Thursday, October 29, 2015

Bringing An Idea To Canvas

Living in the St Croix Valley of Minnesota, I spend a lot of time hiking our State Parks.  Although, I certainly do lug my gear to these same places, it's often times I see something I  need to paint when my paints are not at hand.  So, I take a quick photograph and make some mental notes of the color harmony and the emotion I get while looking at the scene.  This is an interesting way to start a painting.  For me, it makes the painting process more conceptual than just reacting and attempting to capture the scene at hand when painting en plein air.  The series of studies below, is my way of working out my 'problems' on canvas before actually hitting the larger canvas.  

The idea or inspiration was first introduced to me when coming in from a hike at dusk in William O'brien State Park in the fall.  I only had my iPhone along, so quick took a shot with my phone and stood making mental notes to myself of the impression at hand.  What struck me most was the strong abstract shape of the water jetting through the land and how the land seemed to dissolve away.  These memories are important to retain in order to hopefully translate this vision with paint in the studio.  

I thought I'd share how I bring my ideas or 'concepts' to canvas.  As much as I'd love to just start painting this concept out on my larger piece, I find it seriously helpful to work out my ideas and problems in small studies first.  This is not reinventing the wheel here, but to some this is might be a new way of working out their painting problems.  I first learned a similar method or approach years back from Marc Hanson.  It was really helpful and still is!  Now this is the format in which I teach my plein air to landscape classes.  

1.  The first study in value, is for me to work out my larger simple more abstract shapes.
2.  Next, I take the value study and work up the painting with 1/2 tones, playing with variety in texture and edges.
3.  The third study is when I start working out my values as color.  I'm very deliberate to only paint in the average colors of each shape.  No place to hide this way!
4.  And lastly, I put all the pieces together practicing 'working out my problems'.  It's freeing because these are just 'studies'.  No stress, no fears, just painting out my ideas.  

At this point in the process, I'm feeling pretty confident in moving ahead to my larger painting.  The physical act of painting is easy, it's the BRAIN work that's hard!  :)   

studies painted on a 16x20 board
"Evening Whisper"
14x18 oil on canvas panel
© Kami Mendlik 2015

Friday, October 23, 2015

Broke, but with dignity!

"Autumn's Light"
18x24 oil on stretched linen
©Kami Mendlik

"Autumn's Light" is my latest piece from the studio inspired by the property right outside my studio window. Also, my own backyard! This is a very common scene here in the midwest, a mix of deciduous trees, along with a mix of pines; native grasses; and in this case, goldenrod which had just turned subtle shades of gray after it's intense couple weeks of warm yellows. And also not uncommon, a pasture divided by a dirt road, lined perfectly with telephone wires. 

I don't know what it is with me, but there's almost nothing that stokes me more than loading up the palette knife with paint and laying in telephone wires! I remember one time years ago as a younger artist, I was commissioned to do this incredible large scene of the St Croix from the balcony of my clients home. The vista view, nothing short of remarkable for sure. However, what interested me most was the break in the horizontal landscape of the dynamic telephones poles running across the river and up into the sky, then the droopy tension of the wires connecting from pole to pole! So, I finish the painting, show the collectors, they say "we love it, except we want you to take out the ugly telephone poles". . . Say what?! I did not. That was the day I went home with a painting of a beautiful vista river scene with telephone wires in the back of my car, broke but with dignity. 

At the time, I had no idea how often in years to come I would reflect on that moment of strength. There are so many times I think of the courage I had as a young painter, and wonder, where did that come from?? Logically, I had no business turning down that commission, I had no money, and for sure needed it. But I remember thinking, if I'm going to do this thing, I am going to do this thing honestly! I've now painted the river more times than I could possibly tell you, but that time, my curiosity was driven by the juxtaposition of those lines. The painting happened because of that curiosity, which has lead me here today. What if the curiosity was not driving the force, or was taken away because someone else didn't want it that way? I wonder then, what part would be the art? Would I still be the same painter I am today? I believe moments like that, are the moments that make us the artists we are, and are going to be. 

Now, would it have mattered to anyone else if I would have put them in or taken them out? Probably not. It mattered to no one else but me, just like most of the things I'm driven to paint. But if I'M not interested in what I'm painting, NO one will be interested in my paintings. It's not what we paint, it's how we paint it. Like Hawthorne stated "make much out of little, not little out of much!". I love that, and think of him and his inspiring words daily. Which leads me to the theme of the painting above! "Make much out of little, not little out of much!"

Saturday, January 10, 2015

It's all Relative!! Painting Oranges And A Lemon! © Kami Mendlik 2015

Back in the studio after a little Holiday Break!  During Christmas I was given a big bag of oranges and lemons picked fresh from the trees in their backyard in AZ.  Very exciting was the fact that the stems and leaves were still attached!  We just don't get that here in Minnesota!  So I went fast to work in the studio 'practicing what I preach', studying the color!

"Make much out of little, not little out of Much!"  - Charles Hawthorne

I tell my students to keep their lights and darks separate, and even if it's painful, block in the average relative colors.  Not a literal interpretation of what you see when you look directly into the color, but what it is compared to it's neighbor colors.
 They often ask me if this is how I REALLY paint, well here's the proof!
For this entire study I used a basic primary palette of Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Ultra Marine Blue and Titanium White.  
Starting by blocking in the average darks (shadow areas), identify as best you can the difference in colors between the different darks.  I eliminate the tertiary at first to really 'push' the differences.  I will modify this later on in the painting.

Once shadows are blocked in, start blocking in the areas of light.  If your light is warm, then your shadows will be 'cooler'.  It's all relative remember.  You might think that the red in the far right orange is warm, but it's cooler than yellow!  And Orange is composed of yellow and red.  Making orange 'warmer' than red!  Again, it's all relative!

Notice how each lit area in the oranges are slightly different than each other.  This is not by chance, it was carefully studied and observed.  Painting light with color is a manipulation of color temperatures and saturations.

Getting all areas relatively massed in and making any adjustments I see needed.  Until you get all the averages covered, it's difficult to tell if you got it right!  It 'ain't' over till it's over!

The rest of the painting is careful and subtle observation of notes of colors within the averages.  Each stroke I make represents a plane change in each light or dark to best represent form and light.

The finished painting!  It's finished because I like it and each stroke symbolizes either a plane change, light, or dark and it's all relative to each other creating harmony and unity!  
Keep posted in days to come.  I'll be breaking this process down further.
It's not what you paint, it's how you paint it!

Monday, January 5, 2015

My Year!

Where do I even begin?  I thought of completely starting over with a new blog. . .  had a brilliant idea for a brilliant new blog name, "Miles Of Canvas"!!!  Well, thought it was brilliant and original until I went online to register, only to find 100's of others using that name for their blogs, websites, company names, etc.  Guess it WAS a good idea, but not so original after all.  

The last post I made was in February of 2014.  I have not dropped off the face of the planet, but have most certainly been busy completely altering life as we knew it one year ago!  Not to take Martin Luther King's line, but I had a dream!  A vision.  A vision for a place on a beautiful and inspiring piece of nature, where I could have my studio, share with my students and fellow painters, and finish raising my children.  To get rid of the rent I've been paying in my past studio, simplify life, and paint, paint, paint in a place that moved and inspired painters from all over!  Non of it makes sense if you are a person of logic, it only makes sense if you are a person who chooses not to function out of fear, believes life is what you make it, and believes that hard work and risk is worth every drop of sweat.  That would be me.  I thought, "what's the worst that could happen? I might not get it . . "  Would be no further than I was without going for it, so I did!  And I did it solely from my art.  

In the past year I have sold my house of 15 years, purchased a 15 acre property in the country with a 150 year old house and a 100 year old hay barn, a 150 year old silo ruins, lots of trees, wetlands, buck thorn, which I have become completely obsessed with removing, trails, bats in the attack (hopefully got rid of them by now) . . . moved out of my downtown Stillwater studio which I had been renting for nearly the past 10 years, converted the 100 year old barn into my new studio and school, and now am doing a major renovation on this sweet little farm house which with might I say, lots of 'character'?  Ha!  Good word for lots wrong with it!  It's okay though, we love it and it is now the place we call home.  You see, the property was meant to be.  It's the only explanation besides faith and the hard work it took to get here.

My plan had been to blog daily about our big adventure of moving the house and studio to the country.  Well, it just didn't go that way!  Every single day has been a challenge of enormous or small, but a challenge just the same.  It's been quite a year and quite the journey, and we survived.

June 1st, I held my first plein air classes on the property.  They went all summer long.  In September, fall semester of classes started in the studio barn.  In October I had my first show in the new 'old' studio barn.  In October I also hosted OPM, The Outdoor Painters of Minnesota paint out.  We had nearly 50 painters here painting the grounds all day!  In February of 2015 winter semester will start up and painters will be here again weekly to study painting.  The dream came to life and life we are living!  

The day we moved.  January 24, 2014, 30 BELOW ZERO PLUS windchill!  You bet!  

Brutal winter. . .

Yup, cold.

Our pretty, cold, road.  Pretty though!  :)

First dinner in the new studio with students, 
Winter finally left
Time to get the studio barn functional for classes, but we needed a way to get up there besides the 'death trap stairs' coming up through the floor with a trap door.

Grateful for talented architect Peter Curtis for designing these amazing stairs!

Spring's finds, 150 year old silo ruins.  This is after hours and hours of removing overgrown buck thorn with the help of my kiddo, Nick!  We found tons of old artifacts from the original farm!

A labor of love . . .

 . . . and dirt!

Meanwhile in the studio . . ..

. . . . major transformation is taking place.
New floors, lighting, paint, heating, A/C, OMG.
The scenery across the road is  . . . well, heavenly

As if!!  You're kidding me!  Poppies!  What??  
I didn't need to go to Italy all these years, my own backyard.
Yup!  Everywhere I turn.

 Let the painting begin!  Welcome painters, and they came!
Another painter, just studying the wetlands

One of my many demos this summer, happy!

Monday evening printouts, painters, collectors, Friends.  

 .  .  . around the silo

We gather, we inspire, 

around the silo, and the sunflowers begin to grow.

Still life in sun light

 I treasure early morning still lives . . 

The porch is a beautiful place to rest

Late summer, more beautiful early mornings surprises!

My favorite chair, by my favorite Cottonwood, happy.  


Welcome OPM!  We hosted 50 painters to enjoy the land

Friend and painter Kim Casebeer came to visit and paint this summer!
 "Beauty" out my studio window.  Pinch me!
Studio classes begin!

Mornings are lovely . . 

School Mascots, Lester and Pinti!

My first solo show in the new studio!  My kiddo Nick, on his phone.  :)  

Welcome and enjoy the show!

Just kicking' up my heals 

The fall was stunning outside the studio window

A smashing success!  

People came, they enjoyed . . . 

they admired . . 

Time for a beer, it's been quite a year!

A corner at the show