Thursday, November 15, 2007

Rain and Neon

One of the virtues of oil paint is that you can paint in a drizzle or a downpour. Don’t even think of trying it in watercolor. In 100 percent humidity, watercolor washes won't dry.

Here's the setup I was using for a painting of a storefront scene. The umbrella was a cheap beach umbrella that came with a plastic clamp. It attached to the top of the pochade box. It kept the worst of the water off the painting, but instead an icy river flowed down my neck.

It poured for six hours with no let-up. You can see the painting here in its lay-in stage, drawn in loosely with a bristle brush using burnt sienna thinned with turpentine.

It was fun painting the puddles, but I had a devil of a time with the neon drug store sign, as you can see in the final painting. The neon is an intensely saturated color. But it’s also high in value. It’s impossible to capture in both the intense chroma and the high value in the same single paint mixture.

If you go for the bright red chroma, the value or tone of the paint goes lower, and if you try to capture the lightness, you can’t also suggest the color. Analyzing the photo now after the fact, I suppose the trick would have been to show the bright halo of intensely saturated color directly adjacent to the near-white neon tubes.


Mark Heng said...

I did a painting last year with the same value/intensity problem with neon. You're right, it's the stuff immediately illuminated by the light source, including the atmosphere which creates a halo that's saturated. I can't believe your output- You seem to do more in a week than I get done in a month!!!

Unknown said...

It's a great painting! Reading about this is making outdoor painting romantic again.

Michael Dooney said...

I know what you're saying. I usually use acrylics so things work differently so take this for what it's worth...I've had some success with simulating the neon glow by 1-paint the tube color-let it dry 2-paint the inner tube glow nearly pure white and let it dry, like I said with acrylics this is easier ;) 3-glaze over the white with the sign color.
Oh man, I just realized that I'm telling James Gurney how to paint something...ha, forget I said anything ;)


These posts are absolutely incredible. I love your blog. That painting is beautiful. You truly braved it for that piece. What a payoff. It is so great to hear your thoughts on yopur own process. Its great.

tlchang said...

I am amazed and impressed by your dedication (and output!). 'Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow'

~V said...

As always I find your work utterly breathtaking, emotive, and descriptive in a way that only the best story teller could provide. You have written yet another beautiful poem about a moment and place captured in time, inscribed by brush. Thank you for being my inspiration, as an art student I find your work a motivation to keep working around the problems I find in my own approach, and gain further insight through your words and reflections.
Good day, and safe travels~

jafabrit said...

I love how you have captured the puddles.

Paolo Rivera said...

Ah yes, I call this the "light saber effect" whenever I have to paint it. I usually just go for pure white paint (or the white of the paper) and paint the color around. Sometimes I even lightly glaze the white with the complimentary color for added contrast.

Of course, it's all much harder to do in oil, in the field, in the rain. That's determination. Nice work.

Anonymous said...

I agree with jafabrit. The puddles are great!

Brine Blank said...

Mr. Gurney,
Several years ago (not sure how many) I came across one of your books and was blown away. I then lost track. Happily I stumbled across your blog via another site a couple of weeks ago...great information that acts as reinforcement for what I've previously been teaching as well as super tips and techniques that are new and favorite of the last bit is how sometimes the students complain about 'conditions' not being perfect (as if they ever are) to complete or create work...your painting in the rain and on-site work in the frigid tundra helps to put such things in perspective...again, you are truly a master!!!

K_tigress said...

Great stuff as usual.
When there's a will theres a way.

But any ways the rain gives me a great idea for a painting project for my self.
since you mention that there would be a problem making rain in water colour, it would be a good time to multi medium as in, add a bit of coloured pencil to the mix.

As for the neon sign problem, Its a good idea using pure bold colour like with one the posters said about the acrylic and or multi medium. That's if your into that thing.

Frank Gardner said...

Always great to see your plein air work James. I would have tried to get the color on that sign to pop like this. Since each color can look different by the colors next to it I would have darkened and dulled the surrounding color, even back to the buildings and tree. I'd with some complimentary greens and purples to get those reds and yellow in the center of the tubes to vibrate. Then with the intensely saturated color near the tubes like you said.
I've painted in the rain as well, but without the umbrella. It actually went better then I thought it would. Amazing how oil and water just don't mix.

christy said...

awesome work! you may be able to get much closer to the chroma you want if you use the right high chroma paints.. there's an art forum you might be interested in largely dedicted to this topic.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, everybody for all your great ideas about painting neon! This is why I love the blog conversation--I learn so much from my brother (and sister) brushes. I can't wait to try out some of your tips.

Patrick Dizon said...

Man...That's some killer drawing skills you have there! :)

Do you just eyeball the perspective, or did you have to plan it out for this one?