Saturday, June 13, 2020

Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting

Notes on John F. Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting


When I first got a copy of this book, I managed to read about half of it.
I knew Carlson was offering up some good advice, but older books like this can be tough to get through. (Somewhat antiquated language, written by someone who's first skill is not writing, etc.) A few months ago, I got determined to read the whole thing from front to back and take notes as I did so. And I did so.

This book originally came out in 1928 as Elementary Principles of Landscape Paintings. My copy (pictured above) is a reprint from the 1950s. Nowadays there is a very affordable reprint available for around $14 in paperback.

Some strange things about my edition of this book:
- an odd choice of work to put on the cover. Far from one of Carlson's best, and it appears to be a watercolor (!) to my eyes. The book is about oil painting, btw. All understandable given Carlson would have had no say in this later reprint as he passed in 1947.

- There seem to be a similarly poor representation (to my eyes and tastes) of the quality of Carlson's work in the inner images as well. Again, he may not have had a say in that (or all of them). Also, there is a grand total of ONE color reproduction inside. Smack in the middle. What was the point of that? At least give us 6 or 8... Anywho... Carlson could churn out some amazing paintings and I have decided to sprinkle a few of those in this post to delight your weary eyes.




Morning in the Forest



As I read, I wrote down passages that clicked with me.
Below are some of the best ones, with the name of the chapter in which they appear.
(I also included some of my own thoughts and reactions here and there in blue.)


1. How to Approach Painting


"... the camera does not have an idea about the objects reflected upon its lens. It does not 'feel' anything..."

2. The Mechanics of Painting

"Do not be afraid to spoil what you have, so long as you know why you are making a change."

– This resonates with me. Some large area in a painting seems.... wrong. I think and think about it, putting off what seems like a risk, until I embark on the change and almost always it was the right thing to do.

3. Angles and Consequent Values

"In most instances when the beginner finds the color of anything 'impossible,' the fault lies not in the color, but in the faulty value or weight of the mass."

– Another way of saying that value is predominant over color. Or that if you can't get the color right, get the value right.

4. Design

"Nature is seldom perfect in design."

5. Light

"No one can tell another person exactly what the color of anything is, because each of us has a variously differing 'color sense.'"

"It might almost be given as a 'recipe' that the smaller the dark mass presented against a light, the lighter and fainter becomes that dark."

– Especially visible as tree branches get thinner and thinner near the top. More light "wraps" around them and their value seems to lighten.

"... there is no such thing as flat tone in all outdoor nature – it is changing toward or from the light."



Sylvan Labyrinth



6. Aerial Perspective

"The sky is the key to the landscape"



8. Color

"... the student, by a very slight degree of self-analysis, can select his gamuts and harmonies, as well as his constructive lines of color, rather than merely stupidly taking things as they come in nature. We must not train our eyes to copy tone for tone, but think of the bearing of such colors and harmonies upon the main idea of our picture."
"Reserve us strength; overstatement is weakness."


– The downside of this can be seen in paintings where all the colors of the spectrum and a full value scale are present, but the painting doesn't work. Restraint.

9. Trees

"The painting of tress is best accomplished by much drawing of trees."

"... do not think that because a landscape is "real" that it is a work of art. A true picture is one in which so-called natural elements are made to function as an idea."

11. Composition

" The choosing of  expressive limitation is not child's play – it is mature choice."

– I relate this to expressive strategies like working with a limited palette, or reduced value scale. Those kind of limitations in the service of your painting can be what makes it work.

"A work of art in paint should be beautiful and expressive as abstract color and form and should not interest us necessarily in any "story" outside of itself..."

– A representative work of art should also work on an abstract level.

"Too much reality in a picture is always a disappointment to the imaginative soul. We love suggestion and not hard facts. A picture should be music in form and color, with the subject-matter the vehicle."

"Analyze your impression in order to approach expression..."



City Twilight



13. The Extraordinary and Bizarre.

"... homely objects and effects are made sublime in their transmutation, in the passage from the artist's brain to the canvas."

14. Painting from Memory

"... memory exaggerates the essentials..."

– This is why the exercise of memory painting, or sketching a scene that moved you later on will often get you just the key elements, and not the distracting minutiae of needless details.


Those are some of the key points to my mind. I took a lot more notes than this and distilled them to the essential.




Friday, May 1, 2020

Canadian Artists, Part II – Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté

Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté

(1869–1937)

His name is quite a mouthful.

Monsieur Suzor-Coté – like M. Gagnon from my last post – was born in the province of Quebec. From the town of Arthabaska (modern-day Victoriaville), he began his artistic career working on interior decorations for churches. Later, he studied in Paris (with Léon Bonnat) and returned to Canada in 1908 and maintained a studio in Montreal. where he sculpted as well as painted.

(Biography on National Gallery of Canada site.)



Mauve and Gold



Levée de Lun


He drew influences from the artists Henri HarpigniesFrits Thaulow and Jean-François Millet. It is said that he put paint down very thickly with a brush and then flattened it with a palette knife to get the effect he wanted. Even from online images, some of his paintings look to have very heavy paint application.

His color handling and the texture of his work really knock me out. I would love to see a work of his in person.



the man himself – looking dapper


Evening



After the Breakup




Sunset Arthabaska




Paysage










Friday, April 24, 2020

Canadian Artists, Part I – Clarence Gagnon

Time to share my enthusiasm for some artists that have recently come to my attention.

I am a fan of members of the famous Canadian Group of Seven painters, and they led me to other great Canadian artists. Specifically two, one of which I will show off in this post.

Clarence Gagnon
1881–1942


French Canadian painter & engraver


Brittany Goose Girl



Baie Saint-Paul
c. 1914-1917


Clarence Gagnon was born in rural Quebec and studied art first in Montreal. He later also studied in Paris and returned to Europe many times. He lived most of his life in Baie-Saint-Paul, not far from Quebec City, downriver along the St. Lawrence.

Even though he lived and worked in Europe for long stretches, his subject remained almost exclusively his beloved Charlevoix region of Eastern Quebec.




En Novembre



Gagnon_Le Ruisseau, Baie-Saint-Paul


I just love his work. He had a great color sense and a wonderful looseness in his painting technique. All that, and then I saw his engravings – whoa. They are absolutely stunning and full of mood.

The National Gallery of Canada has a nice biography of him and a bunch of work online.


Gagnon_Jardins du Grand Séminaire, Montréal



Overlooking the Vallée du Gouffre, Charlevoix


Summer Day, Les Andelys, Normandy


Summer Scene, Baie-Saint-Paul



A little analysis of the above painting:


– wide, panoramic format (ratio of 1:3.3)
– cool color scheme of blues overall, with the house being the only overtly warm area
– groups of blue trees form 3 points of "rest," with the eye tending to move between them
– most saturated area of color is foreground center group of trees, also a very high contrast spot from trees to river behind


Next time: Marc-Aurèle de Foy Suzor-Coté

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Online resources for artists and art-lovers in this cloistered age

Well, the world sure has changed since I last posted here in.... November?

Last week I did an Instagram takeover of the Lillstreet Drawing & Painting account:
In preparation for that, I compiled a list of new and ongoing worthwhile art-related online resources. Some specifically created for this cloistered age we live in. I never ended up posting them and so they are now a blog post.
Enjoy.



Free excerpts of Streamline art videos on FB:
They keep adding more and they are not small excerpts. More like 1.5–2 hours long.
These videos are mostly quite expensive to purchase and so this is a great thing. Lots to be learned here.

Philip Mould’s Art in Isolation videos on IG:
Mr. Mould is a gallery owner and one of the hosts of Fake or Fortune on the BBC. In these daily (weekdays) videos, he shows you around his home in the English countryside and goes into detail about pieces in his art collection.


Andrei Taraschuk's Twitter art bots:
Andrei Taraschuk creates art bots on Twitter. They are code that pull images off the internet and posts them to Twitter. They feed my eyes and brain with tons of beautiful images every day. It's one of the major reasons (for me) to even get on Twitter:


Online auction catalogs:
The link goes to  “Art Impressionniste et Moderne” at Sotheby's but there are a TON of these online and a great resource to browse/search for inspiring images. You can look through catalogs of current and past auctions.
Of course, there are plenty of other auction houses with great images online. Like Waddington's in Canada:





Waldy and Bendy's Adventures in Art:
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/waldy-and-bendys-adventures-in-art-25w56nkkm
Waldemar "Waldy" Januszczak (left) and Bendor “Bendy” Grosvenor host this art podcast. Well, not a normal podcast, as you listen in a browser window on the Times site. The plus is, that when an artwork is referred to, the image shows up. In that respect, far better than an audio-only podcast on the visual arts. Both of these gentlemen have hosted art programs I have enjoyed.
Just the other day, Mr. Grosvenor started a new podcast, Art History at Bedtime. I have as yet to listen to it.
https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/art-history-at-bedtime


Just the other day, I saw an article about the best museum web sites to while away your time on. The author wanted to make a list of ten (I think), but only two (!) made her cut. (I can't seem to find the original article right now.)
Anyway, the 2 were The Rijksmuseum and The Met. I have spent a lot of time on the Met's site. Not so much at The Rijksmusem's site.
You be the judge:
https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/
https://www.metmuseum.org/

Line of Action drawing reference tool:
Figure, animal, landscape reference site. You can just draw from something you like, or do a timed session to practice starts. Learning to start strongly and with a plan is key.



ARTFIXDaily email sign up:

Daily news compendium of art-doings. New exhibits, discoveries, etc. Some days ho-hum, other days quite fascinating.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Good advice from John Carlson

I have decided to thoroughly read John Carlson's Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting. When I first got the modern reprint version a number of years ago, I think I only got through about half of it. I now have a 1950s edition and intend to go through it in depth and take notes as I have for Birge Harrison's and Edgar Payne's books.



But prior to starting that task, I happened upon some passages that really clicked with me and relate beautifully to an exercise I am currently having my landscape painting students do with composition. We are sketching about 4 differently arranged compositions from a single photo. I want to push my students a little to look beyond working verbatim from photos.

Now let's hear direct from Mr. Carlson himself:
(Excerpts from pages 48–49)

"Don’t paint “direct from nature” when all elements of organization and beauty or design are palpably absent.


The artist must look to nature for his inspiration, but must rearrange the elemental truths into an orderly sequence or progression of interests. By “sequence” is meant giving primary, secondary, or tertiary importance to such forms and color masses as are needed for an end and leaving all others out. In speaking of composition the use of the word “need” may sound enigmatic to the beginner. Let it be understood, then, that since nature is rarely perfect in design quality, the artist, in rearranging his “natural” elements upon the canvas, is creating a picture. This may involve moving objects to left or right, raising or lowering the horizon, slanting a mountain’s contour in a direction opposite to that of nature, enlarging or reducing various masses, strengthening or reducing certain lines, introducing minor elements such as stones, bushes, fences, flower-patches, etc., to give a desired line; “placing” clouds in a manner to emphasize their sweep and movement to coordinate with the other lines of his picture. He is really using nature and her forms, while he manipulates the natural truths to suit his artistic needs. Were this not so, the man who could slavishly imitate or copy nature as he saw her would be the greatest artist; but he never is.


No law or formula can be concocted by which good composition would always be assured. I can only suggest that the student experiment with charcoal and paper (with any given motif in mind) until he feels that one arrangement out of the several made embodies his idea better than all the others combined, and that he then try to decide why it is better."



Carlson shows this with some reproduced sketches in his book:




And I do this myself as preparation work for many of my paintings:


These were sketched from one photo and I played with format (landscape, vertical, square, etc.) and the arrangement of elements).  I personally like the look and quick results of working with white and dark pencils on toned paper.



Friday, August 2, 2019

Marc Hanson workshop

A few weeks ago I attended a 3-day plein air painting workshop led by Marc Hanson, a painter I have followed online for a few years now. I've wanted to do something like this for a while, but none of the ones I was interested in were held anywhere near me. Marc's was in Lowell, MI about a 3.75 hour drive away, just east of Grand Rapids.

We painted 2 of the 3 days in a park where a stream fed into the Flat River (which then flows south into the Grand River, which is the Grand Rapids river), and the last day in downtown Lowell. This was a great experience and I'd certainly do it again.

Marc doing his monochromatic study - big shapes & limited values


Marc's completed color painting

Day 1
morning
Marc painted a demo - he did a monochromatic study of a scene, adjusting the composition and learning the value structure and then painted a full-color, large version
afternoon
We did the same 2 type of paintings as Marc did. I did my 2 on one board, with a taped divider down the middle.

my take on this exercise
oil on 9" x 12" panel

Day 2
morning
We did the compass rose exercise, wherein we each had a board divided into 4 equal sections. We then painted in each square for 15 minutes, turning 90 degrees for the next one, and so on. Our challenge was to find something interesting in each area.
afternoon
We each painted from the same view, a tree on the bank by where the rivers met

oil on 8" x 10" panel


Day 3
morning
We did a memory exercise where we looked at the scene we were painting for 3 minutes and then painted for 12. We did that 4 times. After that, we painted the same scene it for an hour in a normal fashion.
afternoon
Marc did another demo painting in the afternoon.

––––––––––––

Major points/lessons learned:

– Marc paints with essentially a split-primary palette and I did so for the 3 days. In recent years I have been "designing" limited palettes for each of my paintings. It was nice to get back to the arrangement I started painting with, and stick with that for 3 days. I think I will work more in that way going forward. Not switching it up all the time helps.

–Values
Marc talked about how paintings can tend to work better if they are weighted towards having more light or dark areas, and not an even split. He suggested about a 70%–30% balance, whether the larger figure is dark or light values. I have been reading Edgar Payne's book The Composition of Outdoor Painting lately and he makes a similar suggestion.

–Darks/Shadows
Marc stressed keeping shadows transparent and "mysterious." Save the opaque areas for things in the light. He generally addressed large shadow masses first and manipulated them to find interesting shapes and simplicity.

Process
Marc usually paints on a warm-toned support. He began by drawing in the big shapes and wiping and re-drawing them until he had an arrangement he liked. He used a brush with thinned paint for this. Then he addressed shadow areas, and started working on the largest/most critical masses. He found warm colors wherever possible, and stressed them to counter the overwhelming dominance of greens before us. He also emphasized pulling the brushstrokes in the direction the light moves over forms.

One of the key lessons is that he designs his painting using the worthwhile elements that are before him. He is NOT painting an exact replication of every leaf and branch. The view before him contains raw material that can be used for a painting. It is not the painting itself.












Monday, May 13, 2019

Synthesis

In one of his excellent newsletters John MacDonald outlined an exercise that intrigued me very much.
(July/August 2018 issue: link)

He combined the color scheme of a painting with the values and subject information from a photo. This struck me as fascinating, and a very valid pathway to an interesting final image. I decided to try it and started working on this painting last fall.

This past Saturday in class I finally finished it. (It lay dormant for many months – I'm not that slow.)

My source photo was one I took in Oregon a number of years ago. I am fairly sure it was in the area of Salt Creek Falls. I liked the forms of the hills rolling away into the distance, but the sky was blown out (as often happens in photos) and offered no color or value information to draw from. What the photo is lacking made me think I'd have to look well beyond it to make something out of it.


source photo taken in Oregon

My source painting was LaSalle Street at Close of Day by Alfred Juergens:


I found it in a book of art relating to Illinois put out by the Illinois State Museum in Springfield. (The book is Chicago Painting, 1895 to 1945 by Wendy Greenhouse. The painting is actually on the cover.) I believe I chose it because it's a color scheme I've never painted with. I suppose I am not a huge fan of violet, and this is all violet, blue, and orange. Regardless of that, I do love the painting, so something there was attracting me.


I did a handful of quick sketches on toned paper to move things around and help me better imagine a painting:


I also decided on a limited palette of Hansa Yellow Light, Quinacridone Red, Cobalt Violet, and French Ultramarine Blue. My assessment of the Juergens painting led me to believe I could get the colors he did with this palette and it worked out fine.


Here's the final image:


oil on panel, 11" x 11"



I further decided (to get me out of my comfort zone) to apply color in a broken, impressionistic manner (except in the lower right shadow area).

I am fairly pleased with this final painting. I would not have normally chosen this palette. The violets and oranges seemed to push the scene to a late-in-the-day, golden light kind of thing, so I went with that. All in all, a great learning experience, and one that I have suggested to my students to get away from an overly straightforward reproduction of a photo in paint.