South Willamette Valley vista

One of my favorite places to paint, it is a little hard to describe where it is even. Looking south from an old road, this vantage point offers a view of the Coast Range, I suppose. The cows cluster around each other, not doing much of all except eating. People stroll by on the road, the only traffic, mostly older couples. Occasionally bicyclists pedal by, talking intently. One man stopped and talked to  me and told me how his grand kids laughed at him when he tried to paint, but later did a landscape and salvaged his reputation.

I like the fresh feeling that this painting captured, very lush and humid.







Another windy day

It was pretty rainy for most of the day but late afternoon and into the evening it finally broke, with intermittent blue sky showing through. It was windy, with loose masses of cloud fragments spinning through the air.

I went to my favorite spot of late, the big vacant lot at Marcola Road at 21st or there abouts, in Springfield Oregon. I like it because it is big and open and relatively undeveloped, so I can get a sense of wild nature without going too far from home. There is a big sky with lots of energy. At one point today I was rained on.  It was cold too.

My painting today was inspired by the one I did a week ago or so. Interestingly, here the tree bends inwards, but in the one from last week it bends outwards, towards the edge of the paper. I feel like the fact that it moves in towards the paper rather than out towards the edge gives it more tension. Possibly? Also the fact that the nature curve of the tree seems to go into the windward direction, then all the branches are being blown the other way. That is probably the real source of tension, I suppose, or at least an additional one.

I’m not quite sure it was a successful painting but I did capture the feeling of that wild weather, so I was quite pleased with that. I have really been trying to squeeze some of the formal elements of my paintings to get them a little more dynamic and I think I have been making progress in that direction.


Windy Day

A windy spring storm came through the Willamette Valley this weekend. There was a couple of hours of rolling clouds and glimpses of blue sky before the rain came.

My papers and watercolor stuff was blowing everywhere, but for some reason I didn’t find it frustrating. My bicycle, on its kickstand nearby, tipped over in the wind.

There was something very powerful about the atmosphere, invigorating. The wind wasn’t ominous or oppressive, but warm and uplifting. The wind was powerful and I was powerful too.

I painting near Mohawk and 21st Street, in the big empty lot. It took me a bit to find my subject; I got caught up on the low horizon, big sky thing I’ve been doing for a while. This scene in the painting was right behind me though, at least the scene that inspired this painting.

There were a trees lining the road, growing at sort of odd angles. I exaggerated those angles, which seemed to help capture the sense of movement. The little spots floating around, the random brush strokes, really helps give it a sense of movement, almost like an explosion.






I have been trying to paint the blooming trees before they are over.

This one was is on the little island in the middle of the Alton Baker Park duck pond.

I simplified a bunch of things in this scene to just “brown.”

Usually water is really difficult for me but in this case keeping it basic was sucessful, or at least kept it from being a disaster.






Why Use Complementary Colors in a Painting?

Color is one of those things that seems fairly straightforward, but turns out to be really complicated.

For me, lately I have been exploring using complementary colors as a way to highlight the focus or center of interest of my painting.

Everyone is familiar of course with the color wheel. It dates back to Newton’s experiments with light, though the idea of color and theory of relationships between colors have gone through various revisions, and the concept of RGB color codes makes the colors on this page and other happen.

The French chemist Michel Eugene Chevreul (below) seems to get seems to get some of the credit for systematically describing the idea of complementary colors, which he did in his 1839 book The Laws of Contrast of Color. PSM_V27_D450_Michel_Eugene_Chevreul Chevreul’s problem had to do with dyes and tapestry making at the Royal Tapestry Manufactury at Les Gobelins in Paris. The thing was that certain colors of dye looked different depending what other dyes they were near in the finished tapestry, and the tapestry business was all about having bold, consistent colors.

Chevreul found out, among other things, that when two colors touch, the edge where they touch seems to be slightly brighter. Since this was a tapestry, it clearly wasn’t the result of blending colors. It was an optical illusion. And it was a clue that colors aren’t simply properties of nature, that they are not inherent in an object of a particular hue, but that our perceptions of color are formed in our brains, in our process of perceiving color.

Anyways, the important thing is that colors interact in crazy ways in our brains, and sometimes it takes a lot of work and close observation to even be able to tell what is happening.

colourwheel01Complementary colors, of course, are those colors that are directly opposite of each other on the color wheel. So purple complements yellow, blue complements orange, and red complements green.

The word “complementary” to describe this relationship is a little odd, because these color pairings seem to clash together, if anything. For the eye to move from one to the other is a big leap, a leap all the way across the color wheel. They’re garish in a way. Shocking. The combinations leap out at you.

Below are some examples from the internet, and for me these bold combinations of orange and blue really set me on edge. I have a visceral reaction. The combination is electric. It “flashes” so to speak.

Of course this is only the most dramatic use of complementary colors. More subtle uses of complementary colors can have powerful effects too.

On the recent sketch trip I took up Upper Camp Creek road, I focused in particular on using complementary colors to highlight the focus or center of interest of my painting. It was a green green spring day, so the easiest complementary color to use was red, like below.

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Of course the image of the red barn is somewhat cliche, but it is true that the red is a striking contrast to the green of the farmland and hills. (As a side note, because I couldn’t help but google this, farmers used to use linseed oil to paint their barns and they would add rust to the linseed oil, to help kill moss and that sort of thing, which also happened to turn the linseed oil mixture red).

The red of the barn clearly stands out as the most eye catching part of this sketch, which combined with the value contrast set up by the areas of white, help to draw the eye in. (Having the barn more or less at the center of the painting like that probably wasn’t the greatest idea, but that’s another story.)

This painting below, which I did at home based on sketches from that day, was another easy one to set up using red to contrast the green vegetation. Again, the complementary colors paired with the value contrast makes for a pretty powerful tool. (Is the perspective off on the barn? I think maybe a little. But sometimes I look at these things too long and just can’t tell anymore.)

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I tried a similar approach with the painting below (also from the same series of paintings from Upper Camp Creek).

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I feel a little uncertain about how this one turned out. I was trying to push the burnt sienna of the background trees towards red (using alizarin crimson), to contrast withe the green roof. I also added alizarin to the tree trunk color.  I’m not sure it was successful. Did it get a little too washed out? Was the red not concentrated enough? I added a dash of alizarin to the bush in the lower right corner, which I like from a technical point of view (i.e. I added the color at the right time with the right amount of water on the paper) but not sure how much it contributes to what I was going for.

Another thing is that maybe my value contrasts were a little bit off, and the contrast between the green trees in the background and the brown trees in front of them is too strong, while the value differences between the shadowed side of the building and the tree and the edge of the roof, those value differences aren’t strong enough and so can’t compete with the value differences in the background….

I also managed to get a yellow/purple complement between the purpleish shadow of the building and the yellowish vegetation to the left. So there is the green-red combo of the roof and the purple-yellow combo of the side of the building. Maybe with the addition of this second set of complements, there was just too much going on? I’m not sure.

At Last

Spring seemed to take a while to come this year, perhaps it was my own imagination — although spring coming early to other parts of the daemionlee_atlastUS maybe made spring in Oregon seem late.

In this painting I hoped to capture my sense of relief or joy. The arrival of spring always seems to be such a remarkable occurrence, at once joyous and miraculous and painful.

The inspiration for this painting came from a pencil sketch. I rode my bike out along Old Mohawk Road without a whole lot of time to spare. Early evening, a few cars buzzing by me. Not too far out from the junction with Marcola Road, I stopped, dropped my bike in the roadside weeds, crawled through some blackberries and stepped over a broken fence. I was right at the edge of a green field, covered with the brilliant glow of new growth. The Mckenzie River was out of sight, but close, and the tell-tale towering cottonwoods were nearby, right at the edge of the field.

I sat down to do a quick sketch.


It was a few days later before I got a chance to paint. Those cottonwood trees I saw were probably closer to brown than yellow, but the bare branches were covered with such an exuberant layer of buds, I felt like yellow was an appropriate interpretations. Most of the yellow is just straight cadmium yellow, though I mixed in a little phthalo blue to give it a slight green cast in places.

In one layer I laid down the basic wash colors — blue yellow sky, the yellow trees, brown undergrowth, green-yellow grass in foreground. The distant dark green hills I added in a second layer, as well as the tree trunks.