In 2014 after 12 years as an Art Director, I switched careers to become a full-time painter. I decided that I would spend the rest of my life fulfilling my lifelong desire to paint. It didn’t take long to realize that painting from life made the most sense. The eye can see colors that can’t yet be captured by current technology so my paintings are started and completed entirely on site, without reliance on photographs. From a spiritual point of view, my reward is being outside in nature, completely connected to the moment. I paint in oil, which allows me to balance pictorial clarity with subtle tonal contrasts.
—02. EN PLEIN AIR
All original landscape paintings are painted on location. The sun’s light is constantly moving so I paint smaller sketches to capture each landscape before the sun’s light has changed. The best light is early morning, just after sunrise, or late evening, at sunet. This is when I do the majority of my paintings. Most smaller paintings take between 1-3 hours.
It’s hard to say exactly what inspires me from day to day. It’s often not the most scenic view that I’ll paint, but instead I’ll face the opposite direction of a picturesque scene and become captivated by the beautiful color in the cast shadows of a tree. That will become my focal point. I often use a viewfinder that is the same proportions as my panel or canvas. This helps quickly frame my composition. It allows me to zoom in or out of a scene, find my focal point and eliminate unnecessary distractions. Another helpful trick is using a camera. It’s so easy to snap 15 pics in an area that I’ll often do that. I’ll walk around take a handful on pictures, then sit in the shade somewhere and look at them. It’s surprising that the most interesting compositions are often not the obvious ones, but instead ones that have strong values shifts and interesting shapes.
One of the most important steps for me is drawing a few thumbnail sketches. This depicts where I want my light, mid, and dark values to be. It doesn’t take long but it helps clarify in my mind what needs to be the primary focus, what needs to be edited out, what needs to be pushed back, or brought forward – with value shifts. My stronger pieces usually include this step, but not always. The photographs mentioned in step five make it easy to quickly decide what composition works and what doesn’t. But if an object needs to be moved, lightened or darkened, the camera can’t really help.
For the past two years, I’ve completed changed my painting process. I’ve eliminated the use of titanium white, and I’m now making my own flake white paint using the stack process. This has completely changed the qualities of the paintings. They are less chaulky now, and much more saturated. Since flake white paint has less tinting strength than titanium, I use much more lead pigment and less coloured pigment. I now tend to paint much thicker resulting in more texture when finished.
I paint with a fairly minimal palette. A warm and a cool of each color. Here are my staples:
Flake White, Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green.(Phthalos are used sparingly)
Milling Flake White Oil pigment
Here I’m milling lead white pigment with linseed oil until I reach a desirable consistency. This usually takes about 4 or 5 passes.
I’m testing the consistency with a palette knife. Notice the ropey quality and peak that forms when mixing. Titanium white doesn’t have this quality.
The final test for each batch of paint I make before I tube it is with a firm bristle brush. I’m looking for the stroke to maintain it’s groove and not flatten out. This batch has some small chunks that I’ll have to mill out again.
—06. MEDIUMS AND VARNISH
I use Neo Megilp as my painting medium to thin the oils when required. If I change values I use Gamsol mineral spirits to clean my brushes while painting. For protection and archival purposes, Gamvar picture varnish is applied after the painting has dried and before shipping.
Most of my paintings are 12 x 9. The reasons for this are simple. First, it’s small enough that I can capture the essence of the scene before the light changes too much. Second, it’s large enough that I can capture enough color that if I decide to return and make a larger painting, I’ll have a good starting point. Finally, if it’s unsuccessful, I have only invested a few hours and not a few days.
Here’s a video of my 12 x 9 painting of Sunflower Field after it’s been completed.
Some of my favorite brushes are the cheapest ones from the Dollar Store, hardware stores, or even Walmart. But a cheap bristle does the job. I use all sizes, rounds, flats, filberts, brights, riggers. My best advice is to experiment with them all, and you’ll soon become familiar with the mark-making abilities of each. I use cheap brushes as well as expensive ones. Even expensive
Pro tip*** I use Murphy’s Oil to clean all my brushes. Soaking them in Murphy’s Oil can resurrect even the hardest and dried out brushes.
—09. LARGER PAINTINGS
If I am fond of the smaller 12 x 9 sketch, I’ll return to the same location when the weather and lighting conditions are the same to complete a larger canvas. I’ll use my smaller sketch as a jump off point, ready to add more detail.
Like many plein air painters, my first step is to draw the main objects with a darker warm line. I keep it loose and don’t add too much detail. If the composition or any of the elements aren’t working, it’s easy to wipe and move them at this stage.
From there, I’ll thinly block in my darkest darks, then lightest lights. Quite often I’ll work top – down, inside out. An important thing I’ll keep in mind is to not be too literal but capture the essence and feeling. This is more important than exact color and drawing accuracy. I’ll also work on the complete canvas at once, jumping from area to area and not just working one section at a time.
—10. THOUGHT PROCESS
In each of my paintings, I strive to capture the energy from a particular moment in a fresh way. I work thin and loosely in the beginning as I’m filling in my darks, but then begin to thicken the paint with an impasto texture as I refine the scene. I apply each brush stroke with confidence, spontaneity and intention while remaining open to the unexpected. My technique is to use as few strokes as possible, allowing me to be specific and purposeful. My goal is to simplify the complexities of a scene to create my impressions of nature as I work to interpret reality rather than to re-create it.
—11. SOCIAL MEDIA
In this day and age, social media is a part of our everyday lives. I post my painting photos and videos to instagram upon completion. The advantage is that people can have a way of knowing what artists like myself are doing on a daily basis.
Follow me to see my daily activity:
—12. FRAMED AND READY FOR SHIPPING
Here’s the final completed painting of Sunflower Field after final touches have been completed, and varnish applied. It’s displayed in a plein air frame from California. It’s currently available and can be viewed at Covert Farms Winery in Oliver, BC. Canada, and shipped anywhere in the world.
12 x 9 SKETCH
24 x 20 PAINTING
Sunflower Field, 12 x 9 (sold)
August 18, 2016
Mark James Lucas
Sunflower Field, 24 x 20 (available)
August 27, 2016
Mark James Lucas