Workshop Notes from Karl Dempwolf

For some of you participating in the Central Coast art workshop there will be nothing in the following paragraphs with earthshaking information or of much interest, because you already have your own philosophy of why and how you paint, you have been using the colors you like for years now and are taking the class for a number of good and personal reasons.

For those who have not been painting for years and wish to know my philosophy and what kind of paint or brushes I use, I’ll share the following information to establish a foundation upon which to build.

When it comes to the type of oil paint I use, there are only a few colors that I find I really need. I have used the layout of paint on my palette from the book Composition of Outdoor Painting by Edgar A. Payne, which is available at Amazon or DeRu’s Fine Arts.  For a list of my colors, see the end of this message.  You will develop your own personal preferences in time if you are a beginner. Brushes again are a personal thing, I like flat bristle brushes like Isabay from France, and brushes which are large enough to get something done even on small boards or canvas.

I do feel strongly that beginning students should use pencil and paper to make simple layout thumbnail sketches prior to putting paint on canvas, to encourage thinking about composition first, instead of detail. Another of my personal preferences is that I like to paint very small on location, 5×7 or 6×8, and rarely 8×10. One reason is that the larger I work en plein air the longer it takes me to finish a piece and to have it look like a Karl Dempwolf. The other reason is that just around the next corner is another vista I want to paint and time is not my friend. Another reason for working small on location is the fact that details are not going to be possible to include because of the size. I do use and encourage the use of digital photos to remind us of details that were not included in the sketch when making a larger studio version of the plein air work.

Additional advice I have given students for years is to start monochromatically using a single semi translucent color to go from thumbnail pencil sketch to thin paint on canvas, designing the masses that make up what I will paint. After the masses have been designed, those masses are my trees, the hills, the barn and the clouds in the sky.  I use a very diluted blue or purple to indicate where my darkest values will be, only starting to put thin color on my board when my basic outline and the masses that will make up my composition have been designed. I usually adjust the composition as I go from the thumbnail to the sketch on my plein air attempt, which is one of the topics we will discuss at the workshop.

Verbally telling a student my thoughts is one way to try and explain the complexities of creating a piece of art, taking your brush and showing you what I’m thinking on your work is another.  Please be sure to let me know which of the two approaches you prefer. It has always been important to me to create work that is identifiable as belonging to me; but Wendt, Payne and so many others, including the modernists, have had a hand in determining what my work looks like today. I hope you have your own favorite influences which will determine what your work will look like in the near future.

My color choices are listed below.  It’s not necessary to have all of them, by any means.  Minimalists like Zorn worked with just black, red, yellow ochre and white!