Sunday, November 8, 2009

Plein Air Painting in Acrylics

In the past I have not been enthusiastic about painting on site with acrylics since they dry so quickly even in the studio, where you have much more control.

Why would you want to? (1) For work that is considered "finished" enough to put on the wall of galleries. Many galleries will not accept watercolours or any other works behind glass. This includes most galleries in Europe, as well as in the southern U.S. Oils are also considered more "finished" work but take much longer to get to gallery walls because they dry much more slowly. (2) For working away from your studio and yet wanting more finished work. For example, if you are painting in Spain for a month or more and want something that is immediately available to the collector, acrylics is your best bet since you can pack them around almost immediately.

I have painted on site from time to time with acrylics using what they call a "Stay-Wet" palette. Daler Rowney makes one that works well.The palettes are made from plastic and consist of a base tray with a tight-fitting lid. A wet piece of watercolor paper (or thin sponge) is placed in the base of the tray to serve as the water reservoir. On top of this is a sheet of grease-proof or baking parchment paper, to serve as a membrane to stop all the water going into the paint immediately. You lay your acrylic paints out on top of the grease-proof sheet. As the water in the acrylic paint evaporates, it is replaced by the water being held in the watercolor paper so the paint doesn't dry out as fast as normal. This is made for the more traditional fast-drying acrylics, but "the times they are a-changing"

The Golden Paint Company has come out with something called "Open Acrylics" that dry about 10 times as slow as the regular ones. I have used this with some success. They take some getting used to since thay are a bit more tranparent but the beauty of them, even in the studio, is that they are far more open to manipulation, allowing you to gradate areas without streaking, especially in skies or large areas of snow, etc. In the painting, "Dining in the Cathedral", (on page one of this website's original paintings and shown above) I did almost the entire painting with Open Acrylics. They mix with regular acrylics which lets you pick and choose between the two.

Give them a try. Golden sells small starter packs to let you do this. Honest, I don't own stock in the Golden Company!!!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Autumn Colours?

Once more I must apologize for being so late with this blog. I was in Manitoba since the middle of September and am not great with a laptop. Anyway, we went to Manitoba for two reasons: One, to visit old friends and relatives and two, to paint the usually great fall colours. The first was successful but fall colours did not materialize. Here's the reason: Manitoba had an extremely rainy summer followed by a hot, hot Sepetember. The leaves were green on green on green. When I arrived some were just beginning to show a few warm colours until a severe -10 degrees celsius hit the area as well as a snowfall of about 10 centimetres to break the ice! The leaves fell to the ground green!

We stayed on a farm along the Whitemouth River, a delightfully scenic spot. The Canada geese were everywhere, since this is one of their major flyways. These sketches were done along the river and one in the Whiteshell Provincial Park, my old stamping grounds. The river here was lined by huge old Oak trees. Sketching them was pure pleasure. The scene with the barn was typical of the area. Farmers here are like people everywhere, loving to live along the river.

Trails ran through the local park with crops still dazlingly green through the trees. The Whiteshell sketch was a quickie done from my van to avoid a biting wind with zero temperatures. I will work up all these sketches into larger pieces, using them as a guide for further exploration. The lake scene done from the van, for example was a roller coaster in values, dark and stormy one minute and bright several minutes later. I liked the dark water the best with highlights of strong sunlight on the waves. ASlthough this sketch is very different from that I will use it to give me the inspiration I need to follow through with a final knockout painting!
Be back soon, since I will have more time when I'm home and in my studio. Hasta la vista!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Plein Air Painting in Oils

Sketching in watercolours on site (plein air) is the usual way to go for most artists, since equipment is light and technique fast.; but if you are painting on a day trip, oils are often the best way to go, especially in inclement weather. There is nothing more devastating than rain to a watercolour, while an oil is completely impervious to it. Oil sketches are also more likely to be treated as serious art. Witness, for example, the incredibly lively oils of the Group of Seven. The 8 x10 inch paintings of Tom Thompson express a liveliness that his larger works miss. These were all done on the spot. Many of the French Impressionists rarely painted indoors and produced huge canvases en plein air. Monet, Pissaro, Sisley and, of course Van Gogh relished their time in the sun.

On North Vancouver Island, when I head out for a day of painting I nearly always use oils, even on a sunny day but especially on a showery one. I have painted wearing rain gear and watching the water running down my canvas while I worked! My usual equipment is a French easel, often accompanied by a stool for comfort. The only drawback to using oils is their slow drying time, which means being very careful getting the finished product home! I love to use a slow drying white called Zinc White(because of its transparency it doesn't hide the pigments that are mixed with it) so my oils take a very long time to dry.
Above is a photo of my easel on a newly logged area high above Nimpkish Lake on a cloudless day early this summer.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Plein Air Painting in Watercolours

One of the simplest plein air sketching setups is in watercolour. The number of pieces in your sketching bag or box is minimal since it requires little beyond a piece of paper (preferably watercolour paper), a pencil and a few colours, often available in blocks. There are some exquisite little paint boxes, small enough to fit in your pocket, containing small watercolour blocks of paint along with a little bottle for water and a wee brush. These can be used to do a painting without the aid of a pencil or to colour a pencil or pen sketch, a technique known as pen (or pencil) and wash. This kind of outfit is great for traveling when you simply don't want to be burdened down with loads of painting gear. If you are waiting for a plane or ferry, you can whip this out and have a "quickie" done in no time because you don't have a lot of preparation to do. Here are some pics of the Winsor Newton Sketch Box that will fit in your smallest pocket and a small sketchbook.

When I have more time and want to do something a bit larger on good watercolour paper, I cut paper to size, punch the proper holes in it and place these in a looseleaf binder. This makes for a lot of flexibility and gives you the kind of paper you want. If you are heavy on the pencil drawing be sure to give your work a good spray of fixatif. Here is the binder:

If you add looseleaf note paper to your binder it's great for making notes about your painting experience.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Merry Month!!!

After years of teaching painting workshops away from home, usually at the request of an Art Group, I taught my first ever watercolour PLAYSHOP at our Henschel Gallery from May 19th to the 23rd and we had a ball! It was a group of seven ladies from all over the map who were determined to have a good time!!! Four days flew by without a hitch and we came away, due to the benefits of a small group, being good friends. Here is a picture of our gang in the workshoproom and another of lunch in our yard.
You may notice on our website that "Up and Coming" has nothing up and coming. The reason for this is not that we are doing nothing, but that we are in a process of change that is still in the planning stages. So bear with us; there will be "Up and Comings"!!!
There will be new reports and ARTALK on the joys of Plein Air painting this month. Throughout the summer I will be out there a lot!
It's so great to do ART again. May was mostly taken up with elderly family members and their Golden Years, which seem to consist mostly of hospitals and medicational side effects. One message rings loud and clear after being involved with old folks: enjoy them while you've got them but also enjoy TODAY!!!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

You do what you have to do!

Once in awhile, you just have to follow the Maker's plans for you and put your own on hold. Our Florida trip was cancelled by my doctor, who discovered that I have what they call , "Atrial Fibrillation", a condition in which the electrical impulses that make your heart beat regularly get mixed up and cause the heart to flutter or"fibrillate". In my case my heart is sound but there is a danger of stroke because the blood can coagulate in the atrium. I am now on a blood thinner until I can get a regular heart beat going again, hopefully soon. I feel good but have to holf off on the distant travel until the ticker ticks properly again. My doctor has plans for this.

Plans: May 19 - 23 a watercolour workshop right here in our gallery! This is a definite GO.
May 24- 31 a painting sojourn to The southern end of the island.
June and July will find me in my favourite haunts on Northern Vancouver Island, a huge area that includes some of the most spectacular wilderness in the world.
August will find me close to home. Our gallery will be open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day from July15th to September 10th.
In Sept./Oct. we will be in Manitoba for the fall colours.
These are the best laid plans of mice and men

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spring has Sprung

The robins are back, daffies are in bloom and the salmonberry blossoms are breaking out, much to the delight of the few courageous Hummingbirds that have flown into an exceptionally cool spring. The inspiration that gets me painting is also here and almost gone, that is the catkins on the alders are creating a colour that drives painters like me crazy. It is a reddish brown with purple undertones in the shade and yellowish overtones where the sun hits them. Because this a reddish grey that is the complement of green, when the alders are juxtaposed against evergreens their usually muted greys become brilliant.
This is a painting I did from a pencil sketch and a few colour notes near our home here in Nimpkish Heights. It is a view looking down the beach that leads to the mouth of the Nimpkish River, the longest river on Vancouver Island. The alder trees visible are on the opposite side of the river.

The sketch is 5 1/2 x 8 inches. In my studio, I painted a 18x24 inch acrylic on canvas. Both are shown here to illustrate how a sketch is used as a basis for further interpretation. I have spent 35 springtimes on North Island trying to capture the essence of it all. Haven't got it yet, but I'm learning!

Thursday, February 12, 2009


We are reluctant Snowbirds! We love the seasons of North Island and when many of our neighbours pack up their motor-homes and head for places like Yuma and Phoenix, we put another log on the fire, hunker down with a good book and listen to the rain – a time for R&R. This winter, however, we weakened to the call of the sun and the invitation of our daughter and son-in-law, Kathy and Don Mancell, to join them at their house in The Baja, Mexico. On December 6th we drove to my Mom’s in Surrey and on the 12th flew to San Jose del Cabo where Kathy and Don took us on the two and a half hour drive north to their place in La Ventana.
La Ventana, a small Mexican fishing village, has become “Gringo-ized” by wind and kite surfers. Likely one of the best places in this hemisphere for this type of surfing because of the very dependable winds, it has grown in popularity to where many of the surfers have exchanged their spots in the campsite and built more permanent adobe style houses. The land here slopes away from the Sea of Cortez and nearly everyone has a view of both mountains and an ocean that is never more than a kilometer from anyone’s house. Kathy and Don’s place had an added “Casita”, a self contained unit separate from the main “Casa” (house), that we inhabited It had its own patio facing the mountains that were bathed in colours at sunrise and silhouetted at sunset. Among the fifty or so sketches I did were several views from the patio. The one shown here is a ten by fourteen inch watercolour that shows the incredible Cardon forest sloping all the way to the mountains. The Cardons are a cactus closely related to the Saguarros in the American Southwest. My favourite place to sketch was in the desert among these friendly giants. The holes in the old ones, drilled by various woodpeckers, were often inhabited by other birds. I soon discovered where our humming birds went during the winter. Any time there was a flowering plant, there they were!
Christmas was, strangely, not too different from here, except for the century plants used as Christmas trees. Christmas Eve was celebrated with a monstrous potluck dinner at the campsite on the beach and, later, a huge bonfire and Christmas carols. Church, the next morning, was all in Spanish but meaningful, nevertheless. We arrived home to banks of snow in Vancouver but, to our delight, sunshine and no snow in Nimpkish Heights! Home is where the heart is, don’t you know?