Today was day 1 of the Roger Dale Brown workshop at Warehouse 521 in Berry Hill and boy am I tired! Painting may not seem like it would be exhausting, but when you’re not used to painting for 8 hours a day (and I’m not), painting for long stretches of time can be very tiring. It’s more mentally exhausting than anything. There’s so much to learn and absorb, but I’m always left feeling so inspired! I literally can’t wait to go back to studio tomorrow morning to work on my piece again.
We started this morning with a lecture by Roger where we talked about the rules of composition and discussed paintings by renowned painters (Edgar Payne, Anders Zorn, John Singer Sargent). We also talked about being intentional with our brush work and economical with our brush strokes. This means that you go in with a plan, lay down your brush stroke, and step away from the canvas. You don’t keep “licking” an area over and over because then you wind up with mud.
After the lecture, Roger led the class in a paint along where we all painted from the same reference photo. Roger taught us through step-by-step instruction; he demonstrated each step then sent us off to our easels to try our luck at replicating his masterful work. We painted alla prima (Italian for first attempt), which a a style of painting where you paint wet-on-wet and complete your painting in one sitting.
Step 1 – All paintings should start with a strong composition. This is accomplished by studying your reference photo and if possible, having studied the subject matter in real life. Before you ever touch your brush to the canvas, you need to do a thumbnail sketch to work out the composition of your piece. Be willing to move things around that don’t work, or leave them out completely. Roger suggested that we pick 2-3 interesting items to include outside of the major masses…this prevents your painting from being too complicated.
Step 2 – Draw the composition on your canvas using paint thinned down with solvent.
Step 3 – Identify your major shapes/masses. Roger heavily stressed a focus on major shapes. If you reduce a subject matter to the major shapes, it is simplified. In this case, the water, trees and rocks are the 3 major shapes. Wash in those masses with the correct value. The tree line is the darkest value, the water is the medium value, and the rock mass is the lightest value. The wash should be a complimentary color or something in that family. I used a purple wash for the tree area, a burnt sienna was for the water and a red for the rock mass. After you have the masses washed in, scrape off any excess paint and/or wipe the areas with a paper towel.
Step 4 – Add in correct color and start to define some shapes. You want to save your most interesting shapes for last – keep them “on reserve.” You also need to identify the types of light within the shapes. Roger talked about 5 types of light (though there are many more) – lights, shadows, mid-tones (between light and shadow) reflective and accent (or highlights).
Step 5 – I didn’t get to this step today, but plan to work on it tomorrow morning. Here, you continue adding in detail, reserving the accents for the final touches. Accents are your pops of color and highlights.
So that’s what I accomplished today…now here’s what Roger painted. Prepare to be blown away.
I learned so much today. I don’t have a lot of experience painting landscapes, so it’s definitely a weak area for me. I don’t necessarily aspire to be a landscape painter, but I definitely need to understand the major concepts because it will help me be a better painter over all. And some techniques we covered are universal to all types of painting – composition, values, brush work etc…
I struggled the most in 2 areas: color mixing and paint application. Here’s why:
Color mixing: I typically paint with a full palette (pre-mixed paint colors). Roger uses a limited palette (primary color palette plus a few extras). So, it was a challenge for me to get to the desired color.
Paint application: I tend to be very generous when I put paint on a canvas, so if my color wasn’t quite right to begin with, and I slathered a ton of it on the canvas, I had a bunch of ugly paint to deal with. I wound up scraping paint off my canvas with a palette knife on more than one occasion to try and right my wrongs.
So, my goal for tomorrow is to take the time to mix up the correct color before I put a ton of it on my canvas! That’s all for now. I’m going to rest up since I’ll be back at it tomorrow morning!