Saturday, May 31, 2008

Poseidon's Gift; The Horses

I live just a mile down the road from beautiful Torch Lake in northwestern Michigan. One day this week it was particularly windy, and I knew that waves would be higher than normal on Torch, so I grabbed my camera and headed for the beach to catch some waves. Surf's up! Reputed to be the third most beautiful lake in the world, on a sunny day Torch contains all the lovely colors that are in my panel. Besides which I needed more good wave references for the panel painting. The waves weren't as large as I'd hoped, but I got some excellent shots just the same which will help in studying wave action across a large body of water and waves as they break on the shore. To supplement those, a friend sent me some really large wave shots to use, and I'm reading a very good book on painting water titled "Painting the Sea In Oils Using Special Effects" by E. John Robinson. It is one awesome book!

Of course, the most important part of the painting will be the horses, so they were the next objects of my attention. First, again, I did research by going through my reference photographs and pulling out photos of horses walking toward the camera. I had quite a few to choose from and quickly narrowed down the possibilities to just a few. I also did a little research on the internet to find out the breed characteristics of Andalusians and their colors. In centuries past they came in more colors than today which gave me greater latitude to selecting the colors of my horses. Then the fun began as I sketched five horses in different poses and changed them from Arabians, Quarter Horses and a Morgan into Andalusians. They also had to be changed to look as if they were stepping out of water after a strenuous swim onto an unknown shore.

After the horses were drawn to my satisfaction, I made copies of them in different sizes, cut them out and tried different arrangements on a sheet of paper marked in the exact width of the panel which is a 16 inch square. When I found an arrangement that worked the best, I traced the horses and refined them further, adding flowing manes and tails that would follow the directional lines in the panel. Below you can see my horses as they will appear on the panel.

One final step awaits before I can begin the actual painting, and that is to plan the wave action which will be such an important part of the panel and the story.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Poseidon's Gift; Spanish Galleons

I admit that, although I love sailing ships, I don't know a lot about them. So, my first step was to do research on the internet for spanish galleons. In fact, I got so caught up in all the information that I spent way more time than I needed to on this step. I learned about their design and uses and found several useful drawings and etchings of them.

Using these materials but being careful not to copy exactly, I drew a side view of a galleon in order to get a feel for its structure. Since no two galleon images I found were exactly the same, I sort of designed my own from the information that I'd gathered. That's what you see above. Since this is a working study only, I didn't bother with all the rigging or fine detail. I also did a stern view that will possibly be used in the painting but wasn't entirely happy with it.

My next step was to shoot the panel with my digital camera and put the image on my computer where I "played" with it in Photoshop, creating waves and clouds to see if the idea I had in my head would work or not. I think it will. I also put in a little version of the galleon for placement. Photoshop is such a useful tool for us artists in composing our artwork and saved me the time it would take to create a color study. Here is my little digital layout.

Next, it's on to creating the horses! The really fun part!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Poseidon's Gift; The Journey Begins

A few months ago I was invited to be part of the creative team for an exciting new project directed by Mural Mosaic. Called Le Cadeau du Cheval, or The Horse Gift, it consists of a very large mural that is made up of panels painted by the creative team of artists. When all put together, the panels form a large image and yet each panel is an individual work of art in itself. The concept is pretty neat, so I suggest you visit the website to see how these unusual murals are created.

Two weeks ago I received my panel which is shown above. The object is to paint whatever I want on the panel while keeping the same color scheme and values (lights and darks). Anything, that is, related to horses.

The first challenge was to come up with an idea for my panel. The colors reminded me of the sea, so I thought about how the sea and horses are related. Then I remembered the legend of how the Chincoteague ponies came to live on Assateague Island hundreds of years ago. The legend says that they swam ashore from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon, possibly one of the treasure ships sent to the New World to explore and bring back plunder. It is also surmised that the horses brought over on these galleons by the Spanish escaped or were turned loose and became the ancestors of today's mustangs. It seems fitting then, that the subject of my panel be these Spanish horses, probably Andalusians, carried on ships to the New World; Poseidon's Gift from the sea.

I will be updating you as this project progresses and will be posting the images on my website where they can be seen larger. I've already begun, so take a look to see how my panel is progressing.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Background Issues

For a while now I've been pondering what to do with the background for Bard's portrait. Then it occurred to me to resort to the digital world and try different approaches in Photoshop. Above you see the results of three different possibilities. Since I have a new version of Photoshop and don't know it very well yet, I wasn't able to blend the different shades and tints very well which I would do in the real version. At the moment I'm leaning toward the green version. Since Bard lives in northern Michigan which is known for its lush greenery, that seems appropriate.

Or, maybe the blue.... Hmmm....

Photoshop is a wonderful tool for us artists and allows us so many ways to compose our artwork before we actually DO the artwork. By using the layers tool, one can move elements around the composition and see what fits best where. By using the colors palette, one can change colors just as easily. And that's just scratching the surface of what this powerful program can do.

I got my first version of Photoshop many years ago when it came bundled with my first scanner and have upgraded a few times over the years. I was perfectly happy with PS 5.5 until my hard drive died over a year ago when I upgraded from OS 9 to OS 10 Tiger and 5.5 wouldn't work any longer. So, that meant another upgrade. PS CS2 has so many more bells and whistles and changes in the way you do things that I haven't had nor taken the time to learn it all over again. If you learn one new thing at a time, it isn't complicated, and once you've played with what you can do in Photoshop, you'll never want to go without it again.

Things like trying different back ground colors for your current painting. Bard will be much brighter and "full of life" in the final painting, but these little digital sketches give me a good idea of what choices will work best without going to the trouble of laying on paint, deciding it won't work and then having to wipe it all off and try another.

I love Photoshop!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mother's Day and Springtime Rites

Things have gotten busy in the past few weeks, and it's been nearly impossible to get back into the studio. That doesn't mean that I haven't been thinking about art and making plans. I'm still pondering, for instance, what to do about the background for Bard's portrait and how to fix his muzzle area which is still bothering me. I did some experimenting in Photoshop and think I have a plan for the next time I sit down to paint him, though, so that's progress, even if it isn't visible.

Last weekend I drove down to Ann Arbor to visit my mother in her nursing home for Mother's Day. I got in a nice visit with my daughter as well who took me out to dinner on Saturday night. We went to an Italian restaurant on Main Street and had delicious Lasagna made from all fresh ingredients. I don't remember the name; Pinalo's or something like that. But I do remember that the building used to house the Quality Bakery when I was growing up; one of the best bakeries in Ann Arbor. They had absolutely yummy molasses cookies that my mother would buy occasionally.

Ann Arbor has changed a lot since we moved "up north" 37 years ago, but I'm glad that my daughter loves it there and that I can visit her periodically and take trips down Memory Lane. A2, as we natives call it, offers her a lot more opportunities for the things she's interested in than northern Michigan does. I just wish that she'd find a nice boy and get married. She's 32, by the way.

The drive home on Monday was a delight. Maybe thanks to high gas prices, the traffic was unusually light for a weekday, especially the truck traffic between Flint and A2 which is usually the worst section of the drive. And the road construction barely slowed anyone down now that MDOT has a new system for construction zones. We have a saying here; Michigan has two seasons; Winter and Road Construction. As soon as the snow is gone, out come the construction barrels and signs which remain until the snow flies again.

After leaving the flatlands around Saginaw/Bay City and south, I headed into the hill country and spent a lot of time observing the colors of the landscape made by the various species of trees and underbrush as they leafed out. There was a surprising variety ranging from the usual lime greens to beiges, soft oranges and muted reds, punctuated here and there by trees full of white blossoms. Cresting the tops of hills presented me with vistas of more hills receding into the distance and gave me more painting data to store away in my memory banks for future paintings.

Much as I would have liked to, I couldn't sit down and paint these scenes when I got home. As usual, I hit the ground running to catch up on laundry, bills, paperwork and other duties. And now there's the yard and flower beds to deal with. Most of one day was spent in raking the last of the leaves out of the beds, cutting back perennials that hadn't been cut in the fall, pruning broken or dead branches and various other Spring gardening chores. It's time to make plans for this year's projects and head for the nurseries for new shrubs and flowers! That's almost as exciting as visiting an art supply store.

Since I don't have any new art to share with you, today's first image is one from Mother Nature. These are my Chorus LIne daylilies from last summer; the ones that the deer didn't eat. If I paint these, I think I'll title it "Captive Beauty".

The second image is of the flower beds I built last summer with our fountain installed as the focal point. This makes a lovely spot to sit and look out onto the yard and flower beds while enjoying the cool shade of the large Beech tree on a hot, sunny day. It won't be long now before those days will be back, frost warnings not withstanding!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Bard The Beautiful

Well, I couldn't very well leave poor Bard in that ugly stage for very long, so here you see him with his first coat of "real" color, or "local color" as we artists say. Where that phrase came from I have no idea. It doesn't seem to make sense in this day and age, but maybe it did decades or centuries ago.

At any rate, having learned my lesson from the last painting session on the Belgian painting, I started out by oiling out the canvas with linseed oil and then wiping off as much as I could, leaving just a thin coating. The paint went on much more smoothly this time, and I progressed in good time, spending five hours on Bard yesterday to get to this point. I was so happy to have spent so much time doing the value study and then the underpainting because both served as guides as I added the color, highlights and shadows. Now Bard will be set aside to dry for at least a week while I study him some more and plan how to proceed and what changes to make in the next layer of color.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to change and head for the barn to ride my own red horse before the thunderstorms hit that are predicted for today.