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Art School at Home has been on an extended hiatus for several months now, and I’ve spent the time (in part) thinking about where I want to go with my art. I’ve decided that I want to pursue a more focused course of study, learning to paint landscapes. So please join me over at my new blog, Landscape Learner.

This blog will remain up for a while, but I will be closing off comments.

My New Toy

I’ve signed up for a workshop this weekend – Painting en Plein Air with Acrylics. I normally paint in oils, but there were no oil workshops scheduled at a time I could attend, so acrylic it is! Most of the topics to be covered should apply to both media, though, and it’s always interesting to try different things. Here’s the description of the workshop:

“Explore the advantages of working with acrylics and, particularly, the new slower drying series of acrylics, while painting en plein air and in the studio.  Various block-in methods will be discussed and demonstrated. The simplified elements that contribute to a good composition, as well as the awareness of values, edges and colour temperature, will be a part of the learning experience. Demonstrations, individual instruction and critique will be part of each day.”

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

I’ve tried plein air painting a few times, with great enjoyment but limited success. For those outings, I used the pochade box at left, which I made from a converted silverware chest. For the workshop, though, I treated myself to that beauty at the top of the post: a brand new Jullian French easel (shown in the wilds of my backyard). I can’t wait to try it out!

If you have any plein air tips for newbies, please leave a comment!

I’m taking a class called Techniques of the Masters, in which we’re painting a portrait of a lovely model with beautiful red hair using the techniques of verdaccio and glazing. It’s actually almost over – last week was class 7 of 8, and I’m very much enjoying it. Here’s what I’ve done so far:

We started off by preparing the panel. Ok, we cheated a bit here – in place of the wooden panels the masters used, we’re using masonite. But we got back on track by sizing it with rabbitskin glue, then giving it several coats of gesso – the real stuff, not that acrylic primer everyone thinks of when they hear the word “gesso”. Then we toned the panel with a lovely warm golden colour made of yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and a tiny bit of burnt umber. And finally, the preliminary underpainting in yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber and white. If you look closely, you can see where I had to go back in and correct her chin and some really bad hair I gave her!

I fell a bit behind when I was out of town for a week and missed a class. Now I’m working on the verdaccio, or “dead layer” – basically a value study in yellow ochre, mars black, oxide of chromium and white. In this photo, the verdaccio is about half finished; I need to finish her eyes and chest, and fine-tune some of the vaues. I think the most important lesson I’ve learned in this class is to check values constantly. Not that I wasn’t aware of the importance of value, but I discovered that my “eyeballed” values are often off a step or two when I check them with a value finder.

I am an Artist

Chad’Else
Oil on canvas, 16×20″
Not for sale

This is the painting that turned me, in my own mind, from a dabbler into an artist.

This is my aunt’s cottage, a beautiful spot where I spent many happy vacations. I started this painting a couple of years ago, in a class at my local art centre. It was nearly finished when the class ended, but I wasn’t entirely happy with it. I set it aside. Then last year, at age 86, my aunt sold the cottage. So for Christmas, I dug out the painting, gave it a few final touches, and gave it to her. She loved it, and hung it on the wall of her den right next to the photos of her beloved dogs. Believe me, in her book, there was no higher honour than that!

What I wasn’t prepared for was the response of so many other people. When my aunt died unexpectedly recently, the painting was displayed along with photos and other mementos at the funeral home. So many people who knew Chad’Else – but didn’t know I was the artist – admired it. Including the new owners of Chad’Else.

I have so much to learn, and I still see many things in my paintings that could be better. But I now believe that I’ve reached a point at which others can enjoy my work, and I plan to begin showing it. I’m also going to set up a website, and another, more professional, blog. Stay tuned in the next few months for updates!

Time Out

I’m going to be taking a bit of a break from blogging. I’m planning an intensive summer of art, and I know I have a tendency to spend too much time on the computer and not enough at the easel. So I’m going to try consciously stepping away from the blog for a while and see just how much I can accomplish with my art. I’ll definitely be back, so please drop by occasionally.

Yesterday was a beautiful early spring day – about 10°C (50°F) and sunny – so I headed down to Paletta Park on the shore of Lake Ontario to paint. It was a bit cool with the breeze off the lake, and by the time I was finished my fingers were pretty cold, but if I’m going to become a plein air painter, I’m going to have to learn to handle colder fingers than that!

I found a spot on the shore that faced a rocky point, with a little tree near the end just beginning to bud out. There were lots of mallard ducks and Canada geese, and a swan who disappeared soon after I arrived. And following the advice I got on WetCanvas to “put in my time with Black and White”, that’s what I used. Mars Black and Titanium White, and nothing else. It was harder than it sounds, but a very useful exercise to try to see the values without worrying about colour.On the whole, despite getting a couple of the rocks out of proportion, I think this one turned out much better than my first two plein airs.

There were a couple of sets of human onlookers – a father explaining to his young daughter that “the lady is mixing black and white and it makes grey,” and a nice couple who arrived when I was almost finished. It was nice to be a visual aid for a colour mixing lesson for a future artist (the little girl told me she has watercolour paints at home), and the polite responses I’m getting on each outing are increasing my confidence immensely.

Starter Pochade

As someone who loves to get outdoors I knew I wanted to try plein air painting, but I didn’t want to spend too much on equipment until I was sure it was something I would enjoy and stick with. So I built my own pochade box. I think the total cost was somewhere around $15. I was able to use some bits and pieces of wood and hardware that we already had around, so if you had buy everything you might be looking at $20 or so. Still a lot better than most of the pochades I’ve seen online.

I started with a silver chest I found in the thrift store for $9.99. I ripped out the cardboard and fake fabric that formed the indentations for the spoons, etc, and was left with a nice solid wooden box – except for the bottom, which turned out to be heavy cardboard. It measures about 10.75 x 14.5 x 3″; that’s an 8 x 10″ canvas board sitting in it to give an idea of its size.

Then I partitioned off the inside with some 1/4 x 1.25″ strips of wood, which also formed a support for a palette I cut to fit from a piece of masonite. (It needs to be coated with oil periodically to keep it from soaking up the oil in the paints.) I also stuck a thin strip of masonite on the bottom of the lid (under the canvas board), as well as a scrap from a paint stirring stick on the side. They extend past the edge of the lid just enough to hold the palette in place when the lid is closed. I screwed a piece of 1 x 1″ wood to the back to support the lid when it’s open.

Finally, I screwed a scrap piece of plywood to the bottom to give a solid surface to insert a tee nut into, so I could use it with a tripod. The plywood is longer than the box, so it forms a nice little shelf that I can set things on as I paint. I put the tee nut at the point of balance when the lid is open, determined by balancing it on a small pill bottle. That’s why it’s not in the centre of the box.

It’s not a thing of beauty, but this has worked reasonably well for me so far. Its biggest drawback is that the bottom of the panel is so close to the palette that I keep getting paint all over my arm and hand. But it’s definitely good enough to use for the time being. I found a video on Zan Barrage’s blog that shows how to make a couple of great pochades, so once I have a better sense of what I want in one I will probably try to build another.

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