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Wednesday, 08 August 2012 13:13

Painting Large in a Quick Draw Event

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Wisconsin artist James Hempel making a preliminary charcoal drawing of the scene he intended to paint during the two-hour quick draw competition Wisconsin artist James Hempel making a preliminary charcoal drawing of the scene he intended to paint during the two-hour quick draw competition
It's hard enough to create a worthwhile painting in two hours during a quick draw competition, but it is especially challenging when an artist works on a 24 x 24-in panel. Wisconsin artist James Hempel recently accomplished that feat by adjusting his standard procedures and having a friend watch the clock.

Once the horn sounded to announce the start of the quick draw contest, Hempel tore off his drawing and started painting over the transferred lines.

By the end of a two-hour quick draw competition, most plein air painters are exhausted after talking with potential buyers and frantically executing their 9 x 12 or 11 x 14-in. paintings. But imagine the stress of trying to paint a complicated marine pictures of two sailboats, reflections on the hulls and water, narrow docks, a background landscape, and billowing clouds — all in accurate scale and perspective. That's exactly what Wisconsin artist James Hempel did during the recent dockside quick draw competition that was part of the Door County Plein Air Festival in Fish Creek, WI (July 23-29, 2012).

It helps that Hempel is an energetic, ambitious man in his early 40s who was mentored by Daniel F. Gerhartz, an artist known for his large and expertly crafted paintings of figures in the landscape, many of which are painted outdoors (read the profile article in the July 2012 issue of PleinAir). Hempel also has the benefit of being educated in both the natural sciences and fine art, teaching science and math to highly charged secondary school students, training with the late James Prohl at the Atelier Prohl in Milwaukee, WI, and having his fiancee help him field questions and watch the clock.
Walking back and forth from his easel to judge the accuracy of his painting, Hempel continued to refine his marine picture.

Hempel scouted potential locations a day before the quick draw and spoke to boat owners along the docks to make sure the vessels he found most visually appealing would remained in place while he painted. Because the forecast suggested there might be overcast skies, he also needed to find a scene that would be interesting to paint in bright sunlight or in shadow. "In choosing a scene to fit a large format and marine subject, I thought about the great Gloucester, Massachusetts harbor paintings of Emile A. Gruppe [1896-1978]," Hempel explains. "I wanted to derive inspiration from his broad and direct handling of paint and his particular skills in employing varied and sensitive water reflections in his marine compositions."

The artist also decided he would draw his selected composition on paper and, after the start of the two hours, transfer the essential lines to a prepared painting panel so he wouldn't have to struggle with composing the image accurately. He determined that he would place a sheet of Saral graphite transfer paper between his drawing paper and the painting surface so the lines defining the big shapes could be imposed on the panel. "I always make some kind of preparatory compositional drawing before I pick up a paintbrush so that I mentally preview my path through a painting," Hempel explains. "It's also a way of editing the scene before I get caught up in the rush to complete the painting. In this case it was absolutely essential that I take those preparatory steps. When the preparatory drawing is the same size as the panel, I can transfer it by rubbing the back with charcoal or by using the Saral paper."

Most quick draw competitions allow artists to make preparatory drawings before the horn blows to announce the start of the two-hour event. For most participants, that means creating a 4 x 6-in. thumbnail sketch or a light graphite drawing on watercolor paper, but Hempel took advantage of the opportunity by making a full-scale charcoal drawing. Once the horn sounded, he put the Saral paper behind his drawing, redrew the important lines so they would transfer to the painting surface, and immediately began painting the defined image using oil colors already mixed into pools of color that matched the hues and values in the scene.
As the quick draw came to a end, Hempel added a few details. The finished painting: The Blue Bow, 2012, oil, 24 x 24 in. Private collection.

Hempel used two wide brushes to cover the linen-covered, warm neutral-toned panel quickly, and he frequently walked to the side and stepped back from his easel to judge the accuracy of his developing image using a sight-size method. "Normally I would be more thoughtful and selective about the way I paint," he says, "but for obvious reasons I had to make generalized statements about the scene and avoid getting caught up in details. Faced with this kind of challenge, it was more important to have the painting read well from a distance than from close up." For more information about the artist, visit
Read 1483 times Last modified on Wednesday, 08 August 2012 16:22
Steve Doherty

Plein air painter, fine art lover, author, and collector.


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