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Author Archives: Rex Beanland
Last week Susan and I travelled to the Madeline Island School of Art (MISA) to take a workshop. MISA is located on Madeline Island, the largest and only inhabited island in the Apostle Island chain. They are in the Wisconsin section of Lake Superior. They are a very fascinating and beautiful destination.
The workshop was with Ted Nuttall who is an amazing watercolour portraitist. He appears frequently in The Watercolour Magazine. He has been on the cover 3 times. He has also won numerous awards in many of the biggest exhibitions including the American Watercolor Society which is the biggest of the big.
This image is very representative of his style.
Ted is definitely an intuitive painter. He paints very deliberately, with a lot of thought. He employs a style of using many light transparent layers to build up the feeling of depth. He also adds an element of energy and excitement to his paintings by the use of what he calls ‘Sloppy Dots’. Sloppy dots are really just little blobs of colour. They are fascinating in that up close they appear to be very busy and haphazard but when viewed further back they just blend into the portrait. All you notice is that the portrait is a little more interesting and involving..
You can see an example of this approach in this detail of an eye.
The challenge of putting this approach into practice is that it’s hard to give a recipe on how to use it. It’s hard to say ‘just do this or that’ when it’s such an intuitive process.
Here is another example of sloppy dots creating hair.
What I found during the workshop is that when you just loosen up and give it a try it’s actually much easier then I would have expected. At least to do my version of it.
I went to MISA last year to take a workshop with my hero Joseph Zbukvic. They bring in a lot of big name instructors. They run 3 different workshops every week so it’s a very busy place. They have quilting, photography and writing workshops as well as all types of painting. It’s not inexpensive but they do treat you royally. It’s also a neat experience to be on an island even if you’re just a 20 minute ferry ride from Bayfield, Wisconsin.
Here is a shot of the MISA campus.
Here is the inside of our studio showing some of the class. It’s in the top of that barn like structure in the centre of the photo above.
I found this workshop to be extremely interesting and useful. Part of the reason I that I feel I got so much out of it is that I had already been experimenting with portraits a little bit. So I had already been thinking about and practicing some of the challenges of doing portraits.
One of my big lessons was to lighten up on value. Here is a perfect example. This is one of Ted’s reference photos.
Before this workshop I would have focused so much on the dark suit and the dark hat and I would have painted them as strong darks. Now, here is Ted’s rendition. I find it so interesting to imagine the thought process he uses to go from this photo to this light and lively painting. It’s a challenge to me to try to assimilate this lesson but I’m finding it an exciting challenge.
The other big take-away for me is the challenge of using some of these sloppy dots and unusual colour accents in my own work. I will be posting the paintings I began during the workshop soon but it’s a much slower process than I am used to so it’s taking it’s time . . . and that’s just fine.
Ted had some other original paintings and some giclees at the workshop and one of the original paintings completely captivated me. I liked them all but this one went way beyond liking. The painting isn’t quite finished but we have ordered a giclee as soon as it’s finished. The original sells for $4500.00. I’ll be proud to have this painting in our home.
Both Susan and I really connected with Ted. He is a very gentle and generous guy. We are the same age and we appear to like a lot of the same music so it was fun to meet and get to know him a little.
Thanks for the great experience!
I taught a 2 day workshop at the Leighton Centre this past weekend. It was a wonderful experience. I have been thinking a lot about my painting and my art career lately and a lot of the ideas I have been working on seem to have become integrated in my working method. From theory to practice. One way that I notice this is in the 2 demos I did. I think that they are the best demos I have ever done in a workshop setting. When I teach I look at my demos as tools to aid my teaching. This is very good for the students. The flip side of that is, however, that I pay less attention to the demos as works of art and more as examples to teach. This time there was a much better balance. I also feel that I was successful in achieving my goals for the workshop which were to go beyond just trying to copy a subject and instead to really express a vision. To tell the story that inspired the painting. This was the closest I’ve ever come to reaching that lofty ideal.
Technically speaking I was exhausted at the end of each day because it was very intense and I think I also worked everyone pretty hard. One sign of a good workshop for me is when the students do a lot of painting. This workshop was over at 4 pm and on Saturday people were still painting at 4:30 pm and on Sunday we painted right until 4. I’ve taken many workshops and this is not always the case.
The first day was an urban landscape theme. I based it on this photo of a wet day in Toronto. The photo was taken by my friend Brian Hindle.
This is such a made-for-watercolour photo. The wet street with lots of reflections and the wonderful shape of the building. This subject spoke to me of mood and mystery and I really wanted to focus on the drama suggested by the 2 vehicles right in the centre so I ignored much of the detail and focused on my vision, the story I wanted to tell. Here is the thumbnail sketch that I created to express my take on this subject. You can see that all the detail is subordinated to the overall goal.
This is my demo of this subject. I got just over half of it done in class and then I finished it at home. I had forgotten to leave the bright shape on the right so I did a lot of scrubbing out with a toothbrush in my studio. This actually made the painting even more interesting.
A friend of mine and an excellent painter, Brent Laycock, said on one of his DVD’s that a good painting should have little sections within it that speak all by themselves and I feel that, in this case there are a couple of magical little paintings within the big painting . Here they are:
On the second day of the workshop the subject was ‘the figure’. This is the demo I did. The original photo taken by my wife, Susan, was drenched in a story of this girl sitting by the pond with her thoughts drifting off. I call the painting Pondering both because she is by a pond and because she is pondering.
This painting particularly in the jean jacket employs a style that I don’t use a lot, namely lots of layering. I did 4 light washes to create the texture of the jacket and then a couple more washes to add the dark parts. If I was doing this at home I could easily have done 8 – 10 washes to get even more texture before adding the darks. Very time consuming but also very effective. Also interesting was the use of a 1″ flat brush to create the ripples in the pond.
Finally some shots from the class. Thanks again to everyone for being part of this great experience.
Since forever it has been the practice of aspiring artists to copy the works of the masters. Most of the masters began this way. It’s a very direct way to get in touch with the very best ideas and practices.
A few years ago when I discovered my 2 watercolour heroes, Joseph Zbukvic and Alvaro Castagnet I bought all their DVD’s. It was eye opening for me at the time to watch them paint but I knew that watching someone paint doesn’t mean that you have truly learned their technique. I needed to take their inspiration to a higher level so I started practicing most of their demos. I called it my university of watercolour and posted some of the results. You can see those posts here and here.
Anyway, I recently went back to college and copied some more of Castagnet’s newer works. Again I was blown away by his mastery of watercolour. His sense of composition and value is amazing and he creates paintings that are immediate and powerful. I could have looked at these paintings for a long time, loved them and still not really have learned what they had to offer until I tried them.
So here are my copies of 3 of his paintings.
I’m truly in awe of his talent and it was so useful to practice these paintings. What I find particularly amazing is how much he changes the actual subject to create these dramatic masterpieces. When I’ve seen his reference photos they have the basic elements of the painting but the drama and impact is coming out of his mind. Thank goodness that the artistic journey lasts a lifetime because I think it will take me a long time to be able to do the same thing.
Needless to say that I would highly recommend this practice to all aspiring artists if you want to take your painting to a new level quickly.
For the past 4 or 5 years I have painted mostly cityscapes. My approach to these paintings has generally been plein air based. I’ve tried to capture my impression of the subject quickly. It’s been more about creating a story than about detail or an accurate copy of the subject. I’ve loved it and it has been an extremely rewarding journey. I still love nothing more than being on location and just getting into the zone. Total concentration on the scene before me.
But as we know, change is an essential part of the art journey and lately I have found that my focus is changing. I’m planning my paintings more and also delving more into the detail. I’m also becoming much more interested in the figures that I’ve always included in my urban landscapes but featuring them as subjects unto themselves.
Two recent works illustrate this.
This is a painting of some construction in Vancouver. It’s a view from the Granville Bridge (you can see the railing of the bridge at the right side of the painting. I just love the composition and the contrast of the dark side of the excavation and the light of the rest of it. This was a fun painting to do.
This detail from the painting was a section that I particularly enjoyed. It’s a nice little abstract just by itself.
Another painting that I’m very happy with is this one of a woman with her dogs. It’s from a photo that my wife took when we were in Boston a few years ago. I love the sense of contemplation and companionship. It’s one of those intimate moments that I’m always searching for.
As much as I like the to be in my comfort zone and developing a series or a theme I also know that I benefit perhaps even more by stretching and exploring new areas. This is what I feel is happening now.
Watercolour at it’s best is know for an amazing luminosity and sense of light. This is achieved by creating luminous washes. I define the wash as the time from the moment you first put paint on paper until it’s completely dry. During this time you can drop in other colours, add darker values, lift out colour, spray with water and in general play around with it. When it’s dry the wash is finished. At this point you can only add darker values over it.
In my teaching experience mastering ‘the wash’ is a major challenge for beginners. Usually this occurs because the painter doesn’t have enough water/colour in the brush and before they finish a stroke across the paper they are already creating dry brush. Once the wash is mastered, however it leads to outstanding, glowing paintings.
What brought this all to mind is a detail from a new painting I’m working on. It’s a very evocative scene captured by my wife, Susan, when we were in Boston. It shows a moment of contemplation with a woman and her 4 dogs.
This is just the one main dog. I painted this dog in one wash. I kept the wash alive for about 10 minutes by continually dropping in colours wet in wet. I also played with value. Anyway, after it dried I thought this is just about perfect. It seems to me that I can almost feel the fur.
What a wonderful 10 minutes that was!
I’ve been painting primarily urban landscape for the past 4 years and it’s been a wonderful journey. Recently my focus has evolved to focus more on the people. To take them from one element of the street scene to the star of the show. I’m partially fascinated by those fleeting moments when people’s body language and facial expression reveal some special moment or thought.
Technically speaking when the size and importance of the figures is increased it becomes a new challenge to capture skin tones and also to do clothing.
This first painting was one I did as part of my FaceBook 5 day challenge. I love the sense of bright sunlight. I also had a lot of fun creating a background that ignored the buildings that were actually there and just played with watercolour.
This new painting was from our trip to Boston where my wife, Susan, caught this girl enjoying a quiet moment basking in the sun. I am very happy with the layering that I used to paint her vest. I also used Granulating Medium to create a bit of an effect in the tree at the bottom.
This final painting also from Susan’s photo caught a girl in a bright pink dress feeding some ducks in the same pond.
I’m very excited by this evolution of my painting and I look forward to continuing this direction.
I just got back from my annual visit to Toronto for the AGM of the Canadian Society Of Painters In Watercolour. It was a great trip. I grew up in Toronto but I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more in the past few years. I love the energy, the buildings and the life on the streets. Not sure I could live there with the nightmarish traffic but great to visit.
This time I spent most of my time visiting with family and it was really wonderful to connect with my brother and his wife as well as all the nephews and nieces.
I only had one day to get out and paint and it was a lovely day. For some reason I wanted to paint a harbour view. I’ve always enjoyed looking down on Hamilton Harbour from the Burlington Sky Way but of course you can’t paint from there. I went looking for the next best thing and I found this view from the Burlington side of the harbour. The buildings with their lovely reddish brown colour where the sun hit them and all the mass of dark shadows just spoke to me and I finished this painting on location. It was a lovely couple of hours. I painted it inside the car.
Technically speaking it was a very easy painting to do. The mass of dark shadows instantly unified and connected everything so it was very easy to see the big shapes and not get caught up in details. First of all I painted all the buildings in the reddish brown that you see on the roof tops. Then I painted the dark shadows in one go. White gouache created the smoke.
10 minutes past this location I was under the Burlington Sky Way which is a very impressive structure when you’re looking up. Right beside it is the old Burlington Lift Bridge which most people might not even know exists. It actually lifted right up to the top while I was painting it.
When I flew out the next day I had a couple of hours of waiting at the airport. I had my handy little travel palette and did this little study of the airport. The challenge with this was that the only brush I had was the tiny one that comes with the palette. Very hard to get any kind of wash. I’m including it here just because my wife told me that I had to.
Painting on location, especially when it’s a lovely sunny day with the radio on is certainly one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Here are a few random photos from the trip.
I had the great pleasure of doing a 3 day workshop for the Fraser Valley Artists in Surrey BC, April 1-3. It was an urban landscape workshop. Most participants were relatively new to this subject matter. That’s actually an advantage because I like to start off by practicing and playing with some of the urban landscape elements.
I find every workshop is different and has it’s own flavour. This workshop was a little different in that the participants were by and large very accomplished artists. That required me to go a little further in terms of my demos. However, I find that it is nearly always beneficial to go a little past my comfort zone and that was the case this time.
I like to get the people painting as soon as possible so we started practicing how to paint figures and cars the first morning and them I demoed in the afternoon. The class wanted to see me complete as much of the painting as possible in class so I didn’t get to work on it that night in the hotel (which I love doing). It’s based on a view of St Mary’s Church in Calgary. In the reference photo the street is lined with banners but I’ve grown tired of painting banners so I changed them to palm trees. This is that demo at the end of the workshop.
When I got home I finished it off like this. I felt that it need something in the sky to solidify that area and I love the trolley lines of Vancouver so they were added.
It’s been said that it’s better to leave a painting a bit underworked rather than a bit overworked and I did overwork it somewhat but I still like it.
The second demo was a brand new painting for me. I just love this particular grouping of cars and I was determined to down play the buildings in order to serve the story happening in the foreground. This is how it looked at the end of the workshop. I like the framing device of having darker figure shapes at each side of the painting.
This is the demo as far as I’ve taken it. It’s still only about 75% finished but I like it so much that I want to live with it for a while in order to see what it needs.
We only had half a day for the third demo so I didn’t get much finished. I find the perspective of this image to be very interesting even though the distortion is an artifact caused by the nature of a camera lens.
(I have made a video clip analyzing this painting that you might find useful). It’s actually quite a simple painting even though it looks hard. Here is the final version.
I was very impressed with all the paintings produced by the group and I managed to get photos of a couple of examples. These are also not complete but show a strong grasp of all the ideas that we covered.
The artists who attended the workshop were a very friendly, very accomplished and very enthusiastic group. There was a lot of laughter. I have come to find that when a workshop works well I’m always inspired to paint more and that was my experience with this weekend. Here are some shots of the class.
I would like to thank the Fraser Valley Artists for the invitation.
If you would like to see one of the participants take on the workshop visit Wendy Mould’s blog.
I made this 10 minute video for my upcoming workshop in Surrey April 1 – 3. It illustrates a really simple way to draw and paint cars. They are such a neat shape that really draw the viewer’s eye. Watch this clip and you’ll be doing cars yourself very soon.
I have been doing almost exclusively urban landscape paintings in watercolour for the past 5 years and it has been fabulously fulfilling. During this time I began learning about and developing a technique to deal with buildings and cars. I wanted a simple process that would allow me to capture my impression of a scene quickly and loosely. I also developed a simple process for creating shapes that read as figures and always included them in the paintings. Lately I’ve become more and more drawn to the figures themselves and their stories. This seems to be where urban landscape is leading me. I love to try to capture those fleeting and spontaneous expressions that mark special moments. Usually it’s necessary to work from photos exactly because the expressions are so fleeting.
When we were in Boston 3 years ago Susan used her video camera to take candid shots of people. Many of them capture just this kind of moment. This one was a girl sitting by the pond and just soaking in the rays of the afternoon sun. It was mid November but there were still some fall colours on the trees. This day was a shirt sleeve kind of day. I’m working on a studio painting and this is one of the studies I’ve done to practice getting the water. I was really pleased with the result and I’m excited to get to work on the piece.
On Another Note . . .
Plein Air In Sicamous
I just got back from a 5 day trip to Kelowna and I spent the last 2 days doing plein air painting in both Sicamous and Golden. I stayed one night in both places and each day I went out in the daytime and sketched various scenes. Then I would go right back to the hotel and do a colour version. These were 3 that I thought worked out well.