Nicholas Baxter

Blog posts tagged “studies”

In The Studio 5: Reworking Plein Air Landscapes

Something I’ve never been a fan of doing is revisiting older paintings after some time has passed. The process of reconstructing or even merely re-approaching the original mindstate, inspiration, and vision for the painting feels spiritually regurgitative in some unclean way. Like digging up a dead issue in a relationship with your partner. I’ve never been one to want to dwell in the past, favoring the pursuit of new goals and the exploration of new territory over the retread of old ground.

But since embarking on a landscape painting journey over the past few years I’ve seen some of the masters of the genre doing just this–picking up old plein air studies to breath new life into them, perhaps making them more presentable as a truly finished piece to a buying audience–and had stared at some of my early plein air studies long enough to realize how I too could push the sense of drama or atmosphere in them.

View From The Studio, before (L) and after glaze layer.

Not to mention, more hours logged in the practice of landscape painting, more hours logged studying weather and outdoor light with more intention and discernment, has had the natural and inevitable effect of expanding my critique ability of what I’ve previously done as well as eased some of my fears about ruining those original results. This shift is the tangible, or at least quantitative, proof that learning is happening–awesome!

So in a brief fit of discontented boredom lately I pulled a few early landscapes off the wall and put my glazing knowledge learned from many hours of studio still life painting to use on some formerly alla-prima studies that looked a little flat.

Oil glazing truly does replicate the phenomenon of translucent–but not completely transparent–atmosphere that we live in and see through every time we gaze into the distance. Which makes it a perfect tool in the landscape painter’s skillset. For advanced stages of realism in any genre I find it to be absolutely indispensable, and enjoyed the practice of applying it to my new pursuit of landscape painting mastery.

A little 4 x 6 inch study of my former backyard bridge, given a more dramatic late afternoon shadow treatment.

On The Road 12: Spring and Summer Plein Air Adventures

I’ve been so busy painting in the studio for an upcoming exhibition of all new still lifes (announcements soon!) that I forgot to post about my spring and summer landscape painting fun.

Part I: April

At the beginning of April I was in Arizona, where as soon as I get out of Phoenix, I’m reminded why it’s one of my favorite nature states: so much variety of vast and mentally cleansing wild terrain! On this trip I had the good fortune of being able to paint the low desert in the south and then venture north of Flagstaff to paint the completely different high desert plains.

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Salt River, Tonto National Forest, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2016

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High Plains, Wupatki National Monument, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2016

Part II: May

In late April I headed to the motherland of classical art for some work and pleasure. First stop was Venice, where I was too busy to paint, but caught some great iPhone snaps (not hard to do basically anywhere in Italy) with my now-antiquated 5s .

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As the calendar turned to May, I traveled with friends to the lush hills of Tuscany, where I had the opportunity to experience the best views the entire region has to offer–from the mountains further inland (overlooking Leonardo’s birthplace Vinci) to the stunning Mediterranean coast–and produced these two plein air studies.

That's me underneath the arch. Photos courtesy of Luca Natalini

That’s me underneath the arch. Photos courtesy of Luca Natalini

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View From Monsummano Alto, oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

Lerici Sunset, oil on panel, 4 x 6 inches, 2016

Lerici Sunset, oil on panel, 4 x 6 inches, 2016

In between travels I managed to squeeze in a plein air session while home in Austin, on the occasion of a few artist friends being in town. We made the short drive out to one of the city’s little natural treasures, McKinney Falls State Park, which boasts some active waterfalls and a variety of interesting rock formations with a kind of outer space vibe.

Lower McKinney Falls, oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

Lower McKinney Falls, oil on canvas panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

Part III: June

In June I ventured to the altitudes of Lake Tahoe for the first time, and got roasted by the deceptively strong summer sun while painting the beautiful vistas of Heavenly Mountain and Emerald Bay.

Western View From Heavenly, oil on panel, 4 x 6 inches, 2016

Western View From Heavenly, oil on panel, 4 x 6 inches, 2016

Emerald Bay, oil on panel, 11 x 5 inches, 2016

Emerald Bay, oil on panel, 11 x 5 inches, 2016

On the eve of my departure I caught an ultra-quick sunset session as the haze from California wildfires filtered out some magical orange and pink rays. Since I only had time to block in a quick impression of the scene, I revisited the piece after I returned home in order to smooth everything out and push the atmosphere.

Lake Tahoe Sunset, oil on panel, 11 x 5 inches, 2016

Lake Tahoe Sunset, oil on panel, 11 x 5 inches, 2016

Part IV: July

In July I visited Ireland for the second time, but first as a plein air painter, and was excited about the opportunities for new environs. The Emerald Isle did not disappoint as I found my way into the mountains south of Dublin for a quick session, then to the picturesque Howth coastline just north of the city, which had me most nostalgic for my boyhood summers on Cape Cod here in the States.

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Keeping my painting out of the rain.

Mountain Stream With View, oil on panel, 11 x 4 inches, 2016

Mountain Stream With View, oil on panel, 11 x 4 inches, 2016

One of the only moments of the day without any tourists in the shot.

One of the only moments of the day without any tourists in the shot.

Baily Lighthouse at Howth Head, oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

Baily Lighthouse at Howth Head, oil on panel, 8 x 10 inches, 2016

Anatomical Study from Cadavers

One major artistic discipline for which I have the least formal study is anatomy. I find the human figure and its underlying structures infinitely challenging in all of the complex shapes, sizes and movements they’re capable of. I’ve logged many hours of figure drawing practice from live models as well as a few painting sessions but never have had the opportunity for long term, in-depth study, starting from the inside out. Which is why I jump at the chance for any opportunity to briefly work on this artistic area, and recently was given a rare and unique invitation to observe and paint a cadaver dissection at a local training facility for medical school and EMS students.

Knowing about the rich artistic tradition of anatomical study from cadavers, which began in earnest during the Renaissance in Europe, I was thrilled to uphold and carry forward this practice as a contemporary artist. In recent times the tradition has mostly faded, and I relish the privilege I was given for a day to revive it and link my artistic practice to that of the old masters and forefathers of modern Western art, like Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Titian, among others.

Leonardo Da Vinci, Studies of the Shoulder and Neck, c. 1509-1510

Leonardo Da Vinci, Studies of the Shoulder and Neck, c. 1509-1510

Which isn’t to say that I regard myself to be in their rarified company in any way whatsoever, especially artistically. My accomplishments and artwork are quite meager in comparison with their mastery and all they left us with. What I mean is that, they started and passed on a beautiful tradition of deep artistic study melded with science–a tradition that I, in some small way, have been able to carry on, by practicing in a similar manner.

This day of training, although completely fascinating and enthralling, was not easy. We were set up in an examination room kept around the temperature of a refrigerator, due to, of course, the presence of a draped cadaver in the center of the room. Needless to say, these temperatures are difficult to be in for long periods of time without a lot of physical activity to keep one’s blood flowing and core temperature at a comfortable level. So after a while, painting with cold stiff fingers and shivering chest became the biggest challenge…and amusingly, allowed me to relate in a strange way to the severed and dissected arm of the cadaver perched on a crumpled medical drape in front of me, cold and stiff in its own way.

After observing the technician peel back the layers of skin and fascia on the forearm, all the while listening intently to his explanations of the detailed anatomy and its functioning, my friend James and I then watched in amazement as the arm was severed at the shoulder joint (quite easily) from its cadaver, and placed before us for further study. I gloved up and made a pleasing arrangement with it, and then got to work for a short hour and a half oil sketching session. Here’s the final result of an amazing day of learning and painting:

Study of an Arm, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2016

Study of an Arm, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches, 2016

Miniature Landscapes

This past month I unearthed a bunch of tiny frames from my studio storage for the purpose of painting little gifts for friends and family this holiday season. I’d been collecting these things at various vintage stores and yard sales for the past several years for just such an occasion. Looking to tap into the peace and simplicity of painting outdoors during this colder (mostly) indoors season, I decided to attempt some miniature landscapes for these frames.

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Various miniatures, oil on canvas paper, 2015

For the first time since embarking on my landscape painting journey about a year ago, I worked from photos rather than “en plein air.” Although unable to immerse myself in the atmosphere and unique light properties of the setting, I found the photos an incredibly effective practice modality due to the minimum of mental conversion needed in the controlled studio environment. The unchanging two-dimensional photo and the optimal lighting conditions were a great way to narrow down the variables in the artistic equation, freeing up my memory to attempt to rekindle some of the original vibe of these landscape locations, as well as focus on fundamentals like color matching and painting technique. I imagine this being somewhat similar to what the Hudson River School masters experienced in their studios, working strictly from memory and their plein air field studies.

 

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Miraflores Beach at Night, oil on linen panel, 4 x 6 inches, 2015

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Full Moon Sunset Over East Austin, oil on linen panel, 4 x 6 inches (oval), 2015

Each of these tiny paintings were completed with the alla-prima technique over the course of a single 2-3 hour session, including the lone non-landscape study of the inside of an apheresis blood cassette (random, I know…more on this in the coming months, hopefully…), which was a gift for my phlebotomist friend.

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Notes & Advice 8

If you’re into oil painting or realism and somehow not already a fan of Jeremy Geddes, do yourself a favor and check him out. He is a modern master of the fantastic realism genre. When I found out that he recently did an interview about his process and thoughts on realism art, I eagerly read it and found some pearls of wisdom in his humble and deftly concise responses.

Especially helpful to me as a painter were a few choice reminders about the process of completing larger or more ambitious works, including this advice:

One mistake I often catch myself in is launching into a full sized painting before I have addressed and resolved all the potential problems in small scale studies. It means I can spend days or weeks in rework for an issue that could have been sorted out in hours if I had followed the correct procedure. Tampering down enthusiasm with pragmatism can be a tricky thing to hold onto sometimes, but it is almost always worth it.

And then there’s this insight regarding the public perception of “fine art” and the communicative power, which is a timely reinforcement of some of the conclusions about modern art I described in my “What Is Art?” essay:

…the disconnect between the intended meaning of a conceptual work and the meaning that  ‘Joe Public’ will take from it is obviously huge, the work is most likely buried in decades of obscure theory that the public has no knowledge of or participation in.

You can read the entire Geddes interview (as well as interviews with three other great modern painters too!) on the noeyeddeer blog.

Realism Techniques 5

Just as a tiny version of a future full-size drawing is referred to as a thumbnail sketch, the term study is often used to refer to a smaller, quick, “warm-up” or practice version of a future painting.

If memories of sitting in your school library reading textbooks in preparation for a final exam come to mind with the use of the term, you’ve got the right idea. Artists’ preliminary studies are exactly that: a chance to recap the ideas and memorize the information before embarking on the final challenge, in order to ensure success. It’s a professional artist’s studio practice dating back hundreds of years, becoming a necessity for many artists as they began to undertake works of monumental complexity and extreme precision.

The practice of completing preliminary studies wasn’t something I undertook until I started painting larger dimensions a few years ago.  I had always found that the time and work involved in painting at extremely small sizes didn’t warrant a practice run beforehand, as the potential mistakes to be made at that scale would themselves be smaller in scale–and able to be corrected in a reasonable amount of time. Essentially it seemed like I’d be completing the same work twice.

"Anointing" (Study), oil on canvas board, 12 x 12in, 2011

But as I took the plunge into attempting larger scale paintings, I suddenly realized the larger scale problems that could occur, costing days or weeks of time, money in expensive materials, and frustrated energy backtracking and correcting.  It was time to take up the age old tradition of completing a practice run to head off any potential problems before they occurred. At first it seemed like a hassle–an extra step preventing me from diving right into the joy of spreading those first layers of fresh paint on a new surface. But now that I’ve gotten into the habit, I really savor the opportunity to “prime the pump,” get familiar with the subject matter, acquaint myself with its nuances and palette, work quickly, intuitively and loosely…and most of all, make mistakes as I work out any ideas I may have.

I’ve found that the painting process following these studies goes much more smoothly, resulting in works accomplished in less time with less hair-pulling moments of indecision or bewilderment. As I’ve written before, the degree of meticulous patience and strategizing that goes into the thin layer buildup of my paintings is crucial for their success. Thus, anything that allows for more opportunities to plan and prepare, such as completing one or more preliminary studies, in turn allows for more complexity and refinement of the final illusion, which is the ultimate goal.

The studies you see here were completed in around 5 hours or less, and are actually way more refined than a preliminary version needs to be.  They can potentially be completed in minutes, and can be incredibly sloppy. As long as you figure out what you need to do in the final version of the painting, the study has served its purpose.

(Untitled Study for an upcoming painting) oil on canvas board, 12 x 12in, 2012