Sail Away- demo

Philip Howe Fine Art
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This painting took several days to complete and turned into a bit of a project for me as I had to try some new techniques to achieve some of the luminous color in the sky, the water and overall warm light. Its a fair size piece at 48x60" but the size helped in any detail areas where I could finesse as needed to achieve some realism without resorting to tiny brushes and nitpicking the image to death. 
Here is a long demo of various stages that I hope some of the students that have been writing to me will find useful. 

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Drawing transfered to canvas and first block-in of cloud color
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Clouds blocked in with larger masses first
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Clouds blocked in, first pass

Above, you can see the cloud layer is fully blocked in. I did this first, as usual, because its the furthest back volumn of color and all other elements will overlap or cover it. If I painted more transparently overall, I would be more careful about the edges, as here its messy around the sail, but drawing that back in with paint is easy and I tend to go heavier and more opaque as objects move closer to the viewer or frontal plane. The only thing I want to be careful about is, again, heavy paint initially, until I get a good mood going with the color and am satisfied I can lay the paint on thicker, if needed, to get a more dimensional effect. Otherwise, the thicker paint, impasto, would cause me problems in correcting the drawing in some areas as I paint.

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Woman blocked in, actual size

This is about the actual size I painted this area, around 6 inches high (computer screens vary depending on the displays resolution set). Painting figures has become very easy for me after years of doing illustration work you begin to see that a body is just another form in space, needing rounded edges and sharp planes to become 3 dimensional. On this figure I followed my reference fairly closely, but usually I just start with a line and block in the figure, then set any reference aside so I can make up the color tones to fit the rest of the painting, as I did here by color tinting the light skin tones to fit the magenta cast of the sky. There are many examples of artists who paint studio models or from photos shot in a studio space, then try and copy that into an outdoor seting or where there is a different light. The figures look stuck on and not real but manikin light. The Alteliers push painting from light, but the un-natural quality of a studio figure in an outdoor setting doesn't make much sense to me. The ideal thing, then, is to either paint outdoors with the figure there, which is rarely possible. Or, learn to adjust the color from simple studio thinking or life work to make the figure work for you in the space you designed for it. Other than color, rounding out the form, blending edges into the background and watching or creating new highlights, reflected light (reflected color) and melting shadows into areas behind the form - all help to set the figure in space. I think this is one of the advanced ways Valesquez, for one, was able to achieve a natural look without his figures feeling like they were fake in a fake setting. For this piece, it was a bit tricky as its a Dream image so my colors are pushed a bit to a more surreal effect and yet I tried to get the realism I prefer. By adding an overall pink or warm cast and refining edges here and there, the sense of realism was, hopefully, achieved, or at least the mood was set.

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Near final woman on couch area with cat
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These 3 images show the sail base color with test color for glazing

Above, you can see the swatches of transparent color I applied over the ocher base of the sail. I tested for the better color then quickly whiped the color off, then glazed the whole sail and buffed, or smoothed over the glaze. This only takes a few minutes and really adds a lot of depth. I like using Liquin medium for this as it allows for a lumious transparent appilcation that drys overnight, and gets tacky within an hour or so, plenty of working time. After this set up a bit, and was not so slick, I took a fresh white rag and just dabbed and pulled at it to make it look more textured and weathered. A great technique for mountains and cloth is to dab and pull away from a heavily glazed layer, then paint back over that the next day with a slightly darker 2nd glaze. Again, I'm using a nice TRANSPARENT hue here, not an opaque color, so the full underpainting can come through, sort of like placing a tinted glass over a surface. A true glaze, by the way, is done on white, of course, to get the maximum effect of the thin color layer in much the same way a true watercolor wash works (not opaque watercolor). Acrylics can achieve this as well, although I have always felt they look plastic and a bit fake. Some people refer to a glaze base as a light gray beneath, and I suppose that works too, but the strongest, most brilliant color, will most definitely come from a white ground or watercolor paper beneath thin layers of transparent color. Unfortunately, the rich color from glazing or a patina layer is beyond what the camera or printing can reproduce. The only way to really appreciate the quality of the oil color is to see the originals, as in Maxfield Parrish's work, Rembrante and others. These are usually done fully transparent from the beginning layer and achieve a pearl like luminosity. I tend to just color treat my opaque base areas, but even there, the light effect comes through. Whistler achieved a similar raw color quality by scratching off thicker paint and then applying layers of warm colors in transparent ways to enhance the textured look. So don't be afraid of experimenting with glazing. One solid rule is that you should not apply fast drying layers over a fat or slower drying underpainting. I always allow for the work to be bone dry, in about a week or so, before I work back into that area to avoid the pulling of the faster drying layer, the glaze, over the dried lower area.

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Here's the final color for the sail.
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Oversize detail showing the effect of a magenta glaze over textured paint
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Here the right side hill is blocked in once the clouds are well develped
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Right side hill fine tuned a bit
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Here is the near final hill. I added a thin deep blue shadow glaze to the lower area.
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Simple transparent stripes applied over the base green of the cloth
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White tint applied, like a glaze, over the stripped base underpainting
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Glaze of warm color over the previous white tint for highlights
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Cloth and hand final section, after shadow glaze applied

Here you can see the final cloth texture, a bit dark, but the cross striped pattern is toned down and no longer competes with the rest of the painting. Again, the idea is to put down the base middle value, the green here. Then add gentle highlights, then tint those highlights with the ambient or direct light color, in this case a warm red. Put in shadows cooler and transparently with a thin glaze overall. This gives a very realistic and dimensional cloth effect and settles down the pattern weave so that it sets into the cloth more than stand up away from the surface. Below the final piece. I may not use this much color for awhile as I am into brown and gray tones, but this piece was designed years ago and the water color and cool tones seemed right for this, my first in a series of dream images.

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Sail Away final, 48x60" oil/canvas
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Final rocks and water area

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