close

Gurney Journey | category: Plein Air Painting | (page 22 of 22)

home

Gurney Journey

This daily weblog by Dinotopia creator James Gurney is for illustrators, plein-air painters, sketchers, comic artists, animators, art students, and writers. You'll find practical studio tips, insights into the making of the Dinotopia books, and first-hand reports from art schools and museums.

gurneyjourney.blogspot.com

White Church

Here’s an 10 x 8 inch oil study of a church, painted from under a porch on a rainy day. What interested me was how the white color of the church resembles the tone of the sky, leaving the little dark shapes of the clock face and windows almost floating in air. You can see the warm underpainting peeking through the semi-opaque sky colors.

White Church

People often think the sky gets darker on an overcast or rainy day, but actually the opposite happens. It gets lighter in relation to anything else in the scene. Only the purest white snow can be lighter than an overcast sky.

From Endor to Chelsea

Christopher Evans headed up the matte painting department at Lucasfilm during Return of the Jedi. He later rendered dozens of computer-generated illusions for Matte World Digital. But it was always his dream to have a one-man show of his oil paintings at a top gallery in New York City.

From Endor to Chelsea
Yesterday Jeanette and I arrived from the pouring rain for the unveiling of “Open Space,” an exhibition of a dozen large landscape panoramas at the Fischbach Gallery in Chelsea. Mr. Evans’s mastery of light, air, and atmosphere were in full display here, with fleecy cumulus cloud forms and rolling California hillsides stepping back into luminous distances.

From Endor to Chelsea
Mr. Evans, it may be revealed, is a founding member of the Slaves to Nature, seen here painting Fawn’s Leap along Kaaterskill Creek. I was working behind him in what appears here to be a tranquil section of the stream, little suspecting that disaster was about to strike. But that’s another story for another post.

White Umbrellas

When you’re painting outside, the direct sunlight is a killer on your eyes. It’s hard to judge colors when you’re squinting from the glare of full sun on your white palette. I have a friend who uses dark brown palette paper to solve this problem.

Another way to cope is to always face your line of sight toward the sun, so the painting itself is in the shade, and it casts a shadow over the palette. But you can’t always limit yourself to looking in one direction. Sometimes you want the sun at your back.

White UmbrellasThe solution is the white umbrella, which helps to soften the sun's glare into an even, indirect light. Even if you are painting in a deep forest, little shafts of light will travel across your painting, and the umbrella will eliminate their distracting patterns.

To support the umbrella I use a “C-stand,” or Century Stand. A photographer told me about this vital piece of support equipment, standard stuff in the movie industry, but most artists don’t know about them. They’ll hold anything at any angle.

White Umbrellas
The goal for illuminating your work on location is to make the light level on the painting equal to the illumination in the scene itself. That way you can judge colors much more accurately.

This photo was taken of a painting directly in front of the landscape. It is lit by the light of a white umbrella, so the levels are pretty close.

White Umbrellas
By the way, some umbrellas are opaque, with black or gray on the inside. This doesn’t help, because you need the light from above, diffused through the umbrella, not bouncing up from the ground. Get one that is a translucent white nylon.

But with umbrellas, beware of the wind. I’ll talk about that hazard, frequently my downfall, in a future post called "The Disaster at Kaaterskill Creek."

Gallery Flambeau

In the back of every artist’s closet is a stack of failed efforts, the paintings that just didn’t work out for one reason or another. I’ve got my share of clunkers. But an artist should not bequeath too many bad paintings to posterity.

Your reputation rests on your overall average. If you have a lot duds floating around after you’re gone, your grandchildren will be in a tough spot. They won’t want to get rid of your bozos, so you should now.

Gallery Flambeau
That’s why, with the help of my teenage son Franklin, I invented the “Gallery Flambeau.” This solar-powered, environmentally friendly device uses a 4-foot wide array of parabolically positioned, laser-mounted mirrors to magnify the power of the sun over 300 times. Displayed under its unforgiving glare, a painting magically transforms into a cloud of smoke and a shower of ash. Gone forever. Press delete. Your Artistic Average goes up a tiny notch.

Gallery Flambeau
Remember, kids, don't play with fire, and protect your eyes from the intense brightness of the hotspot by always wearing the approved Mongolian Mountaineering Safety Goggles.

Signs and Dinosaurs

Shane asked for a few plein air studies, so here are some streetscapes with plastic signs. These are mostly little paintings, 8x10 inches or so, painted outdoors. In this one I was interested in the color that a white house appears to be when backlit against a bright hazy sky. I was also interested in the mixed commercial and residential zoning. I get a kick out of doing these scenes of ugly beauty as a change from dinosaurs and utopias. I don’t do them to sell, just for fun.

Come to think of it, there’s a connection between dinosaurs and McDonald’s signs, because this entire mad enterprise will be extinct one day. A hundred years from now it will all have passed forever from the earth—McDonald's, Walmart, and Dunkin Donuts—and we’ll be nostalgic for it.

People in 2107 will look at the paintings surviving from our times and try to reconstruct what life was really like for us. They’ll see lots of barns and fishing villages but not too many parking lots and overpasses.

The Ninety Degree Rule

The Ninety Degree Rule

Sometimes I start a plein air painting and it just doesn’t click. Either the drawing doesn’t work out, or the light changes, or a big truck parks smack in front of me. That’s when I apply the Ninety Degree Rule.

Rather than wasting time searching around for another motif, I just turn 90 degrees to the side and paint whatever is there. In the case of this painting, Jeanette was standing at my side, so I just painted her.

Slaves to Nature

Today, on my last day in the Catskills, I’m painting an ordinary view of a typical Catskill stream. This will be reference material for a future Dinotopia painting. I’m trying to paint exactly what I see without relying conventional landscape formulas. The T-shirt I’m wearing is from a very small, semi-secret organization of plein air aficionados. We call ourselves the “Slaves to Nature.” The group arose in response to the notion that painting in this way is somehow slavish copying. (It also arose from the desire to have cool t-shirts.)

Slaves to NatureOf course Nature makes a slave of nobody who loves her. But she does punish us in other ways. Take the sunlight-diffusing umbrella, for instance. Over the years, sudden gusts of wind have blown it over and buckled the delicate wires. This was the last time I used it before it died.

Slaves to Nature
The final painting is in oil, 8x16 inches. In the photo you can see the real scene directly behind it for comparison. The weakest part of the painting is the area on the lower right where I tried to improve on what I saw by compressing the forms. Whistler once said “Nature is nearly always wrong.” The Slaves to Nature disagree. We hold with the Russian philosopher Chernyshevsky, who said, “Art is fine, but Nature is always better.”

Curious Spectators

Curious Spectators
I set up to paint on a bridge over Schoharie Creek, and a father and his two sons came along to watch. The boys were each holding a slice of bread and they tore off little pieces to feed the fish. They wanted to know why I hadn’t included the fish in the painting. The father wanted to know how I made my living as an artist. The delicious aroma of frying latkes drifted over to us from the nearby Orthodox Jewish community. Then the boys ran home, their father warning them to watch out for cars.

Into the Woods

Into the WoodsI left the little red cabin for a day of painting in the Catskill wilderness. All the plein air gear fits into a black backpack so I can take it on the trail. The “Barbie-go” wheels on the pack might take away a few style points among hard-core trekkers, but they make the rig handy in airports.

Into the Woods
Here I am in the woods “up a stump” and starting to paint. I use (and recommend) the Open Box M pochade box (www.openboxm.com). The paint palette and adjustable panel holder mounts onto a camera tripod (Velbon CX 444). The advantage over the traditional French easel is that you can turn, tilt, raise, and lower your work very easily. I added a side panel with graduated holes for holding brushes and Nalgene palette cups containing Gamsol solvent and Liquin alkyd medium. On the mixing palette is disposable white freezer paper.



Into the WoodsHere’s the finished painting, Trail to the Beaver Dam, which I did in two consecutive three-hour sessions. It’s very tiny, only 6 by 12 inches. I was attracted to the glimpse of distance through the trees on the right, and the profound darkness on the trail ahead on the left. The illumination in the foreground comes from the trees that were cut down.

For more information about plein air work, have a look at the Web site www.outdoorpainting.com.

Cabin in the Catskills

Cabin in the Catskills
Platte Clove is a V-shaped valley that slices into the western face of the Catskill Mountains in New York State. Some wildlife biologists consider it the wildest tract of land in the Northeast. Because of the sheer cliffs and plunging cascades, the DEC has decided to cut no official trails into the gorge. Cars can reach the top only by a single-lane road that is so treacherous that it is open only from May to November.

At the top of the clove, nestled above a 100-foot cascade called Plattekill Falls, is a little red cabin built in 1840. It has been granted the modern blessing of four or five electric light bulbs and a socket or two, but it is innocent of plumbing. The cabin is owned by the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development (www.catskillcenter.org), which has established an artist-in-residence program. Painters, writers, and others haunted by the muse can work in the magic spell of the clove, the very spot where Washington Irving reportedly received his inspiration for Rip Van Winkle.

I was thrilled to have been chosen for a week-long residency. Today, along with Jeanette, Franklin, and my parakeet Kuky, I’m on my way up the mountain in our old family van named Trusty Rusty.
(The painting was done outdoors at twilight during my last stay at the cabin in 2005.)
White ChurchFrom Endor to ChelseaWhite UmbrellasGallery FlambeauSigns and DinosaursThe Ninety Degree RuleSlaves to NatureCurious SpectatorsInto the WoodsCabin in the Catskills

Report "Gurney Journey"

Are you sure you want to report this post for ?

Cancel
×