I have admired the work of Ken Auster since I became aware of him and visited his studio in Laguna Beach in 2007. His confident, bold abstractions – particularly of cityscapes and people - put him on my list of an artist to spend time with. I bought his DVD and liked his philosophy of art and painting. I got the chance with Weekend with the Masters.
Not all good artists are good teachers. Ken quickly proved to be both.
Day One - Cityscapes
Ken spent the first hour discussing his philosophy of art and of learning to paint. It is mostly in his DVD – but was well worth listening to. Ken describes the painting process as moving from INTELECT to PASSION and back to INTELLECT. It is a nice way of saying – begin with thought and planning, pick a subject that will work, do what you have to do to increase your odds of success and begin with a good sketch from which to work. Then let go – let the passion to paint kick in – paint with the intuitive skill you have learned. Once the canvas is covered – hopefully correct values and close to correct colours- switch back to intellect – refine your composition, strengthen the focal point etc etc. A very helpful description, particularly for those new to plein air, and he describes it well and with enthusiasm.
Ken works with a limited palette – a yellow, ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson and carbon black. He often adds cad red light. He uses a Soltek and covers the palette with freezer paper . His brushes are old , well used and never-cleaned hogs hairs – in fact he never seems to clean anything.
Demo 1. Ken chose a cityscape and identified his center of interest – a palm tree. He marked the spot for the palm then built his composition around it. Everything he now does is to build interest and context for that center of interest. Ken uses the site-size method for cityscapes – he measures what he sees and applies it to the canvas to insure reasonable accuracy. ( I wondered how much he would benefit from Joe McGurl’s view finder approach) . He did the rough lay-in using back ( first artist I have seen use back to develop the sketch – he uses it because it neutralizes colours on top – moving towards gray) .
|Ken using sight size and black to lay in plan|
|Painting the tree " animals"|
|Mixing the " DNA" for the tree animals|
|establishing the basic " DNA" for the grasses|
|Canvas is covered - now back to intellect and build the center of interest|
|Thick and juicy detail at center of interest|
|Thick and juicy paintings and thick and juicy equipment|
Ken uses another analogy – the spider and spider web. The spider is the center of interest and the web is tighter near the center then becomes less detailed as it moves away. In his work Ken greatly increases detail close to the center of interest and reduce it as it moves away.
Ken finished the demos moving to small brushes and putting detail in and close to the centre of interest.
His paint is thick and juicy and works to create contour and abstract interest.
One of Ken’s “absolute truths” is that most failed paintings are made because of selection of a bad subject or view point – often picking a “battle you cannot win”.
The second demo Ken showed how to build people INTO ( a part of) the painting –not to appear pasted on. He did a quick block-in from a photo – using black again. Then started to fill in colours holding values as needed. He then cut around the figures and cars – negative space painting- until the shapes were clear – then placed colours while again nicely holding the values.
|Working from a city scape photo with people and cars|
|Figures - colours laid over black sketch and then carved from background|
|Kens sketch and photo reference|
Ken then demonstrated his simplification of grouping people.
Ken Auster Day 2. Beach Day Plein Air
Ken repeated much of his philosophy on painting and learning to paint – useful enough to repeat.
Ken generally paints foreground to back ground – placing areas and spots of colour and carving using negative space painting. That is my approach with acrylic and I try the same with oils but often end up deep to my knees in paint – so helpful to see his approach of clearly laying in spots of colour beside one another with little overlap.
He stresses that to make a 3 dimensional illusion work on a 2 dimensional surface one needs to be skilled at creating atmosphere, form and perspective – studying the fundamentals.
He also stresses that one needs to paint what they know – not just what they see – and use what you see as the reference using what you know (fundamental knowledge ) to make the illusion interesting and read.
His first demo was of a group of palm trees. A good example of creating form through value then adding details
|Sketch of palm trees - initial DNA and DNA cooled as trees move back|
|Carves out tree from background|
Ken did a demo of people on the beach. He carved the people, as yesterday, from a loose sketch and used colour and value to create believable shape and form.
Ken does not agree with planning your subject by creating thumbnail sketches to work out your composition first. I strongly disagree on that point as I believe it is not helpful to artists new to plein air to avoid this step. Jennifer McChristian was conducting a workshop near ours and it was fun to remember how strong she was on establishing a value plan through thumbnails – I had spent a week with Jennifer a few years prior and she does a great job of emphasizing advanced planning ( as does Ken but using a different approach).
|Jennifer McChristian student working from value plan - something I like and recommend|
A very good two days and I highly recommend a Ken Auster workshop.