I have been commissioned to paint a 70 x 40-inch panel of three lemons. I usually paint 70% upside down, that way I can see “shapes” not “lemons”. I have one photo in color, and one in black and white, taped to the top of the painting, as well as it on the computer. As I was working on it today, I thought it would be a great opportunity to give a quick mini-lesson on value.
PAINTING WITH VALUE
In my opinion, value (light and dark) can make or break a painting, so here’s what I do to make sure I capture it the best way possible.
1. Go Old-School, and Squint
When I simply squint at my painting and the photo, this distorts the whole thing, wiping out all the distracting details so I can focus on the color relationships.
2. Pick up my Gray Scale and Value Finder
This handy and inexpensive tool has cut-outs that I look through to determine the value of black and white, as well as color. I hold it first over my photo and then over my painting to make sure the painting has the same color value as the photo.
3. Don the Decoder Glasses
Aren’t these the coolest? Wearing these shades everything red, but at least all the color (except red, that is) is taken out so I can see the painting in black and white.
4. Use Your iPhone
The iPhone is a life-saver for any painter! I can easily snap a picture, then turn it to black and white, so I can see the value of the painting. This is a great help when I am away from my studio. I can print it out and take it with me (when I’m at my daughter’s basketball game!) and take notes on it. It’s also good to see my painting on a different size than the original.
It might surprise some people that Karl Kaiser, who spent 26 years as a machinist, works as a full time artist out of the home studio he calls The Black Rabbit. But friends and family, and even Karl himself, likely knew he was on a cyclical path that would return back to his artistic roots. While working in his nine-to-five job, he always had a sketchbook with him. His creative instincts were developed at a young age. “I painted and drew all the time as a kid. My mom was a teacher and she encouraged us to be creative. I always had drawing pads and paints.”
In 1993, Karl and his wife Samantha went to Germany to visit his aunt, also an artist. They ended up spending a lot of time in Paris, which Karl thinks had the biggest impact on him. During that trip something in Karl shifted, a perspective opened up, the creative spark ignited once again. When he returned to the states, Karl signed up for photography, drawing and painting classes.
Photography was not a new skill for Karl. He first picked up a camera in high school, but did not pursue photography again until decades later when he began travelling more extensively. He even sold photography for a little while, but began to focus on acrylic and encaustic art. Five years ago, Karl was able to leave his job to pursue art full-time.
“I took an encaustic class and that is where I’ve been most of my time in the last 10 years. With encaustic, I like it because of the layering effect,” Karl tells me as he lays on a layer to a piece in progress.
Purchasing roughly 55 pounds of beeswax per month, Karl uses about three to six pounds per day and creates his own color mixes. He mixes the beeswax with resin, sap off a damar tree, strains out the bark and then adds in a color pigment.
The creative process for Karl comes from nature, looking at the horizon. “I get up and take a walk in the morning and take photos. I’ll walk around Mt. Tabor— that’s where I get a lot of the ideas or at the beach.”
‘Stratum’, a series focused on horizontal lines, includes a third dimensional element: a layered ledge. One could easily miss it looking only at photos of the work.
To create the ledge, Karl uses a piece of wood and starts to build up the layers. He brushes on a layer of the wax, heats it up with a blowtorch, lets it cool and repeats. After enough layers are created to satisfy the artistic intent, he’ll flip the ledge piece over and begin layering the other side.
It can take up a month to build a ledge, so Karl simultaneously works on the main background piece. Again, the same process applies here, but without the layer effect: brush on a layer of wax, heat it up, let it cool and repeat.
When asked where the inspiration comes from for each piece, Karl replies, “ I usually have an idea in my mind of what I’m going to do ahead of time. Mainly I usually have an idea, a thought, a plan. I keep track of all the colors when building up layers, because I have an idea of what it will become.”
The one exception to his thoughtful process of creating art is the “Spin” series, which was a happy accident as Karl explained. The “Spin” series started from the top of a table covered with wax. He began using the torch to see what would happen and sets of circles began to appear. Far different from his horizontal lines of Stratum, he didn’t give it much thought and set in the corner a few years ago for the Open Studios Tour.
The piece sold and inspired Karl to make more pieces for the “Spin” series.
The Open Studios Tour has been a great avenue for Karl to connect with people interested in his work. “I have people who come back year after year. They start buying smaller pieces and then come back and buy bigger pieces. It’s not people I know—they’re art collectors.”
You can find Karl’s work at the Rental Sales Gallery in Portland Art Museum and River Sea in Astoria. He will be Artist # 92 on the Portland Open Studios Tour in October.