Painting with the Non-Painter

(Thanks to Gurney Journey, who has a great article about artist support.)

Although he's only 11, my son is the best support I could ask for. He has a great eye, too. When he was only 10, he told me after I'd asked for feedback, "Mom, you really need to develop that shoreline." And he was right.

Here are some pictures from last fall. It's great when we choose a painting spot that can hold his interest as well. This is Shelter Cove, CA.

This day in SF, we had to forgo the submarine and ship tour, but we didn't forgo my chance at painting later. I'm glad he didn't make the connection.

In the Redwood Forest, I told him to hug a tree, but he didn't want to be known as a Tree Hugger, hence the hood and hidden face. Shhh!

At the International Children's Festival at Wolf Trap, I painted demo-style with NOVAL all morning while he and I checked out all the festivities all afternoon.

Close to home at Giles Run, we brought along the laptop with games and movies for the picnic table. I painted through him. He gave me a time limit and I tried to cooperate, because I mostly just wanted his company.

Who do you have to thank for your support? What compromises do you make?


Lucky in Demos this Week

Yesterday I had the good fortune to see a demo by Armand Cabrera (blog), the San Francisco artist who now lives in Warrenton, VA. He was hosted by Vienna Arts Society, a very active group with many opportunities for exhibiting and education. (Oh, yes, I'm very tempted to join, as if I didn't belong to enough!) I have coordinated with him to do an en plein air demo at the Manassas Battlefield (between the Visitor's Center and the Henry House) May 16 at 10am through NOVAL.

I'll write about his demo in the next few days, but I still have much more to relate about Kenn Backhaus. First, however, I must recognize Ayr Hill Gallery in Vienna, as Gail Roberts' collection is spectacular. She has a number of Backhaus' and Cabrera's works. Because I'd only seen the demo/plein air version of Backhaus', it was revealing to see his works on on a much larger scale, which followed his same square format; there was also some portraiture, which did not. Additional artists that caught my eye were Ann McMillian and Jake Erickson. Although I could not find a site for Erickson, McMillian has an online gallery as well as a blog, her working in both pastel and oil. They both had light and loose landscapes on smaller scales on Ayr Hill. No wonder I appreciated them.

Kenn Backhaus' demo last weekend was a great way to see him interact with his own paint. Watching him do a critique of others' paint taught me even more. Here I will combine bits of his wisdom from last weekend.

This piece was painted on Saturday during the Paint Out. Another piece sold during the Wine and Cheese Reception. In all, nine artists had paintings sell that first night.

I'll bullet some of his points and hopefully they'll make sense overall.
  • contrast shape, value, and color
  • don't drop your gear at the first site you encounter; walk around and seek a better spot and look at where other artists are to figure out what drew them there
  • don't worry about the proper number of windows, doors, etc, except for a commission
  • pat your back pocket; that's your artistic license
  • think of the canvas as having a main character with other supporting actors; they guy who is supposed to quietly walk though a scene should not come out with a shouting part
  • concentrate on your focal point, your main character; the rest should have soft edges and not be competing elements
  • seek a lack of balance, for example 5% light/95% shadow or 10% shadow/90% light (Harley Brown's book has great visuals for this)
  • insists that darks should connect
  • he starts with either an overall foundation or he develops the focal point first; he does not suggest painting individual elements in succession, because that makes the supporting actors too important
  • a stickler for things to not be in the middle, he marks the center axis horizontally and vertically so he avoids them in composition before his pencil drawing
  • looks to make sure there are places for eye relief, that the composition isn't too busy
  • palette is cad lemon, cad yellow lt, raw sienna, permanent rose, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, ivory black
  • uses OMS and no medium outside, but experiments with mediums in the studio
  • #8 filbert is his workhorse brush
  • darkens darks instead of "whiting out" light areas
  • seek contrasting values, especially your focal point; aim for the focal point to have the most constrasts
  • don't stairstep your trees/composition or make bookends at the front
  • lower the clouds in a composition which is looking up
  • likes CA sky painters like Edgar Payne, Maynard Dixon, Charles Hassum, _ Metcalf (will research and link)
  • buys rolls of Claessens linen #17 and mounts on gatorboard or birch
  • stretches anything larger than 20x24
  • uses such a variety of brush strokes that his brush is at all angles (see videos)
  • when painting highlights, are brighter toward the top of the building than the bottom
  • to do a long corner highlight, load a small brush and drag it upside down, letting the brush do its thing with broken lines, then pressing a bit more toward the top
  • incorporating new light will alter the original composition and darks connecting
  • ambient light from the sky is cool, sunlight is warm
  • imagine a white canvas held perpendicular to the setting sun; the surface is very warm. Change the direction of the the canvas to be less angled and this is cool. Aim the canvas upward, perpendicular to overhead to the ambient light, and it is very cool; think of these temperatures whe you determine reflections
  • don't split shape in half them laying down a path or stream, seek the asymmetrical, do not do a yin/yang
  • be sure that whatever you have in a scene can be accurately perceived by the viewer
  • sky is lightest; ground is next lightest; trees in the distance are darker
  • seek an economy of color and economy of strokes, which implies confidence
  • his brushstrokes are varied in every direction (see the videos)
  • juxtapose thin/fat, dark/light, cool/warm because nature is random
  • scrape into the oil paintings with a palette knife to let in air
There! You might as well have been at the demo.


Kenn Backhaus Demo and Critique

Sunday in Chadds Ford brought a gratis demo by Kenn Backhaus. He painted the Chad House and the Spring House. It was muddy and windy, but it was all worth it. I was glad to see him with an EasyL like mine. Viewing so many oils in the exhibit the night before and witnessing Backhaus' demo really made me itch to get mine out for the season.

Click on each photo for an enlargement.

Rapt audience...

Not a believer in a standard tint to a canvas, here he is wiping in an underpainting using browns, greens, and reds...

Rendering the scene using MY pencil...

His workhorse brush is a #8 Filbert. First stopping point with the subject in the background...

When he was discussing his composition, he talked about details he would take liberty on, especially when en plein air. For commissions, which I believe he finds confining, so he does them rarely, he is much more specific, of course. In the above scene, he really liked the pine tree across the lawn from the house, but ultimately decided to edit it out, perhaps coming back another day to paint it.

His palette was comprised of cad lemon, cad yellow lt, raw sienna, permanent rose, alizerin crimson, ultramarine blue, and ivory black along with titanium white. Although he experiments with mediums in the studio, he doesn't use any outdoors. Instead, he thins when needed with OMS and considers the underpainting's wetness to contribute a lot.

Linen support is Claessens 15...

Another stopping point...

Note that he opted out of the window on the Spring House, because he felt that detail would detract from the focal point, which is the eave and far corner of the Chad House. He was very deliberate in developing those edges. He left off the Spring House chimney as well. Including it would have placed it too close to the edge.

The sun began to peek around the tree and illuminate his palette, so he clipped a car visor around the easel.

Many strokes were made with an upside down brush. Here he is putting in the bare trees behind the house.

Excuse the wind in the following videos...

Here he talks about time and extra details, to include him adding bright highlights he uncovers over the course of him painting. I also show the mud we were dealing with in that juicy parking lot...

Almost finished...

I left the demo to go paint on my own, so I don't have the final version, but this is close. (Please don't throw tomatoes!) My next post will be a list of his painting caveats, which were lovely to be seen in action as he critiqued the pieces of the nine painters who remained to work.

(See also Celeste Bergin's day-by-day summary of her five day workshop with Backhaus in Oregon.)

Look at what's written across his EASyL: SQUINT! Great reminder for determining values.


Winter Thaw

This weekend in Chadds Ford PA was wonderful. The weather peaked out in the mid 40s, so the afternoons were quite mild. In the mid 20s that morning, it was cold starting out. During my first painting I had my attire thoroughly evaluated by a pausing bicyclist, him noting my double pants, heavy boots, two coats, and then fussing that I only had on one hat! Bah! This from a guy in Spandex? Painting en plein air keeps it light with the funny people you meet.

I worked on three views before time was up and framed one for the reception Saturday night. Down around Brandywine Creek State Park, I liked the vistas and was drawn to the cluster of buildings, long and low.

Here's the gallery view of mine, an 8x10 in pastel, plus a slide show of the other incredible work available through March 15 at the Chadds Ford Historical Society.

Winter Thaw
Pastel on Wallis

Toward the end of the slideshow, there's a red elevated barn on the right. It is the work of Kenn Backhaus and I'll cover his informative demo, complete with videos, in my next post.

Click to enlarge.


You are cordially invited...

Chadds Ford PA Wet Art Reception for Plein Air Works

Paintings created outside during the day will be ready for viewing and purchase. Free wine and cheese! Held in conjunction with MAPAPA.

Host: Chadds Ford Historical Society
Date: Saturday, February 7, 2009
Time: 5:00pm - 7:00pm

Location: Chadds Ford Historical Society Barn Visitors Center
1736 N Creek Rd
Chadds Ford, PA

View Map
Phone: 610 388 7376

And if you can't be there, send me warm vibes. I expect to paint about 8a-3p, followed by framing for an hour. Works are then juried and hung, with the reception beginning at 5p. (See participating artists.)

It's my first time doing a Paint Out like this; it'll be a fun challenge. I have my painting spot in the area chosen and I've purchased enough hand warmers for an army.

Kenn Backhaus will be painting on Saturday, too; Sunday features a workshop with a demo and critique by this artist from the PBS plein air series. What a great opportunity!