Armand Cabrera

Brushstrokes carry a message whether you will it or not. The stroke is just like the artist at the time they make it. All the certainties, all the uncertainties, all the bigness of their spirit and all the littleness are in it.
~Robert Henri

Brush Calligraphy is the stylistic application of your paint.

The paint is applied without overworking it once you have laid it on the canvas. Brush calligraphy can be instinctive as an outgrowth of your style…or an intentional approach to strengthen the composition and design of your painting. Brush calligraphy shouldn’t be haphazard. In other words, a conscious approach to your brush application is always preferable to an unconscious one. Effective brush calligraphy is often a valuable way of intensifying passages of interest and design overlooked by many artists who restrict their thinking in terms of color and value.

Many times, a small sketch has more life than a larger studio painting because of brush calligraphy. The quality of a stroke you make with the flick of your wrist on a small painting becomes a challenge to reproduce on a larger scale because the effort of your whole arm is needed to gain the identical outcome. When you consider the relationship between the size of the stroke, relative to the size of the canvas, you will understand the challenge when using a large brush with adequate paint for the result you wish to accomplish.

Paint strokes are not just about direction or size…they also encompass the thickness of the application. When thicker passages of paint are applied to a painting surface, you create a sculptural effect. The combination of these effects takes your painting beyond the idea of reproducing what you see. Brush calligraphy offers the viewer layers of interest beyond the initial two dimensional image and the ability to render it. A purposeful approach to brushwork makes a painting a forceful statement.

Greens in the Landscape

by Armand Cabrera

Green seems to be one of those colors that thoroughly baffles most artists. They tend to overstate their greens or paint them too similar, killing any chance for interest and a sense of light. I thought with spring slowly coming back to most of the country I would offer some tips on tackling green in your landscapes.

First get rid of any green pigment on your palette. The best way to make a green is to mix it. Second forget about approaches that add red or some other color as an undertone to your canvas. Its just sloppy, formulaic and heavy handed like using a chainsaw to prune your flowers. With three blues, two reds and two yellows and white on my palette I can mix any color I need.

If you’ve read this blog for awhile you know I hate formulas and any formulaic approach to painting. It is the same with greens, but there are some real world observations I can offer that might help you to see the variety and interest in your greens when painting the landscape.

Take the time to observe how things grow. As plants and trees produce new foliage the old stuff wilts and eventually dies and falls to the ground. As it does this it goes through hue changes that are observable. New growth tends to be lighter and brighter than mature leaves. It also has the greatest hue shift for the greens except in fall. Some trees and plants actually have new growth that is pink orange, red, yellow or violet and this color is slowly replaced by the green of the mature leaves.

There is a point where the leaves no longer produce green and they start towards the color they will be in fall. This gradual change happens for weeks before the big fall color change that takes place in a matter of days as the tree or plant prepares for winter. Most of this change takes place at the outer edges of the trees or plants and the cores are usually made of limbs and trunks.

Look for opportunities to design compliments and other colors in a natural way into the green landscape. This is important because more than anything what causes a paintings failure is a lack of thoughtful design.

Good design starts with good selection of the elements to create the image. Follow this with intense observation of those elements and careful simplification of them, removing extraneous information that detracts from idea behind the painting.

Pay close attention to the abstract geometric planes of the forms for value and temperature shifts. Note the different hues of the various species you are observing. Use edges to describe the character and line of action all things have that give them individuality.

A thoughtful approach trumps a formula any day of the week. Use observation and design to control your greens and stop them from controlling you.

Drawing Through the Form

Armand Cabrera

Many painters get stuck on contour and see only 2d shapes instead of drawing and painting the solidity of the forms they are trying to translate to canvas. When an artist sees everything as a flat shape they tend to ignore the visual clues that help give it more dimensions. You can teach yourself to see the form of a thing by doing what we call drawing through the form when sketching.

Drawing through the form uses construction lines to further enhance the 3d effect of an object and to set its depth clearly in your mind so you can then translate it to your canvas. It uses perspective, geometry and basic shapes to build your subject with. It is a constructive approach but can be used as an observational approach also.

It’s a good idea to practice sketching like this at all times until you automatically visualize everything you see this way. Some people prefer to start with red pencil or blue pencil to separate the construction lines from their refined final drawing. Doing this allows you to pick out what’s important to you.

Illustrators and production artists are aware of this approach because many times they are inventing scenes and characters from their imaginations but there is no reason for gallery painters not to use this tool also. Many problems can be avoided by paying attention to volume when drawing a landscape, figurative or still life picture.
(images from top to bottom Will Pogany, Peter Helck, Armand Cabrera all images are copyright to their respective owners)

Barrel Oak Middleburg Demo

Armand Cabrera
Yesterday I spent the afternoon painting a demo in the Barrel Oak Gallery in Middleburg. If you haven’t been to the gallery yet and you are in Virginia please come on by, taste some fine Virginia Wine and view the art. I have 60 paintings on display.
I started with a small field sketch from autumn last year. The sketch was painted in one of my favorite areas of Virginia on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains near the town of Etlan.
The demo painting is 20×24 on linen panel. I followed the same procedure I do for most of my paintings by establishing a drawing with my brush and then blocking in the larger masses and refining those into smaller shapes . I’m careful to preserve the light and shadow in the painting and not let the details detract the big effect. The complete working time was about four hours.
 8×10 field Study
   Autumn near Etlan 20×24 oil on linen

Translating the Idea

Armand Cabrera

I constantly see people in my classes and workshops struggling to find the right approach to painting from life. In my demos I try to stress the importance of good drawing and accurate color and value relationships. These tools allow you to make the marks you want to make when and how you want to make them. This is facility but facility only gets you so far. Many people think if they can just copy what they see the painting will be successful. The problem is you can’t copy, ever. What you can do, once you have the facility to make the marks you want is translate what you see into an intended arrangement of shapes.

Translating is the key to a successful painting from life. Everything you do, no matter how tightly or expressively you paint when working from life, is always translating.

Translating is turning 3 dimensional objects into 2 dimensional marks on your painting surface. What separates the more successful artists is the ability to only use the information that enhances the painting and doesn’t detract. This is easier said than done.

Everything is relative- color, value, shape and edges. All must be used in service of an idea that you hold in your mind for the finished painting. Translation requires more thought and ability than copying which is why so many artists struggle with painting from life successfully. You must understand that you are trying to fool the eye for the viewer and at the same time be aware of the marks you make and how they relate to the whole as just marks of color and value. It is this last part that gives the viewer the emotional response to your work. This is especially true for outdoor work.

When you paint outdoors you are always keying the color and value. Keying is limiting the range of color and value available to you in pigment and observed in nature. It is your exaggeration and sublimation of the information presented by you in an intelligent way that leads to a finished painting with clear intent.

No one is an artist unless he carries his picture in his head before painting it, and is sure of his method and composition. Claude Monet