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Posts Tagged ‘#Artist Mary Chamie’

When I was a child, some of the first things I thought to draw were pictures of the sky. It would seem that clouds were the easiest thing to draw in the world. I took my crayon, put up a white oblong shape, perhaps with the yellow sun peeking out, and was done. Voila! I had painted a cloud.

Clouds over Water, oil painting

Now that I am an adult, painting clouds as part of a painting exercise for an art course, I am amazed how elusive, expressive and complicated they are. Where does a cloud begin, and when does it end? How does the sky manage to peek through the clouds in such soft and unimaginably subtle ways? Do I ever really paint a cloud, or rather an allusion to one?

The more I paint them, the more amazed I am with the ephemeral nature of clouds.

Clouds over Island Sunrise, Oil painting

It is a challenge to use less and less color in a painting, yet still have the colors of the atmosphere roaring through, bouncing everywhere, not respecting boundaries. I think this happens often because of our focus on light streams and reflection, in addition to shape.

This seems to be true, even when painting clouds from the light of the moon.

Clouds in Moon Light, Oil Painting
Clouds in Moon Light, Water Color, Ink and Gesso

Now that this idea of painting clouds has become part of my daily art routine, I expect to see many new ways to relate to them with canvas, brushes and paint. Once discovered, never forgotten.

The above paintings were completed this year, during the period of time that I have been taking the art classes of Michael Orwick, offered by the Oregon Society of Artists.

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These are my notes for paintings that I am working on in an art course on The Value of Design taught by Michael Orwick through the Oregon Society of Artists

I started this fourth week by finishing off a painting of the Oregon mountains, using a tonalist style. I liked working on tonalism and decided to continue using this style for our next assignment.

Our goal is that by the end of the fourth week of this class to complete a painting while going through all of the steps we have learned thus far.

For this assignment, I choose a landscape photo that I had taken while in Afghanistan for my next painting.

In May 2003, I led a United Nations statistical mission to Afghanistan in order to review a proposal for a census program for the war-torn country. Our team worked on this project for several weeks. The team was comprised of national statisticians from a number of countries, staying in a relatively secure location, but still very aware that we were in areas where heavy fighting occurs. It was a complicated mission, with difficult decisions, yet we could not but look up from our work and around at the ancient beauty of this city, this country, gateway to Europe and Asia. Kabul is a city of many languages, many ethnic groups, many years of sophisticated history.

It is worth noting that the earliest example of an oil painting was found in Afghanistan in caves near the ancient Buddhas that were recently destroyed by the Taliban. Scientists confirmed that some of the paintings were completed in as early as the fifth century, long before any other civilizations used oils for painting. The art history of Afghanistan is long and fascinating.

Looking up into the foothills surrounding Kabul, I cannot tell where the housing stops, and the hills begin. The soft tonal colors of the boulders up on the foothills mix with the angular shapes of homes. Higher homes have been hastily built as safe havens from street fighting occurring below. They are built at times without the privilege of electricity or septics, some with only walls up, windows and doors still hollowed out. Homes, to hide in, to tuck away in, as war and street-fighting have torn at this nation.

Our class has been discussing the art of tonalism, and since I wanted to paint a landscape, I decided to try working on a picture of an Afghani settlement in the foothills of Kabul. The soft pastels that of Afghanistan’s hills and valleys are often dotted with the bright blues of women’s robes (burkahs) as the women often wear them when walking outdoors in public. Soft greens of trees and fields are seen in the valleys of the Hindu Kush Mountains, often cut by a moving mountain stream flowing through. If one sees soft beige, slight pinks and purples, the observer is probably looking slightly upward at the foothills and the homes made out of a combination of handmade bricks, soft grey-brown mud, and some cement often sheltered by grey and purple foothills. The shockingly high mountains are differentiated mainly through varying shades of white snow, which I was not going to depict in this painting.

In a previous blog where I sketched out my plan, I decided to name this painting “Upwards”. I chose that title because upwards seemed to be where everybody was going. I thought I should photograph the two distinct kinds of urban settlements we mainly saw. There were those that were settled into the valley, and those headed “upwards”. We needed to learn as much as we could about Afghani settlements, as census-taking, world-wide, still includes the ancient science and art of counting and recording characteristics of every household and individual in a country.

I started with a copy of the uncut, unedited photo that I used for my inspiration for the painting, I do not plan to follow the photo in its entirety, but wish to use it as a reminder of how I felt at the time. My husband Joseph and I had lived in parts of south and western Asia for a number of years, and this place felt familiar, and welcoming to me. It is an amazing amalgam of a number of nearby cultures from the ancient lands of Persia to the Bay of Bengal.

In the process of deciding what aspect of these settlements to paint, I played around with photo cropping and sketching in order to see the big shapes and values better. I also hoped to highlight an Afghani woman walking with a child, her bright blue burkah flowing around her. It is always such a contrast with the softer colors of the streets.

Had I chosen to paint the entire photo, I would have used a diamond shape as my big shape, as seen in the slide show above. But instead, I placed the woman and the little boy off to the side, letting the light come to them. This made the larger shape of the painting more like a Z.

The spilled water on the road was a challenge and I wondered how to include it pouring down the open gutters and into the street, leaving reflections of nearby buildings, rather than the usual flowing rivers that slip through natural landscape paintings.

I started by sketching a variety of scenes, from a simple notan to short sketches of what I hoped to paint. From these sketches, I began to see a clear pattern of shadows highlighting hill homes and big boulders that cover the sides of the hills. I feel that it is important to simply this picture while still keeping the feeling of what it was like to be there.

At some level, I liked it so much I didn’t feel like adding any more paint. But, given that this is a learning device, once it was dry, I proceeded to the next step of adding oil colors over the sketch. I am hoping also, to keep the wood grain of my birch wood canvas showing in the painting, when it is useful to the scene.

Using the method we had earlier learned of placing transparent paint onto the canvas and then using rags or paper towels to remove some of the paint to leave big shapes and values, I ended up this this sketch for my intended oil painting.

“Upwards” oil painting,

This is as far as I got with the idea this week. No doubt, I will work on it some more after it is completely dry. I am interested in trying out various glazings, perhaps an earth red and a mixed blue-grey, to soften some of the bright pink hues of the foothills.

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This is the second week of our course work held with Michael Orwick on The Value of Design offered by the Oregon Society of Artists. We are still focused on design and are now using a minimal set of oil colors. Our attention this week is on values, that is the lights and darks that will be used in our paintings. Our emphasis is not color. I used four recommended oil colors, that is Earth Red, Ultramarine Blue, Titanium White and also used some Indian Yellow in the preparations of the following “underpainting” to show my intended values.

Oil on composite board

For the first painting above, I used a small piece of composite board, 8″ x 10″. My goal was to show the moonlight and how it is reflecting on the ocean in front of our winter place. The light of the moon strikes the water in the early evening.

Ink, gesso and brush followed by oil paints, 16″ x 20″ wooden birch board

In this second painting, I used a two-part approach on a wooden birch board. First, I sketched the setting using black ink and a brush. Then I gessoed in the light. Once I thought I had what I wanted, I used oils to suggest additional values that I would like to paint in to the picture. This is closer to my more natural way of thinking of paintings.

The earlier ink and gesso looked like this.

Oil on Birch Wood Panel, 12 X 12″

The third design, shown above, is based on the Afghanistan photo and focuses on light and structure while using what is a rather complicated photograph of a settlement in Kabul for my inspiration. In this case, I started with earth red and added blues, as needed. It will be fun to consider how I will paint over this to emphasize the necessary details without overburdening the painting.

Oils, 16″x20″ birch panel

This fourth painting, based on a photo that I took while hiking Mt. Hood, Oregon, is the one that started out as an H design and is now modified in a larger U-shape to focus almost exclusively on the light and shadows of the background mountains, while still hopefully implying that the observer is tucked away into the woods and hills, looking out at the mountains.

This painting has frustrated me the most. I may still ditch it, but am following through for now since I am doing this for a class session and am supposed to be learning from it. My frustration stems from not being perfectly happy with the design. I prefer, in many ways, an earlier sketch that I made and may go back and paint it from this other perspective. Or maybe I will end up doing both?

Earlier sketch of the same place done with ink and gesso, on paper.

In all fairness, however, I would like to add that I do not think that the design that I am painting is necessarily the problem. I may have to go back and capture the light better, like I was doing when I started off. I lost some of the spirit of the painting when I moved to “adding” colors while shaping the mountains. Below shows how my underpainting started off, prior to my adding and painting in earth red. I prefer this to the final underpainting that I made. Perhaps Michael might help me figure out where I fell off the rails with this one?

Earlier design using subtraction method, supplemented with gesso for light.

To summarize, I experimented with several things while working on my underpainting and emphasizing value and structure.

  • I changed the emphasis on the oil colors chosen for the value paintings, to see whether it will help me focus on the values rather than the colors;
  • In some cases I used what Michael Orwick calls a subtraction method of taking paint away to set values; in others, I used addition by adding values to base paint, putting in darks and lights as needed. Although both ways are effective, I personally found the subtraction method more interesting;
  • In the case of the bridge painting, I experimented with using ink to sketch the drawing and gesso to define the light, then painted oils over this design, using additional oils both brushed and rubbed on to the surface, as needed. I really enjoyed working on this as a way of emphasizing light and reflection.
  • Fourth, and finally, I am doing several paintings at once to encourage me to keep looking at the design and to not get too involved in finishing the painting.

It is helping me to go slowly through these exercises and to remind myself what I am doing at this point of the painting. I am focused on structure and value. This approach is a bit like doing physical exercise, where it is usually helpful to take some time out and consider one’s physical positions while doing the exercise, rather than simply aiming to finish, come hell or high water.

In all, I am finding this to be a whole lot of fun.

End of second week.

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