Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Favorite Book About Painting--and Life

     The Simple Secret to Better Painting by Greg Albert inspires and teaches me something every time I pick it up. This book comes home from the public library once every few months so that I can find a new idea in it--or remind myself of ideas that are easy to forget.

     Greg Albert's "simple secret" is the wonderful lesson of variety within balance, which I find a metaphor for an important secret to a meaningful life as well as to painting in ways that (hopefully) delight viewers. I hope he would not mind me mentioning his simple secret, which he calls the one central rule for design: "Never make any two intervals the same." Trust me that there is so much valuable information contained in the way Greg Albert spells out applications for this rule that I cannot and will not "give away" his secret in this brief blog post. If you have any interest in the visual arts or in any facet of design, this book is worth reading and rereading. I think its possible applications go way beyond painting alone.

     Mr. Albert uses painting examples to expand his simple rule to intervals of distance, shape, tonal value, color, and more--no sort of interval should be the same, he maintains. This advice is helpful at all stages of a creative process. Here's an example. One of my recurring painting mistakes is to trend too much toward mid-tone values, rather than to include at least small areas of more intense dark and very light values. I have no idea why that happens (an excess of caution, maybe?), but during the revision process, the value range often needs extending. Mr. Albert's rule is a reminder to include a broader value range as well as to make sure that the areas (or "intervals") of dark, light, and mid-tone should not be similar in overall size. A previous post about a painting called "Sea Oats" shows one example of revision that included adding some very light clouds and brightening light areas on a dune as well as deepening just a few very dark highlights.

     Another painting that required some added variety was "Hanna Park Heron" (sorry the colors here are not as intense as in the actual painting) , shown here beside the original reference photo (more about this painting was posted earlier also). Notice how the reference photo's background vegetation naturally repeats types of plants (shapes), colors, and sizes--not ideal for artistic composition. Then, notice the additions of the two light grey dead trees to change that sameness and to provide strong verticals across from the large palm trunk. You will be able to spot other changes from the reference photo and to consider my possible reasons for them.


Question of the day: Are you mostly a hands-on learner, or do you (like me) rely on well-illustrated books to learn and grow?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Intracoastal Waterway Views Near Jacksonville, Florida

     Among our lovely wetlands and waterways here in Coastal North Florida, the Intracoastal Waterway provides a variety of views both for the boater and from the land. During an unusual warm spell last week, my friend Dee and I had a pleasant lunch to celebrate her birthday, sitting on the deck of the Ponte Vedra Beach Barbara Jean's Restaurant, situated on this waterway.

     Dee had suggested that we lunch there some nice day to enjoy the views from this waterside restaurant. A true friend, she keeps my landscape painting in mind wherever she goes and has guided me to discoveries and scenes I might not have found otherwise. 

     These photos show the bank across from us (you are looking west at the mainland from the long, narrow off-shore island on which the Jacksonville area Atlantic Ocean beaches lie). The vegetation is so thick here that it is difficult to pick out an ideal painting composition from what naturally presents itself, but every element is good background for inclusion in possible paintings. The bare cypress in the vertical photo (say hello to the osprey perched at the top) could anchor an excellent painting and provide a strong vertical and a perfect contrast to a green expanse. 

     As we ate and chatted, the tide began to run out (headed north--to our right from here) and revealed a growing beach-like area on the opposite bank that also added variety to our view. And various dead trees, stumps, and angling tree trunks serve as sculptural elements that could enrich a painting composition.

     I am grateful to Dee for showing me this area, which is markedly different from some nearby stretches of the intracoastal waterway bordered by flat, wide salt marshes (like the views in the old movie "Prince of Tides"). In other areas, thicker wooded areas include stately, centuries-old live oak trees dripping with Spanish Moss. And of course, the stretch of the intracoastal that runs straight through the heart of the city of Jacksonville, following the St. Johns River, provides boaters a completely different kind of view of tall buildings, our symphony hall and live theatre venue, along with riverside restaurants, shops, and entertainment sites.

     Just as I did the last time Dee took me on a find-some-paintings tour of some of her favorite spots, I'll let you know when any of these elements--or perhaps, a full scene--appear in a painting. 

Question of the day: Aren't observant friends, appreciative of the natural world around us, a treasure to cherish?