Wednesday, August 24

I'm Painting Again

Out to Sea at Low Tide
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
10 x 8 in/25 x 20 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
I'm back painting again.

An historic flood inundated our area four months ago, and it's taken all my time, energy, and patience to put where I live and paint back together again. If you've never lived through a flood or had family members or friends who have, it's probably difficult to understand the toll it takes in all ways imaginable.

But, I salvaged almost all my paintings as well as art and painting supplies, and now have the time and presence of mind to think about painting again.

I started the above painting in April and completed the initial drawing and had even blocked in the sky and clouds. Then came the rains. It sat untouched until this week. The hardest part was actually beginning the act of painting. I looked at the unfinished canvas for more than a week before I was able to squeeze out some paint and pick up a brush.

I feel that I will be taking a new direction in my painting. I believe that's what artists are supposed to do when life intervenes.

Thursday, April 14

Ars Longa, Vita Brevis

Ars Longa
Acrylic on Arches Paper
14 x 20 in/ 35.6 x 50.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
Thanks, Hippocrates, for this aphorism, a terse saying that expresses what I believe is more than a general principle.  It's reality.

Ars longa, vita brevis--art is long, life is short.

Art trumps artists and painters every time. And as much as we painters would like to think we actually make a difference, we don't.

It is the art and paintings that are longa, not our vita.

This astute observation means I intend to spend more time painting to make my ars longa and less time blogging because, as I said,  vita brevis.

See you next time.

Thursday, April 7

Make Your Color Palette Your Own

Overlook Ridge
Acrylic on Arches 140-lb. Paper
12 x 7 in/30.5 x 17.8 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
Over the years I have read about, Googled, and studied up on the color palettes of some painters whose work I admire--both living and dead.

I wanted to know what colors these talented painters used so that I could paint just like them (in my dreams). Of course, that's not how it works, but learning what colors they use(d) helped me to  discover my own palette. Here are some of my thoughts.

Monet only used the colors and  types of paint available during his lifetime. However, even comparing them with modern equivalents it's plain to see his palette was, more or less, made up of a combination of cool and warm primaries. He did add those greens, though--viridian and emerald--which almost no contemporary painters do. Oh yeah, and black.

John Hammond, a contemporary acrylic painter, uses the following blues on his palette: cerulean, pthalo, and light blue violet. Interesting choices.

Not counting white, Kevin MacPhereon appears to have the most limited palette of today's painters: ultramarine, cad red light, cad yellow pale, alizarin crimson, and pthalo green.

Mark Boedges, a very popular plein air painter, has a lot of colors on his palette including three reds, three blues, two yellows, two greens, and two oranges, not to mention yellow ochre pale and terra rosa (don't know if he uses all these colors all the time).

Colley Whisson, the Australian impressionist, uses a combination of warm and cool primaries (like Monet did) plus cad orange and yellow ochre, which suits his high-key, sun-filled landscapes.

My current palette was loosely based on Colley Whisson's (and I suppose Monet's, too). However, on his palette and others there are some colors that just don't work for me.

 I don't do well with cerulean blue for some reason. When I use it, my paintings take on an unpleasant greenish cast. I've tried many times, always with the same result. I have surprisingly better results using pthalo blue.

Ditto for cad orange. Somehow when I use it. it neutralizes other colors and goes a warm gray. Fine if that's what I intended, but it never was.

My current palette (drum roll please): alizarin crimson hue, cad red light, burnt sienna, lemon yellow, cad yellow light, yellow ochre, ultramarine, pthalo blue, burnt umber (sometimes), light blue violet (sometimes) and titanium white, of course.

 My palette is subject to change, though, and I currently want to try out pthalo green. We'll see. I hope you have made your color palette your own, too.

Thursday, March 31

First Week of Spring Painting

Spring is Here
Acrylic on Paper
9 x 6 in/22.9 x 15.2 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
It's the first full week of Spring. The change from late Winter to early Spring is a special time for painters with the changing light and more of it, too. Trees bud out and fill up. Plants, shrubs, and some trees burst out in flower. Everything turns green.

For painters this is special. The longer days let you see everything in a new light literally, whether you're out of doors or in your studio. It's a good time to re-evaluate the things you're doing painting-wise and see if it's time to tweak a few of them. Like your palette, for one--does it need a refresh or an additional color (or two) to enhance painting in the season?

As temperatures climb, we're more likely to take our gear out for some landscape paintings en plein air.  Depending on where you live, you may have only a month or two before the temperatures climb too high for comfort, so take advantage.

Today's image is a simple landscape salute to the greening of the earth.

Spring is here.

Thursday, March 24

Painting Fast (Alla Prima)

House on the Hill by the Sea
Acrylic on Canvas Panel
8 x 10 in/20.3 x 25.4 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
Today's brief blog is simply about why it's perfectly OK to paint fast. By fast I mean in a matter of minutes, no more than an hour (or two), and certainly no more than an afternoon.

Why, you ask? Isn't painting a serious undertaking and you should not put a time limit on creativity, correct? Well, yes, but seriously...

If you want to paint a loose impression of what you see or what you set up to paint, you should paint fast to capture the moment or the essence of the scene or motif.

If you paint en plein air, you may have all day, but I'm pretty sure your painting will suffer if you spend more than two hours out there, and so you should paint fast.

If you're using acrylics, you really don't have any other choice; therefore, you should paint fast.

If you're trying to get away from the (bad) habit of painting way too many details, you definitely should paint fast.

For all those reasons and more, go for it and see how fast you can paint. (Today's image was completed in just over one hour.) You may be amazed at the improvement.

Tuesday, March 15

Acrylic on Paper, Wonderful

The Glowing Tree
Acrylic on Paper
18 x 18 in/45.7 x 45.7 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
I really like painting with acrylic and keep returning to it as my primary medium time and time again.

Here are some things things I've learned about painting with acrylic on (watercolor) paper that I hope will be helpful to you.

Painting with acrylic on paper is an experience. You can paint like it's watercolor, or it's oil, or both, or somewhere in between. Wonderful.

You can gesso the paper beforehand and get a canvas-like surface over which you can drag your acrylic for all kinds of effects from impasto to sgraffito. Wonderful.

Or you can dampen the paper before applying acrylic for a watercolor effect. You can also add medium. Wonderful.

The brand of paper and its weight also makes a difference, and you can choose one based on how you (like to) paint. For example, Arches 300-lb/640 gsm paper has a finish that repels moisture somewhat, which gives you time to let the paint flow more easily; whereas Fabriano has a  "softer" finish, which gives a softer look, depending on how you apply the acrylic, of course. Wonderful.

Acrylic, as we all know, dries fast and too fast for many. Don't be afraid to keep your spritzer/atomizer in constant use all over the paper to keep the paint malleable. A 300-lb sheet of paper almost never buckles. Wonderful.

Water or medium on paper (or other supports as well) makes your finger a perfect "brush" for softening lines. Wonderful.

Acrylic is forgiving, so you really can't make a mistake. Just wait a little while till the paint dries and make any corrections you like by adding to or painting over your existing work, no muss no fuss.

If only life were like that. Wonderful.

Thursday, March 10

The Importance of Edges

Flowers in Vase
Acrylic on Arches 300-lb. Watercolor Paper
7 x 9 in/17.8 x 22.9 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016 
One thing about painting that took me a long time to understand is how important edges are. You notice I said understand, not figured out, and certainly not mastered.

Our eyes and our brains naturally look for changes. It's how we see where one thing ends and another begins.

Edges are one of the subtleties of a painting, or they should be, that affect the look and feel, the mood, the style, and in my opinion, can make or break a painting.

An important thing to remember about edges is not to make them all the same. They should have variety. Some should be sharp and distinct. Some should be lost. The art is in learning and knowing what kind of edges to paint and where and when.

Edges are used to show depth, with softer edges being in the distance. Edges help show the viewer where to look and let the painter emphasize or de-emphasize an object or area. They can also be used to help show the texture of a surface.

A good way to learn about painting edges is with water media, either watercolor or acrylic. With either you can easily paint sharp edges and, by adding a little water, make them disappear or almost. You can practice and see where edges should and shouldn't be and how to use them to control a painting.

Today's image is a simple painting, but I think it shows how edges can move the viewer around a painting. See how your eye moves and stops as needed on the sharper edges of the vase and leaves, for example. On the other hand, the lost and found edges of the flower petals help portray their softness.

Edges are important!

Tuesday, March 1

My Recent Visit to the McNay

View of the McNay Art Museum
Photo by Byrne Smith Copyright 2016
I recently visited an exhibition at the McNay Art Museum (the McNay) in San Antonio. Titled Made in Germany: Contemporary Art from the Rubell Family Collection, it's numerous pieces culled from the collection of the Rubells of Miami, FL.

An informative (and free) pamphlet, given to each visitor, tells you, "Made in Germany unites works by German artists from 1980 to 2014." It provides, in a nutshell, the dramatic political changes that took place before and during this period and several factors that helped shape artists and artwork, such as the Leipzig  school of painting and general attitudes of the East vs. West.

The artwork of 54 (or so) artists can't be described as anything other than contemporary. This includes drawings, paintings, sculptures, textiles, collages, and photographic prints.

For example, there is a large (60 x 48 in/152 x 122 cm) collage by Georg Herold composed of beluga caviar, shellac, asphaltum, and acrylic on canvas. Interesting, and as I said, contemporary. But all are thought-provoking, reflective, and/or attention-getting, if not beautiful.

I think it would be interesting to meet the Rubells and discover how they made their art selections. You can, in a way, because there are three huge headshots (82 x 63 in/208 x 160 cm) on chromogenic prints from 1989, one each of  Mr. Rubell, Mrs. Rubell, and their son Jason Rubell.

I had never been to the McNay, which is located in a leafy setting near Alamo Heights. I was taken not only with the gravitas of this exhibition but also with the rest of the substantive collection, both permanent and currently showing. I especially liked their prominent Edward Hopper: Corn Hill (Truro, Cape Cod), 1930.

If you're in this part of the world, I hope you can visit the McNay and this exhibition, which runs through April 24, 2016.

Thursday, February 25

Go Outside, Paint Your Neighborhood

Waiting for Breakfast
Oil on Canvas Panel
10 x 8 in/25.4 x 20.3 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2015
If you read artists' magazines, either in print or online, or if you spend time looking at your favorite artists' websites, you may think that you have to be either well-traveled or well-off (or both) to find an interesting, pretty, or eye-catching motif.

I say this because to look at most of these painters' paintings, it appears they all have traveled to locations with fantastic scenery or semi-exotic views. I'm talking about locations such as lakes in Italy, California coastlines, rocky Maine seacoasts, the south of France, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.....

I'm here to tell you, all you have to do is--go outside.

What a simple concept and cost efficient as well. You don't need to travel to en plein air competitions or Paris or Sydney harbor or the Grand Canyon. No, just walk down the street.

Whether you live in the urban core, city suburbs, or a small town, there are plenty of fine motifs for painting. Open you eyes.

Painters are supposed to have visual and creative abilities. If you can't find something pleasing to paint around your neighborhood, then maybe you need to find something else to spend your time on.

Today's image was painted not far from my backyard. I'm near a relatively small bayou and when you cross the bridge at the end of the street you can often see birds, such as hawks or blue herons, fish, and turtles up and down the banks. On this sunny morning, a lone egret was fishing for her breakfast.

So, next time you think there's nothing to paint--just go outside.

Thursday, February 18

Quickly Painting the "Country"

El Campo
Acrylic on Watercolor Paper
on 12 x 9 in/30.5 x 22.9 cm
Copyright Byrne Smith 2016
I had some remnants of a small block of watercolor paper that was sitting around just asking to be used. So I did.

I had recently returned from a road trip to the southwest part of the state that lets you enjoy some rural areas out in the "country" (el campo in Spanish). Although you're never far from huge metro areas, you are able to see prairies and meadows and rolling hills with scenic vistas of trees and scrub brush among other things. Of course, it's hard to feel very isolated when you're speeding along the Interstate with a herd of other cars and trucks, but if you look out the window you can see it.

A sunny, warm day (and warm winter, actually) was perfect for picture-taking.

With my remnant watercolor paper I quickly painted today's image in less than 20 minutes. Sometimes I like to dash off paintings such as this and attempt to capture the fleeting moment racing by. Painting quickly makes you concentrate on the bigger shapes and colors and not dwell on any details--a good way to help you paint more loosely

I hope you like it and are able to paint a few quick paintings this week, too.