Sunday, August 31, 2008

Misty, Dusty and Hazy

In a comment on a recent posting here, I was asked to talk about how I delineate mist, such as in one of the works, The Branch , which was a part of my just concluded solo exhibition with the Woodson Art Museum. As a refresher, here is an image of that particular work.

Mist and dust and fog and haze and any other generally under defined area in a work of art can cover a multitude of sins . . . or an area where less focus is desired . . . or when your reference is not quite determinant enough to give you the needed details. These hazy spots in a work can also lend huge amounts of interest, mystery and uniqueness to a piece as well as to move a viewer’s eye around a work or point the eye in the desired direction to bring the dominant subject more dominance. I have used mist and dust and haziness to all of these mentioned purposes at one time or another and, quite often, when the bottom line is that I don’t care to spend any more time on a piece, having felt that I have accomplished what I wanted to with the work and any additional details would not add to or further define the composition – case in point, this work, The Branch.

Looking at this first detail of the area to the extreme left of the composition, an area where, in my reference material, there were lots and lots of leaves and branches and general ‘business’, this end result of an area of haze and rather undefined negative space was a natural way of resolving unwanted emphasis to that portion of the work. In constructing my original compositional sketches and ideas for the work, I absolutely wanted the major focal point to be to the right of the center vertical split of the work space, following along the diagonal thrust of the rails to the deer in the distance. Settling on the idea of transforming the actual afternoon, strongly lit, fully detailed reference photos of this particular location into a softer, more subtle and more mysterious scene, I decided to try and portray morning light, morning mists rising from the stream below the bridge and thusly focus more attention to the areas where I wanted the viewer’s attention to reside. Basically, as I have said time and time again before, I made the reference material ‘mine’, made it work for me, made it accommodate my desires as an artist, made it useful to the extent that it was useful as a basic starting point to work from and within the ideas forming in my head as to what I wanted the finished work of art to be.

After establishing some basic darks at the various points across the drawing where I knew the darks would have to be, detail work came next. Once the deer and the distant ‘nothingness’ of the dark and receding trees were pretty well defined, I began working on the foreground elements. Bridgework and rails and the other ‘noodly stuff’ of the predominant foreground objects, once set, helped me to see where I needed more negative areas in the work and further supported my initial idea of the left part of the work being quite soft, subdued and lacking in ‘character’.

So, how did I go about keeping that side of the piece soft and subdued while still having some indication of detail? I worked very carefully with soft, very soft, hardly visible gray tones and continuously built up layers of varying strength, trying to give hints or slight indications that there was foliage about and that the space was actually occupied by ‘things’ even if they could not be seen or focused upon. By intentionally materializing some small groupings of leaves and indications of tree branches here and there throughout that part of the work, I hope I was able to ‘fool’ the viewer into seeing a completely foliated area of brush and trees and plants without having to delineate every single leaf and sunlit or shadowed branch. By layering and building up the various values of gray, I could control exactly how much ‘white’ I wanted to occupy that portion of the work. I did not complete that side of the piece as I needed to finish the rest of the work first in order for me to determine exactly how much of the ‘white’ paper, or in this case the tone of the Bristol Board that I work on, I needed to have when the work was complete and to make sure that those areas of negative white would not overpower any other part of the work. So, working slowly back and forth across the piece, once it came to the final hour or so of work on the piece, I was totally focused on the left of the work, enabling me to make very subtle separations between gray values, tightening the lines between leaf edges and background and continuously graying down portions of the ‘mist’ that needed to be softer, helping to give perceived depth and lift to the mists.

As I have talked about before, I do not often make use of my kneaded eraser, but in instances as this, before I will set an area with a quick spray of fixative, I might go in and just graze the surface of the paper with the kneaded eraser just to bring up the value of white. Then, a quick spray of fix will set that spot and make sure that it will remain the tone of the background Bristol. If needed, then I can go back over that area and gray it down a bit, but at least once that light spray of fix is on, I can always pull away and lighten a specific area totally again. Obviously, I work away from light areas and don’t generally erase them away. That is simply how I have ‘learned’ my technique with graphite. Others do differently, but working away from light areas is my methodology, if you will!

In this other detail of the central part of the work, establishing mist rising through the spaces between railroad ties on the bridge itself helped to define that there was a perceived distance between the bridge platform and whatever was happening beneath it, some distance below. These misty wisps also served to hide what would have been an endless line of horizontal railroad ties in the very center of the work which, in my estimation, would have brought too much strength to that area and lessened the focus on the distance and the deer. By indicating the rise of the mist just beneath the point where the deer are drawn, this also helped to direct the viewer’s eye to the deer.

In this next work, above, dust fulfills a similar task as the mist did in the preceding example. Again, it was a matter of working away from areas that I wanted the Bristol to show through, but I also did pull out some final highlights with the kneaded eraser before setting it all with fix.

In this detail below, perhaps it is a bit clearer how I have layered values of gray here and there to give perceived depth to the space, the dust rising foreground, with bits of grass and earth and horse’s legs beyond.

In this next example or detail of a larger work (please excuse the lack of sharpness as this is a truly enlarged area of a much larger work so it is a bit ‘shaky’ at best) I hope you can see how using the idea of dust can help to establish without too much difficulty, distance between foreground, midground and background subjects, in this case the running zebra. And again, the dust itself is defined by dabs of very light gray tone here and there, which when viewed overall in the complete work give a very good representation of dust and haze and a bit of movement. These dabs and dots and splashes of graphite are pretty haphazard and randomly placed, but result in a very nice, overall appearance of dust.

In the following detail from the work, Hoe-Down, I really wanted the chickens and the lamb to be the only point of focus in a rather abstract composition and format. There is a bit of linear fence delineation, but it gets semi obscured and diminished in importance other than as a rather negative, hazy, dark area of background, by being partially ‘blocked’ and softened by the dust and dirt being thrust up by the cavorting chickens. By using this indication of dust rising, I have also heightened the sense of movement and pace of the work. In this work, the dust takes on a darker more forthright intensity. If it had been lighter, the tonal variation between the dust and the fence would have caused too much interest at that part of the composition, detracting from the primary focus on the foreground chicken and the lamb. All of that haze was accomplished in the same manner in this work as in the previous examples, by layering and layering of ever darker gray values over a basic even mid grade gray value. The fence indication then is the point at which the darker grays begin to kick in, but I still worked away from those mid gray values already established for the dust.

In the above detail from another horse subject work, I have again used a very soft and subtle indication of dust to intentionally soften and diffuse that area of the drawing to remove emphasis and create a bit of abstraction to an otherwise detailed work. By picking out little ticks and marks of grass in the midst of the haze at the feet of the horses, I have created a perceived depth with the stronger gray tones forward and by softening the gray value in those ticks and strokes as they move back from the plain of the horses.

Anyone who has known me for awhile knows that one of my favorite subjects is the elephant and these next details demonstrate again, how I have given not only a perceived movement and intensity to these works, but help to add depth and I hope, increased interest to what otherwise might be pretty static works.

So, I hope these have been good examples of how I go about portraying mist and dust and for you, Grahame, I hope I have answered your query!

Friday, August 29, 2008

The new work, completed an hour ago. Image size is 6" x 8". This work will be shipping out to the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa shortly, for their upcoming small works fund raiser in late September/early October.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

It's All Happening . . . . .

. . . . . At The Zoo!

Yesterday, another one of those spur of the moment events . . . I met an artist friend, Ray Brown (google him and check out his graphite work), in from California (visiting family and friends outside of Baltimore) at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. Not that I really needed any more reference of the collection there that I have photographed numerous times . . . but one can NEVER have too many shots of the new baby elephant, Samson, who now is weighing in at just under 600 pounds at just over five months old.

In any event, we enjoyed several hours there and of course, I did manage to shoot another 100 or so images of little (well, not so little any more!) Samson, in addition to one of their beautiful leopard pair who was perched up in a tree within its enclosure, irresistible material for an artist; some super shots of the penguins; a myriad of goats in the little Farm Yard/Petting Zoo; and of all things . . . some great sparrows! Did I really have to go all the way up to Baltimore to photograph sparrows?

At work on another piece now, that will be going to another special event coming up in a couple months at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, OK - their annual small works fund raiser. I will post the work when it is done.

In the meantime, here are a few shots of some of my favorite subjects at the Maryland Zoo . . .

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The saying goes that . . . 'Saturday night is bath night'. Well, around these parts, it appears that Sunday morning is more like bath time. I have enjoyed a pleasant morning and into early afternoon, sitting at my kitchen table and watching the creatures in the back yard.

Here follows a sequence of some of the 150 or so images that I shot while sitting and sipping my tea and watching the birds enjoy their water fun.

If you have had any doubts about where I get some of my reference material . . . this should clear it up!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Put in some extra hours last night & finished up the piece . . .

'Cold Buffet' - image size 7" x 9"

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The horses and I are getting there . . .

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

As noted on my Unknown Bridges blog page, I received word from the Woodson Art Museum this morning that the collections committee has met and overwhelmingly opted to add this work, In the Summer, In the City, to the permanent collection at the museum. I am most pleased to have this work join several other pieces of mine in the collections at the Woodson and thank, again, all at the Woodson who helped to spotlight my work over these last two months.

The ideas formulated and defined in the body of work included in this exhibition, have prompted me, as I have mentioned in earlier postings here, to take a look at where I am as an artist at this moment and to think about where I might find myself a year from now or two years from now.

In recent weeks and months, I have 'taken stock' of the ideas and inspirations that have moved from my mind's eye, through my finger tips and out and onto my drawing board and have noted some shifts of focus in my work. As I have also said before, I feel strongly that as an artist, one must see these shifts as a means of moving on, as a defining moment in a career, as point of departure from what might have come before to what might grow in the future.

I have no clear idea as to what sort of direction my work might or might not move in over the course of the coming months, but one thing I do know is that the creative energies that motivated me during the course of working on the pieces for this exhibition over the last four plus years, will of natural necessity, show me the way in which I will, I hope, grow as an artist and find new ways of exploring my view of the world.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I have not been completely remiss in postings of late, just not in the studio or at the drawing board for a few days . . . out of town reference gathering and other things taking up my time. So, not much work has occurred on the current piece, but I thought I would post the few hours of work from yesterday afternoon at any rate. This one will be done by week's end, no doubt.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The start of a new work . . . it's rather . . . horsey!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The new work, completed: image size is 8" x 11".

Monday, August 11, 2008

Been off from studio time recently, so not much to show on the new work, but here is today's work before I head out the door for an afternoon hike. The day is just beautiful here for a mid August day in the suburbs of Washington, DC and it is too nice to be indoors . . . .

Saturday, August 09, 2008

'. . . . . Meet Me at the Fair!'

Some time away from the studio to attend some of the events at the opening of this year's Howard County Fair. Met an artist friend there and we started off by photographing some of the Horse Pull competition. The last time I photographed this as reference, I was still shooting print film! So, it was nice to get some digital reference of these beautiful and powerful horses.

We wondered through the chicken house and found some interesting birds to make note of and then wound up at the Show Jumping Ring and spent quite a bit of time watching the young ladies put their horses through their paces, canters, and jumps.

I think I have found some ideas for upcoming works!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

This afternoon's work. What is going on now is that I am trying to establish some good forwards and backwards movement (depth) to the various planes of the steps and other elements of this piece. By focusing right now on the darks and shadows, I can begin to separate and give slight distance by greying out the background shadows as they recede up and away. As I do this, I can go back to the foreground darks and intensify them if needed. By moving around the work right now, and not staying so focused on one area or another, I should be able to control the dark areas, adjusting them as need be, and give the appropriate depth to the work. I can always, then, just before completing the work, go in and pump up the foreground darks as needed to give that last little bit of intensity and bring things all the way forward. The darkest I have gone so far is about HB with a dab or two of 2B here and there at corners to make strong separations.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

November may be a 'fer piece' away, but it is never too soon to look at the future, especially when studio time is going to begin heating up in another month as deadlines for fall shows will come into the picture.

So, with that in mind, I have begun the first of two works that will be earmarked for November's Small Works Show at the Howard/Mandville Gallery outside of Seattle.

This one is going to have a lot of interesting plane changes and surface textures, plus a few little feathery characters.