Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Evolution of a Painting

Last month I did a plein air painting on the South Branch of the Raritan River. I liked how it turned out but felt compelled to try a couple of different versions of that scene and I ended up with 4 different paintings. I find this is a good exercise to do once in a while - taking the same scene and painting it again with a different attitude. You've already got the composition worked out, so you can concentrate on trying different techniques and see where it takes you.

First is the original painting that I did on location:

"April on the South Branch"
8x10 oil on panel

In this second version, I tried a much looser approach. I used a very minimal palette and mixed most of the colors right on the canvas as opposed to premixing them on my palette. This is a fun way to paint! Just scrape down if the paint buildup starts getting to thick:

"April on the South Branch II"
8x10 oil on canvas

Third, I wanted to try painting 100% with palette knives. I didn't use a brush at all, not even for the initial sketching and blocking in. This sure saves time on cleanup since it takes just a few seconds to wipe the knives clean. But I ended up with too many hard edges in the painting. I do like this version but I think my more successful works of late use a balance of brushwork and knife-work, each being used for what it's best suited. Or, maybe I just need more practice with the knife:

"April on the South Branch III"
8x10 oil on canvas

The fourth and final(?) version is a larger painting - 24x30 inches. I used the palette knife in the rocky areas on both banks of the river but decided the rest was better done with brushes. And I stuck with the limited palette again:

"April on the South Branch IV"
24x30 oil on canvas

Which got me thinking... in my plein air painting, I haven't done anything larger than 11x14 in a long time. Doing smaller paintings on location is usually easier for a number of reasons, but I really should try something larger. Probably not as big as 24x30, but... stay tuned...

Friday, May 16, 2008


"May at Round Valley"
11x14 oil on canvas panel

From the spot I painted this, the water was about 20 feet below me on the left. Two kayakers were paddling by and I overheard:
"What's he doing?" he said.
"I think he's painting!" she said, "HEY! Are you painting?"
"Yes!" I replied.
"AWESOME!" she said as she paddled away.

A couple of weeks ago, I was painting along the Raritan River and a canoeist shouted out "Awesome!" when he saw that I was painting. I think paddlers need to expand their vocabulary a bit! Just kidding of course. My brother, John Kazimierczyk, is a pretty well known whitewater racer / boat builder and always seems to hold a national title in one racing class or another. He supports himself by designing and building canoes and kayaks from his home in the wilds of New Hampshire. Now how awesome is that?! If you're in the market for a canoe or kayak, or want whitewater canoing lessons, check out his website Millbrook Boats.

The above painting was done at Round Valley Reservoir, near Lebanon, NJ. It's at a spot just around the bend in this painting I did here last year:
"Pine Tree Trail"
11"x14" oil on linen panel

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Process of Creating

Here's a quote from Judy Dunn's blog Artrepreneur that's worth repeating. It's good advice for artists, whether you're just starting out or you've been in the game a long time:
The process of creating is precious. Protect it from the critics. The product is just product. It is not precious. It is not us. Let the critics come out and have their say when you are ready to pause. Listen. Notice. See it as a way to learn and grow. And then thank your critics for their input, and tell them to go back in their closet. And get back to having fun creating, testing, playing, experimenting..... Own the process. It is sacred. And control the critics, their words can be valuable tools or deadly weapons.
I think that's really great advice. Every critic has their own opinion, whether it's your mom, or an arts reporter from Art in America. You can listen to them, but don't forget that your opinion counts too. Be true to yourself, follow your own path, and enjoy the process! I think Robert Henri was talking about the same thing when he said:
The goal is not making art. It is living a life. Those who live their lives will leave the stuff that is really art. Art is a result. It is a trace of those who have led their lives.
The product is not us, but it is a reflection of us - and that's only true if we follow our own path rather than trying to please critics. The important thing is to live your life, and enjoy the process.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

A Plein Air Painter's Checklist

"Otto's Barns"
11x14 oil on panel

I don't know of anyone at this farm is actually named Otto, but it's across the street from a place called Otto's Farm Park and it sounded like good name for a painting.

I'm enjoying painting outdoors on location again, now that the weather is so nice, and thought it might be interesting to share my checklist - the list I check carefully before leaving the house to go paint somewhere:

Paintbox items
It's hard to forget this, but it may as well be on the list. I have a few different boxes to use, the EasyL from Artwork Essentials is my current favorite.
One of my paint boxes has a built in tripod, but 2 others mount on a separate tripod - just a sturdy camera tripod
umbrella kit
I used to paint without one, but since I got an umbrella that mounts on my paintbox tripod, I can't live without it. If the sun shines directly on your your painting or palette, it's very difficult to work. Dappled sunlight hitting your canvas is even worse. The umbrella from Artwork Essentials is really nice and well thought out.
Built in to 2 of my paintboxes, but a separate item with another box.
  • big tube of white
  • warm & cool blue
  • warm & cool red
  • warm & cool yellow
  • transparent oxide red
  • a few others for variety
I paint with a pretty limited palette and just carry a few essential colors plus a few extras. White plus 2 reds, 2 yellows and 2 blues is what I consider essential - with these you can mix almost any color. But other colors have their place too. I often start a painting by blocking in with transparent oxide red - a beautiful red earth color which has a transparency I can't get by mixing my other colors. I love to use this color for underpainting. I also like sap green, dioxazine purple and yellow ocher.
turpentine or mineral spirits
for cleanup and for thinning the initial coats of paint
a painting medium
I mostly use the standard mix of linseed oil and tups, but have been trying out some faster drying alkyd mediums like Gamblin's Galkyd and Neo-Meglip.
palette cups
to hold the turps and medium
canvases or panels
something to paint on!
double ended push-pins
to separate canvases when carrying them around - I'll explain this more some other time.
Once I drove 30 miles and set up to paint, only to find I left all of my brushes at home. That's the day I started this checklist.
palette knives

pencil & charcoal
for the initial sketch
rags & paper towels
oil painting can be messy
short rope
On windy days, a bit of rope or cord can be very useful for securing your gear. Canvases and sun umbrellas make very good wind-catchers!
small pliers
for stubborn paint caps
small carpenters level
I like to insure that my paintbox and canvas are perfectly level. When painting buildings and other man-made structures, I can sight along the top of my box or canvas to judge angles. It helps me to get the drawing down accurately.
small adjustable carpenters bevel
No, I don't do carpentry out in the field, but I find this tool can be useful when drawing structures with complicated angles. Holding the bevel in front of me, I can set it to the angle of a complicated roof line, then transfer that angle to my canvas. I don't use a bevel very often, but sometimes it can really help.
Doing thumbnail sketches first is a good way to decide how you're going to paint something.
plastic bags for dirty rags oil painting can be messy
small plastic baggies To wrap around wet paintbrushes when packing up. I'll clean the brushes back home.

Miscellaneous Items

camera and spare battery
I like to record the scene that I'm painting and get more reference photos of the area for later studio paintings.
Comes in handy for many things out in the field
wide brimmed hat


water bottle
For drinking, not for painting
I rarely take anything to eat along with me, but I do keep this on the list.
cell phone

wear socks
I often don't when at home, but when romping through the woods, socks helps prevent poison ivy.
wear a non-white shirt
Wet paint is very reflective, and a white shirt can cause a lot of glare on your canvas and make it very difficult to paint - especially if the sun is hitting your shirt. Same with bright colored shirts. Dark blue is good, a neutral gray is best I think.

That may look like a big list, but it all fits into a small backpack that's easy to carry around. And there's nothing worse than setting up to paint somewhere far from home, only to find you forgot something essential.