Daily Sunrises – Day Two

Yesterday, I started painting sunrises again.  They’re simply oil sketches… nothing formal or fancy.  Yesterday’s is on the left, and described in more detail at A New Morning.

Generally, I grab whatever smallish, blank canvas is nearby.  Today, as yesterday, that’s a 10″ x 14″ canvas board.

Technically, these paintings aren’t quite en plein air (French for “in the open air”) because there’s a sliding glass door between me and the landscape.  However, for those who define en plein air as “in the natural light,” my work does qualify.

Generally, I think of myself as a plein air painter.  My studio style is more tonalist, with a mix of other styles added.

I timed the work this morning, to see if my daily estimates of 15 – 20 minutes are accurate.  It’s close enough.

I walked into my living room at 6:27 a.m., set up my paints, and at 7:01 a.m., I was at the sink, washing the paint off my hands.  (My work area was already cleaned up and my paintbrushes were in water, waiting to be thoroughly scrubbed.)

So, figuring five minutes at each side for set up and clean up, that’s about 24 minutes today, for a painting that took me considerably longer than yesterday’s.

Here’s today’s work, at right.

The colors weren’t accurate in this photo, partly because I took the photo without a flash, and the light was very, very blue from the reflections off the snow.

The photo looks about twice as blue as it is.

Yes, that’s the same painting you saw at the top of this post. 

The snow in the foreground is actually very white, with hints of the myriad colors in it.  To me, the actual painting is very pale and colorful and faerie-like.

When I paint, I ignore anything that’s not lovely.  So, there are elements in front of me that aren’t in the painting.  You can see the actual scene — and three days’ brushes, ready to be scrubbed — in the photo at the left.

That photo also conveys how blue the light was, here in central NH, when I was first photographed the completed sketch.  For example, the floor of our porch is white.  Our living room carpet is a very pale tan color.  And, you can see how blue the snow looks.

Yes, there are buildings, cars, a parking lot… all elements that I leave out.  To me, they’re not lovely or interesting.  (Another artist might see them differently.)

As an artist, I need to feel inspired by what I’m painting.  Mundane aspects of life are necessities for me, but they don’t inspire me.  However, someone influenced by Edward Hopper (work like Nighthawks) would probably talk in very different terms.

The effects of light

The photo at right is the same as the one at the very top of this article. (I’ve placed it here so you don’t have to scroll up & down as you read this.)

Compared with the bluer photo, above on the right…? It looks like a completely different painting.

There are two big lessons from this.

First, when you paint — and the color of the light at that time — makes a huge difference in the colors you see.

That’s not only about the finished art, but the color of the paint on the palette when I’m working.  When the light is really blue, the paint looks bluer than it is, too.  It’s interesting.

The second point is: Light varies considerably with the time of day, the location, reflective surfaces nearby, and so on.  That’s one reason why a completed painting will look completely different in Maine than it does in Arizona.

But, a painting’s colors can vary when you move it from one room to another, as well.  The white walls and red carpet in one room will reflect different colors than the pale blue walls and midnight blue carpet in another.

Generally, I prefer to paint outdoors or in natural light (next to a window).  I also try to paint within two hours of sunrise and two hours at sunset.  At midday, the light is too harsh and white.  Around noon, the shadows aren’t nearly as interesting, either.

Painting technique

My painting technique involves a lot of walking.  I paint a little, and then I walk about ten or 12 feet away, to study the color and composition from a distance.

Then, I paint some more.

I also mix my colors on my brush (or on the canvas), not on the palette.  I scoop a little of one color with the point of a square-tipped brush.  I’ll scoop up another color on the other point of the brush, and then I may add yet another color in the middle of the brush.

As I apply the paint, it blends as I scrub with the bristles.  If I scrub just a little, the colors remain fairly distinct.  If I scrub them a lot, the colors can blend to a uniform shade.

You can see the effect in the photo on the left.  That’s a small, actual size section of the painting.

Anyway, I’m pleased that I’ve painted another sunrise.  This is a good trend.

2 thoughts on “Daily Sunrises – Day Two”

  1. Absolutely fantastic. I love the texture and the colors–your discussion of “scrubbing” with the bristles is interesting and a bit like what I do with acrylics.

    How many coats of gesso do you usually have on the boards/canvases that are standing ready? Do you sand after gessoing?

  2. Ah, you’ve discovered one of my shortcomings! LOL If I was a serious tonalist, I’d apply at least three coats of gesso to my canvases, let each coat dry at least a day or two, and sand every layer smooth with the finest-grit sandpaper.

    The sunrise paintings of the past two days were a surprise to me. Both of these canvases are exactly as I bought them, pre-primed with a thin acrylic gesso, and that’s all. The light was there and I felt inspired. Zero prep was involved.

    The process has been:

    1. Look out the window and decide if the sunrise is worth painting and if I feel like it. (At this time of year, almost every sunrise is gorgeous… if I catch it at the right moment.)

    2. Dash to the studio for a canvas (often still in the bag from the art supply store), drag my easel to the window, and set up my painting supplies.

    3. Paint until I’m convinced I’ll ruin it if I change even one more thing on the canvas. With oil sketches, that’s usually somewhere between 15 and 35 minutes.

    Initially, I tend to “go for broke” with these sketches, figuring that they’re not going to be Great Works of Art. So, the emotional content of the work is usually more spontaneous. Either it works or it doesn’t. Amazingly, it usually works.

    With a more serious work, I’m more willing to push the limits in different ways, knowing that I can wait for the paint to dry and try again with a fresh layer. Sometimes, it’s like over-editing; the energy can be best when it’s fresh and raw, and I’m hoping to learn how to capture that quality from the start, by studying the creative process in my oil sketches.

    Generally, I try to make time to apply at least two layers of gesso — up to four layers — followed by one or two layers of cadmium red (acrylic) as an underpainting. The cad red underpainting used to be among my unique methods… until a lot of other people either heard about what I was doing (I started teaching it around 2002) or they read Monet’s correspondence, as I had. (It was one of those “hidden in plain sight” secrets, for years.)

    I can get away with less gesso if I buy a really good brand. However, I’m usually using whatever gesso is on sale, plus the least expensive cadmium red I can find. Both seem to work fine, and the cheap cad red seems to create the color “glow” I’m going for, even better than the pricier counterparts.

    I need to prepare a bunch of canvases, but… well, this afternoon’s to-do list includes cooking a batch of ginger snaps, and seeing if I can come close to finishing a book I’m going through (slowly).

    In our old apartment, we used to have little red footprints on our carpets, from where the cats would walk on my in-preparation canvases that were drying. I’m hoping to avoid that messiness, here!

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