Friday, February 12, 2010

Bahamas Landscape Workshop

This week the world is white and starved of color, but last week I feasted on a palette of azure, alizarin and lemon pigments with Susan Abbott, a fabulous colorist who led a landscape workshop in the Bahamas. Landscape is something that has always frustrated me so I was eager to learn.
Susan began the workshop by talking about painting and its relation to light, shadow and design.  Our first exercise was to do a series of sketches, mapping out the light and shadow within a format.

The first step in these studies was to identify the extremes in values -- the darkest (5) and the lightest (1). The next step was to add the values in between the extremes.  I worked in pen, which forced me to be decisive.

With these studies as a warm-up we then went on to do some preliminary sketches for our afternoon painting.  I chose this lovely blue house right by the sea. I sat on the steps of a canary yellow church and sketched while  someone practiced the organ -- renditiions of "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and "Do you think I'm Sexy?"

After a morning of sketching the class ate at the "Harbour's Edge."  I tried to sneak in a quick sketch of the terrace where we had the fish of the day -- grouper!  It turned out to be the "fish of the day" every day, every place we went. 

In the afternoon I tried to turn the sketch into a painting, but wasn't happy with the clash of pthalo and ultramarine blues. I worked on it that evening, taking all the lampshades off the lamps in my room to give me proper light.

I showed the painting to Susan at breakfast. The painting looked even worse in the morning light, and I saw it on her face.  Happily Susan gave us a demonstration on triads -- using the same primary colors throughout a painting to create the secondary and tertiary colors.  Triads help to give the painting unity.

Eureka!  It was the structure I needed to be spontaneous and expressive in my next painting of a yellow house.  Here I started with a sharpie marker and drew the shapes that appealed to me most.  Then I used cad yellow, cad red and ultramarine as my triad and Voila!  I was very happy with this painting in the end. 

The next day Susan gave us an exercise of using elemental color and shapes that weren't necessarily representational. This was a way for us to think about the relationships between colors and forms within a painting -- warm and cool color; dark and light; small and large; primary and secondary.  This is what I came up with for the exercise.  I really enjoyed this exercise and treated it as a puzzle.

Armed with this new knowledge the group packed our painting gear into golf carts and headed for Tahiti Beach to paint.  Susan gave us a spectacular watercolor demonstration of a dramatically painted sky, telling us that "landscape is either about the sky or about the water."  Her's was definitely about the sky!

We then set about completing our own paintings.  At that point I don't know what happened to me, but I really lost my nerve.  After progressing through these wonderful color exercises and demonstrations I should have risen to the challenge and painted Tahiti beach alla prima using broken color.  Instead I wimped out and decided to do an underpainting in cyan and then use acryic glaze to build up the color.  I've done that before with studio landscapes.  Unfortunately what I ended up with here was this pathetic painting that didn't capture the moment, had no discovery in it and, well basically sucked.

I call it "Gauguin Vomited".  Still I was happy being in the sunshine, scribbling away, and as Suma, one of the workshop participants said, "the biggest decision we have to make today is what flavor of ice cream to order at the Sugar Shack."  Below are a few of the results from eating, sketching and drinking at Elbow Cay:


In the end the workshop was too short.  Some of us toyed with extending our stay, especially since we heard it was going to snow in DC, but in the end we packed our duds and prepared to catch the Marsh Harbour Ferry to the airport...

It turned out it wasn't the snow that got us stuck in the Bahamas, it was record flooding in Miami.  It was torture but we stayed in the Bahamas one more day... boo hoo!


Anonymous said...

You got some lovely work out of this trip!


Suma CM said...

Love your blog post and all your paintings/sketches - so nice meeting you, and hopefully will see you again around DC!