Colored and dark papers can save you precious time and give you amazing effects. When I paint/draw/teach plein air I try to nail the impression in under an hour, it is a race against the planet moving. As the sun slowly moves across the landscape you will see new cast shadows, new lights, after 3 hours they all cancel each other out leaving you with muck. So in keeping the time short using the dark paper can be a huge advantage.
The idea is the paper is your dark areas, sketch in the composition and leave the darkest part alone. From there you focus on bringing out the light, driving towards the light, with the last touches happening in the last few minutes before your hour is up! This approach works wonderfully and it feels magical while doing it.
One of the reasons why leaving the paper alone as darks works is because shadows are the absence of light. The darks don’t need details or labor, leaving them alone creates a atmosphere of mystery that is a perfect foil for all the lights you will be drawing. Save time, effort, and create magic by leaving lots of paper alone. Enjoy!
Below are my pastel landscapes all in under an hour. Take note of the dark areas are just paper.
Today I uploaded these pastel still lifes to my archive. They are in my Idyllwild studio’s drawing drawers. There is difficult oxymoron in painting and pastel which is that color kills light and light kills color, but I think with these I achieved the perfect balance bringing out the best of both. At the moment they are available and upon sale they will be framed with museum Tru-Vue glass, the best, no glare all you see is the beauty of the pastel and paper.
One of the most important lessons I teach in my workshops is to find the shadows first. It is almost a guarantee that if you find interesting shadows then the rest of your drawing or painting will work!
The hard part is that looking for shadows (cast, core shadows of the thing, and areas of dark) is counter intuitive, most people look for the color and a beautiful thing. Trust me, without the shadows it is a lot of work with little to show for it. In my pastels below you will probably notice the light and color, but what set up each one were the blocks of shadows.
The process starts with a dark paper, compose with any dark medium color playing special attention to main shadow areas. In cases with shadows of a yellow or white building, I lighten the shadow, but only one or two tones up from the paper. The rest is a lot of fun, leaving the shadow areas alone, then focus on the light and color areas, adding light by subtle gradations until I finish with the brightest light.
The following is a version of my part of a joint presentation with Stephen Hicks given at the first ever Malibu Summit student retreat hosted by The Atlas Society on June 29, 2019 at Scorpiesse in Malibu, California.
June 29th, 2019 at Scorpiesse – Stephen Hicks talks with Atlas Advocates at The Malibu Summit.
An Impasse Between Creating and Destroying
The contrast between postmodernism and what I call “evolutionary art” is both epistemological, in the sense of how the art is made and the knowledge behind it, and metaphysical, what kind of subjects are important. Postmodern art is about seeking new means and content to challenge the very concept of art. Evolutionary art builds on the contributions of great artists and great art movements with new insights into human psychology and aesthetic means. Philosopher and The Atlas Society Senior Scholar Stephen Hicks, Ph.D, summarizes the difference this way: it is the difference between a master making a stained glass window and the moron that throws a rock and smashes it!
Louise Bourgeois vs. Martine Vaugel
Louise Bourgeois at MOMA. “Untitled” (1998), fabric and stainless steel at center
The postmodern works I am including are considered important by important art institutions. A defining moment and lifelong obsession of French-American postmodern artist Louise Bourgeois was the trauma of discovering her father’s affair with her governess. Bourgeois was a member of the American Abstract Artists Group and had her own salon called Bloody Sunday. She referred to her early to later work as “fear of falling…art of falling…and the art of hanging in there.” Not an abstract artist, not a competent drawer or sculptor, with no discernible standards of any kind, she didn’t use art as a means of personal evolution, to grow both technically and soulfully. Instead her works convey that she remained stuck in a regressive emotional intelligence state, which conveyed the only kinds of emotions available to a hopelessly incompetent artist – pain, anxiety, and confusion.
A great example of her arrested development is this untitled head shown at her retrospective show at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Clumps of wool clobbered together to form a cylinder base and a cotton ball-like head, which is then crudely sowed over with pink-flesh colored compression wrap bandages, wrapping the nose, stitched over mouth, and stuffed into the empty eyeball sockets. A cauliflower ear is formed grotesquely out of the same stuff. One has to call into question, not how pathetic her work is, but what is her motive for exhibiting it, and what are the motives of the critics, curators, and directors who give her a reputation that only the awesome prestigious power of New York’s great art institutions can give. Empathy for humanity may be in the press release, but there is a deeper motive that they may not want to examine.
Martine Vaugel, is a contemporary French-American sculptor whose bronze figure and portrait sculptures are, in her words, the “expression of my love affair with the human spirit.” She is the founder of the Vaugel Sculpture Method, a method of clay modeling based on her knowledge of human anatomy and mastery of structure.
Last night I went to bed early after a long day of painting edits, only some of which were successful. While painting I had been streaming movies and TV episodes in the background. One scene in particular caught my eye. It was of a couple kissing, joining lips in classic Hollywood fashion. The scene was stuck in my head when I went to bed around 9 p.m. I woke up at 9:30 p.m., only a half hour later, with that image still in my mind, and I thought, “Why don’t I paint a kiss?”
Right then I messaged my favorite female muse, who lives in Hollywood, and asked her about the project. Then we discussed who would be the right guy for it. The face had to be stone-like in structure, a big nose (I like painting big noses), and masculine. I remembered a male model that posed for some of my other projects a few years ago, and he, I believed, lived in Hollywood. I messaged him about the project, and he told me that he was leaving Hollywood in the morning (today!) for good. He gave the actor’s dream everything he had, and he was also going to be a dad, and he and his mate were heading to a cabin in the woods in Michigan. I searched his FB page and saw pictures of a vibrant, beautiful woman. I asked: “Are you already packed? Would you, could you, pose with your mate tonight for the “Kiss” painting?” He said: “Yes!” My muse loved that I decided to do the project with them, but she also thought I was crazy for doing such a spontaneous thing.
My brother committed suicide and this is a memorial drawing.
A Reddit commentator gave condolences and then wrote “I love the grain of the table magnified by the water in the glass.” That names so well the visual.
The Problem with Glass
Michelangelo paints and draws humans not so much how he sees them but what his hands would feel massaging their bodies. Bone stands out and soft spots become indented. Glass is tricky because we literally see through it but if you draw it that way it doesn’t feel tactically real. See if you can observe that the patterns inside the glass float up to the front side of the glass; as if you could reach out and tap the glass.
In real life the daylight sky is bright, much brighter than the landscape’s trees, vegetation, mountains, and water. Think of it as a large lamp. But when you paint a landscape truthfully the effect backfires, the sky will be bright but the earth part will be dull and muddy. Light on the green trees, stone buildings, and red flowers can’t complete with the sky’s light. Even though you are seeing a sun filled landscape, your painting won’t feel that way, but you’ll feel disappointed with your skills.
Cutting to the chase a painting that is flat is more like a cereal box than like a Rembrandt. What makes painting interesting is transforming forms, depth, and light from the real world to a canvas. It is a very complex visual language that conceptualizes how we see, and it triggers suspension of disbelief, rewarding us with the perception of movement and light. A painter cannot just cut and paste reality to the canvas, the transition deals with how we perceive, how light bounces off forms and textures, painting techniques, and oddly, even how well our studios are calibrated for light.
Some years ago I was having trouble painting. I would stand back and see a mistake and try to paint a correction, but when I got up close to the painting I just couldn’t capture the nuance I was hoping for. I was getting near 60 years old and I decided to totally re-educate myself about painting (even though I already had four decades of painting behind me). The project was to paint a sandstone orb that has personal significance to me. My studio has the greatest daylight from 11 am to noon, and I like to paint into the night, so figuring out the artificial light was essential. I painted each orb under different artificial lighting conditions. I also used every painting technique I knew, from thin liquid applications to scumbling to super thick blobs of paint. This series of nine alla prima paintings, all in private collections, were the result of these explorations.
I have noticed lots of artists including myself are drawn into drawing abandoned places, scruffy landscapes, weathered shacks, and stone ruins. While a manicured lawn or polished mahogany conference table inspire a blau reaction. There is something visually exciting about the chaos of ruins but what is it that is triggering our vision? And why are paintings or drawings so boring when they are of pristine subjects? Vision scientists Jan Koenderink and Andrea van Doorn (a link to their abstract on pictorial space) talked with me over beers in Glasgow pub about how the eye goes blind if it cannot move about and compare and contrast tones and hues. Using my artist’s logic it makes sense that on the opposite end of the spectrum the eye becomes excited when each hue and tone is varied. My pastel of a rickety courtyard gate in Rhodes, Greece illustrates this.
Notice the gate is drawn with all kinds of unrepeated colors. The plastered gold side of the wall has countless hues ochre, and medieval stones are equally varied with its shifts between brown and gray. It seems like a lot to try to do in a 50-minute drawing, but I was helped along by all the setting’s details were all extremely varied. If you are an artist looking for something interesting to draw look for differences in everything. That will keep your eye busy and excited and the viewers’ too.