Manassas Advantage

I recently mentioned painting at Manassas Battlefield with NOVAL. It was a cold and windswept day; I braved the elements with watercolorists Lou Negri, Mary Moon, and Lorrie Herman.

Because of a few days before at Fountainhead Lake, during which my head develop as a huge shadow on my paper and pastels, I decided to ensure I'd remain 100% in the shade by choosing to paint on the dark side of a huge tree trunk. When conditions are that cold and windy, suffice it to say that next time I will seek to paint in the sun!

This piece came out exactly as I wanted. Looking incredible from a short distance, it features a glorious sky along with a ground that is complete, but does not compete. The lower portion is a little more detailed and vivid than what is pictured, but this was the best way to capture the clouds. It took some studio time plus en plein air, but I am happy with it.

Wallis Belgian Mist


Paint Around MPS

Today was so much fun, minus the rain and torturous driving. Glad to have learned of their quarterly meeting, I joined the Maryland Pastel Society as an Artist and I hope to earn the juried Signature designation ASAP. There are only 45 slots in their upcoming January show at the Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum in Bethesda and I am glad to join in time to be able to submit for jury.

The last portion of the meeting was a shared Paint In, so to speak. With five easels in a circle, each artist had 10 minutes to work on their reference photo with their pastels on their easels. When time was up, they slid right to the next person's work and put in 10 minutes using those materials. As it turned out, each used a different kind of sanded paper. After making their way around the loop, they each had 10 minutes to work on their own again.

The slideshow, below, begins with me drooling over some beautiful pastel sets. If you've been reading, mine are heaped together cozily in a French Companion. It'd have been fun to participate and torture others with my set up. Newbie or not to the organization, I was all ready to paint along side them.

Included artists were Jean Hirons, Deborah Maklowski, Barbara Steinacker, Jack Pardue, and Lisa Mitchell, if I got them all correctly.

Put your feet up and watch the progression of each painting...

Or see the album here:
MPS Paint Around

Be honest. Would you like to have done it?


Local Exhibits

My sidebar includes links for the art blogs I read. Many are artists, but among them are also event and critic sites.

YouTube: Scott Hutchison

Recently, Daily Campello Art News highlighted Scott Hutchison and his highly personal and interactive art. I was in Scott's class a year ago when he did an installation of it at Northern Virginia Community College. The new exhibit is at Gallery 101 in Georgetown through December 5.

I see another interesting installation coming to NVCC.
The first annual Artist Teacher Exhibition will be on display from November 3-15 at the Ernst Cultural Center at the Annandale Campus of Northern Virginia Community College. An opening reception will be held on Wednesday, November 5, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. A total of 61 teacher-artists will be represented by 86 artworks in the exhibition.
Pared down from 300 entries via jury, the work is that of Fairfax County Public Schools' art teachers. Please support their exhibit. I cannot thank them enough for their overall positive influence on my son, who is pictured above with one of his prized PTA Reflections entries (The Work At Night, oil pastel with watercolor resist, created at home), which won progressive stages, including the county, and was second for all of Northern Virginia.


Productivity Variables

Unfortunately, I haven't had too many en plein air paintings to post of late. I've created three paintings over four sessions, as I wanted to get out while the weather is still good. Alas, I have not shared them, because I've had a run of bad luck with some newly purchased materials. It's stuff that is vital to my process and I'd loved in the past, but this came from a bad lot and I didn't realize it.

Further, one evening I had a talkative audience, who I didn't know how to be firm with considering the very important extenuating circumstances. (Blast, I didn't have my Plein Air Conversation t-shirt on that day!) That doubled the loss of one session.

The last couple weeks have reinforced how precious both my materials and my time are to me. In that way, it's a good reminder to really appreciate it when it goes well.

I'll share pretty pictures of where I've been instead. Up top is from Fountainhead Lake in Fairfax Station; those mirrored reflections were just yummy. These two below are both in Lorton: Giles Run Meadow and a small clearing across the street from the Barrett House, which actually is in a restricted zone, although I did get permission to paint there afterward if I parked at the Barrett House. I love how the brownish weeds turn reddish purple orchidy with pink highlights in the setting sun.

I will go back to these spots and try them all again.

Check out the plein air slideshow and map link in the sidebar to find any locations I go to paint.

For anyone local, I'll be painting with NOVAL at the Manassas Battlefield Visitor's Center beginning around 9:30 tomorrow.


Making a French Companion Friendly

Artists with equipment like french easels also maintain a personal supply of nuts, screws, and bolts. As I mentioned before, I'm a MacGuyver type, so it suits me.

When I purchased my Richeson French Companion, I expected it to be good enough on its own if a bit of foam were added. Instead, I immediately learned that the piano hinges would bend, allowing the case to angle open at the bottom. Perhaps if the French Companion is carrying tubes of oils, it would not matter. When it is carrying loose pastels, the dozens of pieces settle to the bottom and wreck havoc on organization.

To correct the gap between the bottom and top, I decided to add latches on the bottom. It was very difficult finding hardware and these were difficult to install on this hard oak. As you can tell, this doesn't solve the complete problem, as it'll still pop open on one side sometimes.

I have a dam along the back/bottom/rear of the case, so that nothing falls out. In this photo, one is upright and one curls back over the pastels. The cat is gratitutious.
To counter the added bulk of the latches on the bottom, in order that the box would still stand upright like a briefcase, I added four knobs of my own creation. I tried using regular small knobs, but they would not screw into the oak, so I used two sizes of washers and threaded them onto wood screws.
Further, because the front lip opens with a piano hinge, I had to create a dam of foam to keep the pastels from rolling off the edge.

This was my first day working en plein air. See the pretty white foam! I lost a number of pastels to the concrete floor of that gazebo in Havre de Grace due to them rolling off the front.
This is with the dam in place, and again, with the front flipped open. It also shows the two layers of foam underneath the pastels.
Here the front piano hinge is closed and this shows the protective foam layers on top, with the lower one notched out to accommodate the dam, which is two foam layers.
All in all, I find the French Companion very workable, although relatively simple alterations were necessary. What do you find works for you?


Hands and Feet

Last week I began a pastels class featuring the nude form. I'd only done pastel portrait work in the past, never the figure. I chose it because I prefer to work from life and it's a good option as the weather gets colder.

The class is at the new Workhouse Art Center and the instructor is a Floridian relatively new to this area. She was an instructor at Ringling and is the perfect clown herself.

Her means of painting is different than I'd previously encountered and it is unique to her teaching. Doing landscapes en plein air, I use sanded paper and soft pastels of varying degrees of hardness, using one on top of the other to blend them. Ginger White Hertgenroeder (see another example) recommends hard pastels, like NuPastel, or medium ones, like Rembrandt, to dither out a form onto flat drawing paper, layering these more resistant pastels and blending them with each other. She uses the side, particularly the corner of square ones, to gradually etch out the figure. This method makes finding the proper angle a desirable process which causes the entire figure seem to shimmer with movement.

Here's my example from class, a study from a larger portrait of the model's bent leg.

The next day, as I was stuck waiting for routine car maintenance, I painted my foot and hand several times.

This example is like the first, which only used shades of brown, beginning light to dark. Unlike the first which used pastels from my very, very hard set of square Van Goghs, these below are with Rembrandts.

The next two go beyond the brown palette and inch toward Ginger's palette for the fair skinned. Begin with your lightest of three browns and work to your darkest. Work in pink and progress to blue, which blends together to create purple in places. Work in green sparingly and get shadows and definition with browns. Keep the pinks and greens apart, as they'll make mud. Scrub in a layer of white over all of it to further blend the other colors and begin again to further define as needed.

This example uses three values of blue along with white.

It's a fun method and I especially like chiseling out the form instead of drawing, erasing, and refining.

In summation, however, I want to make two points. First, I must admit that it is hilarious to me to paint the hand or foot of a nude person. Second, I did not find a need to be nude when I painted my own hand and foot.

You'd better be laughing.


Stroke Limit Exercise

Okay, first get a feel for the day.

Then watch your instructor paint and be in awe of the atmospheric results.

Start her recommended exercise: simplify and record the colors and values of the scene in 20 strokes. Work small. This is a 4x6 white Pastelboard.

Think about doing the same exercise in the 50 stroke option, but choose instead to tackle that sky on your own. This is 8x10 Pastelboard, probably gray.