Friday, August 30, 2013

Figurative Fridays: Sometimes You Have to Choose the Dark Side

Today, I'm going to talk a little more about sketching.  Although these design principles can be applied to any medium.

In any particular drawing or painting there is an overriding idea you are working with. For example in the drawing below I was very interested in the dramatic lighting of the character. The light was very stark and I had to choose a side to join: I can only make a limited range of values with a pencil.  Would I use my available tones for the Dark side or the Light side?  You can see that I chose the dark side as I used almost all my tonal values describing the shadows.  I left the light side of the range almost completely as the white of the paper.  This focus on the shadow side increases the drama of the piece and complements the subject's pensive pose.
 Pensive Sketch by Richard Lance Russell
Other times, like this concept sketch for the Gilded Butterfly painting, I'm working out the overall shape and flow of the image I want to create.

Gilded Butterfly Sketch by Richard Lance Russell

Gilded Butterfly Painting by Richard Lance Russell
Gilded Butterfly
20" x 16"
Oil on Panel
I often use a sketch as a way for my mind to work out visual ideas. Sometimes it is helpful to have a visual note of my intentions to look at as I work. 

Not all drawings are intended to be complete finished works of art. In fact, some just don't work out at all. Although I will say, often, because of their strong focus on one idea or element, the process sketches themselves can be beautiful in their own right. 

So don't be afraid to play around and risk some ugly drawings, oftentimes it is the happy accidents in sketching that have given me the inspirations for my favorite paintings.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: The Process of Painting A Landscape Vista

Today for your weekly Wednesday Wandering fix: I'm posting sequential images of my latest landscape painting. It's a gorgeous vista at Island in the Sky in Canyonlands National Park, amazing in itself and really fun to paint.
Although I do sometimes tone my canvases, I really like the vibrancy and transparency that you get from working from white with light washes of color, so I started this one with a white-gessoed board.
I started out with the sky.  First because it is the largest shape in this composition, but I also started with it because it is such a large cool blue area and I don't want to be blocking in the warm and cool colors at the same time or my colors will quickly turn muddy.
I worked the general shapes of the clouds out initially.
After refining the color of the clouds a bit I broke out the warm colors to block in the canyons below.
Next I tackled the very tricky skyline border between the warm and cool colors.  There is actually quite a long time gap between these two pictures. Whenever I paint this area in a landscape I am always amazed at how high keyed those midland colors are.
Since I had a hold on the the transition skyline values I started defining the canyons themselves.
Next I looked for edge-defining highlights and hit those.
Here I was working on more definition of the canyons.  You'll notice I was still adjusting general values and warming up the light sky peeking through on the left.
It is a little hard to see in these smaller images but here I was still refining canyons and playing with my brush work to create fun and interesting paint strokes and shapes.
Now that I had my canyons well defined I jumped back up to the clouds. With the very warm sunrise color and values of the canyon completed I could see I needed more warmth bounced up into the clouds. Additionally I felt the clouds' edges need to be softened to emphasize the sharpness of the canyon walls.
And here is the finished piece with the addition of the all-important signature.

Now let me say at the end of this post, that the pictures were not evenly timed as I shot them. Frankly sometimes I got a little involved with what I was painting and would finish up an entire area before I remembered to get up and push the camera shutter.  But a lot of the major decisions were documented in this sequence.  Anyway, it's a little glimpse into my painting process.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Figurative Fridays: The Number 2 Pencil

Sometimes it's fun to pull out the old number 2 pencil and draw. I think most of us are most comfortable with this instrument because of our many years doodling on the sides of our schoolwork assignments. 

One of the joys of drawing is working in simple value (you know, the darkness or lightness of something). When drawing, you are automatically forced to analyze and simplify the world to black and white. Half the work of simplification of form is already done for you. Even with that narrowing of the visual field, the ways you can choose to make your marks are endless.

Are you using line with the tip or shading with the side of your pencil? Will you choose to concentrate on value and tone? Working with edge and contour? Perhaps you want to distort certain elements and use caricature and cartooning in your drawing.  
Pencil on paper

In this drawing I concentrated on the contour or the line that defines the edge of the form. I also wanted to think about the direction of each line and the emphasis "or darkness of the mark" I used. I threw in a bit of tone to define the shape as well. Usually I make these little sketches to work out the direction I want to go with a painting. As I work, I ask myself: what are the most important bits of this image? Is it readable to the viewer? And is it saying what I want it to?

So, everyone, break out the old number 2 and start drawing!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wednesday Wanderings: Creating Motion

I am enjoying these Wednesday Wanderings. They give me a chance not only to share my latest work with you, but also to reflect on my technique, how and why I do things, and how to do it better.

One of the challenges of working in a 2D medium is interpreting the 3D world. Especially in today's culture of media immersion, we know the importance of engaging a viewer. Great art has always given viewers that sense of immersion, that feeling of being there.

But you don't have to paint hyper-realistically or photo-realistically to do that. You can create the sense of reality by using other techniques.

In both of today's paintings, I worked to capture the motion of the world. With "Desert Fire":
Desert Fire
8" x 10"
Oil on Board
that motion in the real world was created by the wind in the Brigham Tea bush I was painting. I tried to suggest that motion with the directional brush stokes of the reeds contrasted with the blocky rocks and the simplification of the background.  In "Canyon Watchman":
Canyon Watchman
16" x 12"
Oil on Board
the motion is in the rocks: the viewer's eye is meant to move across them and delight in their intricacy and subtle color variations. The clefts in them lead your eye to other engaging elements in the painting, and the lone tree becomes both subject itself and background for the rocks.

The natural world is dynamic: moving and changing as the sun moves or the wind blows or the clouds shape and reshape themselves. In my landscape paintings I try to suggest that same movement and energy. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Figurative Fridays: Beauty All Around

Everyone is beautiful. Everyone. Everywhere. You have to recognize that if you want to be an effective figurative painter. 

"Evening Out," 9"x 12", Oil on Board
Because that's the key to figurative painting: finding how to convey that beauty through paint. Don't limit yourself to the ideals that are prevalent in our culture right now. Current trends in our culture try to downplay what makes each person absolutely unique. They strive for a "sameness." The figurative painter's job is the opposite: you have to really see each individual subject. Really look at the person you're going to paint: something about them is going to grab you. It might be the shape of their hair, the color bouncing from their clothes, their eyes. Ask yourself: "What is visually interesting to me?"  

Detail from "Beijing Afternoon," 24" x18", Oil on Board

Sometimes you have to step back and evaluate what you're seeing not who. Look beyond your limited knowledge of how people like this subject have been portrayed before. Look at the shape, color, and value you see in that individual subject in front of you.

There is always something about another human being that delights the mind and eye. Paint what truly visually interests you and the painting will be beautiful. But paint what you think beauty is without really seeing your subject and you will just have a caricature based on preconceived notions. The world is full of beautiful people you just have to stop and really look to see them. 
"Sweet Music", 8"x10", Oil on Board

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wednesday Wandering: It's the Little Things

Today's Wednesday Wandering is another painting from the Southwestern landscape. Sometimes the breathtaking vistas around here completely absorb my attention, and other times its the smallest details that seem to leap out of the landscape.

Today's painting is of a piece of sun-smoothed root sticking up out of the sand. I run across them often on my hikes, and I like to call them desert driftwood because they are so similar to pieces you'd find on the beach.

I kept this painting small and really tried to showcase the intricacy of the twists and turns of the wood, the color playing across it, and its fascinating shape. Still life is fun because you can devote all your attention, all your focus to a single subject and try to really capture what makes it uniquely beautiful.
Desert Still Life
8" x 10"
Oil on Board

Friday, August 9, 2013

Figurative Friday: Simple Shapes

Welcome to the first Figurative Friday! I'm going to use this series to explore and discuss figurative painting.

Sometimes when you're painting the figure, it's what you don't paint that is most important. By simplifying the shapes, deciding on specific details, and controlling color, you can effectively tell a story without excessive rendering.

Bubbles Painting By Richard Lance Russell
10" x 8"
Oil on Board
This is why so many artists love to paint black or white dresses. There's a lot you can do with them. They can be large, simple shapes, or you can add detail to render them more fully. Either way, they read well on the canvas.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wednesday Wandering: High Desert Mornings

"Arroyo's Edge" Painting by Richard Lance Russell
Arroyo's Edge
10" x 8"
Oil on Panel
Wednesday Wandering is a blog post series where I'll post my plein air landscape paintings.

To start out the Wednesday Wandering series, I decided to emerge from my bed unthinkably early and beat the sun getting up.  It was worth it.

The high desert is fantastic at sunrise. See?

Summer is a great time for plein air painting around here. I live in the middle of the American Southwest, with all its red rock grandeur, gnarled pinon junipers, and silver sagebrush. I've spent this summer just soaking it all in and trying to catch it on canvas. I'm particularly fond of this piece, which captures a little rabbit brush on the edge of an arroyo as the sun is rising.