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Author Archives: Rex Beanland
I had the pleasure of doing a 2 hour demo at Swinton’s Art Supplies last Friday night. It’s a real fun occasion as the price includes great wine and snacks. It was wonderful to be in a room full of watercolour enthusiasts. I was also very happy with the painting that I did.
Thanks to Susan for taking the photos and the video
Many, if not most, accomplished painters extol the virtues of painting on location (plein air). I agree wholeheartedly. Lately I’ve been interested in identifying some reasons to back up my belief. This post will illustrate 2 of the most important reasons.
Reason #1: Capture The Essence Of A Subject Quickly
When you paint on location you need to paint quickly and decisively. There isn’t time to get bogged down in detail. So you need to create shapes that capture the essence of a subject without a lot of fuss. One common subject is trees. Plein air painting has taught me how to quickly create shapes that read as trees. Creative brush work is one way to do this.
Here is how I hold the brush to quickly suggest a mass of trees.
This overhand grip allows me to drag the brush on it’s side and it instantly creates a ragged, crinkly edge that reads just like the outline of trees.
Another way of using the brush is to mush it into the palette to make the hairs splay out.
By using all the sides of the brush and even pushing against the hairs you can create some interesting marks that read as foliage.
This is particularly useful for occasions when you have some branches breaking into the frame.
Reason #2: Simplify The Subject Into Basic Shapes
In almost any plein air experience there is far too much detail and we need to simplify it to just capture the essence.
Here is a photo from my last trip to Kensington Market in Toronto. I love the wonderful colour of all the vests and clothing.
It would be impossible to paint all this detail so I found a way to simplify it down to a few simple washes. It still captures completely the feeling I had which was simply bright colour surrounded by lovely darks.
For me this says all I want to say about this section of the painting.
These are just 2 or the reasons that plein air painting helps us grow as artists. By practicing these skills we can’t help but progress and progress rather quickly. It has been an essential part of my artistic journey and I encourage you to get outside and experience it for yourself.
By the way, this detail is from my new DVD which will be available in about 6 months. If you are interested in seeing a little more about this painting and the filming process check out this recent post.
I’m really pleased to announce that I have just finished shooting my first DVD. It is untitled at this point but I’m leaning toward Urban Landscape – Fast and loose.
We have for 10 years produced art instruction DVD’s for other artists but are now concentrating on my own art instruction. We had to create a totally new work flow since I was now on the other side of the camera. We did it with 3 unmanned cameras and Susan hand holding a camera right over my shoulder. This allowed us to get great shots. We filmed over 5 days and it was a lot of fun, very stress free. It felt great when we finished. We were both feeling proud and satisfied.
It will probably be 6 months before we have copies but it is in the works. Stay tuned and I’ll announce when copies are available.
In the meantime you can see a short preview of just one of the elements in the video at this link.
Here are a few stills from the set.
Here is the demo I did on the video. It’s from one of my favourite locations, Kensington Market in Toronto.
I’m very proud of this entire effort I know it will be a great teaching tool for all watercolour artists. It’s packed with great tips and techniques. You’ll definitely want to get a copy of this when available.
Here is a short excerpt from the DVD.
I recently had occasion to take a second look at some of my work. Two paintings really caught my attention. They are both from approximately 2 years ago and they had been on a wall that is reserved for finished paintings that I’m not sure what to do with. This time they spoke to me very clearly and they are both now in frames.
Interestingly they are both plein air (on location) paintings. They remind me again that there is something special that happens because of the immediacy of plein air painting, something that seems to transcend normal thinking.
The first painting is a location on Madeline Island, in Lake Superior. I was there 2 years ago to attend a workshop with my hero Joseph Zbukvic. We had a full day before he arrived so I went painting on the island. This spot called the Indian Cemetery honours the original inhabitants of the island. It is now mostly run down and over grown but has a special feel to it. It is a world removed from the busy marina that is right beside it. When I looked at this painting this week it completely captured, for me, the feeling I had that day and the spirit of the place.
This next one is from our front yard. We have 2 large pine trees that had dense foliage right down to the ground. My wife, Susan, carved a lovely little sanctuary between the 2 trees. It’s lovely and cool in the summer and feels completely separate from the road which is a mere 10 feet away. Again this is a plein air painting that captures the feeling this place has for me.
When I took this second look at these paintings I though that even though they are both small they are works that I’m very proud of and they define for me the reason that I paint.
I have and hope to continue to produce more complex and more considered works but I am not sure that they will surpass the feeling I get from these 2 paintings.
For the 2 last days of November I took a little painting trip. On these occasional trips I’ve usually gone to the mountains but to be honest, the charm of the mountains is more and more eluding me so I headed the other way. I thought of Drumheller because the Badlands are in some ways about as far as you can get from the mountains.
I love these painting trips because my focus is completely on painting from the time I wake up until I go to bed. It’s a special state of mind that I get into.
I stopped just outside Drumheller at Horseshoe Canyon which is a very special landscape completely hidden from the nearby highway. This great hole just opens up as you walk up to the edge. There are walking paths through it but this time I just stayed at the top because I was carrying all my painting equipment.
Here are some views of the canyon and the badlands.
It was a lovely sunny day. It appeared quite warm from inside the car but when I set up to paint my hands were freezing within 5 minutes and my water froze fairly quickly. I did start a painting before I realized that the water was going to freeze. The wash on the paper also froze soon after applying it and when I warmed the painting up in the car it all ran and made a total mess. However, I got enough information to imprint what I wanted to do with this subject.
I did these 2 paintings that night back in my room from using photos.
The next day I spent most of the day in Rosebud doing a couple more paintings. Rosebud is a little village that is pretty much completely taken over by the Rosebud School Of The Arts, a school for actors and theatre people. It was a much colder and overcast day.
Here is a plein air painting of one of the houses. It’s an unusually friendly village and everyone who passed by waved and made me feel very welcome.
On the way back to Drumheller I stopped and did this painting en plein air. This is the highway just as it starts it’s descent into Drumheller.
As I mentioned I’d never painted the badlands before so I’m very pleased with these works. What I found so useful was to use a similar approach to the one I studied at the Ted Nuttall workshop I attended in August. For a more detailed look at his style check out my blog entry. His approach utilizes lot of very deliberate and considered marks with a very liberal use of softening of the edges to give a lost and found feel. It’s very time consuming but the resulting works are we’ll worth it.
Lately I’ve had a major shift in my work process to emphasize this Ted Nuttall inspired process. I’m really enjoying it and the paintings that I’m producing are certainly fun but it’s a big change from the way I’ve painted for the past few years. Lots of detailed observation and the careful build up of transparent layers. For me, however, I can’t stay away from the immediacy of plein air painting for too long. It keeps me fresh and keeps me thinking on my feet. So it was a treat to have this couple of days to reconnect directly with the landscape.
As part of my trip to Toronto for a workshop I was also asked to do a demo for the first meeting of the year for the Toronto Watercolour Society. This was a real honour for me and it was also the largest group that I have ever demoed for. It made me feel very special to be miked up and to have my demo projected onto a large screen behind me.
I had plans to finish the demo during the hour and a half I had available but I only got half of it done. When I got home I completed the painting and videotaped the process. I’m posting that here so that any who are interested can see my process through to completion.
First, here is the painting as it was at the end of the demo.
Here is the video of how I finished the painting.
And here is the final version.
I had the privilege of teaching a workshop for the Toronto Watercolour Society. I would like to thank Eleanor Lowden, the president of the TWS and Carolyne Pascoe, the workshop co-ordinator for giving me this opportunity. It was especially enjoyable for me because I love Toronto and also as a watercolourist it’s a treat to be with a group of people who share my love of this special medium.
The workshop was a wonderful experience. I just love watching the process as a group of individuals come together into a single group supporting and encouraging each other. For me that is one of the more important indicators of a good workshop. So thank you to everyone for a great workshop.
The workshop was held at the Assembly Hall on Lakeshore Blvd. It was originally part of a mental health hospital opened in 1888. It was closed in 1979 when the government wanted to change the model of institutionalizing patients with mental health issue. There are a few of the original buildings left and they are extremely attractive from the outside. Inside they have been completely modernized and some of them are part of Humber College. The Assembly Hall is owned by the city and is mainly a rental space with an art focus. There is an extremely moving tribute to the original hospital using the words of the patients themselves located just outside the Assembly Hall.
Once again there was a wide range of abilities and levels of experience. I must admit that I enjoy this particular challenge. It is so gratifying to be able to support and encourage those with less experience and it’s also great to see how the more advance painters take my process and make it their own. It’s also very helpful for the class to see all these different approaches to a subject. I’ve always maintained that participants in a workshop can learn a great deal from each other.
I did 2 demos during the workshop. This one is a real favourite of mine. It’s from a part of Toronto that I always visit, Kensington Market. It’s such a jumble of vibrant life. I love the fact that the photo I used was one of the few that needed very few changes because it was such a great composition right out of the camera. It was also an excuse to have some fun with colour.
The other demo which I call Toronto Works was a general introduction to my urban landscape process.
I thought I had finished Toronto Works in the class but when I got it home I noticed a couple of changes that I wanted to make. I thought I would do a short video clip to illustrate these changes. Watercolour’s reputation is that it is a very challenging medium and it’s hard to make changes. Certainly with oil and acrylic it’s possible to scrape out or white out sections and just redo them but it is also very possible to make changes even very dramatic changes to a painting. While the changes I made to this one are not dramatic I hope that watercolourists will find comfort in the fact that change is possible.
A Concluding Word
This past month with this workshop in Toronto followed immediately by a week in Nelson, BC and then a mini-workshop at the Leighton Centre in Calgary has been the most intense month of my teaching career. It has been an experience that has challenged me, pushed me out of my comfort zone and from which I have grown. I am very grateful to be in this place at this time of my life.
I just want to end with the comment of one of the participants:
“Thanks Rex, it was a very good Workshop. I learnt a lot and it’s because of all the hard work that you put into making the workshop such a success. Well done!
Last week I had a fabulous experience travelling to beautiful Nelson, BC to teach a landscape watercolour workshop for the West Kootney Chapter of the Federation Of Canadian Artists. The workshop was a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding experience. The town of Nelson is beautiful and contains an almost endless series of interesting buildings. It happened to be very warm and sunny while we were there which makes any place look it’s best. Nelson is a very artistic town with many very, VERY steep hills!
There were a full range of participants in the workshop, from the complete beginner to advanced. That makes for a very interesting class and I think everyone benefits from both going over the basics and also getting to see more advanced approaches to the subject.
I’ve started to use my projector in all my workshops. What an awesome teaching tool.
I had an experience that I’ve never had before. Richard wrote a poem for me which he read to the class.
Thank you so much to Sheila who billeted us. What a generous and welcoming host. Thank you so much!
I did 3 demos during the 3 day workshop.
The first was an experimental landscape approach to Cameron Pond (in Waterton Lakes)
On the second day I did a version of a plein air painting from our recent trip to Toronto. It’s really a value study in green with an added figure. I did some extensive changing of the painting after I got home especially the big bright tree on the left. It was too much like a round ball or a lollipop. I used dark valued washes to cover it over and create a new edge. You can see the original edge of it by the shape of the darks around it.
On the last day I did a style of painting that I’ve never tried before. The goal was to try and keep it very simple and ethereal. It was sure a lot of fun to do. It’s a scene we saw the day before the workshop when Susan and I spent a day driving around the Slocan Valley.
After the workshop we took the next day to do some plein air painting in downtown Nelson. There are so many subjects to choose from.
Here are the 2 paintings I got done.
Thanks to Alison and the West Kootney Chapter for inviting me and for treating Susan and me so well. It was much appreciated.
Finally a comment from one of the participants.
Everyone really enjoyed your class – you had challenges with such a range of abilities, and managed to reach everyone at the place they were at.
I taught a couple of fun, little workshops at the Leighton Centre, Sunday Oct 2, for the Alberta Culture Days. I was asked to work on my own subject and do a couple of short hands on activities with the visitors. It turned out to be much more fun than that as I did 2 little mini-workshops, one in the morning one in the afternoon. It was a lot of fun as people who had never painted or at least not much, tried their hand and watercolour. A fun time was had by all and everyone left with a neat little painting.
This was the Leighton Centre’s most successful Culture Day. I think that that was in part due to the hands-on nature of the demo/workshops. My friend, Sharon Williams, also did a very popular introduction to Encaustic painting. The ASA also had talks at the end of each day, Saturday and Sunday.
Be sure to check it out next September.
These are the 3 portraits that I started during the Ted Nuttall Workshop that I reported on in the previous post. I really like them. They represent a new style and approach for me so I’m just getting comfortable with it but it just resonates very deeply with me.
I was inspired by this guy’s look of paranoia. He was a small figure in the background of a photograph and I liked his look but the quality of the image was very poor so I had to make up quite a bit of it. One thing I’ve learned is that to do portraits from photographs a good quality photo is essential.
This portrait captured the look I was going for. What I’m drawn to in portrait work is to capture a moment in time. A moment when the subject is unaware of being observed and is caught up in some feeling.
This one would be my favourite. I think it’s the technically the cleanest of the 3. I also like the way the drips from the background wash seemed to form a picket fence so I went with that look and it’s very appropriate.
The challenge for me in doing this work is that it’s a very intuitive process. Trying a mark here and a mark there. It’s a very worthwhile challenge because it forces me to slow down and do a lot more thinking which is always helpful. It also forces me to concentrate of lots of light layers to build up the form.
Another challenge is what to do with the backgrounds. Each of these works has a background build up by applying successive layers of light washes which creates a neutral grey. Then just a suggestion of some object or shape gives the background a focus. I remember Ted saying that he had no formula for the backgrounds and he it was always a challenge for him to create the background. I know exactly what he means.
The other factor in this approach is that good reference material is a necessity so I’m spending more time with the camera now.
The biggest take away for me from this new experience is that I love it and I will be continuing to pursue portraits in the future.