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Oil Painting 101

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My interpretation of Ghost Ranch, Butte. 18×24, Oil on Canvas. Palette Knives.

When  I was a young girl, around 8 years old, my parents treated me to weekly painting lessons.  In Bayonne, NJ, the name of the game was Miriam Brown.  She taught children and adults how to paint.  Following the Walter Foster painting books well known in the day, we picked a painting of his to copy.  At the time, that was the best way to begin the journey, get familiar with the paints (and the smell), and work out some details with brushes.

I put painting aside for many years.  I studied art in college, with an emphasis on jewelry, crafts, and then followed up with a masters degree in Art Education and fiber, weaving tapestry for many years. After an amazing career as an Art Teacher at Bayonne High School in NJ, I moved to Colorado to be closer to Navajo and Pueblo art, Santa Fe, the Grand Canyon and a host of muses.

As a sweet, generous, gift, a friend of mine treated me to Oil Painting lessons at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.  Georgia Okeeffe country.  A week of immersion in oils jump started my passion for painting once again.  I learned plein-air (outdoor in natural light) painting from  Michelle Chrisman,   Michelle describes herself as a Contemporary Colorist; the reason I want to learn from her.  Colorist’s give me permission to love color.  Purple shadows, pink skies, coral colored red rock.  Michelle’s work can be seen on her website and at the Joe Wade Gallery in Santa Fe.

Here’s an example of Michelle’s painting style.  I love the loose color, and forms.  I am inspired by her quick strokes of palette knives and the shadow and light she captures.

Michelle Chrisman- Ghost Ranch Plein Air

I met up with Michelle at Ghost Ranch once again, over the Thanksgiving weekend. We both set up easels and painted the buttes of Box Canyon at the Ranch. She’s a wild thang.

Michelle teaches the “limited” palette.  Color mixing has become a real joy and I use the palette knife to mix.  A limited palette consists of these colors:

  • White
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Ultramarine Blue

All other colors are mixed by combining those hues.  And we added Res-en-gel to speed up drying of the oils.  I don’t use mediums in the studio as I like to work a bit slower and to have the luxury of the slow drying time of oils.

I’ve added a few other colors to my palette too:

  • Indian Yellow
  • Cobalt Blue

The use of the palette knife and heavy application of paints means that I go through lots of paint.  In some cases I buy Dick Blick brand, but mostly use Winsor Newton or Daniel Smith.  I recently bought a palette box and installed glass in the bottom of it, I love this system and although at times I use a disposable palette, it’s too small for mixing from a limited palette of colors. The larger palette gives me plenty of room for my “puddles” of the mother colors, purple and orange.  A box cutter helps to clean the palette, and I save my piles of color for another session.

Zion Majesty

I call this painting Zion Majesty. It began as a small plein-air painting (sketch) and is close to completion as a studio iteration. 20×24 Oil with Palette Knives.

A pochade box is on my wish list, but for now I’m using a french style easel in the field.  In the studio I have a large easel as I like to paint 20×24 or larger. For plein-air,  Guerrilla painter makes a sweet oil painting drying box and carrying case, so much better than trying to get paintings home in my car…wet.  You can only imagine what my car looked like after two weeks of painting outdoors!  Pizza boxes work for storing wet paintings too! Get the wet painting carrier.  I have the 11×14, and it holds both panels and stretched canvas.  Next purchase, the 12×16 size.

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This is the first iteration of a studio painting inspired by the Bluffs of Utah. I took a digital photo and used photoshop to clone in some trees at the bottom to see how they would work for me.  Some painters use a mirror to look at their in progress works.  

This is the next iteration.  I really love big, bold color.

This is a detail of the latest iteration. I really love big, bold color and the textures of the palette knife.

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Inspired by Artists in Zion National Park

In early November of each year, Zion National Park hosts a plein air festival.  This year, 24 invited painters, using watercolor, pastels, acrylics and oils set up their pochade boxes and french easels.  What a treat to see these artists working en plein air to capture the intimate and the grand of Zion.  Here’s a link to the Zion Natural History Association with many examples of artists at work.

This year I scheduled my Chase the Light Photography Workshop in Zion the week before the plein air festival.  This allowed me to hang out, camp, make art and attend the many free demonstrations by the Invitational artists. And I painted a bit too.

I have a list of favorite, inspiring painters.  Here are a few.

Suze Woolf has been drawing all her life. After an undergraduate degree at McGill University, she pursued fifth-year studies in art at the University of Washington.

An early adopter of computer graphics, her professional career included graphic design of printed materials and interface designs for commercial and prototype software.

In the last few years she has devoted herself to the watercolor medium. From traditional landscape sketches –she calls them her love letters to the planet — to large scale industrial subjects and the numbering systems on utility poles; she loves to bring attention to what people don’t usually notice.

She finds intense visual experience to capture everywhere she looks. Much of her subject matter shares a theme of human impact on the environment.

Suze says, “I’ve met my goal when I’ve transported the viewer into the world of the painting but that viewer remains aware my hand wielded the brush. The painting walks a line between invoking reality and a collection of brush strokes.”

More of her work can be seen at http://suzewoolf-fineart.com/

©Suze Woolf

©Suze Woolf

I really enjoy learning about art and artists, their inspiration and thoughts in the field and in the studio.  Here’s a blog entry by Suze Woolf, who was the 2013 Artist in Residence at North Cascades National Park (Stehekin). In the linked blog post she discusses and shows the reference photo and the painting.  It’s often about personal interpretation of the scene.  Not literal. Check it OUT.  And here is a link to Suze’s slide presentation while the Artist in Residence at Zion National Park in September of 2012.

Links to the Artists who participated in the Zion Invitational Plein Air Festival.

Roland Lee

Cody DeLong, also participated in the September 2014 Grand Canyon Plein Air Festival. 

Rachel Pettit, she did an inspiring demonstration of painting on-site in Zion.

Colors of Big Bend 18x24. Winner of a Purchase Award from Zion Lodge.

Colors of Big Bend 18×24. Winner of a Purchase Award from Zion Lodge.

Below the Narrows (Zion) 18x24. Cody DeLong

Below the Narrows (Zion) 18×24. Cody DeLong

Rachel Pettit is a favorite of mine.  She set up her canvas and demonstrated painting at the plein air festival in Zion National Park.

Rachel Pettit is a favorite of mine. She set up her canvas and demonstrated painting at the plein air festival in Zion National Park.

Rachel Pettit paints at Zion, November 2014.

Rachel Pettit paints at Zion, November 2014.

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I made the cover of RV West Magazine

Wow, how thrilling to receive the link for the Fall 2014 Edition of RV West Magazine and see they chose my life and art/photography workshops as the cover story.

Wow, that's my sweet ride on the cover of RV West Magazine.  Chasing Light and Adventure.  Click on photo to read the magazine online.

Wow, that’s my sweet ride on the cover of RV West Magazine. Chasing Light and Adventure. Click on photo to read the magazine online.

Last year RV West Magazine did a story about Chase the Light Adventures as part of their online issue, now the print edition features a story about my search for “unpeopled” landscape.  Thanks Jessica for a great article, I’m honored.

RV West Magazine link to article about Kit Frost.

 

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Learn to Edit your RAW files

Capture the best information

When I capture an image, at the location, I pre-visualize the post production.  I learned when studying Ansel Adams, the Weston Family and John Sexton.  In the camera, we capture the detail needed to create an interpretation of it later.  In the past, using film, I used the mantra “expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights”.

Digital cameras do a great job of recording a broader range of tones than black and white and color film, but it’s still important to remember that if you are lacking detail in the file, although not impossible, it’s harder to “get it” later.

My thinking process in the field runs something like this:

On location, in the camera

  1. Seduced by the light, I choose the proper lens for the composition.
  2. Many times my hot spot on the lens is somewhere around f16-22.  I like deep depth of field when the subject calls for it.
  3. Evaluate the highlights and see how much underexposure they will need. Clouds in particular need quite a bit of underexposure to hold detail.
  4. Let the shadows fall where they will.  Oftentimes the LCD view of the images will show and image that looks too dark and lacks shadow detail, but this is where digital captures really shine.

Upload and Process the RAW files.

In the LIGHTROOM, I still use the important technique of proper edit, exposure, development.  Mike Yamashita, a National Geo Photographer once told me that if I get any more than 4 good images on a roll of 36 exposures, my standards are too low.

Using Adobe Lightroom:

  • Import from SD or CF Card, add keywords, copyright, organize.
  • Run through the first edit for out of focus, overexposures, boring images. (x-mark for rejection). Be honest but not brutal.
  • Create Collections of my favorites from that photo adventure.
  • Begin using the Develop Mode.
  • In Develop Mode I open the panel (Command/Control D)and usually begin with exposure, white balance and contrast adjustments, saturation and clarity are also important.
  • These days I like the fine tuning available to me in the HSL Panel.  Sometimes when warming up and image the sky turns a bit aqua so HUE is the adjustment. Specific saturation is then applied to hues in the image, and I really like the ability to adjust LUMINANCE at will on individual colors.
  • Compare these adjustments to those we used to employ in the DARKROOM, like dodging, burning, edge burning, contrast filters, etc.
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Before edits, RAW. 1/8 second at f22, -1/3 EV

Canyon hiking, Zion National Park

After editing in Adobe Lightroom. I underexposed the image in the camera to hold detail in the highlighted sandy floor of the canyon. ©Kit Frost

As you can see from this example, the RAW file looks bad, boring, and dark in the shadows while overblown in the highlights.  But since I underexposed by 1/3 EV, the highlights maintained detail as I had planned.  I knew it “felt” like a warm subject, so I interpreted it with a bit of saturation, clarity, highlight recovery and added a vignette. I often use a vignette to create a subtle or not so subtle darkness at the top of the photo.

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Before Lightroom, 1/8 sec at f22, ISO 100, 1/3 Exposure Bias

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After Lightroom adjustments, warmed up the sky, Contrast, Opened up the shadows at the bottom, added a vignette.

In the case of stormy weather, the white balance tilts closer to cool.  And I tend to respond to warm tones better so I often adjust the white balance and tint accordingly.  Interpreting landscape to “feel” like it did to me at the capture is my constant challenge, and when I achieve it, my great joy.

Camera Settings:

  • Most of my photos are either under or overexposed to hold shadow or highlight detail. I use Aperture priority mode and the exposure bias button.
  • I use AUTO White Balance and if I need more warming or cooling, I use Lightroom’s develop mode.
  • In the camera menu I set the picture control to VIVID, this gives me a tad more saturation and contrast in my jpegs (choose high quality jpeg if you don’t care for post-production)
  • I prefer ISO 100 for large prints, but will sometimes photograph using higher ISO when I’m not pre-visualizing a print.
  • I photograph using RAW and normal jpeg
  • I edit the RAW capture using Adobe Lightroom

 

 

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Photography locations in the Southwest USA

This year I retired from my day job.  Don’t get me wrong, I work, it’s just no longer for “da man”.  Instead I continue to be the Director of Chase the Light Photography in Durango. I teach private and group photography lessons in my studio as well as on location. In the studio I teach digital camera instruction as well as Adobe Lightroom post production and digital video.  In the field, we have been out to photograph Fall Colors, Grand and Intimate Landscapes, Zion National Park.  I have made some personal excursions to Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico and to the Valley of the Gods, Utah.

Inspiration is everywhere. Locations in the Southwest USA

Every fall I get the internal tug to “get out and stay out”.  During September you can find me teaching Aspen Photography lessons in the Mountains of Colorado. Here are a few examples of location photography near Ouray and Ridgway.

We stayed at Silver Jack Reservoir long enough for the storm to clear.  As the sun began to get lower in the sky it revealed moments of fall loved across the lake. ©Kit Frost

We stayed at Silver Jack Reservoir long enough for the storm to clear. As the sun began to get lower in the sky it revealed moments of fall loved across the lake. ©Kit Frost

Telluride. We all photographed while lunch was being prepared on our Fall Photography Workshop.  This image was taken while protecting the camera gear from the drizzle. ©Kit Frost

Telluride. We all photographed while lunch was being prepared on our Fall Photography Workshop. This image was taken while protecting the camera gear from the drizzle. ©Kit Frost

It rained so hard during the night that waterfalls I've never seen were flowing in Ouray.  Slow Shutter speeds and an umbrella make these images possible. ©Kit Frost

It rained so hard during the night that waterfalls I’ve never seen were flowing in Ouray. Slow Shutter speeds and an umbrella make these images possible. ©Kit Frost

In this lesson, students practiced looking through the warm aspen leaves into the cool landscape of the distant ridge. ©Kit Frost

In this lesson, students practiced looking through the warm aspen leaves into the cool landscape of the distant ridge. ©Kit Frost

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The assignment here is to experiment with including the forest floor for texture and color. ©Kit Frost

 

Location: Ghost Ranch

Abiquiu, New Mexico is home to amazing landscape, and known as the location for many of Georgia O’keeffe paintings and her home at Ghost Ranch.  While at

Ghost Ranch I felt like I was in an O’Keeffe painting.  I was gifted with a week of oil painting lessons, and while I explored the genre of painting, I also hiked, biked, and photographed.  Inspired by the land, seduced by the color and light, I can see why artists flock to New Mexico.

I was obsessed with making an image of these trees high up on the base of this sandstone cliff. ©Kit Frost

I was obsessed with making an image of these trees high up on the base of this sandstone cliff. ©Kit Frost

Pedernal dominates the background while cottonwoods reflect in a pond. ©Kit Frost

Pedernal dominates the background while cottonwoods reflect in a pond. ©Kit Frost

Juicy Cottonwood in Bloom along the Box Canyon Trail. ©Kit Frost

Juicy Cottonwood in Bloom along the Box Canyon Trail. ©Kit Frost

Another version of my passion for this light, subject and composition.  Along the Box Canyon Trail, Ghost Ranch. ©Kit Frost

Another version of my passion for this light, subject and composition. Along the Box Canyon Trail, Ghost Ranch. ©Kit Frost

Location: Zion National Park

From October 26 through November 8, I was in Zion National Park.  I love Zion.  Artistically as muse for me, the park is accessible, stunning and grand.  There are opportunities for easy, moderate and strenuous hikes.  The shuttle system is wonderful and as a tourist as well as artist, being able to hop off and on at will is great.  My only complaint is that during my visit I had to change campsites three times.  Their online reservation system is used by lots of folks and it takes time and effort to move that many times in one visit.  I will try to book my fall Zion travel early and get a single campground (there’s a 6 month reservation window).

As I was headed back to camp on the shuttle, I spied this clearing storm over the Patriarchs.  I underexposed dramatically to hold cloud detail and opened up the shadows in Lightroom

As I was headed back to camp on the shuttle, I spied this clearing storm over the Patriarchs. I jumped off the shuttle and made a bunch of images. I underexposed dramatically to hold cloud detail and opened up the shadows in Lightroom ©Kit Frost

Some of my favorite locations were challenging to photograph this year.  I prefer stormy skies to boring bluebird skies.  Changeable light is my favorite as is the intimacy of hiking and biking along the trails, stopping for image making.

How wonderful to be at the Court of the Patriarchs during a somewhat clearing storm. ©Kit Frost

How wonderful to be at the Court of the Patriarchs during a somewhat clearing storm. ©Kit Frost

While hiking in a off the beaten road location at Zion, we walked along a creek that had some "stuck" tree trunks.  Wow, what storms must have brought those through this wash. ©Kit Frost

While hiking off the beaten path at Zion, we walked along a creek that had some “stuck” tree trunks. Wow, what big storms must have brought those through this wash. ©Kit Frost

I like to work with quiet subjects like fall trees and leaves against sandstone. ©Kit Frost

I like to work with quiet subjects like fall trees and leaves against sandstone. While many of the trees in Zion did not display peak fall colors, a few had finished dropping their leaves. ©Kit Frost

Here’s a video sequence of some of my photos from Zion National Park, 2014.