Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thanks for Listening II

Another year over, wow, is time accelerating? It seems to have gone by so fast and
has certainly been quite a year, one filled with the deepest sorrow and greatest joy.
I guess the ying and yang of life.

I just want to take a moment to express my appreciation to all.
Thank you for your support and interest in my work.

As I look back over the year’s efforts, the paintings that succeeded and those that did not. I ask myself the questions, have I improved? What have I said visually? Do I resonate those qualities I admire in painting/art? What I do know for certain is that the more I learn about painting the more I need to learn. It is the continued ongoing study and observation; of the nature, of the visual world that makes art so fascinating and intriguing.
It has been a great year.

Those of you that purchased work, my sincerest gratitude.

 Happy Holidays and have a great New Years.

"If I could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint."
Edward Hopper

“For last year's words belong to last year's language and next year's words await another voice.”
 T. S. Eliot

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

There are no facts, only interpretations

 Changes, oil on panel, 5”x7”

 I have always liked the quote, for me that thought works on many levels. In both my artistic and personal life, it is a good maxim to have.

 December on Cedar Lake, oil on panel, 5”x7”
These winter sketches are all about interpretation, reducing the subject matter to a simple and truthful sketch. And with the rapidly changing weather conditions you really do not have much time for even that.

Dusk at Cedar Lake, oil on panel, 5”x7”

So as a painter must you go for the “large” truths and “big” facts of the image.
And then you can follow these dictum's.

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort ‘em as much as you please.”
- - MarkTwain

"There are no facts, only interpretations."

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A nod is as good as wink to a blind horse.

Quick studies and oil sketches are about expressing the essential features of a subject without getting hung up in the details; it is concerned with building observational abilities and information gathering.  I've driven this route many times and always liked the lay of the land, but on this day I was inspired by the patterns in the sky against the curve of the road.

 The Valley Tree Oil on panel 5 x 7 in
This work is available – click here for purchase information

Sketching with a Pochade is a very personal act; it is in connection with developing a good visual memory in front of nature through observation, experience and study. This is another location I've observed numerous times, the rolling pastures and lone group of trees has become part of my visual library.

 Cedar Lake Dutch Ridge Oil on panel 7 x 9 in
This work is available – click here for purchase information

I don’t think it is important to attempt finished looking work when field sketching because it is not about a “masterpiece” but has more to do with a learning experience and honing my skills.
Often just capturing color and form and leaving the details to suggestion is enough to convey the spirit of the landscape. I've spent countless hours on Cedar Lake in a kayak, but am always amazed at how different the interaction of sky and water can be, unlike history the landscape never repeats herself.

I think that many plein air groups today are missing this idea and more concerned with the “plein air persona” and producing finish work than honest painting. And that is why so many plein air paintings look so homogenized. 

  Art is not a group activity.

  First Fall Oil on panel 8 x 10 in

Anyway back to the oil sketches, a good oil study may stand on its own merit or becomes a reference for a large scale studio painting. But the best studio landscapes are composed from the combination of those field studies and personal observations relying on, to a large extent, visual memory. Working on location will help train those painting muscles by forcing you to see simply and commit to memory deeply, your response to the subject. Either way it will build your personal connection and understanding of the character of the landscape.

 Which brings me to the title of this post, 

"A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse."

Meaning: A very small hint is enough to convey our meaning. It is not always necessary to say what we want explicitly.

I look at the sublime simplification within a Sargeant, the ambiguity of a Turner, the strength of design in a Payne, the light and movement in a Constable or that sense of space and emotional drama in a Duran.

And I say, they knew what Leonardo da Vinci meant when he stated,

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” 

“An artist must be curious.”   

 -- Leonardo  da Vinci

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Cedar Lake Quick Studies

These small studies force you to “Keep It Simple” and concentrate on shape, color and composition. In the end simplification is about creating the feeling of the place without actually providing a lot of detail in the painting.

Suggesting a subject with a series of abstract marks is challenging and provides a great opportunity to explore and experiment. And I think you can learn as much from these small 4x6 thumbnail paintings as larger studio works.

Using one large No 6 or 8 bristle brush will force you to work on brushwork by varying the pressure and angle, using the width, broad end, flat edge and corners of the brush.
I like to refer to this as the brush dance, but it is probably closer to ballet or fencing.

Small studies will help you think abstractly and develop your color sense. The results can be the inspiration  for a larger studio painting or they can stand on their own merit.
Either way there is no better teacher than pushing paint around.

Cedar Lake is a 1,750 – acre (7.0km) reservoir in Southern Illinois located at the edge of the Shawnee National Forest, southwest of Carbondale. 

Although the primary purpose of Cedar Lake is to provide water to the residents of Carbondale, this scenic reservoir provides recreational opportunities to visitors beyond Jackson County. Because the Shawnee National Forest borders the southern portion of Cedar Lake, about half of its 30-mile shoreline is owned by the U.S. Forest Service. Hardwood forests, cedar trees, and sandstone bluffs line the shoreline.

 With 100 foot sandstone bluffs rising directly out of the water and abundant wildlife viewing opportunities, it is our favorite lake to kayak in Southern Illinois.


This is a pretty rare scene; a copper head, easily over two foot long in the water below the rock cliffs. It seemed to be hunting the small fingers of the bluff, we watched it for sometime before we lost track of her.

Oddly enough when we arrived at the swimming hole everyone was a bit apprehensive about diving in.

Have a great day, make great art.  Jim Serrett

The Shawnee Forest Illinois Hidden Gem
The Shawnee National Forest

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Kinkaid Lake Trail Studies

There is a great series of trails at Kinkaid Lake, the trickling creeks and moss-covered rocks present a nice set of visual challenges. The flowing water creates a variety of hard and soft edges, the light beams breaking through the forest canopy sparkle and shimmer across the water, that all combines to create a pattern of light and movement that has a musical abstract quality.
That is what I hoped to captured in these studies.

Have to say the no-see-ums, and flies were terrible.

Kinkaid Lake Trail -   Length: 15 miles (24 kilometers)

Kinkaid Lake is located in Southern Illinois at the northwestern edge of the Shawnee National Forest just west of Murphysboro. The trail can be started either at the southern end next to the dam or at Johnson Creek Recreation Area off State Route 151.
To reach the dam area, take State route 149 west of Murphysboro for six miles. There is a turnoff to the north just beyond Kinkaid Creek. Follow this gravel road to the parking area by the dam and spillway.

To reach Johnson Creek Recreation Area, continue on Route 149 to the junction of Route 3. Turn north on Route 3 and proceed to State Route 151. Turn north on Route 3 and proceed for four miles to the site entrance. There are three trails to explore separately or together and a couple of waterfalls, but are best in early spring.
The Shawnee Hills Outdoors site has some of the best information you’ll find anywhere on the forest and parks of Southern Illinois, fantastic images and great resources on the area.
This link has a pretty good map.

I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love nature, than teach the looking at nature that they may learn to draw.
(John Ruskin)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pochade Box Plans

How to make a Pochade Box - Serrett Box
It’s been a while since I posted any Pochade boxes, so I thought you might enjoy these stellar Serrett boxes by some very talented artists.

Mark Reeder, is a realist artist from Canada.
 "I am devoted to Realism, depicting the subjects I choose to paint as I see them in nature."

Although Mark states that he is mainly a portrait/figure painter his landscapes and still lifes certainly do not take a back seat. His pieces "Still life with Apples" and "Daffodils in the Studio" are top notch work. Well worth the visit to his blog, take some time and look through Mark Reeder's work and check out the Pochade box he made here. Some great photos and hints on how he made his kit.

 Josef  Sy, a artist also from Canada describes himself as, " Full time 3D animator / part time fine artist - instructor / full time Dad."

You'll find some interesting Classical portrait demos on his blog and a link to his web site for more work.

Josef built a fine looking Serrett Box, see more about his pochade and art work at this link  Josef's Corner.

Jeremy Sams  a North Carolina artist that voices his connection of faith and art.
"It is my goal as an artist to replicate the beauty of God's creation and capture the majesty of His handiwork through painting. He is the ultimate artist and it is my obligation and privilege to honor Him with my work."

He is a member of Charlotte Plein Air Painters and features the beautiful
Carolina country side in many of his plein airs. He made several innovations on the basic Serrett box, probably most interesting was the use of friction hinges. Jeremy provides several photos and instructions about his pochade here on his blog.

Ron Guthrie - This is the second time I posted a kit by Ron on this site, he built a
beautiful box over a year ago and more recently built another Serrett box for larger sized panels.

"The pochade box came out pretty cool. A lot bigger than the 9"x12" box but then again that box can't handle 11"x14" or 12"x16" panels. This bigger 12"x16" pochade can handle all of them from 12"x16 down. I could also do a vertical 16"x20" too although I've never attempted to do something that big plein air."

Ron Guthrie is a artist from Solvang California, is a member of The California Art Club, Oil Painters of America and involved with the Coast Guard Art Program. Ron's work is "clean", as I like to call it, others refer to it as honest, as of just speaking to the subject with the essentials, but I like clean, the very sincere efforts to express the image in front of him. He has a growing reputation, check out his work.

Again thanks to everyone who has been involved in the Serrett Box Pochade Box world take over. Your innovations, creativity and the generous sharing of your ideas will help open the doors of painting from life for artist everywhere.  Keep building and painting.

And with that let me say that the rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.
So here is my Serrett Box on the trail at Kinkaid Lake.

A lot of life (good and bad) has gotten in the way of my posts here.

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cigar Box – Paint Box

How to make a simple paintbox.

With the spring plein-air fever just around the corner, I thought you might enjoy seeing a simple set up by one of the best impressionist landscape painters around, Karl Dempwolf.

Karl Dempwolf  Cliff Dewllers  36x36
 Dempwolf has been a professional artist since the early sixties, like many California landscape painters his influences are the early California plein-air painters, Payne, Wendt, Hassam, and Twactman. I know you’ve heard that claim over and over in every landscape plein-air painter’s bios. But with Karl Dempwolf one can not escape the comparison; his work can easily hang beside these artists, with a style that is completely his own. I actually see a lot of Cezanne in his work. Anyway see his site, and follow the links, Events/Info to Hints/Cigarbox to see his complete instructions for a simple paint set up. 

For those that are interested in building their own Pochade Box, hit my link in the side bar or here. There you’ll find some easy and simple instructions for the Serrett Box. Most importantly, it can be easily built without a shop full of equipment. The material cost on this Pochade box was only $22.09 US. 

I am always fascinated in seeing other artists versions of Pochade Boxes based on my Pochade Box Plans. It has been interesting to see their innovations and design ideas and correspond with so many creative people. Check out Jeremy Sam’s new box and some of his tweaks on the basic design. Great job.

Enjoy Jim


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Squaring Up - Pochade to Studio

Studio painting from plein air reference.

When you translate a Pochade into a larger work you must also translate the “feeling” or inspiration of that piece. For works that go from Pochade to studio I must have a strong connection to the work, something familiar, memorable and really linked to my senses, emotions and intellect, if I am going to express that “sense of place”.

For me the true power of any good landscape is the ability to capture and convey the immediacy and drama of the scene to the audience. I felt if I could stay true to the mood and energy of the study it would be good candidate for a studio piece. Without that I would only be reproducing a statement I have already made.

 I liked the composition and elements of the study, “The Cliffs of the Dawn at Isla Mujeres” but I felt there was so much more that could be said with this image. Isla Mujeres is a corral island and the cliffs are carved by wind and wave over centuries. The effects of light and water on the cliffs are very unique. The dry corral under the Caribbean sun turns nearly bone white, while the wet corral picks up warm yellowish tones all contrasted by the deep warm shadow areas below the cliffs. I wanted to emphasize some of those nuances and subtle effects that I could only suggest this in the Pochade.

Click image to enlarge.

Squaring up is probably the simplest and most accurate method to enlarge an image. From your original sketch select a larger canvas within the same proportion and ratio. In my case the Pochade is 8x10 inches; my studio canvas is 24x30 inches, 3 times the original size. To transfer the design to the larger canvas the Pochade is grided at one inch squares and the studio canvas at 3 inch squares.

If you’re not enlarging at a 1:1 ratio use an architects ruler, a very handy tool for scaling drawings, it will give a variety of scales to use.

I often outline the sketch with tracing paper and grid it, this time I just made a black and white copy of the Pochade and did my grid on top of it. I squared up the large canvas, and gave it a, “imprimatura” wash with a mix of Burnt Sienna and Raw Sienna to provide a nice warm undertone.

With the Pochade as reference and the squared up B/W copy, it is just a matter of placing inside each corresponding grid as little or as much information I think I will need to create the larger work. Looking at the pattern of light and dark loosely sketch the image. Some areas will have contour lines to suggest form while others washes of broad tone to suggest shadows.

The canvas sketch, although loose was very accurate to the Pochade. Having my design strongly stated, the structure and pattern established, I could concentrate on the color lay in. I did not want to just transcribe and copy the Pochade. But recapture the mood and its atmosphere. I needed to keep the energy of the original sketch alive. The rest of the painting process was a combination of direct and indirect methods, with most areas done “alla prima” or wet into wet in one sitting. Keeping the brushwork loose and painterly I think helped produce within the studio piece what originally inspired me at Isla Mujeres.

In fact maybe I should go larger again?

Enjoy, Jim