Workshop Results

Final wrap-up of the Ray Roberts workshop.  Of the four studies I did on Friday, this is the one I chose to work from. The photo was taken before I started painting. The upper left of the 8 X 10 painting is quite unfinished, but the color notes of the tree are what matter most.

Back in the studio, we spent the next day finalizing a layout and underpainting of the final work. I did mine on an 18 X 14 canvas, which seemed large compared to the small formats I've been using recently. At this point, we used the reference photo to nail down the details and composition. The photo can be manipulated in many ways, using an image program like Photoshop, to help visualize the final image. Besides cropping and contrast, we can edit out elements, or even superimpose the main object over a slightly different shot of the background. I didn't need to do anything that drastic.

The composition of my plein air study was weak, because it's split almost exactly down the middle between tree and background. The gesture of the tree isn't clear either--it needs more visibility of the branches and sky-holes to show the graceful curving movement. Using a photo reference, it was easy to make changes in the painting's layout to remedy those problems as I laid in a thin-wash underpainting. Ray kept insisting, "no second guessing." The purpose of this stage is to completely resolve any and all elements of design, drawing, and detail. There should be no unanswered questions, so that the final stage is only about the color and paint application.

For me, this allowed the final painting to have a freshness and unlabored look, because when the final color went on, that's all I needed to think about. In the field, it's a constant balancing act between accuracy and freshness. There is a time constraint to catch the light before it changes, so we can't possibly nail down all the details fast enough. We fudge things a little, which works well in a small format; but in a larger work, those uncertainties will show. Painting from photos alone is not the answer, if we want to have true color and any sense of freshness. But Ray's strategy allows us to use the best of both.

"Sycamore", 18 X 14. (sold)


Ray Roberts Workshop, continued...

I have been wanting to explore ways to make larger studio paintings from my many small, quick studies. It can be very challenging to maintain the freshness and observed sense of light and color, while resolving everything as it needs to be in a larger work. That's the focus of this workshop, developing a strategy to make that possible. The quickly-painted color studies are not meant to record detail or accurate drawing or composition, because reference photos can resolve all of that later; but the plein air studies are crucial as a record of the color and light that can only be observed by the human eye. They are the only color reference used in creating the finished painting.

On Friday, we painted quick color studies in two beautiful places here in San Diego. Marian Bear Park, and Torrey Pines State Reserve. Here are the 8X10 color studies I did, along with photos I took of the scenes.

Torrey Pines Reserve is full of rugged, tangled trees and harsh, windswept landscape that doesn't really have a lot of color (especially when the ocean mist is in the air, as it was that day). The photos show just how much chaos there is in the actual landscape, and this is easiest to edit when you can move side to side to see beyond the unwanted obstacles and observe the color of the area beyond.

Over the next two days in the studio, we chose one of our studies and learned how to use various image manipulation techniques with the reference photos to resolve all matters of composition. Then, using those corrections with our on-site color study, we completed a larger, finished painting. I'll post more about that process tomorrow, along with the finished painting.


Ray Roberts Workshop

It's day one of a three-day workshop with Ray Roberts, and today we did several color studies plein air. This first exercise is to encourage emphasis on the relationship of the color planes, rather than relying solely on absolute color and value. The top painting is normal key, color and value (intended to be) just as observed. The painting is then re-done in high key, such that the darkest value is 4 on a scale of 1 to 10. This is my result. All the studies done today were done quickly, to record the color notes as observed.

And pictured below is Ray Roberts' result. I only just found out about this workshop three days ago, and it's here in San Diego! I'm excited because the topic is specifically what I've been wanting to tackle: how to use field studies to create a more developed studio painting. For the next two days, we'll be working in the studio using the color studies we painted today, along with photos we took of the scene as a reference for composition. We will use image manipulation to help construct a source for a final result.


San Diego - Sunset Cliffs

These two are shown here exactly as I painted them on site. The first was started at 9 am, when the marine layer was shrouding the coast in fog and haze.
8" X 10", oil on canvas panel

By 10:30 am when I started this one, the fog had burned off and the sun was shining, changing the color of the ocean and illuminating the land. This second painting was done very quickly, on panel that I brought back from France. Wish I could find more like it here.
8" X 9.75"


Toulouse Train Station

Toulouse-Matabiau, early morning

A small portion of the train station, actually. This very rough sketch was done in the early morning from our hotel room across the street. Rough because I only had this rough canvas panel, and a brush that was so worn, it was like painting with a broom. But I wanted to get the sense of the light coming up behind the station, because that was beautiful.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned Yoko Ono's conceptual instructions. Many of these are things that you could actually do, and they would be life-changing.

If I were to write my own conceptual instruction, it would be this:

Open two suitcases, and fill them with your most useful and treasured possessions.
Sell or give away everything else you own.
Move to a new country with your two suitcases, and start a new life.

This is something you can really do. I know that, because last year it's what we did. When things did not work out in Europe, last week we followed these conceptual instructions again. It is probably the single most liberating action I've ever taken in my life.