Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Red Buds In The Sunlight

I did the above painting a little while ago.  I wanted to show a very common sight around these parts: sap buckets hanging from lovely maple trees.  I painted the buds of the tree a nice happy red-- not because I saw them that way, but because my lovely Ellen told me that maple buds are red.  I've actually never observed red buds because I'm color blind.

Regular readers of Maine-ly Painting (and you know who you are, and yeah we get together to make fun of you who don't) know that I have never kept secret the little matter of my being color-blind.  I never really give it much thought, either.  Oh sure, sometimes I might wonder what it would be like to have full color vision, but I also wonder on occasion what it might be like to be taller, or maybe have some talent...  So it's never really seemed like that big a deal to me.  However, recently I have been stumbling upon some news items about some possible cures or treatments for color-blindness.

I read one that is touted as a cure for color-blindness is to have DNA, genes and what-have-you surgically inserted into the eye using a large, long and extremely sharp needle.

I think I'll pass...

The next day I read James Gurney's blog post about sun-glasses that help the color-blind.  I have to say, that one intrigued me.  I did a lot of reading about them and how they work, but I will leave it up to the manufacturer, EnChroma to explain.  I recently got a pair.  Of sunglasses, that is.

First off though, let me talk a bit about being color blind.

Yes, I can see color.  But what color I see is usually a different shade than what you may see.  As we all know, white light is a combination of three colors:  Blue, Red and Yellow.  Our eyes take white light and using things called cones, receptors, catalytic converters and nerve endings, (it's complicated...) break that white light into those primary colors.  Our brains then take those colors and transform them into objects.  ("I could tell that was Macaroni and cheese by its orange color!") As a By-The-Way, what color an object is comes as the result of what  color, or colors of light it doesn't absorb.  For instance, the molecules and elements that comprise our atmosphere absorb a lot of red and yellow, so what shines into our eyes is blue light.  Grass will absorb a lot of red, so blue and yellow come through and combine to make green.  The paint used on STOP signs absorb blue and yellow, therefore we see red.  And on and on for everything under the sun.

The cones in my eye over-emphasize the blue spectrum of light.  A couple of reasons I know this are because when I step out from a very dark place into an extremely bright sunny one all I see for about ten to twenty seconds is blue.  Blue grass, blue trees, blue dirt-- it's very disconcerting, to say the least.  Eventually, color will start to seep in as my eyes become accustomed to the light.  Another way I know about red being missing from my sight is when I have trouble mixing a color, I noticed that if I add a touch of red-- even when I don't see it in the color I'm trying to paint-- it will work.  So, as I said, I see color, but if you lower the red quotient a skosh, and up the blue a tad, you will get an idea of what I see.

How does this affect the way I paint?  And how can I paint at all, you ask?  Well, I get around the color thing in a couple of ways.

When people are kind enough to compliment me on my painting, I often am told that I "paint light so well!"  Thank you!  What I think they really mean is that my values appear to be true enough to make one think I've depicted a bright sunny day.  And make no mistake, I work very hard on getting my values as accurate as I can.  It goes with my painting philosophy that Values and Color Temperature are more important than just color.  If I can get those values and temperatures right, then usually I can get away with using some wonky color.  Folks will think I meant to do that-- Artistic Principle and all...

Another way of working around my color vision is a bit more problematic.  I call it Paint-By-Theory.  If I know what the local color of an object is, even if I don't exactly see it that way, (Oh, that's pink and not grey?) then I can theorize what color the shadows and highlights may be.  You know-- warm light, cool shadows kind of thing.  The problem is that I'm using guess work and not observation to determine color.  Which leads me back to my maple tree painting.

Since I have never observed red buds on a tree, if Ellen hadn't told me, I would have used some indeterminate dark color to paint them-- because that's what I see.  Yeah, the values would be right, but the color would be boring.  So after learning about those color-blind sunglasses and reading up on how effective they may be, I thought I'd try them.

The first morning I had them I went outside and looked around.  In short order I noticed how vibrant the colors are.  Yeah, I knew the towel we use to dry off our dogs is pink, but now I could see how pink it really is.  Before, it had a decidedly grey cast to it.  I wandered some more around the house looking at this and that.  Unfortunately we are having a late spring so everything has a boring late March muddiness look to it.  I sauntered over to my studio, turned around and looked at the big maple that looms over our back yard.  My first thought was, "Ellen was right!"

For the first time in my life I saw the bright red buds of a maple tree.

Now, will being able to see color a little better make me a better painter?  Hard to say, because a good painting is more than just pretty color.  There's drawing, and edges, and brushstrokes and a million other things that don't involve color at all.  So for now, let's just call it one more tool in the painter's tool box.

But I can't say I've ever had a tool that gave me new eyes.  And showed me what red buds really look like.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Think Spring! And Other Thoughts

Decoration Day 

Regular readers of Maine-ly Painting (which number as many people as are now watching new Colbert Report episodes, I'm proud to say!) are aware that winter is not my favorite season.  In truth, I eagerly await our week of summer here in Maine. Herewith are some thoughts pertaining to Maine's longest season and the picture I just finished.

I dreamed up a painting sometime last summer.  As always, I thought it would be great fun to paint nearly twenty figures in a street scene from back in the day in a painting four feet long.  I was all kinds of exited to do a full size charcoal study for it, and color sketches and what have you.  (And as always, when I was several weeks into the project I was wondering what the hell was I thinking?)  Knowing it would take up a large chunk of time, I thought I'd make it my winter project.  You know, something I could sink my teeth into while I waited for spring.  

I started the long involved process in early December of 2014.  I signed it on April 10th, 2015.  In between those dates we had the nastiest winter we had seen in ages.  The April day I signed the lower right hand corner was a cold, miserable day with at least a foot of snow still on the ground.  Since then we have had delightfully sunny and warm weather, and the snow is completely gone!

I should have signed it a lot sooner...

Don't get me wrong, I love painting these imaginative types of pictures.  It is a challenge to bring the past come to life, to say the least.  Let me show you the street these guys were marching down:

Lovely, isn't it?  Can't you just picture a parade coming down this street?  The difficulty is really of my own doing.  For instance, look at the yellow house on the right in the painting.  First off, what color was this house back then?  I made it yellow just to put a spot of color on that side.  But what shade yellow should I use?  What color will it look like on the shadow side? What color are the shutters?  What will they look like in the sun?  Or the shadow?  Multiply that by every element in this painting, and you'll get an idea why it took so long.  Good thing I don't have hair anymore, or I would have pulled it all out!

Here in New England, as I just mentioned, we have had to endure a brutal winter.  Maybe you recall that Boston had their worst winter in its history.  We've had more snow in the past, but this year it was the cold.  You see, we know winter is going to be cold-- no surprise there.  Usually a winter will give us a few nights when the temperature drops below zero.  This year below zero was the norm night after brutal night.  We had several mornings when I awoke to see the thermometer had fallen to twenty degrees below zero.  I lie.  The coldest was twenty-four degrees below zero.  Twenty-Four Freaking Degrees Below ZERO.  That's not wind chill, people. They don't call it "Wind Chill" any more, but rather "Feels Like".  Do you know what twenty-four degrees below zero "Feels Like"?

The frozen grip of Death.

One of my excuses the reason my painting took too long was the constant interruptions.  Namely, snow blowing.  In years past, we had a guy plow our driveway.  At thirty bucks a pop.  This guy would come and plow an inch of snow before it melted so he could charge me.  I will admit that he was useful after big snows, but I still had to shovel a lot of snow to clear out the piles he pushed into the wrong spot.  Year after year.  Even after I told him not to.  You may be wondering why I continued to use him if he caused me that much aggravation.  It's simple.  Everybody else charged $40.

So this year we bought a snow-blower in a "Damn it, I'll do it myself!" frame of mind. I was thinking that using it once a week or two (the average time between snow storms) wouldn't be too tough, and hey-- after a few years it'll pay for itself. 


After this winters two storms a week, I think it's paid off now...

This was a shot of my poor, buried studio.  As I looked at this sight day after day, I was reminded of a lovely day last year when my studio presented a far different look:

That my friends, is spring!  And it's all I thought of...


Monday, February 2, 2015

It's All Relative

People who say the Beatles weren't all that great-- and I'm speaking to you, you Millenials-- are of course misguided in their notion, because they lack objectivity.  Sure, they've heard Beatles songs, but they don't quite grasp as to why everybody says they are so darn good.  What is missing for those young punks is context.  You see, back in say 1965, were you to turn the knob on your transistor radio you would have heard songs by Sam The Sham and The Pharaohs (Wooly Bully),  Sonny and Cher (I Got You Babe), Tom Jones (What's New Pussycat), and then from the one-watt speaker, like an alien space-craft come to blow your mind, would come a masterpiece like Yesterday by the Beatles.  So yeah, the Beatles were great, but what is essentially forgotten these days was how much better they were over their contemporaries.

Far-out, man...

February 3rd is the anniversary of Norman Rockwell's birth in 1894.  Constant readers of Maine-ly Painting (which if you count individual eye-balls numbers near a dozen!) know that I have a long standing love of Rockwell's art.  I may have even written a post or two, or three about him.  But still, some people-- and I'm talking to you Millenials again-- have come to realize that no, he didn't really suck, but still can't quite grasp as to why he was and still is considered so great.  Again, a little context is needed.

When Norman first started painting covers for the premier weekly magazine of America called The Saturday Evening Post in 1916, he was just one among many cover artists.  There was JC Leyendecker and NC Wyeth to name a couple.  Sure, while Norm was talented enough to be a cover artist, there were still a good many covers done better than his.  Gradually over time though, he started to mature in his style and vision of the America that the Post wanted all their artists to portray.  His people were more convincing, the humor more appealing.  The art itself was more attractive.  By the 1930's more copies were being sold that had his paintings on the cover than any other cover artist.  Rockwell was becoming quite well known if not down right famous.

So what made his work stand out?  Why was Rockwell considered the King Of Illustrators? Well, because he was great, for starters, but also because-- like the Beatles-- he was head and shoulders above his contemporaries.  To prove me right, let's put him in context, shall we?

Here is a run-down of typical Saturday Evening Post covers through the 40's and 50's.  The artists were all top flight, no doubt.  But to see the difference I'll throw in the occasional Rockwell.  

Stevan Dohanos

Howard Scott

Norman Rockwell

Douglas Crockwell

Mead Schaeffer

Norman, again

George Hughes

John Falter

Yep, it's Norm

Amos Sewell

John Atherton

Really?  You need to look at this caption? 

Do you get where I'm coming from?  Week after week the Post had nice, pleasant covers and then-- like an alien space-craft come to blow your mind-- comes a Norman Rockwell cover.

That's what made him so great!

So, Happy Birthday again, Norman.  You'll always be the King in my book.