Monday, June 27, 2011

Painting Workshop in Bishop

Once again, I signed up for a workshop with friend and professional artist Howard Rees ( to do some outdoor painting.  After a winter of stagnation and too much work at the office, it was time to force the issue and sign up for a workshop and get painting.  It's a good thing I also paid a deposit for the workshop because if I hadn't I probably would have cancelled at the last minute.  As always seems to happen, work demands reached a crescendo just before the workshop and I felt that it was nearly impossible to get away.  However I've lost deposits on workshops before and this time I decided to hell with it...I'd go and things would work out or not.  As it turned out they did work out, but I still spent the end of each painting day logging into the office to catch up.  Not sure if internet and cell phone access is a blessing or a curse!

So it was off to Bishop to paint the high desert and Eastern Sierras and see many artist friends once again.  My friend Ruth Andre ( joined the group and others who I've pictured in earlier posts on this blog were also there.  Rusty and his wife Elena, Renee and Noni down from Port Orchard, Washington, Vicki, Bob, and others I will think of as soon as I close this post were there.  The weather was perfect for most of the trip.  In fact, these were the first real, hot summer days I'd experienced this year.  As a life long California Valley summertime kid, I never thought I'd be saying those words in the middle of June!

At the end of each day, we'd gather around and Howard would 'critique' each person's work.  Here's the group getting instruction and criticism from Howard at the end of a painting day.  This happened to be day 3, I think.  In this picture, Howard stands back to critique his critique.  He loves to paint on everyone else's painting.  I think that's cheating.  I could do better too if someone else did most of the work first.  But I don't tell him I said that.  I paid for this abuse and I insist on getting it all.

In reality I have mixed feelings about having my work painted over, but I have to admit that after so many years of experience, with a few quick brushstrokes, Howard can do magic on a painting.  It's always a treat to watch him bring a painting to life in minutes.  It's even more of a treat if it isn't my painting!

During the critique, Rusty (in red) looks skeptical while Ruth, somewhere under the hat at the left, is not paying attention as usual. Renee (between Ruth and Rusty) appears to have dozed off in the middle of all the excitement.

Pond at Bishop Ca  9"x12" oil on canvas panel

Day one was a lot about getting the rust out.  I started with a very poor imitation of you-know-who.  I won't say his name since he might not appreciate being associated with this.  Some "Howard" advice that improved this painting: de-emphasize the group of lily pads in the distance so that the group in the foreground became the focal point.  I had both groups in sunlight, and both painted in light values.  Darkening the distant group worked, in my opinion.

12" x 16" oil on canvas panel. 

In the afternoon, I looked for some architecture to paint.  I find it very difficult to paint "pure" landscapes. Architecture of some sort helps provide color, contrast and sometimes a center of interest.  I painted the only two sheds nearby the ponds.  Howard really rescued this painting for me when he suggested adding the trees in front of the building on the right.  It covered a very plain area and added some reasons for shadow areas in the foreground.  I spent many years in architectural drafting and rendering and you'd think I'd remember the most basic architect's trick....put trees and other 'growies' in front of ugly designs.  They do wonders.  It worked here too.  I had also painted the shed to the left head on...exactly as it appeared to me, but Howard pointed out that while it was "real", it looked odd.  With just a couple of brushstrokes he added a suggestion of a side wall on the extreme left of the shed, giving it a sudden third dimension. 

After these two paintings I was done for the day and ready for a beer...or two.  I was already looking forward to the next couple of days!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Breaking in the EasyL plein air easel

After about six years of wrestling with a french easel, I decided to see if I could find something more portable and easier to set up on location.  The french easel is a marvelous bit of engineering, but it is heavy, not easy to carry far from the car and very frustrating to set up, even on level ground.  (A pair of pliers and a screwdriver soon become essentials to pack in your easel.)  I looked at a lot of advertisements and reviews on "pochade boxes", lightweight aluminum a-frame easels, etc and finally settled on the EasyL from Artwork Essentials.  Now that I've had it for awhile and I was able to take it along on an extended painting workshop, it's time to evaluate it.  I liked the EasyL from the beginning, but four days of setting up and taking down out in the field have convinced me that I made a good choice. I haven't used any of the other popular plein air setups, so I can't compare, but I think this one would be hard to beat.  Here's my "review" ....

This is the general setup, shown in the wilds of my backyard.  This happens to be the Versa model, which I believe is the largest they make.  It will easily handle a 16"x20" canvas or panel.  It's hard to see, but extending downward from the top of the tripod is a small hook on the end of the vertical height adjusting column.  This hook turns out to be a fantastic idea.  By hanging a bag with a few rocks in it, or by hanging a backpack, as I do, the easel becomes very stable.  It would take a very strong wind to tip the EasyL when something heavy is suspended from the hook.  Great feature!  During my four day workshop, we had one day of pretty strong winds.  I never worried for a moment that the easel would blow over, although one or two french easels belonging to fellow painters did.  Over all the EasyL gets high marks for stability, especially when a weight is suspended from the bottom hook.

Here's the brush holder and the hook that holds my leak-proof turps container.  Two of these hooks come with the easyL at no extra cost. The brush holder is extra, but almost essential. 

I think the major advantage of the EasyL over other well known pochade boxes is shown in this picture.  The palette can be set at an angle so that you can look down at it as you are painting, while the painting can be set perfectly vertical or even sloping slightly away if you prefer.  This is a huge plus for me.  But even more importantly, the canvas is raised above the palette.  You don't have to rest your arm or dangle your sleeve in the paint while working on the canvas.  Very functional and convenient.

The picture below shows the rear of the easel.  The mast raises to accommodate good sized canvases or panels.  This is a 12h x 16w panel and you can see there is room to spare.  The mast locks in place once it is adjusted to the top of the panel.  There are also two slots for carrying wet panels. 

I also purchased a new umbrella for the easel.  I'll have some thoughts on that in a future post.

Happy Painting!