Church on the Corner

Church on the Corner, Acrylic on canvas, 8"x8"

Church on the Corner, Acrylic on canvas, 8"x8"

On Solano Avenue in Albany to do an errand I looked up and saw the bell tower of this church against the very blue sky and was sorry I’d accidentally left my sketchbook and paints at home. Fortunately I did have my little camera and took a few photos I could paint from.

The title of the painting is actually the name of the church. According to their website this 100-year old church community changed their name from “First Baptist Church of Albany” to “Church on the Corner” in 2005 because “many people in the community refer to it that way.”

I can’t stop pondering the implications of this: like what if other businesses started dropping their identities and brand names and Apple Computer became “Big Corporation in Cupertino” or Starbucks became “That Coffee Place on Every Corner.”

Golden Open Acrylics and Utrecht Masters Panels

This painting had been nearly finished when I tried glazing over the sky and it failed miserably, lifting off some of the previous layer. So I painted the sky again. Not sure if it was something I did wrong or that the Open Acrylic Gloss Medium doesn’t work well for glazing over layers.

For this painting I used an archival-quality Utrecht Masters panel which is medium-textured canvas on MDF (medium density fiberboard). The surface seemed too absorbent and coarse for the soft Golden Open Acrylics so I applied a first layer of regular acrylic.

That solved the absorbency problem but the texture is still a little too rough for the way I like to paint in thin layers. I have several more of these panels so will continue to experiment with them, using paint more abundantly so the texture isn’t as problematic.

Borges Ranch Painted 3 Times in 3 Years: Seeing Progress

Borges Ranch View, Acrylic on canvas panel, 10"x12"

Borges Ranch View, Open Acrylics on canvas panel, 10x12" (studio painting)

It’s springtime in California and those famous “golden rolling hills” are actually a million shades of green right now, thanks to all the rain (which we probably won’t see again until next winter).  When my plein air group went to Borges Ranch in Walnut Creek last month for our paint out, I used the time to hike, sketch and take photos. Then I made the painting above in the studio from my photos memories of the day.

You can see my recent sketches of Borges here. The two Borges paintings below from 2009 and 2008 help me see that I am making progress.

March 2009; Plein air, Oil, 9x12"

Borges Ranch Plein Air, March 2008

March 2008, Plein Air, Oil (Ick!)

I really like going out sketching with the group and experiencing everything about the day without the frustration of trying to make a 2-hour painting as the light and scene changes completely. I’m better suited to doing sketches in the field and paintings in the studio.

Last Sunday I tried again to paint on site. I thoroughly enjoyed the sounds of birds, crickets and frogs in the meadow where I painted in the sun along the bay in Benicia. The painting was a 50-50 flop that might be salvageable but I took some photos which I altered in Photoshop to match my memories, from which I will make a painting

Blake Gardens: Tulips, Tulip Trees: Sketches and Paintings

Blake Gardens Tulips & Tulip Tree, ink & watercolor, 7x5"

The tulip trees (Saucer Magnolias) and tulips were blooming when we painted at Blake Gardens on a sunny Friday a week ago. Of the multiple sketches and paintings I did of the scene, I think I’m happiest with the one above, done in my journal when I got home, from a combination of memory and photo. I clipped the text from their brochure and pasted it on the journal page.

Here is the final painting and below that are the steps in between:

Blake Tulips & Tulip Tree, Acrylic, 10x8" on Gessobord

Blake Tulips & Tulip Tree, Acrylic, 10x8" on Gessobord

After I picked my spot to paint and set up my easel, I did several thumbnail sketches (left below) to plan my composition. While each thumbnail improved on the one before it, none were great compositions and as a result neither was the plein air painting I did on site.

Journal spread with thumbnail sketches

Journal Spread with thumbnails

I was working with Golden Open Acrylics, my first time trying them outdoors. A Golden expert suggested I put a drop of Golden Open Acrylic Thinner atop each blob of paint to keep them moist when painting outdoors. Instead, thinking I was so clever, I mixed about 25% thinner with 75% water in a spray bottle and misted the paints occasionally.

But I should have taken her advice as my method didn’t work. She’d warned me that adding water to the Open paints will make them dry faster, which it did, and they started getting icky-sticky about the time I needed to quit and head for the critique anyway. Indoors they stay wet all day and in a closed palette, for a week or two.

The plein air painting was so UGLY that I’m glad I only expect my plein air paintings to be learning studies. My plein air painting goal is to fully experience and participate in a scene and embed my memories of color, light, texture, sounds and scents.

Very BAD Plein air study

Plein air study

And there were sounds and scents: not only were the many magnolias overly fragrant, but shortly after I set up, two gardeners fired up a gas-powered industrial-strength chain saw, cut down a huge tree and sawed it to pieces about 20 feet away from me. The sound was horrible and the smell was worse.

Below is a photo taken when I first arrived,  cropped into a more pleasing composition. I like the diagonals and the way shapes of shadows and colors lead the eye into and around the painting.

Photo at Blake Gardens

Photo at Blake Gardens

From my watercolor sketch and the photo above, I started working on a studio version of the painting. Below is the  underpainting with the main shapes and colors blocked in.

Underpainting in acrylic
Acrylic under painting

I liked just as it was and was hesitant to paint over it so I left it for a few days before working on it again until it decided it was finished.

Virtual Paintout Norway & Golden Open Acrylics

Norway farm landscape painting, Acrylic, 9x12"

Norway farm landscape painting, Acrylic, 9x12"

This month’s Virtual Paint-out is taking place in Norway. When I picture Norway it’s always snowing—silly me. I was amazed to wander the roads and see the beautiful summer light and perfectly maintained buildings and fields. There was so much gorgeous scenery it was hard to pick, but I couldn’t resist all the different greens in this scene.

Here is the original scene from Google Earth. I used Windows 7 cool “Snipping Tool” that lets you select an area of the screen to copy and save:

Google Earth photo with address

Original Google photo

If you click to enlarge the image you will see the address of this farm in the top left. I played around in Photoshop to compose and crop the scene. Then I used the “Content Aware Scaling” feature in CS4 that allows you to compress a scene without distorting elements such as buildings or people. I wanted to fit the image on a 9×12″ canvas:

Scaled in photoshop

Cropped/Scaled in Photoshop

What’s really exciting to me about this painting is that I used Golden Open Acrylics to paint it. I am in love with these paints! [SEE less enthusiastic UPDATE AT BOTTOM]. They have all features that I love about oils and acrylics with none of the features I don’t like. I’ve been struggling with both those mediums for months and was going through an artistic crisis, considering giving them both up.

The problem with acrylics

I couldn’t stand working with regular acrylics because I like to layout a palette of paint and work intuitively, mixing as I go. Acrylics dry too fast to do this. (Yes I know you can mist the paint regularly and that there are special stay-wet palettes but I found they turn the paint to soup and smell bad after a couple of days). I also like to blend colors on the canvas and to be able to wipe off a passage if it’s not quite right. None of this is easy to do with regular acrylics.

The problem with oils

Because I try to use solvents as little as possible with oils due to their toxicity and smell, I can’t start with juicy washes for the first layer as I like to do when sketching out the composition with oils. And even with the minimal use of the least toxic odorless solvent (Gamsol mineral spirits) I found there was an odor (probably from linseed oil going rancid that was left in the solvent) that bothered me anyway. And then there’s the cleanup up dozens of brushes after a painting session.

Why I love[d] Golden Open Acrylics

Golden Open Acrylics do not smell, stay workable about as long as oil paints [update: they don’t really], can be diluted with medium and/or water, clean up with water, do not dry on brushes (for 24 hours at least), blend nicely and are just a dream to work with. When I quit painting last weekend I stuck a small, damp sponge on the palette, and closed my Masterson “Palette Seal” box. I opened it today, a week later, and the paint was still in perfect working condition, better than oil paint would have been.

While I admire thick, expressive, brush strokes in paintings, it’s not really my thing. I prefer working more thinly and that’s just the way Golden Open Acrylics are meant to be used: in layers less than the thickness of a penny. They can also be mixed with regular acrylics to modify the texture or the drying time. Or they can be combined in different layers, although it’s suggested to use regular acrylics as the first layer(s) before adding the Opens or waiting for the layers of Open Acrylics to thoroughly dry (2 weeks) before applying a layer of regular acrylics.

I think these paints are also  going to transform my plein air painting. [update: they didn’t work for plein air; got tacky too quickly] I won’t need to bring solvent or a slew of brushes. I haven’t figured out what to carry for a water container or how much water I will need to carry for brush washing between colors.

Our first plein-air session of the new season is next Friday and I’m looking forward to playing with my new medium in a Non-Virtual paint-out too.

UPDATE June 30, 2010

After working the Golden Open Acrylics for three months I’m considerably less enthusiastic about them. The deal breaker is that the paint dries darker (about 10%, varies between colors) which requires guessing when mixing paint how much lighter to make it and makes it impossible for me to try to match colors I’m seeing . Other problems are the drying time which depends on the humidity and wind which makes painting outdoors with them next to impossible in my area. Unless there is no breeze and high humidity, even indoors, you have to work quickly before the painting starts getting tacky within an hour or so. But then it can take a really long time for the paint to dry completely. When trying to glaze on top of a seemingly dry layer, I’ve ended up lifting the previous layer instead and had to give up glazing.

I’ve now switched to Holbein Duo Aqua water soluble oils and so far and am finding them the best of all worlds. No color shift, artist quality pigments and pigment load, no toxics, no smells, easy clean up. I write about them here.

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