Saturday, September 28, 2013

Vincent Thomas Bridge #16 - Part 2 - The Painting

"Vincent Thomas Bridge #16 (Tribute)"
oil on panel, 2013
18" x 24" (45.72cm x 60.96cm)
commissioned, private collection

Part 2 of 2:
This covers the challenges and decisions needed to arrive at the finish.
Challenges I faced to meet the clients and my own wants and the artistic decisions I had to make to still finish with a successful painting.
It was a balancing act

I knew at the outset the bright light blue sky was going to be an issue, and I was a little worried about that, if I was to show the green as iridescent and bright. A bright and light blue sky would compete with it yet the bridge tower was more important.
Although the client wanted a bright sunny day I had to darken the blue sky somewhat in order to get the tower to appear bright. These are the artistic decisions that must be made while still fulfilling the wants of the client.

I also knew from seeing the bridge everyday that , from this view, the sun comes from the south, or to the right in the painting, and puts the towers (their faces) in shadow for most of the day and I would need the afternoon light to showcase them.

As I said in Part 1 I was concerned that a wide panoramic view would be weak or watered down thus losing the ability to present the bridge as powerful and strong so I decided to crop in as close as possible while still leaving some air around it to breath.

Another challenge was getting some warms tones into the painting. With so much blue sky and green bridge, early on it was apparent I was going to end up with a predominantly cool toned painting which I felt would work against its personal story. Even with a warm afternoon light on the concrete bents (archways or piers) there was not much surface area to apply the warms.

Adding the marine layer catching the sun solved the warm to cool ratio problem. I now had more surface area of painting for warms tones. And since the marine layer generally hugs the ground I was able to save the blue sky.

Because of the personal story behind the painting I wanted the San Pedro tower slightly more prominent so that meant downplaying the other somehow but still have the lighting make sense.

Decisions to make predominant the San Pedro tower:

Besides the warm vs cool problem the atmospheric conditions of the marine layer helped solve two other problems or challenges: it let me soften the background and far tower (to down play it) and gave me the benefit of spacial depth or perspective.
It took some time to figure that out. I let the painting sit for a few days, contemplating so I would not ruin the third attempt. Remember, I was thinking blue sky, as the client wanted, and although many of my paintings feature the marine layer I wasn't considering any of that in this one.
I was happy with this realization since adding it served triple duty.

I then decided to 'turn down' the light on the far tower just a bit which also worked toward the goal of making the important tower more prominent. Now it glowed a little more than the other.

At this point there was a lot going on in the foreground and it was detracting from the tower and the story so I let the painting sit while I worked on other projects and kicked it around in my head.
I revisited the bridge over the next few days at different times of day to figure out what I was missing.
The bridge, the one in the painting was a little weak, it needed some weight thrown into it.

Darken the foreground and soften the foreground edges with a shadow from Palos Verdes creeping up from the bottom. That is what happens late in the day.
That epiphany made the bridge, up to the near tower, more important and gave the bridge something of substance to sit on as well as firmly anchor it to the right corner. I like the way it launches from the right corner
It also gave it that needed (visual) weight and supported the back story of the bridges' history; firmly secured in the harbor, that it IS the only of the three bridges that will remain.

I also took some artistic license by throwing a shadow under the bridge that in reality would not be there at this time of day. This made the four bents (archways or piers) visually stronger, clarified its structure, and downplayed some of the needless foreground busyness.

Other crucial but more technical factors were maintaining the correct proportions and getting the perspective right, miscalculations and it starts falling apart fast.
As in a portrait it is important to get the exact proportions of any structure and the Vincent Thomas Bridge's design is based on ratios of thirds.

My final review before calling it done I decided it still needed just a touch more life to it.
I came back in and added some traffic, just enough to bring it alive and since Caltrans maintains the bridge and the personal story is of one of them, I parked a Caltrans truck under the San Pedro tower, as one final salute, subtle and understated, not too obvious.

What I finally arrived at in the painting was the most important part of the bridge (supporting the personal story) is the most prominent. The focus is on the approach in the foreground leading up to the San Pedro tower.
Everything else; the rest of the bridge, the Long Beach tower, the lower foreground, the background are all supporting characters. None of them are painted with the same degree of finish. Each has been downplayed, softened in a vignetted manner or simplified, including the cars on the bridge.
And again, done in a subtle and understated way, not too obvious.
That was the balancing act and how I avoided the typical postcard shot.

It is a living bridge.

One thing artists do while working is turn the painting upside down, sideways and view the mirror image for both practical reasons and to check for irregularities.
The practical... the swing of your arm when drawing arcs etc and to avoid smearing wet areas while working.
But more importantly it disassociates your mind from the subject in its recognizable form, allowing you to see any drawing problems, flaws, weakness' and see the painting more abstractly, so you can assess it from an artistic and design point of view.

I noticed that turned this way its beautiful, graceful but powerful shape became even more apparent. It is simply a beautiful form in its own right.

(Oh, and by the way your welcome, now you don't have to turn your computer on its side to see what I'm talking about!)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Vincent Thomas Bridge #16 - Part 1 - The Story

"Vincent Thomas Bridge #16 (Tribute)"
oil on panel, 2013
18" x 24" (45.72cm x 60.96cm)
commissioned, private collection

Here is part 1 of 2 on a recent commission and one that proved to be very challenging.
Today the story, tomorrow the challenges.

This is the third incarnation, the first two versions were scrapped and wiped out.
Since there is a strong personal story behind this commission it was important to get everything right so I had no problem tossing the first and wiping out the second.
Sometimes you know early on when a work is not going to pan out. Better to get out early than to keep digging the same hole deeper.

This is my favorite view of the bridge, from up high on Knoll Hill, and the most revealing of its great boomerang serpentine curve.
This bridge of curves was a challenge to paint however. While most bridges are straight (yawn), any curves being a part of suspension cables and arches, the Vincent Thomas Bridge's greatest feature's are its curved roadway and its steep approaches which much rise high for ships to pass underneath then dramatically fall to meet the opposing dock. And done in a relatively short distance.
This view I painted coming up one approach shows the other side plunging at what seems like an impossible angle. This is the Vincent Thomas bridge.

First though, a little bit of history.
Opened in 1963 there was much controversy. It was originally ridiculed as a "The bridge to nowhere" but is now an integral part of the LA Harbor. Of the three large bridges in the harbor it is the only one that will remain. The Commodore Schuyler F. Heim and Gerald Desmond Bridge are currently being replaced.
That only adds to its stature. It was born out of adversity and is the only survivor. It took 19 years and 16 pieces of legislation to get it built, all championed by then San Pedro Assemblyman Vincent Thomas, for whom the bridge is appropriately named after.

The painting:
It is a tribute to a former bridge painter whose ashes were mixed into the paint used to paint the near tower, the San Pedro tower as the bridge painters call it. In fact bridge painters have a strong personal connection to 'their bridge', their identity is very much wrapped up in it.
You can see how weighty the subtext of the painting was already getting and I hadn't even started yet!

I needed to somehow represent its history and its very personal story, all by means of paint on a surface.
This did help guide me in several decisions even while contemplating the painting long before breaking out the brushes.

The clients wanted:
The classic view showing the entire bridge.
Shown from the San Pedro side of the channel so the San Pedro tower was most prominent due to its personal story.
A sunny day with blue sky.
And the signature iridescent green paint of the bridge.
OK, sounds easy enough ...

I wanted:
Everything... yep... everything.
That means all that IS my work plus all of the above history and story.
Not as easy.

I was happy enough to paint this view, even knowing ahead of time that very often panoramic shots of iconic structures lose their power as you pull back. I would have to find a way to instill in the painting all of the above without ending up with a typical postcard type image, one that is watered down or not very interesting to look at, doesn't say much and doesn't have that extra quality it would need to make the bridge alive. Most people who strongly identify with a structure think of it as a living entity.

I too wanted the San Pedro tower to be slightly more prominent to suit the personal story behind this commission but not just by virtue of its view. I would need to figure additional ways to do this but done in a subtle manner. It is easy to overdo a concept like that and before you know it you have a cheesy, corny, overwrought painting (a postcard image).

Both a sunny day and a bright tower. This worried me from the beginning since, as an artist, I knew I was working with two competing elements.

I always have some idea of the direction an artwork is going to go, at least enough to begin, but this one had some stumbling blocks right from the start, hence the first two failed attempts.

The layout (view) wasn't the problem. It was putting paint to surface, but not from a technical point of view, I can do that.
It was the way I began (the first two). I work in layers similar to a watercolor approach and sometimes the first few layers are crucial to its success. You begin wrong and you'll never arrive at the finish.

It's like going left when you should have gone right.248

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Storage Yard Nocturne

"Storage Yard Nocturne (Palms)"
watercolor on paper, 2013
9" x 6" (22.86cm x 15.24cm)
Direct link to painting here

The storage yard is inadvertently becoming a series. Something I did not plan but this is the third and I have my mind on a couple others at some point.
Here are the 1st and 2nd.

Industrial settings are odd sometimes. You will see things that you won't find in suburban areas. Here two streetlights, one a warm sodium and the other a cool white light, right next to each other. Even though the orange sodium light is really lighting the storage yard it is still amusing they are side by side. It also made a nice dramatic cast shadow against the gate and driveway.

For me I like the way I was able to play the warms and cools against each other in such a vertical format.
Although this is a real site I made some changes, as I always do, to make a stronger composition. It was fun designing the shapes of the palms. I also added the stack of steel jutting up from the left, the power wire and changed the building.247

* I am still having difficulty with some images uploading in blogger. The image quality if off a little but is the best I could get.
It's random, some days it works fine, other days it's dreadful (and frustrating).

The image on DAILY PAINTWORKS is better.

**I have updated this post with a 'fixed' photo. This is how it should have looked in the first place.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tied Up Dog

"Relic Sunrise"    SOLD
watercolor on paper, 2013
6" x 8" (15.24cm x 20.13cm)

This watercolor ventures a little outside of my usual palette, something I have been experimenting with lately. The challenge is in avoiding the typical postcard picture and the moment you choose a sunrise or sunset you are immediately faced with that quandary no matter what the subject.
This is due to the fact that both have been done so much and the colors of each are rooted in bright saturated yellows, oranges, pinks and purples.

However I do like the idea of doing some sunrise works, since most of my paintings to date have been later in the day. In many of those I managed to avoid this quandary by waiting until dusk when the colors of sunset have been sucked back into the horizon, painting just before sunset, or by turning east, north or south and away from the treachery of pinks and purples.

Having said that I will occasionally do one with the appropriate colors.

Whenever I see boats jacked up on stilts, looking like they have been forgotten, I think of some caged bird or a dog tied up as other dogs run wild. Here the forgotten boat faces the unseen marina, and away from the viewer, where other boats bob gently in the water. Neglected and left behind, it stands to face another dry day.

That was the idea but I think the bright colors actually defeat that concept. They don't quite burn.
I will have to try another version and re-tackle the melancholy theme.246

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Series - Locomotive - Norfolk Southern 2550

"Norfolk Southern 2550"
oil on panel, 2013
5" x 7" (12.7cm x 17.78cm)

Number six in my New Locomotive Series.

Years of service shows on this old Norfolk Southern locomotive, its low number 2550, tells how long it has been around. It is beat up, rusted and has faded worn paint. No glamour here.

Norfolk Southern bills itself as "The Thoroughbred of Transportation" and this locomotive has earned its reputation as a thoroughbred as well as a work horse. NS locomotives are often called "catfish" by railfans  since the stripes resemble catfish whiskers.(6,245)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


"Amtrak Bridge Oceanside #1"
oil on panel, 2012
3.5" x 5" (8.89cm x 12.7cm)

I painted this after a visit to Oceanside California in the late afternoon.
The bridge passes over the Loma Alta Marsh near the Pacific Ocean.

The late afternoon light makes for a dramatic image with the landscape dropping into shadow and the bridge catching full sun.

This one was done then a I did another version at 5" x 7" which has the train on the bridge and figures on the right.244

* I am still having difficulty with some images uploading in blogger. The image quality if off a little but is the best I could get.

**I have updated this post with a 'fixed' photo. This is how it should have looked in the first place.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Urban River 8

"LA River #2"
watercolor on paper, 2013
7" x 10" (17.78cm x 25.4cm)

This is from my Urban River Series which includes The Santa Ana River in Orange County California.
As in others from this series the concrete banks are visible at the upper left of this composition.

Here is a view of the concrete bank and Willow Street bridge, built in 1946.

I love the smooth forms of the banks and the way they intersect with the gentle arches of the bridge

This is the urban river, part nature, part man. In each of these I have divided up the composition to varying degrees, favoring either the natural or man made as I search for different ways to present what I am seeing, to have something to say.
That guides me in the artistic decisions and determines how I paint it.
In this one I liked the idea of a busy composition juxtaposed against a calm cool spring day. The lively  hustle and bustle of the city without really showing any of it.243

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Urban River 7

"LA River #1"
watercolor on paper, 2013
7" x 10" (17.78cm x 25.4cm)
Direct link to this painting here.

This is another from my Urban River Series which includes The Santa Ana River in Orange County California.
As in others from this series the concrete banks are visible at the upper left of this composition.

Here is the Los Angeles River looking south towards downtown Long Beach from the Willow Street bridge on a bright spring day. The bridge in the middle ground is a pipeline bridge.

I liked this view for the bottleneck the river takes just after passing under the Willow Street bridge.
During the winter months when there is a lot of rain most of the (green) riverbed is under water including the large trees.242

Monday, September 9, 2013

Tree Nocturne Red Curb

"Tree Nocturne (Red Curb)"
oil on panel, 2013
2" x 2⅜" (5.08cm x 6.01cm)
Direct link to this painting here.

Here's a new one from my Tree Nocturne Series of an old desolate street.
Again I paint the warm glow of an orange sodium street light which plays so beautifully against the cool blue night.
Under the tree the fire hydrant hides in the shadow guarded by the red curb.241

Once again images are uploading with poor quality. I made some adjustments but a more accurate image can be found at DAILY PAINTWORKS.
This problem seems to come and go. Oh mercy!

**I have updated this post with a 'fixed' photo. This is how it should have looked in the first place.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Urban Haze

"Storage Yard Haze"    SOLD
oil on panel, 2013
5" x 7" (12.7cm x 17.78cm)

I see a lot of scenes like this living near the ocean. Bright days tucked under the marine layer.

Colors intensify but are not too glaring, not like a bright clear day. All the moisture in the atmosphere affects colors in a different way, they seem to bleed softly into the air.
Even harsh environments are gently cushioned under this canopy of moist air, not quite blocked and grayed out as on foggy days. The marine layer lets the sun through just enough to let us pause and relook at what we would normally dismiss.

That's what I see and why I choose the often maligned urban setting. It would be too obvious, and easy, to take an already pretty landscape and make it prettier.240

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Marina Towers Oceanside

"Marina Towers"    SOLD
oil on panel, 2012
7" x 5" (17.78cm x 12.7cm)

I did this after a visit to Oceanside California in the late afternoon
just as the tower was beginning to drop into shadow.
I love this time of day.239