Wet Paint Blog


Quest for the Perfect Pochade Box-3


Alla Prima Series

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Quest for the perfect pochade box-2

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Meet the Alla Prima “Blackfoot” model from Montana woodworker and artist Ben Haggett.  This is the second pochade box I purchased back in about 2011.  It is a marvelous piece of equipment, very versatile, and all held together with magnets, springs and hinges.  As you see in the next photo, there is room in the lid to hold at least four canvases, both 8x10s and 6x8s.  

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You hold onto the d-ring, pull that little door open and pull the whole lid back to reveal preloaded paints.  There’s a drawer on the right for a few tubes of paint and a tray that lifts out for increased work space.  A coil spring allows a painter to fit any size canvas onto the magnetically operated wood canvas supports.  No wing nuts, no screws, pretty easy on the hands.  When the lid comes down, there is a plunger that presses into the drawer to keep it locked in place. 

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I really like this box, so why isn’t it my go-to pochade box?  It’s a little chunk, is heavier than my Open Box M,  and doesn’t fit right in my backpack.  The space for preloading paint is a little limited, but I can work around that.  That’s really not a good reason.  OK, I’m heading to the North July 11th.  I’ll take this one along and give it a go.


Quest for the perfect pochade box-1

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I’d like to do a little series on my adventures with pochade boxes.  Most painters start out with a “French easel”, a three legged studio-in-a-box.  I used one so long ago that I cannot find a photo of it and I’m too lazy to set it up right now.  The one pictured here, however, is my first real pochade box which I still use most of the time.  When I first started painting plein air, I struggled to keep up with the guys who had everything tucked away in their backpacks.  I clunked along with my French easel, the size of a small carry-on.  My friend, Cody DeLong, advised me to order the one you see here from a company in Cody Wyoming, Open Box M.  As you can see, it has had a lot of use.  What I like about it is it will take almost any size canvas, has a large work area, is fairly light weight and folds up into a pretty thin size.  What I don’t like about it is the four wing nuts and two thumb screws that catch on everything in my pack and are tough to turn when my hands are freezing in the wintertime.  We’ve learned to get along, however, and I find this one is my “go-to” box.  I have three others I will show you over the next installments

A word about that word pochade…its French, meaning “quick sketch” and that’s what we do with these boxes.  We do a quick little painting which hopefully results in capturing the essence of a scene.


Nocturne

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Morning

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“Night time"

I’ve always been fascinated with how painters accomplish a nocturne or night painting.  I especially admire the work of painter Michael Ome Untiedt.  Look him up; he does fascinating work of the old West.  One day, or night, I’m going to take my painting gear outside and try a night painting by full moon.  Until then, I can adjust photos on my computer to give me, mostly, a sense of moonlight.  I find a photo that will work well, and first take out all the color saturation.  Next I fiddle with the exposure, then the contrast until I have something that will give me a good reference.  In the photo above, I can play with the sky, making it much darker and place a few stars.  

One can indeed work a little color into a night painting as long as the colors remain cool, e.g., blues and greens with a hint of warmth for emphasis.  Values should also remain tight with perhaps a pop or glint of light at the focal point.  

I’m learning.  Watch that landscape page for more to come.

Getting started

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I had an idea.  I liked the image from our R2R hike where we were all heading out for supper on Plateau Point our first night.  I’d tried this image as an 11” x 14” piece which you can see on the landscape page.  So…why not try it in a bigger size?  22” x 28”.  I thought hard about how I wanted to start this piece.  I really wanted the bright, sunstruck portions to pop.  I covered the whole canvas with bluish purple paint, then sketched out the landforms and trail.  Why purple? It’s on the opposite side of the color wheel from yellow and orange. Putting the two together or one over the top, jazzes the eye.  Letting a bit of the purple undertone show through the warm yellowy-orange seems to give excitement and depth to the painting.  I feel it also serves to unify the overall look of the piece.  That was the easy part, however.  This was a large canvas.  Where to start?!  I love how the “supergroup” that dark layer, thrusts up in the reference photo.  I’ll start there.  Hours later, my paint brush had traveled all over the canvas, seemingly on its own.  And that’s how this one got started!

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Observation

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Being a painter makes one be particularly observant, I think.  A steady undercurrent of inquisitiveness and analysis constantly runs through the brain.  What colors would I use to get that green?  How can I communicate that peculiar geometry?  If I moved that tree a little to the left would that make a better composition? And in the picture above, how did that heart-shaped rock get there?  The conclusion one would reach immediately is that someone put it there.  Looks a little too posed.  It might have been easy to hike right by without noticing, but painters, and certainly others, too, are constantly scanning, wondering, observing.  This little surprise drew a smile to our faces as we hiked by.  


Slump

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It happens.  Writers refer to a block, painters may refer to the same phenomena as a slump.  It’s disconcerting because no subject matter seems compelling.  The first time I experienced it, was at least 10 years ago.  I drifted around the studio, leafed through reference photos…nothing!  I remarked about it to another painter who reassured me that it happens from time to time.  The thing to do is to keep painting.  It feels like an ominous dark cloud hanging over one’s easel, I’ve read recently that what’s really happening is an internal event, a mental and emotional reorganization, reordering, consolidation.  Maybe a search for a new approach, borne out of boredom for painting the same way, all the time.  Whatever the reason for the slump, it is, indeed, important to persist and keep on painting.  The last time I distinctly recall that happening was the summer of 2011.  Nothing was exciting.  I tried painting a scene from a French market, I tried painting a raven (laughable!).  I finally decided to turn toward painting a small still life.  I took two little teapots and set them up in the bright sun on the hot tub cover.  Set up my plein air gear and started to paint over an old yucky painting.  Much to my surprise, what resulted was a sensitive, meditative still life of the two teapots and the more I painted, the more detail I noticed.  One was reflecting on the surface of the other.  There were glints of sunlight on the glaze.  Even the shadows had color in them.  What resulted was a little 6”x8” painting I titled “Opposites Attract”.  The teapots looked as though they were communicating with one another.  To me, it looked like nothing I’d ever painted before and may, indeed, be my best little still life.  Anytime I think about putting it out for sale, a little voice whispers, “not yet!”.

This time, the slump hit in late October.  I didn’t pay much attention, after all, I had the hiker chick adventure coming up and that took a lot of focus away from painting.  Then upon returning, I learned my good friend, and painting buddy, Bob, was in the hospital dealing with leukemia.  That news put a pall over everything for me.  I spoke with Bob over the phone and he advised, “just keep painting”.  And I did.  I took a canvas I’d previously toned lavender and started to sketch out a scene from a little canyon up in Utah.  I lost myself in it.  The paint seemed to go on differently, the colors were not my typical palette.  I left the sky looking rather rough, even allowing some of the underpainting to show through.  You can see the finished piece on the Landscape page.  Perhaps you’ll see the difference, perhaps, not.  Persevering and painting through the slump is imperative, however, because you just never know when the next painting off the brush will be the one that results from the new order of your head and heart.

Take a look and tell me what you think!


Decisions

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This 3’x2’ partially finished painting is inspired by a rather narrow and exciting portion of the N. Kaibab Trail.  We were at a portion known as The Needle and paused to rest and look back at the trail before we slogged on up the steep incline. We’d been on the trail in the dark since 5 a.m. and now the sun was pouring into the canyon, striking the redwall and bouncing light everywhere.  This is what I love to capture, light reflecting in the shadows.  If you follow my work, you’ll know I rarely put people in a painting.  However, I’m considering placing a couple of hikers approaching the bend in the trail where that tilted rock is perched on the edge.  “Considering” because adding humans would help give the viewer a sense of scale.  On the other hand, perhaps the viewer would like to feel they have the trail all to themselves and visually “walk” along with their own private sense of adventure.  

The cool thing about oils is I can try placing a few hikers in the scene and if I don’t like it, I can easily wipe them out or paint them over.

I welcome your opinion!


A look inside

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My work station

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This is where I spend 90% of my time in the studio.  My easel is just to the left of the paper towel holder.  About five years ago, I realized I needed a much more efficient and versatile work station, so I ordered this cool thing.  The wooden lid lifts up and flips forward from the slot and covers everything up at the end of a painting session.  My favorite part of the day is opening it, sliding it back and revealing the awaiting piles of paint with their delicious oily fragrance.  On the side are two palette knives I use for mixing paint and often for applying paint to the canvas.  The blue and white tube is Gamblin’s solvent free gel, a medium that can be mixed with paint to change the texture.  Other items are a cake of brush soap in the round beige container, a glass scraper, and a cup for medium.  The brushes I use for painting lie on the side in the tray and the ones I currently use for a painting rest in the solvent can.  Inside the doors is a storage area where I keep additional solvent and medium.  At the end of the day, I’ll clean off all the paint in the middle of the glass palette, using the glass scraper, then wiping it down the a paper towel and a little bit of solvent.  I cover the paint with a thin newspaper bag which prevents it from getting a dried skin on top.  

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Dawn@DawnSutherlandFineArt.com  © Dawn Sutherland  2017