loose brush strokes, a light green using Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow Light and a touch of Cadmium Red Medium and Yellow Ochre to grey it down. I mix up a number of pools with lighter to darker values of this mixture on my palette. I pay close attention to the way I want the branches to lie and the dappled sunlight hitting the highlight areas. I have an old watercolour brush with a slanted edge that I use for this. I virtually stab the paint onto the canvas to get this effect and look for happy accidents.

Detail - Rocky Mountains
Here you can see the stabbing effect over the darker base. I treat this almost like stippling with the brush, rapidly moving over the area to give it some semblance of randomness that you see in forests and trees from a distance. The eye fills in the blanks!

The detail below is from a 9"x12" painting. Here you can see the darker base area with the overlay of lighter green to highlight the sun lit edges.

Keep it loose but be sure of your shapes and the direction of the tree's branches to keep it life-like.

Detail -  Standing Guard, Agawa Canyon

This very old White Pine, is located in the Agawa Canyon Park which is about 
a 3 hour train ride north from my home town of Sault Ste. Marie. Every year thousands
of people travel to the canyon for a few hours and a few decide to camp out there. 
This area was made famous by Canada"s Group of Seven artists during their trips 
here in 1918-20. 

 Here's the paintings for the two 
previous detail shots to show you
how it looks at full image

When you're out and about sit 
down a really look at trees.
And while you're there take
deep breath and hug
a tree since without 
them we wouldn't be alive.