South Willamette Valley vista

One of my favorite places to paint, it is a little hard to describe where it is even. Looking south from an old road, this vantage point offers a view of the Coast Range, I suppose. The cows cluster around each other, not doing much of all except eating. People stroll by on the road, the only traffic, mostly older couples. Occasionally bicyclists pedal by, talking intently. One man stopped and talked to  me and told me how his grand kids laughed at him when he tried to paint, but later did a landscape and salvaged his reputation.

I like the fresh feeling that this painting captured, very lush and humid.

 

 

 

 

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Another windy day

It was pretty rainy for most of the day but late afternoon and into the evening it finally broke, with intermittent blue sky showing through. It was windy, with loose masses of cloud fragments spinning through the air.

I went to my favorite spot of late, the big vacant lot at Marcola Road at 21st or there abouts, in Springfield Oregon. I like it because it is big and open and relatively undeveloped, so I can get a sense of wild nature without going too far from home. There is a big sky with lots of energy. At one point today I was rained on.  It was cold too.

My painting today was inspired by the one I did a week ago or so. Interestingly, here the tree bends inwards, but in the one from last week it bends outwards, towards the edge of the paper. I feel like the fact that it moves in towards the paper rather than out towards the edge gives it more tension. Possibly? Also the fact that the nature curve of the tree seems to go into the windward direction, then all the branches are being blown the other way. That is probably the real source of tension, I suppose, or at least an additional one.

I’m not quite sure it was a successful painting but I did capture the feeling of that wild weather, so I was quite pleased with that. I have really been trying to squeeze some of the formal elements of my paintings to get them a little more dynamic and I think I have been making progress in that direction.

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Windy Day

A windy spring storm came through the Willamette Valley this weekend. There was a couple of hours of rolling clouds and glimpses of blue sky before the rain came.

My papers and watercolor stuff was blowing everywhere, but for some reason I didn’t find it frustrating. My bicycle, on its kickstand nearby, tipped over in the wind.

There was something very powerful about the atmosphere, invigorating. The wind wasn’t ominous or oppressive, but warm and uplifting. The wind was powerful and I was powerful too.

I painting near Mohawk and 21st Street, in the big empty lot. It took me a bit to find my subject; I got caught up on the low horizon, big sky thing I’ve been doing for a while. This scene in the painting was right behind me though, at least the scene that inspired this painting.

There were a trees lining the road, growing at sort of odd angles. I exaggerated those angles, which seemed to help capture the sense of movement. The little spots floating around, the random brush strokes, really helps give it a sense of movement, almost like an explosion.

 

 

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Magnolia

I have been trying to paint the blooming trees before they are over.

This one was is on the little island in the middle of the Alton Baker Park duck pond.

I simplified a bunch of things in this scene to just “brown.”

Usually water is really difficult for me but in this case keeping it basic was sucessful, or at least kept it from being a disaster.

 

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Solar Eclipse in Oregon

The total eclipse on August 21st 2017 was worth the hype. 99 percent coverage just isn’t the same. I got to see it in Salem Oregon, in Bush’s Pasture Park, right near downtown.

Photos, of course, don’t do the event justice.

With the watercolor sketch below, I tried to capture some of the strange, ethereal colors that happened during the eclipse.  The sky turned a strange dark blue, the blue of dusk, of the sunset. And the huge corona was visible, at least three or four times the diameter of the sun itself. It appeared wispy and white against the dark blue of the sky, with soft edges (softer than in this painting).

I thought I could see, with my naked eyes, bits of reddish orange around the edge of the moon. Were they solar flares? Imaginary spots? I don’t know.

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More than the appearance of the sun during the eclipse, however, I thought it was the physical sensations that were the strangest part of the experience, and the most powerful.  It got so cold! Weird! And the light changed so dramatically. Until the light disappeared!

It is the sort of experience one would never expect to have on this earth.

It all happened so fast. It was supposed to be two minutes or so but it seemed much quicker than that. Almost like the blink of an eye. A heart beat. Perhaps without the sun, my sensation of time was distorted.

Watching the disc of the moon slowly slide across the sun–using the momentarily ubiquitous ‘eclipse glasses’ — was also a strange, fascinating experience. But very different from the actual eclipse. They are like two different events, in a way. The interesting thing about using the eclipse glasses was the possibility of seeing the movement of the moon. The eclipse itself is more like a moment in time.

You don’t see the moon at all, before it moves across the sun. (This makes sense of course now that I think about it but that day, waiting for the eclipse, I half expected to see the familiar white moon hanging out near the sun.) This helps explain why a solar eclipse was such a calamitous event for ancient people: you wouldn’t really know that that is the moon moving across the sun unless some one told you. Even then, it is still a little hard to imagine. The moon takes on many shapes and forms in the sky. But never is it black. A black disc, a black void. There is certainly something sinister about it.

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Over all, I wasn’t quite sure what the hype was, exactly, about the solar eclipse. But I figured I should check it out, as long as it was going to be so close to where I live (an hour’s drive). Now I know why people get so excited about it. If you ever have the chance to see a solar eclipse, you should go and see for yourself. That’s really the only way to do it.

102 degrees and a chance of haze

It has been over 100 the last couple of days in Eugene-Springfield, and the addition of some smokey forest fires made for some pretty spectacular atmospheric conditions. I went up a little north of Coburg to paint.

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I wanted to catch the sense of a big sky filled with a dense sort of haze so I put that little tiny house way down in the corner as far as I could put it.

The main thing I learned with this one is to really push the value, not with thick paint, but multiple layers. The blue in the sky is at least two layers and the haze is at least two additional layers. I put down the layer, let it dry completely, then wetted everything, literally the whole page, with a combination of big brush and spray bottle. Then repeated.

I was a little nervous about accidentally taking off the layers underneath, but I tried to be gentle.  Overall the layers gave a nice thick look to the haze. I put a layer of haze over the mountain in the distance, which I think was particularly effective.

I got a little creative with the composition and “erased” some of the houses and trees on the horizon, just leaving one tree and one house. Also made the haze a little more colorful than in real life.

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Which is better, acrylic paint or watercolor?

After exploring watercolor for several years, I recently gave acrylic painting a try for the first time.

Watercolor is more fun! However, there are some characteristics of acrylic that make possible some things that just aren’t with watercolor.

Here are some of my initial thoughts and comparisons.

  1. Set up. Watercolor is way easier in this regard. You just take the paper and start painting. With acrylic, often it is necessary to use gesso to treat the canvas before you use it. I have been using something called a canvas panel, kind of like a piece of cardboard with a canvas-like texture on the front, so gesso is not necessary. In addition, traditionally, people lay down an imprimatura before doing oil paintings (or acrylic), an initial layer of semi transparent paint more or less the color of tea, though this doesn’t seem to be strictly necessary.
  2. Mixing colors. This is where things start to get different. The biggest difference between watercolor and acrylic is with acrylic you use white paint. This makes for some interesting colors. Traditionally in watercolor, they say, white is provided by the whiteness of the paper, and since watercolor is transparent, the paper will show through to varying degrees depending on how thick the paint is. In practice though, this means that it is sometimes hard to get certain kind of colors, kind of those more pastel kind of colors, bright yet pale. Often with watercolor, a thin wash that shows through lots of paper can look washed out. With acrylic, you mix in that white painting, And it is lots of fun.
  3. Mixing colors 2. The other thing I still have to experiment a little bit more with but watercolor paintings just seem to be more sensitive to mixing. I.e. a little bit of color added to another color makes a big difference. I’m not sure if this is because of the nature of the paint or the fact that water color often involves very thin mixtures with lots of water, so adding a bit of another color easily changes the whole thing.
  4. Composing. The task of figuring out what to paint and how to fit it onto the canvas/paper is the same no matter what. Tricky of course, but really no different, whether it is watercolor or acrylic. So this part transfers over easily.
  5. Layering. Watercolor is all about layering but this thing is you have to be sure it is dry before you add another layer, otherwise you won’t have distinct layers — or of course very strategically add in paint to the drying paint and see what happens. This is where the headache and the wonder of watercolor comes in. With acrylic there is layering, in the literal sense of adding something on top of something else. But it is not nearly so dynamic. You can let the acrylic paint dry, and it will make it easier to add new paint on top, but even if it is not totally dry, it is pretty forgiving and you won’t make a mess if you add new paint at the wrong time.
  6. Building value. This is the most talked about difference. And it was also the hardest transition to make for me. Simply put, with water color you work from light value to dark value and it is the opposite for acrylic. But light to dark is so ingrained in me at this point that I even do my value sketches this way using a pencil. It takes some getting used to, that’s for sure, it is a different way of thinking. Apply the darks. Then build up the lights. Sometimes it seems easier to apply darks against the lights. Like for example in the painting I did with orange sky, the sky is lighter value than the trees, but since the trees are more intricate than the sky, it is easier to build the trees out into the sky than to imagine the “negative space” of the leaves and build the sky into the leaves. It was really easy to add “sky holes at the very end rather than preserving them from the first layer.

I know that watercolor has this reputation for being very challenging. After doing some work with acrylic, I’m really not sure that reputation is deserved. The thing that really makes or breaks a painting, as far as I’m concerned, is composition, and that stays the same. Acrylic painting isn’t easy. There is no easy way.

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I still felt that familiar feeling, in the middle of the painting, of sort of wresting with the painting, of feeling like the painting wants to collapse into itself, to have no form. Perhaps this is simply the challenge of transferring an idea and an image in the mind into reality.

This isn’t to say that acrylic or watercolor are equally easy. The problem with watercolor is the way that it can turn into a mess if certain parts of the painting aren’t dry at certain times. It turns into a mess in a very subtle way, leaving the artist thinking, “What just happened?” So it seems that acrylic is a little more encouraging for the absolute beginner. But once you move past some of those initial road blocks, the challenge is still there, of making my imagination link up with the paper.

So ultimately, from my perspective, nothing beats the range of colors and textures possible in watercolor. And the water rolling around on the page is just so fun! And so disappointing when it goes wrong!

So I will stick with my preferred medium, but continue to try acrylic to see what it might have to teach.