Sunday, November 16, 2014

Outside the Grand Bazaar at Night - Istanbul, Turkey

12" x 16"
Oil on Board

Stepping into the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey, the largest indoor market in the world, is like stepping into a smoky,  dimly lit roundabout, whirling and reverberating with the taunts of aggressive traders, the glint and clank of ancient brass, and steamed in black tea, tobacco and wood smoke.  There is no way to gauge how far you've ventured into it or where it will spit you out.  And if the bazaar itself is a maze, the blocks surrounding it are a labyrinth of ancillary markets, formed into districts such as rugs, scarves, men's clothing, wallets, guns, weapons, or wedding dresses, the district featured in this painting.

You don't really get the sense from the painting, but the bazaar and surrounding markets close promptly at 7pm.  At that time, the storefront lights turn off and the market empties of people.  You're walled in on all sides by buildings.  The streets are narrow, the sky is a blue slit above you, and there are no street signs.  How we found our way back to familiar streets is still a mystery to me.  I never felt unsafe in Istanbul during the day, but I have to admit that I was a little sketched out walking through the weapons district at closing time, stumbling across smaller and smaller markets, many operating in darkened parking lots, selling outdated, secondhand electronics like Walkmans and Blackberries.

I know the price is a little high on this one, but I feel like this painting is representative of the intense studying I have done lately;  my focus on value, color, and a thick, painterly style came together in this painting. Although I'm not where I want to be yet, this painting represents the best of my ability at the moment.

White's Ferry Landing

8" x 10"
Oil on canvas panel

A few things I've noticed about the way my favorite painters paint:

1. Paint is applied thickly.  They don't draw or scratch; they paint, and the paint is thick, with visible brush strokes.
2. Value (the relationship of light to dark) is more important than anything else.  Shapes, forms, subject matter, color - all meaningless without correct value.
3. Small details are ignored.  Impressionist, or perceptual painting forces the viewer to fill in the details.
4.  After value, color is most important.  Shadows are not black.  They are warm or cool versions of local color that can still be beautiful.
5. Every painting has a color scheme and color harmony.  Maybe this goes along with number 4, but I've noticed that my favorite paintings have harmony.  And that's usually achieved by using a dominant color (one color is included in all color mixtures) or through a limited palette (using a small number of colors, usually three, to mix all values and tones).

I guess these ideas are obvious, but I have to repeat them to myself over and over as I paint.  For this painting, I took in interesting approach to help me focus on value.  I removed my contacts and wore my glasses while painting. When working on the values, I lowered my glasses so that I was essentially blind (I can't distinguish my own hand in front of my face without glasses or contacts).  All I could see were value relationships.  So I focussed on values, completely disregarded details, and did my best to mix beautiful colors while using a limited palette of violet, phthalo green, and yellow.   I think I did alright for a blind man.

Holiday Cactus

8" x 10"
Oil on Board

Even though it was a cloudy day, I liked the way the light was barely able to penetrate the cactus paddles while the flowers just kind of exploded with light.  With the number of paddles and flowers and the changing light, this was a difficult subject.  However, I think it turned out well and, if nothing else, it has harmony.  To achieve harmony, I went with another limited palette; phthalo red rose, phthalo green, and ultramarine blue.  

Saint Francis Chapel - San Diego, CA

8" x 10"
Oil on board
This painting no longer exists

I've been painting a lot of "green" paintings lately.  To get away from green, I went with a limited palette of violet, cadmium orange, and ultramarine blue (I think).  Definitely a different color scheme, but, because of the limited palette and dominant color, violet, that I mixed into every value, I feel like it has unity.  This is Saint Francis Chapel in Balboa Park - San Diego, CA.

View of Mt. Desert from Somes Sound, ME

8" x 10"
Oil on Canvas Panel

My wife and I toured the coast of Maine from Portland to Bar Harbor a few years back.  My favorite day of the trip was when we rented an old wooden Boston Whaler and explored the waters around Southwest Harbor, part of Great Desert Island; the island where Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park are located.  We saw lots of seals and wildlife, and we docked at an island that is only accessible by boat.  We found a lady selling sea-glass mobiles, one of which we purchased.

Somes Sound cuts directly into the heart of Mount Desert Island along the western edge of Acadia. The day was crystal clear with occasional white, puffy clouds casting shadows on the water and mountains.  I tried to capture the peacefulness of the scene in this painting.

River Pine Grove

8" x 6"
Oil on board

There's a pine grove in the southwest corner of the river house property.  I love all vantage points that the river has to offer, but I especially like the view from the pine grove.  You can see it all; the river, the house, the fields in back.  And because it's surrounded by low, grassy hills on three sides, it's kind of still and warm back there.  The pine needles on the ground add to the warmth.

However, I'm not sure I captured the warmth in my painting. I painted this on a Monday night, pretty quickly.  Sometimes I just get the urge. I think I'd like to turn this one into a larger painting and really try to warm it up, especially the grass to the left; it should be warmer.

National Harbor Fog

5" x 7"
Oil on board

Sometimes when I have leftover paint, I like to do a quick palette knife painting and just try to slap it down as quickly as I can.  That was my approach to this painting.  It took about thirty minutes to complete.  Maybe that's apparent...I kind of like this one though.  It's interesting.

Colvin Run

8" x 10"
Oil on board

One of the many dilemmas I face as a painter is whether or not to post paintings that I really don't like or that just turn out badly.  It happens - not often, but it happens.  However, I can only think of two or three of the hundreds of paintings that I've completed that I haven't posted.  They are hiding in the dark corners of my closets, along with many others that I've later regretted posting; misfit paintings.  Although I guess I shouldn't feel that way.  Painting is a process, and regardless of my mistakes, I feel like I'm working toward something.

I debated whether or not to post this one, and it was a little upsetting to me.  The painting is Colvin Run in Lake Fairfax Park, just upstream from where it empties into Lake Fairfax.  I painted it on-site, and the reason it's upsetting is because I always feel like painting outdoors, on-site, is the true test of a painter's skills.  When it doesn't turn out well, one questions his skills as a painter.

This day was a true test.  As I picked my location, set up my easel, and pre-mixed my colors and values, conditions were sunny, mild, and still.  However, sketching out my painting must have signaled the gods that it was time to start screwing with me.  The wind whipped up, the sun went away, and it became chilly as it tends to do in early November.  The beautifully backlit, yellow grasses became grey, muddy masses and the bright, violet tinted reflections of the clear sky on Colvin run were now indistinguishable from the dead trees criss-crossing the stream.  Alright; enough excuses.

Floating Frames

I've been looking for a way to cheaply frame some of my paintings.  What I've discovered; there is no such thing.  So, I decided to build some frames of my own.  The problem;  I've never built anything, and I'm not too mechanically inclined.  Yet somehow, despite a lack of the proper equipment (a table saw), space (a patio table), and Home Depot's compete ineptitude and lack of pride in their work, my frames turned out ok.

The frames are called floating frames.  I found a You Tube plan for making them online.  They are basically just pine strip molding nailed to a 3/4" composite panel and then varnished.  The dimensions of the panels are supposed to be 1/4" larger than the painting canvas on all sides so that there is an 1/8" gap between the painting and the frame.  The panel is painted black so that it looks like the painting is "floating" in the frame.

I bought a 2' x 4' sheet of panel at Home Depot and asked them to cut it into as many 6 and 1/4" x 8 and 1/4" panels as they could; board cutting is a service that Home Depot offers.  However, what they did not tell me up front is that they cannot make precision cuts.  Being the savvy customer that I am, I did not inspect the dimensions of the smaller panels before leaving Home Depot to make sure they were correct, nor did I notice the sign that said, "we cannot make precision cuts."

When I got home, I realized that most of the dimensions were way off, visibly so, which is not good if you want to make frames that are rectangular, a common shape for frames.  My angry return to Home Depot was to no avail; turns out there was a sign, which they were happy to point out.  And even when I pointed out the lack of pride that they take in their work, it was not enough to cajole them into making precise cuts for me. As a result, I was only able to salvage a total of four 6" x 8" frames and one 8" x 10" frame.

They are not perfect.  Using a miter saw and sandpaper, I did my best to get the correct dimensions, but there are still some gaps and unevenness.  However, my paintings aren't perfect either, and I don't think they have to be.  Somehow they work, and I think the varnish color and the gap between the paintings and the frame really makes them pop.  One day, when I have my own studio/workshop, I'll have a table saw, and I'll crank these out in perfect dimensions.

The paintings in the frames aren't actually attached.  I set them in the frame just to demonstrate the floater effect.  To attach the paintings to the panel, you would just add a little glue to the back of the painting and center it in the frame.  Then you would apply a little weight, maybe with a piece of foam underneath a plate weight and let it dry.

I'm thinking these will sell out quickly at the Marriott craft show coming up in December, so if you want one, let me know.  I'm thinking $30?  Still cheaper than any frame you'll find at Michael's, but enough to recoup my time and money.