Richmond From Legend / underpainting and photos

Camera perspective V the naked eye perspective

Camera perspective V the naked eye perspective

I drew it on paper, standing on the deck at Legend Brewery a few weeks ago in the morning before they opened, and left when the customers started to come in for lunch. It took me a few weeks to get my charcoal sketch, as seen on a post below, then more time to draw it on the canvas with charcoal. I didn’t use a photo, but measured the perspective by holding my charcoal out at an arm’s length and using the Federal Reserve building as a unit of measure. I thought I had the perspective close enough to real, then I ran into a stopping point when I started on the underpainting one morning.

The light is better in the afternoon on the city, but Legend gets crowded some afternoons, and the weather is still iffy a lot of days, which stopped me and was a problem I needed to work out before painting.

This painting is complicated, and after years of drawing from life outside in nature, I don’t enjoy painting from a photo. When you get used to seeing the subject life size, then have to look at a photo, it’s like the photo is so small and the perspective is smushed and the colors are flat. It was just more practical to use photos at this step. I had my camera set on automatic for the shots  printed out here, and taped them together, so I could get the afternoon light in my underpainting. I took these shots from the floodwall, which is a little lower and closer to the river than Legend. The skyline looks like 36 inches to my naked eye and looks like 18 inches to my camera. I did the underpainting at home. I’d rather have been at Legend.

I had to get a different  state of mind to paint using the photos. I hear other artists get stuck with a painting too. I went over to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and drew some Lotus flowers, meanwhile. And I need to draw more Lotuses before I can get a plan worked out for the Lotus painting. The Lotuses are a good distraction from the difficult city painting.

Our teachers at York Academy of Art told us to do a detailed underpainting. It wasn’t easy, but I got it, finally. At this rate, I’ll probably have the painting finished by Aug. for the show I entered at Artworks. Now I have to go to Legend in the afternoon to mix my colors. Building up layers of color on top of my dark underpainting with the lightest and brightest colors the most opaque, I hope to get the illusion of depth in the painting, and make my city POP!!

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Mare and Filly / charcoal

mare and fillymare and filly crackerbarrel

The weather is ungood for drawing in plein air outside, so I’ve been planning a still life. I’ve always loved horses and looked for nice models. Finally I found these at Cracker Barrel for $40.

It took me a few hours to get this far, which is fast for me!  I’ll work on it more tomorrow. I drew them life size because it’s easier than drawing small. For my still life I’ll scale them down by making a grid.

This is what they told us at York Academy of Art: It’s ok to make a grid to scale up or down a drawing if it’s your own drawing. Taking the time to try to match the proportions of the horse strengthened it in my mind. There is a file in my head for horses. If I took a photo and traced it for my drawing, that file would not grow. The act of drawing it freehand burns it into your mind with volume and proportion in a way that tracing a photo can’t do. The mind is basically lazy, and if it can save time and effort by relying on a photo it will, but then drawing skill doesn’t improve.

Drawing isn’t something you’re born with. If you are born with some dexterity, you can work with your hands on any number of different types of art. Like playing a musical instrument, drawing takes hours of practice.

So, remember, making a grid from your own sketch – OK

Making a grid from a photo – not OK

The Poe Museum / photo

one of my favorite places to hang around and paint

one of my favorite places to hang around and paint

It’s at 20th and Main in Richmond VA.

They have a call to artists to paint for a show opening in the end of April titled “Poe’s Enchanted Garden”. They’ll have “unhappy hour” on opening night.  It’s great for me because they let me in free to paint! hahaha I wonder why more plein air artists aren’t taking advantage of it.

This is the scene I’m working on. I drew it without the use of a photo. Now, looking at this photo compared to the painting, I can see my perspective is way off. Maybe it’s the camera perspective that’s off. Or even scarier is, maybe neither my perspective or the camera is correct, and true perspective is something else. How’s that for philosophy?

I still need another week to finish the painting because of the weather.

James River with 295 Bridge / oil paint and photo

One day in the swamp / a plein air story

One day in the swamp / a plein air story

Does Realism show reality? Is my work Realism?

Does Realism show reality? Is my work Realism?

I wish I could answer yes or no but I can’t decide.

On one hand I’d say no because reality changes so fast and I work slowly. I think of a photo of being closer to reality than my painting but the camera lies. My naked eyes lie too. The camera can’t show depth as well as my naked eye sees it and flattens the colors too. Then on the other hand, as I’m trying to paint what I see, I’m making decisions and changes every step of the way that take the painting away from reality.

When weather permits, I go to the same place at the same time of day and work on my painting for a few hours. Some times the tide is out at noon and some times it’s in at noon. I have to decide which tide I want to paint. I wind up painting over what I did the time before, or faking the water when it’s all different. It’s an experiment. If it looks convincing I’ll try to do that again and if it’s not good I give up on that one and try something else.

ok, here’s the story.

I was walking down the trail towing my art supplies and a man who was walking back out stopped and said to me, “It’s not a good day for painting down there. The tide is out. Way out. I’ve never seen it so low. It’s a mud flat.” He wondered what phase the moon was in. I didn’t know about the moon. I said, “That’s ok. I’m not working on the water today. I have to do the background trees first.”

It was windy and cold that day and I had to mix some colors before painting. I took the lid off my palette and put it on the ground. Right away the wind blew the lid down on the mud about 10 ft. out. I had to climb down a steep slippery muddy hill about 5 ft. then step on two logs that are usually submerged to reach the lid. I was glad I was wearing my hiking boots. I didn’t fall into the muck. Then I used vines to pull myself up the hill again.

We had a lot of wind and that makes it difficult, but if the sun’s out I want to try to make some progress on the painting. It’s not only that the wind blows your supplies away, it knocks down your easel and painting if you forget to hold on. It blows all kinds of debris into your paint and onto your wet painting. Most of it comes off easily when the paint dries. Mother Nature doesn’t make it easy for the plein air painter.

sketch of Cold Harbor (road) charcoal

cold harbor road

I’ve heard a lot of stories about the Civil War. It’s complicated. You can study it your whole life and still have questions.

I drove around and looked at the battlefields close to Richmond. Seeing the places and reading the signs brought it together in my mind. The Battlefield National Parks signs have great illustrations and photos from the 1860s that show how it looked, and so much information I have to go back and look again.

The war went on longer than expected. Slaves and soldiers built the earthworks because the landscape was wide open fields. The armies could see each other far away but they were out of firing range. They ran out on the field to fight and die. Now it’s mostly woods.

So many died at Cold Harbor they named the stream Bloody Run because it ran red with the blood of the soldiers.