Painting in the Great Outdoors

The idea of plein air painting has always appealed to me, filling my head with images of the Impressionists zealously painting myriad light and weather conditions, of the lone artist blissfully stepping out into the city or the poetic woods one sunny afternoon with an easel and a vision.  That said, while I occasionally sketch outdoors or go out with my camera for the sole purpose of photographing the world around me, I tend to work indoors.

Fall in the Park [above] was my first attempt at plein air painting in five years (if not more).  I was not accustomed to the constantly changing light, the challenge of finding a place to set up my easel, the spiders and other insects in my paint, nor the hushed tones of passersby. . . yet spending the afternoon in Huntsville's Big Spring Park with two friends, trying to capture the scene before my eyes before the sun set and the breeze quickened, was an enriching experience.  I very much wanted to capture the light in an Impressionistic fashion and painted in an alla prima style, but I could not help picturing the scene in many different styles.

This plein air sketch was done in water-based oils on a 24X30.  If you would like to purchase a print for your home or office, please contact me via the comments section or the Christina Wegman Fine Art page on Facebook.

Daytime in the Courtyard: A Demonstration

Earlier this month, I was invited to do a painting demonstration for Mrs. Bess Jernigan Desta's class at Huntsville's Grissom High School-- thoroughly enjoying group presentations as I do, and relishing an opportunity to answer students' questions, I quickly set to work designing a composition for the class.  The above photo of Bess and me shows the painting by the end of the presentation. . . the lines of the composition were established, and I had begun to block in some of the darker areas for contrast. 

 During the middle stages of the painting process, I added complimentary colors and continued to establish highlights, mid-tones, and shadows.  An abstract of this kind relies heavily on composition, line, color balance (a science in and of itself), and contrast. . . while the composition is based on a row of buildings with balconies and a courtyard setting, I wanted to convey atmosphere rather than individual objects or "realistic" architecture.  Moreover, as with all of my abstract pieces, I wanted it to be stylized enough to be a world of its own, a catalyst for imaginative exploration.

For me, adding finishing touches often means cleaning up or reinforcing lines and colors, brightening areas, blending mid-tones or softening transitions between shadows and highlights, smudging brush strokes as I see fit, or even adding areas of thicker paint for texture.

The completed piece [above] will dry over the next few months in a cool room, away from dust and humidity, then I will apply a coat or two of protective varnish (which also further brings out the colors and gives paintings a lovely sheen).  Daytime in the Courtyard, painted with a mix of water-based oils and acrylics, makes a bold statement with its warm orange/mustard base, splashes of electric green and tranquil blue, and large size (30X40).  If you are interested in this piece or any other featured on my blog (or if you have any questions regarding my work as an artist in general), please feel free to contact me via E-mail or the Christina Wegman Fine Art Facebook page!

Roman Holiday in Technicolor

Having seen many famous depictions of the Roman Forum, I have come to understand painting the Ancient world to be a kind of artistic Rite of Passage.  Add a dash of Romantic poetry, and the picture is complete-- bone-white columns, a dusty green and gray landscape, a mild, aloof blue sky tinged with Classical nostalgia. . .  

Yet "faded" and "melancholy" were not at all the words that came to mind when I walked through the Forum Romanum this year during my recent trip to Rome.  Rome is a wild tapestry of past and present, ever bustling, ever spilling over with waves of tourists from every corner of the globe hoping to experience the oft-celebrated mystique of the city.  On a late afternoon in early summer, the Forum is fragrant with the abundant chamomile and sage entwined with poppies on every hill, and the scenery is electrified by brilliant pale greens, dusty roses and vibrant pinks and oranges, alive with the voices of young and old walking along the same cobblestones as Cicero once did.  

The above painting, a 30X40 simply titled Forum Romanum, is my first completed piece directly inspired by my trip.  Trying to find the perfect balance between my angular, stylized approach, the rounded elements of columns, and intricacy to be found at every turn in Rome is an interesting challenge, as is expressing the life and modernity to be found even in the well-worn paths of the Forum these days.  Rome has surely given me many new things to ponder, and one of the lasting influences that I am beginning to see in my work as a result is a revitalized approach to color (I am sure that my painting of Adrianna and Hel also owes its color scheme to sunny Italy).

The Forum Romanum painting has already sold and is sure to look stunning in its new home (enjoy, Jerry and Jenn!), but a new Rome-inspired piece is already in the works if you, dear reader, would like one of your own, and I now have many pictures lovingly taken by me and happy memories to sort through for reference if anybody would care for a more custom piece!

On Display: Art@TAC Gallery

Last week, I dropped off two new pieces at the Arts Council Gallery in the Von Braun Center.  If you are in downtown Huntsville, be sure to have a look at Terra et Caelum [above] and Romantic Arabesques [below] as well as all of the other wonderful artworks on display and available for purchase!


Where Literature and Art Collide

Earlier this year, I created a portrait for my friend David based on a character from one of his stories.  The experience and results were thoroughly enjoyable, so I was thrilled when one of our conversations led to a new commission.  In one of the story concepts David is working on, Adrianna, goddess of storm, and Hel, goddess of the underworld, both fall in love with the protagonist; they are rivals for his affections, yet must be allies in order to help him become what he is meant to be.  It is a wonderful tapestry of fantasy, allegory, mythology, and religious and political commentary that could easily fill multiple volumes, and I wanted to portray the two goddesses in a modern and original way-- stylized faces, electric neon colors, nods to David's love of comics and cartoons (without losing the daring touch of fine art or becoming stereotypical).  It was thoroughly refreshing for me to work on Adrianna and Hel [above]; I hope that David will enjoy adding this new piece to his growing art collection!

Michele Times Two

When I first began offering commissioned portraits last year, my friend Michele was happy to pose for a portrait that I could keep in my collection to show prospective clients [below].  This year, a few friends pitched in so that we could present Michele with a smaller portrait [above, 16X20] for her birthday.  I like to think that this second piece gave me the opportunity to present Michele in a more personal, less theatrical light.  The first piece is far more glamourous, the second focuses on Michele's sweet eyes and impish smile.  My color choices for the second piece were influenced heavily by the neutral browns and beiges of Michele's house and her love for Ancient Egypt.  In fact, the pattern in the background was inspired directly by designs on Ancient Egyptian columns.  Since Michele also prefers realism over abstraction, I kept the piece fairly illustrative, taking it as an opportunity to use back-lighting to keep Michele's charming features soft.  I hope that she will enjoy her new painting for many years to come!


Recent Projects and Sources of Inspiration

What strikes me most about my last three commissions is that they are completely unrelated.  When creating custom pieces, I must be prepared for any number of different requests and challenges, and I tend to believe that my work actually thrives on this level of variety.  Painting the above three-panel divider for my friend Jennifer P., for instance, was a wonderfully liberating experience.  Jennifer was smitten by the free-flowing, colorful abstract patterns on the divider I keep in my studio (I enjoy wiping my brushes off on it), and picked out a color scheme that would match her home for a divider of her own.  She wanted a random-looking abstract composition, so I starting to play with washes, drips, and splatters, imagining branches in the rain as I plotted out the direction and balance of each element.  Because the panels are thick paper, I made sure that the runny acrylic would bleed through to the other side [see below]-- no matter which way she turns it, she will be able to enjoy it!

Phil's commission [below right, beside the painting that inspired it] was based almost entirely on one of my abstract color studies. . . he very much liked the composition, but needed a color scheme that would match his interior.  While at first glance the second painting may simply look like a copy of the first in different colors, I softened the lines and made a few subtle changes to make sure that the minty greens would not be overshadowed or become too jarring.  It is a much smoother rendition overall.  What does not show in the image is that I also employed the use of soft metallic copper paint in the new piece.  I met Phil at a local Hackerspace melting down aluminium cans, so I thought this metallic touch appropriate!

My third recent commission was a portrait; Janeil [below] was based on a photo taken of my client Rick's wife at camp in the 70's.  I know that Janeil likes to work on scrapbooks and make greeting cards and that her favorite color is purple, so I tried to incorporate all of these things into the composition.  As with a portrait I completed last year of Eugene and Georgia Baxley, my main reference photo was a scanned image of a small family snapshot.  I had to use a few school portraits of Janeil as reference to get an adequate likeness.  I find portraits of this kind to be incredibly difficult to do well because the reference material is often blurry or discolored, but it is also incredibly rewarding to be able to bring a cherished but faded or blurry snapshot to life in this manner!


All Roads Lead to Rome

At last, Rome!  I have painted the Eternal City in the past, studied Latin, and many of my friends have travelled to Italy before me, yet it was not until this summer that I was able to see Rome with my own eyes (as well as Avezzano and Alba Fucens in Abruzzo).  With blue summer skies above and buildings as softly-colored as sherbert, ornate marble, ancient monuments, and throngs of excited people milling about, I wound up snapping 1,513 pictures by the end of two weeks.  Here is a small selection of my favorites!

The Colosseum by Night

The Colosseum by Day

The Theater of Marcellus

Wild Poppies and Summer Wheat

In the Shadows of the Pantheon

Traces of Ornamention Behind the Pantheon

A Chance Encounter

The Many Who Wish at the Trevi Fountain

The Dying Gaul and His Modern Mourners

The Crypt of Pope Hadrian

Nuns Leaving the Rose Garden on the Aventine

Summer Roses

A Roman Bee

The Basilica of Maxentius

A View from the Hills

The Temple of Saturn

The Roman Forum
View from the Palace of Domitian

Swiss Guard

Chairs for a Papal Event

Light Streaming into the Lateran Cathedral

Beauty Among the Ruins

A Rose in the Late Afternoon
The Aurelian Wall

Tombs Beyond the City Walls

 An Ancient Amphitheater in Alba Fucens, Abruzzo


Of People and Pets

One of the many interesting facets of painting commissioned portraits is the opportunity to illuminate a person's or pet's character, what matters most to one, one's most valued relationships.  In the case of two recent portraits, I was given the chance to create pieces which featured much-beloved furry companions.  In Joseph and Casey [above], Joseph Baxley hugs his little cat protectively (never have I seen such a bond between a man and a feline).  Sassy [below] was painted for Jessica Garcia to commemorate the long life and personality of her dog; Sassy has always loved to stop and smell the flowers!


On Display: Art@TAC Gallery

If you find yourself in the Von Braun Center between now and July, be sure to have a look at the new selection of paintings on display at The Arts Council Gallery, including my own Art of Conversation [above] and First Cup [below].  Both pieces are currently available for purchase through the Huntsville Arts Council.


Josef Albers: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Abstract Art

My natural exuberance for color became a more intense subject of study many years ago when my Mom advised that I read books on color by German-born artist/educator Josef Albers and Swiss painter/theorist Johannes Itten.  As I flipped through page after page of multi-hued squares and fascinating optical illusions, I was soon astounded to learn that the perception of any given color could completely change from one context to another, that there was more to color than merely finding aesthetically-pleasing combinations.  It is no wonder that by the time I had begun to paint, I had grown enamoured with the abstract work of Wassily Kandinsky, and as part of a quest to develop my art, I had started to take in-depth notes on his writings and to find inspiration for color studies in his ideas about color.  Since those early days in 2007, I have often set aside a week here or there to make new color studies to refresh my thoughts and my work.  To some, abstract art may seem daunting, but I find that there is something liberating about the pursuit of pure color and form, expressions of pure ambiance and thought, that is as worthwhile as any other artistic approach.  I began my first two spring color studies during the final week of March and had a series of four by the end of last week.  Terra et Caelum [above, 18X24, $200] is the expression of the otherworldly colors of dusk, our poignant awareness of the universe as the sun sinks beneath the horizon.  Greenway [below, 22X28, $300] is based on colors I observed by walking along my favorite creek recently, abstracted and  reformed into a dreamscape of my imagining. . .


3 Years of Color

Spring Break offers me a week of neither teaching classes nor taking them, and therefore an excellent opportunity to prepare for events such as my May Art Sale and to reflect on projects, technique, history, directions, and color schemes.  As I will soon begin a new portrait commission and today marks the 3-year anniversary of my blog, I decided to focus on color this week.  After all, I embarked upon my artistic career with an intense love of color and motion-- so I often find that revisiting my earlier, more intuitive style of working, but forcing myself to seek out new color combinations or throw in a new element, gives me quite a bit of insight into my thought processes and goals.  I also use color studies (see my Organic Compositions I-II, III-V, and VI-VII from 2011) to help keep my work fresh; after all, an artist can easily fall into certain patterns, choosing the same colors, the same ways of depicting things over time.  While this may help forge a recognizable style, I believe that "having a style" does not have to mean producing work that is stale and repetitive.  I planned four color studies for this week; two are complete, two are still in the works:

 Color Study: "Technical" [above] was based on colors and forms that I saw while driving through town last week-- the metallic blue of a truck, the faded yellow of a utilities box, the red of bricks, and, because Huntsville, AL is so technology-oriented, thoughts of computers, aircraft, and spacecraft.  I am very happy with the clean precision of it, the glowing yellows and subtle greens.  It is a 16X20 water-based oil on Canvas.

Color Study:  "Romantic Arabesques"  [above] resembles my painting Spring in color, but is far more loose in style.  I wanted it to evoke ruffles, roses, and all things feminine without resorting to being merely cute.  I used my palette knife and glass bead gel medium to give texture and a free-spirited air to this 18X24 water-based oil on canvas.

With the final two pieces in the series [above], I would like to revisit the precision of the "Technical" study. . . I find that this precision is something I gravitate toward more and more in my work.  Even so, my goal is that both pieces have a natural "outdoors" feel somehow.  The painting on the left is to evoke the colors at dusk as viewed from my balcony, the painting on the right is to evoke the colors of an afternoon on the nearby Aldridge Creek Greenway with its blue rolling hills and myriad shades of green and violet in the spring. . .