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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Diminishing Returns

I can't really say that I've finished this painting, but I've stopped working on it - at least for the forseeable future.  I have really enjoyed Carel Brest van Kempen's painting technique and will continue working with it.  The paint goes so smoothly onto this surface and I appreciate being able to work successive glazes without disturbing what's underneath.  On this piece, I worked almost exclusively with transparency and didn't really explore what could be done with an opaque application used along with transparency, so that's for next time.

This little painting motivates me to learn more about rodents and especially mice!  While I was painting them it became clear that I didn't really understand their anatomy that well.  It also became clear that rodents are among my favorite animals.

When I went to Carel's workshops one of my goals was to learn how he does such beautiful detailed backgrounds.  He gave a lot of information, and I'm pretty sure I understood it.  But I didn't apply it that well in this piece, especially in the very back.  I definitely should have done better there.  This whole piece is pretty uneven in quality, actually.  And I especially wish I had had a better drawing before I started painting.  But, after all, it was a workshop piece and I learned a lot.  I like this design well enough that I may try it again in the future.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Inching Along

Today I didn't get to work on this as much as I'd have like to.  But I did manage to finish the textured garden floor with three rounds of masking and glazing.  Then I removed the mask from the entire painting.  At that point I could see that the contrast within the texture on the garden floor was too pronounced so I added another glaze layer to tone it down.  Then it was on to the dried leaves.  I didn 't come anywhere close to finishing them, but I made a good start.

Aside from various compositional problems and things not fully thought through (no value sketches) - I wish I had done my initial outlining on the leaves and flowers with green rather than brown.

As Carel predicted, the acrylic paint is flowing beautifully on this Strathmore illustration boad.  It's pretty easy to get even washes and the absorbency of the surface seems just right.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Feeling My Way

Four plus hours later, and it doesn't look that much different.  But Carel's process is admittedly a slow one.  And it's a process that I find I'm enjoying very much although I certainly can't claim to have a firm grip on it.

So far I'm working mostly transparently, and I'm not so sure how it's going to work painting opaquely over this base, but we'll see.

Today I finished masking the "main charaters," both animal and vegetable, and proceeded with a wash over the rest, establishing a basic values pattern and, in the process, the idea that the light source is above, to the left, and to the rear.  The "scooting out of town" mouse will end up in shadow (which I'd like to figure out how to dapple), along with the other two towards the back of the painting, while the two foreground mice will be in the sun.

After the wash had dried, I finished outlining the dried leaves.  It was time-consuming but also relaxing.  As I worked toward the front of the painting, I realized that it would look better to have some gaps in the leafy floor.  To work the spaces between the dried leaves I'm going to use Carel's technique for sand but with tiny debris shapes rather than tiny sand shapes.  (Actually the wash colors make me think I'd like some moss patches on the open ground so I'll try to figure out how to begin that tomorrow.)  So I masked out lots of little shapes in the spaces between the leaves then washed over them, grading the color as I went - layer one of many to come.  I think that in the end - after several more layers of masked shapes and washes - this ground will be a mid tone between the lights and darks in the dried leaves.

I usually have trouble painting more than two hours at a time, but today I didn't have trouble with more than four.  I'm liking this technique and feeling rejuvenated.  Thanks, Carel!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

a Gift of Something New

I attended a wonderful workshop over the weekend.  It was at the Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona.  But even more wonderful than the location was the instructor, Carel Pieter Brest van Kempen, a naturalist and fabulous artist who is a Master member of the Society of Animal Artists.  I was so blessed to receive instruction - and encouragement - from this marvelous person.  We were also treated to hearing his comments on his paintings that were in the one-man show in the museum's gallery.

Here's the piece I worked on in the workshop.  Carel asked us each to bring some photo references.  We composed compositions from them, then went to work painting using the technique he has developed.  He uses acrylics thinned down so that the technique is similar to watercolor. But it's quite an improvement on watercolor for at least a couple of reasons.  First, glazing is easier as the lower layers absolutely stay put.  Also, one can paint light over dark by using the paint more opaquely.

 The photo here is my piece after an additional painting session here at home.   And I intend to continue working on it until it's done, which will likely be quite a while from now as the technique is so meticulous (though it will no doubt be less so in my hands!).

Carel really challenged me right from the beginning of the workshop by asking me why I wanted to paint mice.  I am ashamed to say that my flustered, bungling answer was essentially "because I like them."  Not very deep.  But the lesson is, I think, that considering why I am painting a certain subject will help to convey something in the painting other than simple surface decoration!

I learned that I need to do a lot more planning with my painting, even including value sketches, which I have carefully avoided so far.  I didn't do one for this painting, but I promise myself to do one for the next!

Invariably, I see something new when I look at the photo of my painting on the computer - in other words, when I write my blog entries.  And what I see here is that I have misdrawn the lower right mouse.  I had intended for him to be looking at the mouse who is scooting out of town.  But instead he's looking up in the air.  Rather than try to correct this problem - and it's probably too late anyway - I think I may add the shadow of a hawk so that it makes sense for him to be looking up.  This type of wriggling out of trouble has been typical of my process.  Sometimes it leads to happy accidents but I think it would be far better to work everything out ahead of time.

By the way, Carel has written a wonderful book - "Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding" which is available on  and well worth the price.  It's a generous collection of his paintings with much informative and entertaining commentary.