One of Calgary’s great people, artist and store owner Doug Swinton and his son Rion came by today to film me doing a demo for his FaceBook Live weekly painting demo. Like anytime you are with Doug it was a really fun morning. Thanks to all involved and to my wife, Susan, who stayed the whole time to offer moral support.
In my lastpost I showed a little study I did of this same subject. I really enjoyed the subject but the painting was unsuccessful because the figures got completely lost in the dark doorway behind them. With that painting I redid the figures in gouache and the painting was rescued.
However, I wanted to redo it and try to make the figures work but only using watercolour. This is that painting. It was definitely not easy. I’ve never been so mindful of value, always asking myself how the shape I was painting fit into the overall composition. It was a fine line to have the dark doorway in the background yet still have the darkest darks in the figures. It was a technical challenge but because of that it was an opportunity to learn.
The other big challenge was to have the face of the guy really express an emotion. Again it’s a challenge to get detail into such a small shape. Again I feel that it works really well.
Finally, the drawing was very tight but I’m pleased that the painting is actually quite loose.
I have a lot of fun doing these quick, little watercolour studies. It’s a chance to practice ideas with minimal pressure. I just glance over my photos and the first one that catches my interest gets painted!
A Glance On Stephan Ave
This one had really interesting architectural shapes and a neat attitude from the subjects. When I painted it I liked everything except the figures. They were completely lost in the background. Since it was a failed painting, at that point, I decided it was gouache to the rescue! The figures were completely redone in gouache.
River & Osborne: Waiting To Get Home
This one came about very accidentally. I took the photo with my iPad on a bright, sunny day. The iPad created a whole different feeling. It was a blast to try and keep it wet and atmospheric.
I try to make sure that I include play as an important part of my painting process. This is where I just try things to see what they look like. I find I learn a lot in these ‘fun’ times. This painting is a beautiful case in point.
This is a painting of the Empire Building in Edmonton. This painting just uses the basic shape of the buildings as they actually are. I wanted to see if I could completely change the lighting to go with this extreme sunrise theme. I also wanted to see if the building were interesting enough shapes. The painting turned out absolutely fine, but nothing special.
I thought both the sunrise theme and the shapes of the buildings were fine but then why isn’t it very interesting. The thing that jumped out was that the buildings in the background are as detailed as the closer buildings. This gets the eye wandering down to the background too much. I asked myself what is my story? Where do I want your eye to go? For me the story is the life on the street in the front so in this painting there are too many distractions.
So I redid it with the clear intention to push the background buildings further back and keep the detail only in the closest buildings.
In this version your eye is definitely drawn more to the foreground. It’s a more focused and comfortable visual experience.
As many, many people have observed these are unprecedented times. I’m very grateful that the majority of my daily routines have not changed too much. I used to spend most days in the studio and now I’m doing the same thing but spending even more time. I’ve been more productive than usual.
I have really been drawn to portraits lately. It has been so much fun to do this. Some are finished studio works but most of them are sketches. What wonderful practice!
These are a sample of the portraits that I have done recently.
I’ll be thrilled when the world goes back to normal but in the meantime I’m very grateful for being an artist and being able to pursue my passion in spite of what’s happening out there.
For the past 10 years I have focused on urban landscape. Over that time the figures in the paintings became more and more important. So this interest in portraits is a natural outcome of that process.
I’m trying to develop a process that is fairly quick, a little impressionistic and that captures the character of the subject. Like anything if one keeps practicing one will eventually get there. These are 2 studies.
I find that when I do portraits I really do feel a personal connection with the subject. I love this process.
I have written a number of times about the benefits of plein air painting and I’ve recently been reminded of them.
Here are 3 previous posts https://rexbeanland.com/artblog/plein-air-paintings-from-trip-to-whitehorse/ https://rexbeanland.com/artblog/studio-plein-air/ https://rexbeanland.com/artblog/why-is-plein-air-painting-so-important-part-1/
I find that when I get to involved with photographs I eventually get pretty stale and the paintings show it. I reached this stage recently as the winter months keep me in the studio working from photos.
But fortunately we have been cross country skiing at Bragg Creek a lot and since my wife Susan, is a much better skier than me I have about an hour after my ski waiting for her and this is prime time for a little plein air sketching. Plein air means painting outside on location.
In terms of the benefits of plein air painting what stands out in these studies is that each subject really has some challenges. The challenges are things that are in the scene that I don’t have a lot of experience with but I have to figure out, quickly, some way to represent them. There’s a definite time limit and so there is no time to waste. I take my best shot and get on with it.
The two challenges in this painting were the subtle undulations of the snow in the foreground and the large mass of trees in the background. To capture the feel that there were a lot of trees back there I just took a brush charged with water and quickly washed it over the entire top of the painting and voila! it gives the impression there is something going on back there.
The challenge in this painting was how to quickly get the feel of all the foliage which was really one shape but with lots of variations in colour and value. I thought briefly of trying to paint each shape separately but that was way to time consuming so I just made one wash of the lighter green and as it dried kept adding darker greens. It completely captured the feel of the scene for me.
This last one was done while I was attending a zoom meeting. That’s a video app where you can see all the participants. This woman was great because she seemed very tired but held this basic pose for quite a while so I was able to complete the entire thing in about 40 minutes.
So Why Bother With Plein Air?
The main thing I remember was the excitement I felt to get out of the studio and deal directly with the subjects. It invigorates my mind and I find myself making decisions quickly and decisively.
Plus it’s a lot of fun and time just flies. I also have a great record of each experience. They remind me of the moment far better than a photo would. And finally I learned a lot from each one of them.
For the past few years I have been focused on my workshops so it was a real treat to take a workshop with another artist. Dale Laitinen is a California artist who works mostly in watercolour. I love his paintings.
His approach uses large sheets of watercolour paper and big, flat brushes. Since this is quite different from my style I was very pleased to add some of his ideas to my own painting.