Monday, August 27, 2012

Workshop with Fongwei Liu - Day two and three

On the second day of the Fongwei Liu workshop, we adjourned to Miller park to paint.  I have to admit that this was a major disappointment for me.  I'm familiar with Miller Park and find nothing of interest to paint there.  I understand that a good artist should be able to find - or create - subject matter anywhere, but I'm afraid I'm not one of them yet.  I need to feel inspired and excited by my subject matter, and Miller Park leaves me cold.  I think even Fongwei had a difficult time finding something to paint, as he wandered up and down the narrow parkway for sometime before climbing down a steep bank to find a spot by the water.  He did manage to find a simple scene with some early morning light coming through the foliage and, as one might expect from a painter of his caliber, managed a decent plein air painting.  I struggled, tried in vain to make a clump of trees interesting and finally gave up.   I wiped the canvas down...those panels are too expensive to waste on a yet another bad plein air effort.

In the afternoon, we returned to the studio for a lecture on the essentials of a good painting.  Fongwei used examples of his own work and also that of many other impressive artists.  I wish I could have gotten the names of some of them...I would have like to see more examples.  I enjoyed the presentation...and once again, I found his comments and advice helpful and memorable.  But I have to say, the day was largely a loss for me and I left a little early feeling pretty discouraged.  Most of that had to do with my own short comings and the crisis of confidence I have found myself in lately and not in the workshop proper.

On Sunday we went to Capitol Park in the morning.  I felt much better about this location as there are almost endless things to inspire an artist there.  I resolved to keep it simple in light of the very depressing experience of the day before.   I set up and painted by the fountain in the Rose Garden.  It was a beautiful day.  I discussed my idea for my painting with Fongwei and he approved my location and idea before I started.  He also suggested some changes to my approach before I had picked up a brush.  One of the things he stresses in his workshop is to have an idea, a plan, a concept of what you want to accomplish and how you will go about it.  This can be simple and broadly conceptualized, but it is critical.  It was morning and the light on the fountain and the roses was beautiful  Determined not to get into licking and messing and guessing again, I pulled out the 1 1/2" brush and laid in the background ad the major components of the fountain in simple strokes.  I was determined not to overwork and I forced myself to leave the strokes as they 'fell'.   I was very pleased with this simple painting and the feeling of the light that I caught. One interesting thing occurs to me as I look at this painting now.  As I discussed my concept with Fongwei before beginning, he pointed out that the two rose bushes framing the fountain could be somewhat static if not handled right.  He cautioned me not to make both bushes the same height even though they actually were...and he suggested exaggerating one.  I see now that I completely forgot that advice!  Oh well.  Next time.
Roses in Capitol Park  12" x 9"  Oil on canvas panel

Finally, back in the studio, I painted this colorful landscape from a photo reference I had on hand.  If I remember right it came from a Wetcanvas challenge in the Western Art forum.  Most of the references I have are my own photos, but I do have a few from Wetcanvas.  It's a good source for material and everything posted by members is done so with the condition that it be available to others to use.  No copyright problems.  I think I will work on this one a bit more. 

Aspens in the Fall   12 x 9 oil on canvas panel. 
With that, it was time to go home.  I said good bye to Fongwei Liu.  It was an honor to be able to listen and learn from this fine painter.  I will remember his gentle and scholarly approach.  I think my work will be a little better from the experience. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Workshop with Fongwei Liu

Oak Park artist and gallery owner Patris arranged for Fongwei Liu to conduct a three day workshop at her studio.   I was excited to sign up...Fongwei is one of those Chinese painters who so intrigue me.  I've been following his blog for some time, so I couldn't miss the opportunity to meet him and benefit from his experience and skill.

We spend the first day in the Studio.  Fongwei gave a  lecture on the components of a painting....composition, value, edges, paint application.  After that we painted from photo references we brought from home.

Fongwei Liu (white shirt) at Patris Studio August 2012

My painting for the day was from a photo I took while in New Mexico several years ago.  It's 12 x 16 on a Raymar panel.  Time about 3 hours.  Early on in this painting, I felt I had lost it, but with some suggestions from Fongwei, I think I brought it back.  While I worked on this I was very conscious of composition and value.  There are parts of this painting that would benefit from additional work, which I may yet do.   Overall, however,  I was pleased with the outcome.

New Mexico ranch house 12 x 16 oil on canvas panel. 
I'll post additional paintings done at the workshop over the next day or two.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Back to the Still Life Lessons

Another of the still life lessons from Dan Edmundson.  This actually happens to be the 10th and final lesson, but I have not yet done number 9.  I'll get to that this weekend, perhaps.  Then it's on to the landscape lessons.  There's a lot of glare on this picture.  I need to get a better one, but for now this will suffice.  I like the chiaroscuro effect of the painting.  A difficult effect to paint.  A series of glazes would probably greatly improve this painting.  Another fun one, but challenging too.  

Flowers, Vase and Grapes  16" x 12" oil on canvas panel

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Mysteries (and challenges) of Painting ...

Last week, I met with artist friends along the Mokelumne River above Jackson, California.  This is Gold Rush country and it seems there is something to paint everywhere you look.  On this day, we ventured away from architectural subjects and found ourselves facing a rapidly moving river and GREEN everywhere.  I won't go into the problems I have consistently had with painting 'pure' landscapes made up almost entirely of GREEN.  Suffice to say that on this day, I came away with no painting at all, having wiped down my very pathetic attempt in order to save an expensive panel.  That is always a bad feeling.  But I resolved not to let it remain simply an un-fun experience.  If I am to make progress, such outings have to be LEARNING experiences.

I followed up with several hours of study and experimentation with mixing greens which I might talk about in another post, but I also thought deeply about my mental state and how very important that is to a successful painting.  On this day along the Mokelumne River, I was not mentally prepared to paint.  It had been a busy week in the office with several challenging situations arising that remained unresolved.  I brought along my little dog Dixie Doodles for the first time.  She was a good girl all day, but this was an experiment on my part, and it was distracting and new for me.  I kept checking on her and worrying about shade and water.  I was very aware of my previous struggles with "pure" and green landscapes.  And finally, I compromised on what to paint, selecting a location that accomodated Dixie instead of one that I preferred for the subject matter.  The outcome was predicable.

The side of the Murphys Hotel, Murphys, California
I thought back to a successful experience and searched for contrast.  I remembered the first day painting in Murphys, which I have talked about in a previous post.  Of course the architectural subject matter was something I was more comfortable with, but my mental state on that day was wholly different than my day on the River.  On the evening of arrival I walked the town of Murphys and found this wonderful wall of windows with the balcony.  It's the side of the Murphys Hotel, in operation since 1856.

Just enough room to avoid being run over!

I knew as soon as I saw it that this was going to be my first painting of the trip.  In the morning, I set up along the street next to the scene.  I was fresh, excited and mentally focused on this subject.  I was clear on what I wanted.  I envisioned a bold painting with thick paint to capture the rustic, aging subject matter.
The final result and a happy painter!

In my opinion, the Murphys Hotel painting was my most successful effort of the trip.

So what were the lessons I learned by this comparison?

1.  Focus.  Painting isn't easy.  It requires my FULL attention.
2.  Know why I am painting a subject. What do I want to capture and record?  Go for that and minimize everything else. 
3.  Have a plan of how I am going to approach the painting.
4.  Have a vision of what the result will look like.  This doesn't have to be a perfect vision.  There should be lots of room for change and creativity, but I should still have a conceptual idea of the outcome.
5.  Be enthusiastic about my subject matter AND my concept.  If I'm not, it's going to be a struggle.
6.  Don't rush the beginning.  Take time to consider, study.  Make a sketch or two.  Get everything ready BEFORE starting.  Have the right colors, brushes, medium.