Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Brushwork Through Thick or Thin.

There comes a time in a painter's life that the brush seems to take on a life of it's own, especially when painting en plein air. Lots of practise and many mistakes imprint themselves over time, making your instinctive handling of a passage look easy to some but all those maddening and wonderful mistakes add up to confidence with a brush especially when chasing the light outdoors.

Those strokes also seem to take you to another place when you're back in the studio working the sketches up into larger works, so much so that when you stick your nose into the finished work you sometimes say to yourself "how did I do that?".

The Painterly Approach 

Detail -  Man Vs. Wild 
I'm going to spend some time on this blog looking at how brushwork, with a loaded brush or in a thinly painted passage, can add substance to your paintings in the field or back in your studio.

I've taken sections from a few of my works ( you can see the whole paintings in my web site linked via About Me to the right) that in their own right could be assumed to be full works on their own. Click on each image for a larger view.

Look at this detail to the left. After loosely painting in the tree trunk I took my mid value green and laid it on to establish the main masses. This was a nice summer day with some wind so I wanted to highlight the haphazard growth on this old pine and the storm damaged broken top.

Next I took a green on one side of the brush and another lighter one on the other side. Applying the darker side with a sweeping motion laid in a good strong background on top of which I quickly applied the lighter green very lightly to pick up the darker under colour. I moved on to other sections to let this dry. While doing so the light changed a bit, throwing some deeper shadows under the branches. I liked this and added the darkest strokes to capture that moment.

Detail - Breezy Day. Private collection.
You have to work fast at this with acrylics and, as I said earlier, it takes some practise but the sweeping, loaded brush effect can add a lot of depth. Your brain can add in the details.

This is another example and the "thick over thin" method can be seen here. I usually work from background to foreground, top to bottom so I can overlay the various passages. This was a very windy day and I painted the clouds first in thin washes of blue, gray and white for this section. The loose brushwork in the clouds adds movement to simulate the wind direction. After laying in the tree trunk I took a very loaded brush and carefully added the wind-swept branches and needles of this very old pine in the same direction as the clouds. A light, stabbing upward motion with the brush, coupled with holding it horizontal provided some happy notes on the board. I was in the moment.

Detail - On the Agawa. Private collection.
When travelling I usually take about 6-8 colours with me. You never know when one will work better than another. I do have standard palette.

For this painting to the left I only took my 4 basic palette colours as the location, the Agawa Canyon, is located in a very remote area. I had Cadmium Yellow Light, Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson and Titanium White. This detail is from a painting that was done in about 90 minutes as I had to catch the train back to the city. After laying in the sky and a darker value for the distant mountains in this canyon I went to work on the mixture of hardwood and pine trees. I worked from background dark trees to mid-ground light to foreground dark again. I used a different brush technique on the light green trees by taking a loaded brush, holding it at the tip of the handle and slowly let gravity take over as I gently let it drag from top to bottom holding the brush parallel to the board. I carried the green as a light wash over the distant blue hills to create their treed tops.

Thin and loose. A great combination for distant views

Detail - Pancake Bay
Keeping your paint passages thin, that is without impasto, is a great way to simulate distant places in the picture. These pull you eye back and when combined with receding values give the illusion of depth on a two dimensional surface.

Here you can see how I modulated the background hill with values and various shapes in the brushstrokes to show their underlying structures, vegetation and shadows from the clouds, whose shapes were first blocked in with gray and overlaid with a light white/blue mix. By pushing the clouds shapes around from up-sweeping brush strokes and dabbing semi-white highlights you can get a nice transition between the darker belly of the cloud and the lighter tops. Adding the darker trees at the lake edge further enhances the distance between the lake and the hills.

Detail - Spring Morning Algoma. Private collection.
 Holding your brushwork in reserve is a specific strategy that you can use to ensure that the mood of the painting and its emotive statement is conveyed to the viewer. The detail to the right is from an 18"x24" painting where brushwork was subordinated to colour value and shapes. I wanted a more slick surface in the final painting to give the viewer a chance to set themselves on the shore and look to the distant hills that are too far for details. Your eyes fill in those distant details. The mid-ground shadowed areas act as a foil to draw your eye to the sunny hills and lighter foreground in the finished painting acts as a step into the picture.

You can view the full painting images on my web site via the About Me section at the top right. You will find them in the Plein Air and Archive galleries and can click on them to enlarge.  While there take a look at the Demonstration page to see more of my technique.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Earth, Sky, Water, Fire

First of all a small apology for not posting lately. We've been on holidays and all I did was take in the sunshine and some great scenery.

Today is Earth Day and in celebration I wanted to post some of my photographs of the Canadian wilderness and some other shots that have special meaning to me so we can reflect on how great Mother Earth is and how important it is to take care of our home planet. After all it's the only one we have, so far! Enjoy and let me know what you think of them.

Lake Superior Sunset

Bridal Veil Falls, Agawa Canyon

Lake Superior

small wonder

Saguenay Fjord

Reach up and touch me!


Reflecting on life

Up north you can see for a long way


The Lake Beyond

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Moments of Reflection + new "Skies" painting

Painting shore reflections on water

One of the joys of painting landscapes with acrylics is using their natural transparency to your advantage when painting shoreline reflections in a lake or river scene. I could go on for a long time on this as I find them a challenging and very satisfying subject to paint but I will be discussing this topic over several post.

Water is a colourless liquid that reflects the surrounding atmosphere and land. Depending on the water clarity and weather a reflection can be mirror-like to very broken up.
Detail of photo - Reflections on a quiet pond 
As you can see in the photo I took last fall at a pond not far from my home the still water and sunny day makes for a very mirror-like reflection of the shoreline and trees.

Note how the reflections are muted and almost hang straight down into the water. Reflected details become "smudged" and typically are bit darker than their source.

Click on the image from my photo to see an enlargement.

Detail - Large version of Standing Guard, Agawa Canyon
When I paint reflection of a shore on quiet water I usually start with what the land and/or sky looks like and carry the colours from those passages into the water. In the example to the right I painted the reflections by taking each shore passage directly into the water while I painted the trees etc. Using a  more painterly brushstroke I normally paint thr reflection a a stright down passage and add subtle details later. More and more layers of transparent glazes are used in the shore and for the reflection. Over these I paint a watered down glaze of pure ultramarine/cobalt blue or a glaze of Alizarin Crimson over the green.

Detail - Fine Day, Algoma
In the detail of Fine day, Algoma (private Collection) you can see what I mean about dragging your image of trees and shore directly downwards into the water. This scene also shows how the sky reflection takes on a darker blue.

I also placed some discrete blue passages very lightly over the reflections to give the illusion of water and I softened the edges to "smudge" and mute the reflected areas..

There is a full demonstration page in my web site that shows how I painted the smaller version of Standing Guard, Agawa Canyon that has a lot of reflected shore on water passages. Check it out. You can access via "About Me" in the top right

New Painting - "Storm Over Superior" - Acrylic on 24"x24" gallery wrapped canvas.

This new painting shows my love for the sky and clouds. Lake Superior can be very dramatic and this scene takes the Lake's drama to a new level for me. I took some creative liberties on this while painting the clouds. More of these to come. This one here is for sale. Contact me for details.
"Storm over Superior"  by Warren Peterson

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Painting Water

I get a lot of nice comments on how I paint water so first a special thanks to all those who have given me this feedback. I take water seriously. It not only sustains life but in my part of the world it is a normal component of landscape painting. I live in Ontario, Canada and we have 10's of thousands fresh water lakes, many quite small and a few very large including (the northern shores of) all the Great Lakes.

Water reflects its surroundings and the sky overhead so the manner in which you treat it is totally dependent on this and the speed of it's flow. I want to show you some close ups of a few of my paintings while providing some insight on how the water was painted. You can see the original paintings on my website that can be accessed via "About Me" to the right.

Fast and Loose

Here's details from two of my waterfalls paintings. You can click on the images to view an enlargement. Each depicts the same waterfall but from a different angle. "The Wild One" is one of my favourite paintings.

Detail - The Wild One
After blocking in the main shapes with a soft 2" watercolour brush that I like to use for blending, I put down a substantial wash of Paynes Gray and Titanium White where all the water is located. I normally don't use a retarder so working fast while still wet I started to lightly blend in the falling water over the rock shapes, picking up both colours on the flat edges of the brush and applying it to canvas with shape and movement to accentuate the underlying rock bed . Fast and lose is the key here with acrylics and it's the quickness that helps to provide the character of the rushing water. This takes a lot of practice and some happy accidents.

I let it dry thoroughly at this stage and usually move onto another area of the painting or set it aside and work on another one. I normally have 3-5 paintings going on at the same time.

After it dries I go back over the mid value areas with the same mix with a bit of Cobalt Blue to further define the falling water. Small highlights of gray/white mixture and pure Titanium White in very strategic spots create the stronger currents and foam accents.

Detail - Master of His Domain
In this detail of a different painting you can see how the water was shaped around and over the rocks that were painted first. It's important to remember that water is transparent so water over rocks can be indicated, not painted, by a light wash and a few highlights to simulate it catching the light.

In this detail you can also see, to the right, how a loose and lightly applied dry brush effect in select areas can give the illusion of spray. I pick a full brush of undiluted paint up and dab a lot of it off on a rag, then slowly, with a very loose grip on the end of the brush handle, drag it ever so lightly over the canvas. You can see the start of this painting on the video located in the News & events page in my website

Still Waters and Shore

Detail - Fine Day, Algoma
 In this example I used four different blues plus purple in varying values glazed on top of each other to create the back to foreground perspective, water depth illusion and light wind action. Working fast from back to front I blocked in each blue in a light glazes over their respective places in the scene. I then lightly blended them  together to soften the edges. After this dries I gradually add more washes of colour straight from the tube over the whole scene. I then add a bit of white and drag this glaze over the areas that I want lighter, making sure that the darker areas get less paint. It's this light over dark effect that gives my water its' illusion of depth and movement in this type of subject. The waves, put on with a lighter blue over the darker section in a slight curve show how wind movement can be a quick brush stroke away.

Detail -  Windy Day, Nils Bay
When painting my lake scenes I will use a lot of transparent washes of different colours to achieve depth and the illusion of wetness as illustrated here in this close-up of the waves drawing up and down on the beach. This is a detail of a large painting and I used #6 and #12 brushes to scumbling in the beach sand with Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre and Titanium White. Over this I glazed many very diluted washes of Ultramarine, Cobalt and Cerulean blues. After each glaze I added a lighter wash of Raw Umber in strategic places and covered this with more washes of blue, remembering that I wanted to cover a beach that also had shape.

Shaped highlights of lighter blues, with a bit of white added to the wash, were dragged over the beach with a lot of thoughtful movement to show wave shape, direction and wet sand. After many passes like these it all comes together - hopefully! If not I just paint over it and try again. 

 You can see these original paintings on my web site that can be accessed via "About Me" to the right.

Next time - Shore Reflections in Water.