IN the course of this blog I realized I have offered a lot of formulas and recipes for making art. I worry about the impression this might give because nothing could be further from my mind than art being a series of properly executed formulas. In many ways I share these recipes as a way of freeing myself from them. Having stumbled upon them, and found how to use them successfully, I can now abandon them. Or not, depending on my creative needs. I also worry some might think I use these methods to avoid the real work of art; developing creativity. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. I expect this blog will somehow free the part of my mind that wrestles with the lower concerns of technique as another part begins to tackle the higher concerns of composition and design.

We have an obligation not just to learn relevant techniques but once learned to take that technical skill to a higher level. We also have an obligation to connect with the creative spirit that will make our work the expression of a unique mind. Here is some food for thought:

Think of each painting as an experiment. Ask: what is good about this painting? What is bad? But more importantly what is interesting about it?

Think of each painting as a preliminary for a larger piece.

See the world as pure image. Do not superimpose symbolic meaning onto the world. Use nameless color for unidentified abstract shapes.

When looking at the motif ask yourself what really matters?

Are your compositions crazy enough? What can you do to make them less conventional?

Do sketches to improve composition. Do variations to ensure adequate innovation. Can it be better?

Clarify your thinking by asking better questions about the compositions. Identify problems and then widen the problems by making them more abstract.

Abstraction is a basic principle in restructuring a problem. The more times you restate a problem in a different way the more likely your perspective will change and deepen.

Find ways to see differently. When searching for motifs look for the unexpected.

Use daydreaming to dream the perfect picture.

Hold opposing concepts and solutions in your mind to create a new point of view.

New ideas are made by making unexpected and unusual associations.

Promote different thinking patterns and then incorporate chance and accidental factors.

Look at the affect of each compositional element.

“The artist paints to unload feelings, visions, and thoughts”. Pablo Picasso

“The most beautiful experience you can have is the mysterious.” Albert Einstein

Brad Teare © 2009

18 The color of shadows

THE color of light and the color of shadow relate to each other. If this relationship is off the reality of the scene is marred. Getting shadow color right is often hampered by the complex light effects that modulate its color.

The academics solved the problem of shadow color by keeping all the shadows uniformly warm. They often painted a very warm underpainting that was preserved in the final painting. This underpinning was often burnt sienna or similar hue. If there was any modulation of the shadow color it was by very subtle glazing. This gave a similitude of reality by ensuring that the values were extremely accurate. However, color vibrancy was lost following this formula.

The revolutionary idea of the impressionists was that reality was much more complicated and could not be described using the brown formulas of the academics. Many painters began to paint in the field using direct observation to guide their color choices. Some effects were so obvious that immediately impressionist paintings began to reflect a more vibrant and colorful reality. These newly discovered methods also allowed the impressionists to pack more observation into their paintings. Instead of brown shadows we began to see the purple and blue shadows of the Impressionists. But there were even more subtleties to be discovered.

I was looking out from a twenty-four story building onto a building below. There had been a recent snow and one of the air-conditioning units on the roof was casting a long shadow. I could clearly see how the shadow was warmer closer to the air-conditioning unit and gradually cooled as the shadow lengthened. For me it adequately explained and demonstrated Monet’s envelope. This principle says that objects that protrude into the blue amorphous envelope of the sky become cooler in color. Objects or spaces that retreat from this envelope become warmer. For example, spaces and deep recesses within trees and rocks will often appear warmer than the less recessed spaces right next to them.

It’s not an easy principle to grasp. I think of it as the sky being a kind of bluish gas that wraps itself gently around every object. There are probably problems with this model and as we understand with greater clarity the natural phenomenon around us we will paint paintings with even greater vibrancy and vision. Let me know if you have any insights into this fascinating phenomenon.

Brad Teare © 2009

20 Using a full value underpainting


SOME may wonder why I bother to use a full-color, full-value under painting. And the answer is I usually don’t. But when a complex subject presents itself and demands to be painted with an accuracy that challenges other techniques I often resort to this method.

The main advantage is it gives me expanded preparation time. After I draw the scene onto my canvas I then begin to slowly tint the canvas with pigment. I use a lot of mineral spirits at this point. The paint dries quickly so I can correct color and value during the next painting session by loosely painting over the areas needing correction. All I worry about is hue and value. If I make mistakes and paint a distant mesa too dark I can scumble a lighter, bluer color over the top and slowly refine the color and value. As I do this I find that the quality of the paint surface becomes busy and blotchy, especially from close up. From a distance this painting technique can look quite nice. When the painting looks good from a distance you know that your underpainting is done and you can proceed to the next phase.

I now let the thin underpainting dry completely. I then oil up the canvas using a variety of oils or putties (in the case of the desert scene I used Venetian medium from Natural Pigments). I then mix up a series of pigments and closely match the values to the canvas surface. I ensure correct values by holding up the brush with a bit of paint on the tip. In this way I can match value and hue with extreme accuracy. I mix up rich, thick, strokes of broken color and apply this color using the methods described in earlier videos. The thickness of the Venetian medium allows me to apply thicker paint. I like a medium that has a lot of body that pulls the paint off my brush.

For those who wonder if this technique is worth the effort I can only say that with some subjects this method will ensure success when others fail. I find that as long as I don’t get impatient the process is extremely enjoyable. This method helps ensure accurate color and value and provides a safety net in the challenging and often exasperating world of thick paint.

Brad Teare © 2009

24 The sketch

PAINTING can be a complicated process with many steps leading to a great painting. One important step for most painters is the preliminary sketch. Some of my favorite painters used a preliminary sketch so I followed their footsteps even though I didn’t fully understand why. There were times when I felt the sketch was repetitive and sapped energy from the finished work. But I persisted and finally came to realize the importance of this step.

Basically in the sketching phase you should be exploring options and clarifying your thinking. Thumbnails are best for exploring options as they are fast. Sometimes I get caught up in detail and the small size of a thumbnail sketch helps me keep things simple. Do as many sketches as you need to resolve the questions you have. One reason I didn’t know the uses of a good sketch was I was unaware of which qualities of a sketch would translate into a good painting. Occasionally you will fall in love with a complex, linear sketch that won’t lead to a good painting. The act of discernment will improve as you practice the process.

If you make a larger sketch be sure not to invest too much time or make it too precious. You want a working document that you can change without reservation. Remember to start with generalities and work toward details. I like to stop short of including too many details as I find that finishing the sketch exhausts my enthusiasm and I want to preserve as much spontaneity as possible.

As you practice this aspect of painting you will find that getting a useful sketch will be a great help in achieving the success you desire.

Brad Teare © 2009

28 The color of trees

THERE are very few things I like to paint more than trees. There is something just as mysterious and inviting about a cluster of trees as there is about a lone tree. It might be subtle value shifts, one of the hallmarks of true beauty, that intrigue me. But the same reasons that make me want to paint trees, their mystery and majesty, also makes them extremely difficult to paint.

The first and most important aspect of a tree, easy to overlook in bright glare, is that the main mass of a tree is basically one value. This is a hard to absorb because when you’re looking at a tree it appears as though every value is represented in its form. But take the nine value grayscale outside and carefully note the values. You will be surprised at the closeness of the value range. The light and dark are often multiple variations of one basic value. Many people make the mistake of painting the foliage too light on one side. Or worse painting dabs of light all over the illuminated foliage. This gives a spotty, fractured look to what should read as one large shape.

The second most important aspect of a tree is not the native color of the species nor the texture of the leaves and bark but rather the color of the light and the quality of the air that surrounds the tree. All trees project themselves into the bluish envelope of the atmosphere. So as a tree protrudes into the sky it will pick up more blue and its edges will turn bluer yet. At the base of the tree the reflected light from the ground will be warm. This warmth will be accentuated at the center of the tree where the light will get warmer (and darker) as it is reflected off of the bark and undersides of the leaves or needles.

Every tree should be treated as an individual. Masses of trees, whose values are so similar they read from a distance as one large value zone, can be treated as a group. But it is a grave mistake to paint any tree using a formula. That will lead to a mannered way of painting lacking the originality and surprise so necessary to great painting. I mention these tips on painting trees as a means to observe what you may now be failing to observe, the flurry of values and hues that convey the beauty of trees.

Brad Teare © 2009

31 Drying thick paint

SINCE I paint alla prima I usually let my paint dry naturally without any additives. More often I will add walnut oil to slow drying if I need a two day painting session with a large painting. But occasionally I still have need to add dryers when I’m preparing for a show and I need to make a few last-minute adjustments. One such occasion was this week when I needed to adjust some paintings for an upcoming exhibit.

I had three paintings that needed modification (see blog# 32). In the first one I used used Galkyd and chalk. I added a few drops of cobalt dryer to this medium as well as a few drops to each bit of color.

In my second painting I glazed the light parts of the painting using G-gel from Gamblin paints. I added G-gel to my paint as well.

In my third painting I made a putty using walnut alkyd medium made by M. Graham & Company to which I added quite a bit of chalk to thicken it up. In all three cases when I needed white I used a fast drying alkyd titanium white.

The mixture that dried the fastest was the first one, the medium with the cobalt dryer. It dried in one day. This didn’t surprise me as cobalt dryer is a powerful additive. Normally I only use it in extreme cases because it is prone to crack and yellow and has toxicity issues. I might use it occasionally to add to a signature or last-minute preparation for a show. The other two mixtures dried in two days.

So while I try not to make using dryers a habit I do use them in the preparation of some of my putties, especially my mixture of Gamblin G-gel and chalk which I think is a perfectly acceptable, archival addition to my painting methods.

Brad Teare © 2009