American Artist Dec 2002:

Making the Landscape Your Own

Camille Przewodek

by M. Stephen Doherty

Students often want formulas to help them paint," says Camille Przewodek. "But they must learn to observe what happens in nature and respond with a knowledge of how paints perform. As soon as they think they have found a formula for painting skies, water, and grass, they confront a situation in which the formula doesn't correspond to what they actually see. It takes a lot of work and insight to understand what is actually occurring in nature at one moment in time."

One of the best ways to gain this skill and insight, according to Przewodek, is to paint the same landscape on successive days and observe the changes that take place. "If you paint every day, you will notice how the changing conditions affect your perception of the landscape," she explains. "One day, you can see into the distance, and the bright sunlight makes all the colors appear warm and contrasting; the next day, the moist atmosphere limits the spatial
depth and turns the colors a cool gray. Studying those shifts in color and light teaches you how to be a better painter."

Learning how to record those daily observations with oil paint also takes some dedicated effort, and Przewodek says proudly that she is a demanding teacher. "I'm very blunt with my students," she notes. "They must be willing to see color in a related way. I start them on a series of exercises that acquaint them with capturing the light effect and the organization of shapes, and I have them repeat those exercises until they really understand the concepts."

Those exercises are adaptations of the ones Przewodek learned during six years of summer study with Henry Hensche at The Cape Cod School of Art in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The instruction at the school, which was founded by Charles Hawthorne and is now run by Lois Griffel, included painting numerous still lifes and color studies of simple geometric shapes, preferably blocks, set in the sunlight. The students completed much of the painting with a palette knife so the colors remained bright and the shapes wouldn't be overdone with detailed brushwork.

Another adaptation of Hensche's method requires Przewodek's students to limit their palettes to just white and six tube colors—a warm and a cool of each of the three
primary colors— and then gradually expand their palettes. "The students begin with a palette that includes titanium white, cadmium lemon, cadmium yellow, cadmium red, permanent alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, and a blue-green, usually either Rembrandt Sevres or manganese blue," she says. "After they learn to handle that simple palette, they can add colors such as cadmium scarlet, Indian yellow, and burnt sienna."

Przewodek applies oil colors with both a palette knife and a bristle brush, and she often thins her paint with Liquin alkyd medium to speed the drying time. She usually begins by brushing in the big shapes of a landscape to determine its focal point, then develops smaller forms within the space. "First I block in the large masses without any concern for details," she remarks. "That way, I know if the colors are correct before I get too involved in the small shapes."
Then she translates the scene into a mosaic of flat color spots, placing the big masses in different colors to indicate the changing planes in their forms. If those initial forms are not working well within the picture, she wipes the paint off the canvas and starts again. Przewodek emphasizes, "Hawthorne and Hensche talked about the importance of the start of a painting, and they encouraged their students to begin again if the painting wasn't well established after the first half hour."

Following this approach to oil painting avoids the common problem of colors becoming muddy. Applying generous amounts of paint to the canvas and minimizing the blending of one color into another keeps the colors fresh and vibrant. The artist applies bold strokes of color on top of one another to refine the appearance of the forms within the landscape.

As shapes emerge, Prze-wodek captures the effect of light on her subject. "I analyze the colors in the landscape, and I try to find the right pigment to convey my observations," she explains. "Unlike a tonal painter, who uses value changes to distinguish planes, I make color changes. A shadow area may be a combination of purples, blues, greens, and red; while a sunlit field may be a blend of orange, cerulean, yellow, and red. I have to trust my trained eye, not my preconceived notions or the distorted colors in a photograph. I have to put aside the idea that grass is green and the sky is blue because light changes everything."

To see the light accurately, Przewodek emphasizes the distinction between light and shadow, pointing out that local color is less important than the effect light has on that color. She also makes sure to work with closely related values within the shadow and sunlit areas of a picture. Neutral colors are equally critical to establishing the relationship of colors within a painting. "Too much emphasis on pure color can cause a picture to suffer, because nothing in it will have importance," she explains. "It's the balance of pure colors with neutral tones that tells the viewer what the painting is about. For example, if I want a field of yellow to be the focus of the painting, I may surround it with a neutral purple."

As her paintings develop, Przewodek judges each brushstroke of color against those already on the canvas. "The trick is not to think about color in isolation but like notes in a chord," she says. "I evaluate the impact of each new color, asking myself if it is lighter, darker, redder, or bluer than those in the area where it will be applied. It's that accurate relationship that conveys the appearance of the object." To aid in judging the right color to apply to a painting in progress, Przewodek follows Hensche's method of mixing colors directly on the canvas rather than on the palette.

In recent years, Przewodek has simplified the composition of her paintings so the focal point becomes even more important. "In some ways, my work is moving toward abstraction," she comments. "I'm less concerned with the setting and more focused on the picture as a work of art. I leave out elements that might have been in my paintings five years ago.

When I look back at the older canvases, I realize they have enough information for five or six paintings. Now I recognize that I don't have to tell everything about a place to capture the viewer's attention. In fact, my response to the landscape comes through more clearly when I don't confuse the message with extraneous details."

Not surprisingly, Przewodek describes herself as a plein air colorist, with emphasis on the word colorist, which she believes differentiates her from most other plein air painters. "I participate in several major plein air painting events in California, and it's always instructive to see how differently I and the other participating artists respond to the same landscape." She adds that she completes most of her painting on location, using various portable easels, depending on the size of her canvas.

Przewodek has taught workshops in France, where she owns a home. "The countryside is so beautiful that it was difficult for students to focus on their studies, so I stopped teaching in France after three years," she notes. But she still travels there with her family and enjoys painting those completely different vistas. She has also traveled to Italy to explore the effects of light on landscape there.

The artist characterizes herself as an aggressive marketer, pointing out that she exhibits with several commercial galleries and advertises in American Art Review, Art of the West, and Southwest Art magazines. "I'm pleased that the galleries representing me have the same vision and creative approach to marketing," she comments. "We work from the assumption that there is a market for good paintings, and I don't have to compromise my standards in order to reach an appreciative audience."

In addition to The Cape School of Art, Przewodek studied at Wayne State University in Detroit and in San Francisco at City College and the Academy of Art College. She is an artist member of the California Art Club, a signature member of the Laguna Plein Air Painters Association, and a member of the National Association of Women Artists. She is represented by The Munson Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and James J. Rieser Fine Art in Carmel, California. She is a co-founder of the Pacific Academy of Fine Arts in Sebastopol, California, and maintains a studio in Petaluma, California. For more information, visit her Web site: www.

M. Stephen Doherty is the editor-in-chief of American Artist.

©  2002  American Artist Magzine

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