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A Gallery of small studies

April 11, 2009

I’ve been working smaller than usual for the past week or so, doing little 4×6 and smaller studies of a variety of landscape subjects.  I tend to work smaller than most painters anyway, with my larger sizes being generally 8×10 or 11×14.  I just like working at those sizes.  Besides, in today’s market, small isn’t such a bad thing.  Below you will find a little gallery of 9 of these little 4×6 gouache pieces.  That’s a lot for one post, but they’re all related, both in size and in terms of a small struggle I’ve gone through the last few days.  I do these for several reasons.  First, I’m experimenting with different boards to paint on.  Second, it allows me to experiment with new brushwork technique, paint consistencies, and color mixing without wasting a lot of materials.  And, it allows me to just experiment with subject matter and composition for what might be turned into a more developed painting.  In addition, since we’ve been doing some really low end shows, some of these, when framed, will give us something to offer in competing for those few dollars people at those shows are spending.  I’ve done about thirty of these little pieces over the last 2-3 weeks.  A few of them haven’t turned out too bad.

I haven’t painted outdoors much in the past year and a half, and have felt I needed to get out and do more of it.  The reasons?  Some of my artist acquaintances have repeatedly stressed to me that my landscapes will look more real if I get out and study the colors and values I see in life as opposed to those I see in a photograph.  In addition, I hope to do a lot of painting outdoors in another year or so, and I need to start getting the hang of it again.  It also provides quick sketches that can be brought back to serve as inspiration and reference for the studio work.  And, probably most important, it’s an enjoyable part of painting… simply being outdoors, feeling the breeze, hearing the sounds, and smelling the smells that one tries to suggest in a painting.

The problem was that I had this completely off-base misconception that I should be able to paint as well outdoors as I do in the studio.  I have since been bombarded with reminders from my artist friends that this is a common pipe dream that just ain’t gonna happen.  How right they are.  I’ve spent the last three days outdoors.  The first two were completely frustrating because the result was what I personally considered as inferior work.  My first mistake was spending far too much time trying to find “something to paint”.  The first day, I drove 40 miles round trip, only to find that the place I had in mind was not only not right for me, but didn’t feel safe.  I compromised on a place I had painted recently, but my mindset was already screwed up, and I just made a mess of it.  The second day, I returned to the rural park about ten minutes from home, but I was still trying to do “paintings”.  

The third day, yesterday, after some consultation with my online artist friends, I went out with the awareness that I was simply going to do little studies, sketches really, that weren’t intended to ever see the inside of a frame.  While the sketches were still not great work, there was something terribly liberating in having that mindset before I ever opened my paint box.  One of the challenges about painting outdoors is that one is bombarded with far too much visual information to process in the beginning.  All I saw was GREEN.  In the future, I’ll spend more time trying to see all the other color in amongst all that green… and to process the wide variety of green that I’m seeing.

Images 1 through 4 are from my excursion outdoors.  Images 5 through 9 were done in the studio on days before I went outdoors.  Although that’s backwards chronologically, I think it better invites comparison.  So… here we go:

#1 ~ I’ve painted at this spot before, about a year and a half ago, but from the other side.  The road passes through a nice little arch with some interesting foliage and tree shapes on each side.  For some reason, I tended to paint all of these with a much thinner paint consistency, more like watercolor, and I think that’s limiting my ability to get the look I want.  I need to use more paint out there in the future.  This was done on Mulitmedia Artboard.


#2 ~ This is a favored spot for artists in this park.  There’s a nice curve to the road, and a variety of tree shapes and types.  I’ve painted here once before, and will probably do it again.  Done on Mulitmedia Artboard.irwin-park-2-040909

#3 ~ The scan of this is just simply not picking up the additonal color that is actually in the original.  But it’s a good example of being fooled visually by so much green.  The intent here was just simply to record the meandering road with the landscape that’s typical at this park.  On Multimedia Artboard.


#4 ~ This house is set back from the road that leads to the park.  As I was driving in yesterday morning, I was struck by the morning sun hitting the end of the house, and by the strong blue of the roof on the little portion.  That’s actually a separate structure, but I like it better as an extension of the house.  I pulled over to the side of the road, opened my paint box, and painted this while looking back over my left shoulder.  Because of the high wind we’ve had over the last few days, all of these outdoor sketches were done while sitting in the truck, holding the panel in my left hand while I painted on it.  Also done on Mulitmedia Artboard.  I think I like this surface.  It doesn’t give me the textured undersurface that I liked with gesso on masonite, but for the brushwork I’m trying to develop, it seems to work well.


#5 ~ I’m developing a love affair with these little forest roads.  This is from a photo taken on a long weekend in Arkansas last summer.  It’s the road leading out from the cabin where we stayed with friends.  It’s an exercise in developing my brushwork using a slightly different consistency of paint/water combination, similar to that used in “Into The Woods”, although at a much smaller size.  Done on Crescent cold press illustration board.


#6 ~ A river bank in Arkansas.  It’s another of those reminders of my youth, and I’ll probably develop this into a future painting.  The light coming down through the trees, highlighting a spot on the bank was very striking.  I missed it in this sketch, and now it’s a challenge I have to take on.  Also on Crescent cold press illustration board.


#7 ~ This barn/stable near Sanger, Texas is typical of subjects I love to work with.  The background trees came out pretty well, I like the deep shadows in the barn, and the rusty roof painted itself with a few well-placed strokes.  I’m kind of happy with this one, and it’s another candidate for a more developed painting.  This was done on Mulitmedia Artboard.


#8 ~ Nell found this little shed while exploring new routes home from work.  She took me back on a Saturday, and I took several shots from different angles.  We also found a big barn that’s probably not going to last much longer, but it’s going to call for some serious composition studies, because it’s surrounded by trees.  The tree foliage around this little shed is invented, because there was nothing but bare winter trees nearby, and I’m tired of doing those.  This one just called out for color.  Also done on Mulitmedia artboard.


#9 ~ This kind of view is something I haven’t tried much of.  I normally tend towards closer, more intimate settings, but, learning to do something different is all part of the process.  At this size, I found it wasn’t terribly daunting.  Trying to capture the gray, overcast day we had was an interesting exercise as well.  I may try more of these, and see what challenges lie in doing this at a larger size.  All of these had minor painting issues, and some parts that need a bit more attention if they get converted into more developed paintings.  For now, though, I’m having a lot of fun with these.  This one was done on Crescent cold press illustration board.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Tami permalink
    June 26, 2009 5:27 pm

    Very nice Nell & Ralph. A wife & husband artist team!! Very Cool.

  2. October 15, 2016 4:20 am

    Beautiful paintings. Inspired to see what you can do with Gouache and a (what seems to me) limited palette.

    • October 17, 2016 10:39 am

      Fritz, it is definitely a limited palette: ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, medium yellow, burnt umber, burnt sienna, red and titanium white. Occasionally, another color will be used sparingly, but not often. Thanks!

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