Painting the Light

by Lisa Larrabee

Westward Moon
2nd Place Acrylic & Oil, Richeson 75 
International Competition
24" x 18"
artist Lisa Larrabee

Sunrises and sunsets are so beautiful that it can be hard to take your eyes away from them and turn around. When you do, the reward can be equally as great.  Capturing the blazing red-orange light hitting the tops of the trees with the moon still overhead was my goal.  This began as a demo that I did over two painting sessions for my Acrylic & Oil painting class.  The final session was painted in my studio.

In the first class, I used Gamblin Gamsol (OMS) to thin Transparent Earth Red to cover the panel (oil primed linen).  With a little OMS on my brush, I lifted out the moon and wiped it white with a paper towel.  The trees were blocked in with a little Cobalt added to the mix.  What I love about this method is that I can adjust and move around elements on my panel with incredible flexibility.  It is my new favorite way to begin!

Again, I don't know why the color changed when uploading to my blog.  I tried to adjust and upload again, but it is just off.  I began painting the sky with cobalt, titanium white and yellow ocher to warm it up (that is the part you can't tell).  As it transitions down, there is more ocher and then cadmium red. This first layer of color is applied thinly to allow for some of the warmth of the under-painting to show through.  I switched to translucent sap green with some cobalt to glaze or scumble over the land and lightly over the trees.  I brought in some ocher and a bit of white to add opacity.  I needed to cool off the green from the bottom up.  By sandwiching the light part of the trees between the cooler sky and ground, it appears much more red-orange, but I actually painted very little on that part today.  I  toned it down with green, but it seems much redder than it did in the under-painting because of the relative colors.

During the third and final session I repainted the majority of the painting.  Overall, I feel that I captured the light that wanted to of the sun rising behind me and hitting the trees.  I am happy with the result.  I hope that you enjoy it as well.

~ Lisa

Spring Light: Painting Stages

by Lisa Larrabee

Spring Light
Oil on Panel
16" x 12"
artist Lisa Larrabee

This landscape painting is a study for a larger piece that I am working on.  The larger painting will include my son, Nathan.  It is intended to represent intellectual and spiritual growth and transformation.  I realized as I was working out the composition that the original tree reference I chose did not support this concept.  I created this study to experiment with color and mood to better tell the story.

I realize that this doesn't look much like a study for a green tree.  This is just the under-painting.  I began this piece in the same manner as my self-portrait.  I used Gamblin Transparent Earth Red and Cobalt Blue Hue thinned with Gamsol (OMS).  Because I started on a white panel (instead of my usual method of toning a panel and letting it dry), I was able to lift out the lighter areas right from the beginning.

This picture shows the process part way through blocking in the color on this study.  I typically keep to a warm color pallet, so the green is a bit out of my comfort zone.  That is half the fun!  I definitely need to bring greens down into the ground.  I consciously work to begin loose and build detail without losing too much of the initial energy that comes with blocking it in.  I guess the key is knowing when to stop.

I didn't feel like I was quite capturing the mood that I wanted, so I started by glazing over everything with a translucent yellow.  This helped me to shift gears without the new colors feeling "off" in the context of the existing colors.  It is easier to take risks on a study than on the larger painting because you can cover more ground quickly.

~ Lisa


Self-Portrait: Finished

by Lisa Larrabee

I am beginning to wonder if you can paint a self-portrait indefinitely. I feel like I have achieved what I wanted to, so I am declaring this one finished. There are several other projects in the works that I am excited to devote some more time to. Overall, I enjoyed this entire process.


Self-Portrait: One Thing Leads to Another

by Lisa Larrabee

Have you ever noticed that the closer you get to something the more there is to do? When I start to get some areas more accurate, other inaccuracies present themselves.  Tonight, I worked to get the pieces (drawing/proportion, values, color temperatures) into better relationships. Correcting some relationships made the incorrect relationships become more apparent.  For example, it bothered me that the eye on the left had looked dull.  It looked dull because the values were too close to the eye on the right that was in direct light with a highlight (but the left received no highlight).  To make the left eye feel more in shadow, I needed to make it darker.  With that realization, I noticed that all of my shadows were too light in value.  I also discovered some issues with the eye shape and the relationship of the left eye to the nose.  Changing the nose affected the mouth, etc.  The good news is that it keeps moving in the right direction. 


Self-Portrait: Painting Eyes

by Lisa Larrabee

I think one of the biggest tricks when painting eyes is not to paint too much.  It is so important to simplify. The goal isn't to capture every eyelash, but to convey how the light travels across the form.  Ideally, if this is done with accuracy, the eyes communicate with you.  I think these eyes are fairly close to finished, but I feel that they look a little startled.  I also intend to drop the value of the eye on the left a bit.  It doesn't read that it is in shadow compared to the eye on the right (except that it doesn't have the highlight). We shall see how the rest of the painting develops.

I want to mention how much fun I am having with this painting.  Because it is a study just for me, I feel free to push myself.  I really wanted to focus on color temperature and I think I am making progress.  I don't know why I didn't do this sooner!


Self-Portrait: Stage 3

by Lisa Larrabee

I realized when I sat down, that I needed to get the rest of the orange covered. It was still affecting my skin tones way too much. I also needed to push the darks so that I had a better range of values. There is more to do, but I am happy with the progress I made.

Self-Portrait: Adding Color

by Lisa Larrabee

At this early stage, I wanted to get areas covered with an approximation of color.  I needed to tone down the warm under-painting because it was affecting the cooler skin tones that I was putting down.  At this stage, I feel that I lost some of the likeness because I was working to get better color notes.  Still a long way to go.


Self-Portrait: Blocking It In

by Lisa Larrabee

Who will sit patiently at odd hours as I work to improve my skills? ME! This is a picture of the first stage of a self portrait. I began without a preliminary drawing. It took a little time to get a feel for how to push and pull the paint. I lifted out highlights to reveal the lead white primed linen panel. I liked starting this way. It allows for both freedom and control.


Two Pods: Painting from Life

by Lisa Larrabee

I was given some advice from an amazing still life painter, Scott Fraser.  He told me that I needed to paint from life.  It was the most obvious, yet necessary advice.  After seeing his paintings in person, I already knew that was exactly what I needed to do.  The richness in his work comes from observing what is in front of him without the limitations of the camera.  This is something I have known, yet I have found too many reasons not to follow this advice (limited time, limited space, expediency...).  I came home and saw my work with fresh eyes.  Eyes that saw the limitations of working from photography alone.  So, here is my goal.  I will be giving myself assignments.  I know where I want my work to go and I have a good idea of what it takes to get there -time and hard work.  Drawing and painting what I see without shortcuts.  The bottom line is that there is no such thing as a short cut when it comes to developing as an artist.

In the early stages, I experimented with a different way for me to block in the shapes.  I started on white, brushed on a thinned layer of transparent earth red and began wiping out highlights and pushing darks.  It was important to me that the shapes were accurate.  I used a view-finder to help keep the shape relationships correct.

After the under-painting was dry, I began  adding color.  I tried to keep translucent colors in my darks and build opacity in the lights.  At this stage, I hated the painting and wondered why I decided to do a still life!

I had two choices: finish the painting, or give up because I would need to move the still life and viewfinder before I could paint something new.  Since I was unwilling to give up so easily, I forced myself to sit back down the next night, and I had a wonderful time.  I experimented with different ways to apply paint with different brushes.  I tried to keep edges varied and be very conscious of light and shadow temperature.  Because I had no specific expectations, I was able to play and, most importantly, learn!

~ Lisa