Saturday, August 1, 2009

Fun with a Palette Knife

Yesterday marked the last day of my summer Landscape Painting class. It was only a short 6 weeks, but I feel like I made a lot of progress. I also discovered that I am more capable of painting when sleep deprived than I thought I would be - it may have improved my painting, in fact.

For the past 2 weeks my sisters and I have been playing nurse to my mom who has been ailing for a few years now, and had the misfortune of falling on her side, making it very difficult for her to walk on her own or sleep for more than an hour or two without needing help turning over or needing a walk/bathroom break. It's not fun for her or us, but we do what we have to. Unfortunately, as I have more availability than my sisters, I've been over there every other night - and the nights before painting class. So, cup of coffee clutched in-hand, slowly dragging my painting gear up the trails, I'd struggle to focus on the task at hand. The benefit, though, is that my sleepiness allowed me to simplify and focus more on the feeling of the landscape before me, instead of getting overwhelmed with details.

I also discovered the palette knife. I'd been wanting to try this for a while now, and after our teacher demo'ed one morning with the palette knife, I decided to give it a shot. However, the first day I tried this was immensely windy to the extent that my canvas wouldn't stop flapping in the wind no matter how tightly I secured it to my easel. Plus, I only had one size palette knife that I had purchased for mixing paint and scraping paint off the canvas. So trying to put paint on canvas with it ended up being like trying to paint a postage stamp with a paint roller - very limited maneuverability, and applying multiple colors just ended up muddy. Immensely frustrating, to say the least.

Since I had to do a make-up painting for when I was on vacation, and I had a few hours at my mom's apartment while she napped, I did the view off her balcony of the pool. I had managed to sneak in a trip to the art store and pick up a few more palette knives in a variety of shapes and sizes, so I pushed through the frustration and made myself use the knife in a more controlled environment.

Learning a new technique takes time and patience, so it was nice to be able to experiment a little more with how to use the knife in ways that I could still get the look I wanted, but working with the strengths of the knife (thus the straight lines of the pool scene were a great match). And the lack of wind and cold that I'd combatted the day before made the experience much more enjoyable. I felt more satisfied with the painting from that day (that I proudly finished in a mere 3 hours - apparently feeling pressure of finishing before mom's nap was over and the rapidly diminishing light worked to my advantage). So heading back to class Thurs. and finishing my curving road painting with the knife was a big change from Tues. Even though it was still cold and windy, I was able to focus on capturing the morning light and the texture of the landscape, and created one of my favorite paintings of the semester.

This week we were in dense vegetation and only had a day and a half to finish the painting, as the second half of Thursday's class was group critique of all our paintings from the semester. So I purposely decided to use the knife again, to try to keep my painting more simplified. I ended up getting rather carried away with the knife strokes, but I'm happier with the light and dark values, which I was concentrating on. This was especially difficult as the afternoon lighting I'd had from Tues. was completely different Tues. morning in the 2 hours I had to finish before the critique!

The palette knife is definitely not as easy to wield as a brush, but that's part of what makes it interesting. I also love the thickness of the paint and the vibrancy of the pigment that remains even after the painting dries. I still haven't ever varnished any of my paintings, but it's something I'm considering depending after seeing how it can bring back some of the vibrancy after the painting's dried. The drawback of the knife is the huge amounts of paint you go through, though. I use no medium or thinner when I'm using the knife, which is a statement to the consistency of the paints I use, but also will end up being much more expensive to keep up. So unless I start selling some of these, I think I'll have to go back to the brushes and save the knife for when it will really be effective.

I'm so glad I was able to take this class again this summer. It's great to see progress in my work, and to be able to find a few things in my paintings that I'm pleased with. My next step is to take the richness and vibrancy I found from the palette knife and try to apply that to my use of the brush. I've got a few photos I'd like to work from, and I would still like to do a plein air painting at my nature walk place, so hopefully I can have some time to do that before fall semester starts. My mom still needs my sisters and I to help her out, but hopefully she'll be back on her feet soon (literally!) and able to be self-sufficient. I want to keep painting while it's still habit and keep the creative juices flowing! I may even have to try getting up super-early to achieve that sleep-deprived fog that seems to clarify my painting vision.


vivzan said...

Chelc, I really really love that last painting. Want to sell it? I <3 it!!!!!

Chelc said...

Viv - you had to pick the last painting, didn't you? I just promised it to my sis for her birthday. Sorry! :( Guess I'll have to make some more!

vivzan said...

Awww! :( Well, it's gorgeous, I don't blame her for wanting it!


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