Monday, February 28, 2011

Taxes and Floods

Oh man what a day. 

A lot of artists seem like flakes, and lots of "left-brain, right-brain" jokes are made about us. The fact is, a fair number of artists actually do have a brain glitch called Discalculia. Yours truly is one of those lucky people.

Discalculia is caused by a few missing brain cells -- the ones that handle little things like numbers, places and, for some reason, names. This causes us artist types to show up at the wrong time at the wrong place to meet with the wrong person. Works havoc with job interviews, let me tell you!

Birthdays get missed, bank accounts get overdrawn ... and the IRS -- well let's just say I let my accountant handle the IRS!

The day we finished the Cummins Falls project, I set aside whatever time it would take to get my tax information to my accountant. The other accountant in my life -- my most awesome fiance -- had me set up with Quicken but that does not a foolproof tax experience make. Therefor I was still fiddling with it today, long after we had finished the Cummins show.

Whilst perched in front of my monitor on a rainy day, I became aware of a chill in the air. Being the modern American that I am, I simply bumped up the thermostat.

Chill stayed in the air.

Thermostat .... non responsive.


My house is over 100 years old, and the basement door is outside. So it was with no small degree of trepidation that I donned my rain gear and wrestled the cellar door (a bulkhead with no hinges) off the entrance. 

I gazed into the descending darkness.  Spiderwebs crisscrossed the maw of the ancient basement. I saw black, shiny, round spiders and many egg cases. Time for the broom.

After whisking away the webs, I braved the slippery stone steps... and met water. Oh no. The sump pump had failed. My basement -- and furnace -- were flooded. 

My neighbor is a wonderful man who was home with a cold. He lent me a submersible pump and some electric heaters. The gas company man came and told me the gas company won't do anything because of "liability issues." (I bit my tongue and continue to bite it.)

So... as I write, the pump is pumping, the electric heater is heating, and my tax accountant has my Quicken file in his inbox. 

Are we having fun yet? 

Friday, February 25, 2011

After the Show

We've hiked, we've climbed, we've endured sleet and snow. We've worked far into the night putting frames on our paintings, photographing them, cataloging them and pricing them. We've written about them, advertised them and promoted them. We've moved mountains, not to mention furniture, to display them.

Our Cummins Falls exhibit hit the ground running last night. In the face of thunderstorms and tornadoes, the artists and the patrons made their way to the exhibit hall where they ate, drank, visited and looked at the art.

Everyone was enthusiastic about Cummins Falls and a few people even bought paintings! This show did not bring in as much money as some of our others. We can speculate why, but the factors are usually beyond my comprehension. 

I am confident that the adventures and photographs which our artists have shared will be published. I am certain that this effort has brought the Chestnut Painters into a new realm of extreme plein-air painters, and that our reputation will precede us as serious artists. 

Congratulations, all of you, on a fabulous job! Your art, your efforts, your volunteerism and your professionalism absolutely shine. I am proud to be a Chestnut. 

Friday, February 18, 2011

In the Studio

Do outdoor painters do the entire body of their landscape work outside?  Sometimes. I know of artists who paint large-scale paintings completely outdoors, using paint tubes loaded into caulking guns. 

But sometimes an artist will go into the studio to finish a painting begun outdoors, sometimes to make an enlargement of an outdoor painting, and sometimes to make a new painting entirely from sketches and photos taken on location. 

I like to do a number of oil sketches outside, and draw from those plus my memory -- and sometimes a black-and-white photo -- to do a larger painting. The larger painting is not usually a straight blowup of the small sketch. Usually I'm experimenting with techniques and colors to more fully express my experience while I was in nature.

While painting on location at Cummins Falls, I was impressed by two things: one was the depth of the gorge (as you may have noticed in my post Fun With Gravity) and the other was the beautiful color of the water. It was the kind of blue-green I have only seen at Glacier Park and Switzerland. I wanted to do a larger painting which would downplay the whiteness of the foaming water, and incorporate that beautiful turquoise color throughout. I also wanted to emphasize the plunging perspectives of this gorge.

In order to do that, I made some pencil sketches from memory. Then I matched the color of the water which I had used for the on-location sketches. Third, I made a black-and-white print to help me with specifics of the geology. You can see in this photo how I had those references set up on my wall easel.

Creating the painting was that kind of creative process which involves lots of decisions and adjustments. The basic method was the same as that which I showed you in "Oil Sketches." I roughed in the composition in brown, and glazed the blue into the pool directly on the white canvas. The waterfall is violet, followed by successively paler tints of blue, with white placed on the highlights at the end.

The trees on the left side required some experimentation, as I wanted to keep them unfocused but believable.

The Chestnut Group of painters have been at Cummins Falls for a number of days now. Tomorrow is our last day. Many of us have gone into the framing stage of this project. The exhibit is next week -- we have been working hard, and I hope we sell ALL of these beautiful paintings! You can see some of them at this facebook page:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Oil Sketches

A long time ago (and far, far away) some artists decided they wanted to make sketches in color rather than in pencil. They used their paints for this, but they were just taking quick notes -- called color notes -- and the paintings were not intended to be finished works of art.

A funny thing happened: these oil color sketches glowed with a fresh vitality which was often missing in the finished art. Buyers started asking for the sketches, and a new art form was born.

The picture of the waterfall that I showed you last week is one such sketch. You haven't heard from me for a while because I've been doing more sketches of the waterfall, as well as a large finished painting of the same falls. This was a deadline matter!

But now I"m back. Yesterday my fiance gave me a dozen roses for Valentine's day, and my gift to him is an oil sketch of those roses. To see a slideshow of the oil sketch process, go to my Facebook page at Gayle Levee.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Week of Waterfalls

The adventure at Cummins Falls continues as we brave an Appalachian winter to capture it in paint.

The sleet, snow, rain, rocks and heights are the least of our challenges. More exciting are the muddy roads and the instructions for getting onto the property, which read about like this: "stand facing the tree across the road from the gate and look over your left shoulder at the sixth post." I hope the people who went up there yesterday could figure that out because it's beyond me!

I spent yesterday in my snug studio enlarging one of my sketches. The large painting is not ready to post yet, but here is the sketch:

Today and tomorrow were about teaching, one of my great joys. Being with my students is like painting twelve different works because each student has different problems to solve! Friday it's back to painting...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fun With Gravity

Cummins Falls, a gem in need of protection, drops precipitously into a gorge which left me breathless. Our guide to the falls led me on a quick walk to see some painting spots; I followed her as closely as I dared, (twentysomething mountain goat that she is) my attention divided between my footing and the astounding views of falling water. 

We came out of the woods onto a wide ledge of rock -- I had been expecting to be somewhere near the bottom of the falls -- but we stood on a lip at the top of the cascade, swaying above a void seventy-five feet deep. Then I made the mistake of looking... not down, but up at the route we had taken. How had we done that? How would I ever get back??

Vertigo gripping my knees, I took out my camera and made excuses about photography while frantically scanning for an alternate route. Happy ending: I did make it back up to the top of the canyon, and lost my vertigo in the euphoria of painting such beauty.

Painting outdoors is so different from studio painting -- invigorating and challenging, it forces the artist to make quick decisions and hope for the best. Even more of a challenge is water... and falling water tops the list! This was fun. I'll do it again!

If you're interested in Cummins Falls, here is their website:

Friday, February 4, 2011

Tight and Loose

If you're not an artist, the title of this post might make you think of such things as tightwads, loose women (or bowels), tighty whiteys... ack, get me away from Urban Dictionary before it's too late! 

Okay. Back to painting. The words tight and loose in painting have to do with a sense that the artist painted with ease, and not with difficulty. A tight painting can look overworked. "Loose" is generally a compliment.

Beginners tend to work "tight" as they struggle. They will work over a passage of the painting until it loses any vitality it ever had. Often this happens because the artist did not have a good grasp on one of the basics: drawing, color, form or brushwork.

But I've seen artists work too hard at being "loose" and their paintings wind up going all the way to "inaccurate." How successful is a "nice, loose" brush stroke that looks like a light spot where there should be shadow? 

As I work to bring my painting to a higher level of excellence, I need to make sure my viewers don't read it as "tight." I'm making sure the edges stay dynamic -- lost, soft and hard -- and I'm making sure the brushwork is expressive. Take a look at the finished leaf at the center, and the unfinished leaves in the upper left:

What is very important to me about these leaves is their tattered bulk. I emphasized that torn look in the leaf at the right. I also made sure the edge between that leaf and the vase was completely lost. I really want the leaf/vase shape to look like one large form with holes in it. The brushwork within the leaf shape serves the purpose of defining the veins in the leaf, but it still looks like brushwork.

My goal is to strengthen my original compositional idea (holes) and my further emotional theme (winter and summer). My goal is not to make the leaves look more real or more detailed. I think if I had lost my original ideas and gotten bogged down in realism or detail, I could have slid into the dreaded morass of "tight."

Oh... if you have been enjoying my blog, do go ahead and subscribe to it! I'd like to know you. -- gayle

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Foreground and Depth

Part of the fun of representational painting is the illusion of depth. The red onion and the pitcher are in front of the shelf with the bright fruit and the vase, and I wanted to really show that. How to make that happen? Part of it is the linear perspective. Part of it is overlapping the pitcher over the shelf and onion.

Another part is the atmospheric perspective. Atmospheric perspective is the visual feel of "air" between the viewer and an object. The air can make colors cooler, grayer, and it can reduce contrast.

This time I wanted the fruit to be warm and bright, and the background to also be a warm color... that left me with contrast as the only way to show atmospheric perspective. To make that happen, I saved my real darks and lights for the pitcher and onion in the foreground.

So far, I've developed depth, light and form. Next will come surface decoration and highlights. Note that the surface decoration and details will come last!