The Painter's Workshop: New Works and Works in Progress

Currently on Easel I

Plaza Guemes: A Work In Progress

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Plaza Guemes, Buenos Aires, oil on canvas, 76 x 96 inches, work in progress, copyright ©2014
"Plaza Guemes, Buenos Aires" is a large painting based on a much smaller study that I did when visiting Argentina in 2008. Plaza Guemes is a public square in the Palermo Viejo district, not far from where I was staying in Buenos Aires. It is surrounded by fine restaurants, open air cafés, galleries, luxury high-rises, a few examples of old Spanish architecture, Internet cafés and on the west end the beautiful old church Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. I spent a few weeks painting in the plaza, taking morning coffee at Café Pinot. While I painted I was surrounded by crowds of people, many of them students from the parochial school on the other side of the church.

As I worked on the study, some people from the nearby condominiums would sit on the benches in front of me, in hopes that they would be included in my painting. One of these willing models was a Policia Federal, who did not make it into the study, but will be included in the large version. In the foreground is a pile of teenagers, lying on the pavement and enjoying the sun. On the benches are an old man that had posed for the study, a woman weeping, an art student from the nearby school, a woman resting with her dog, a street urchin tying his shoe, and others. On the far right is a young man, probably a student, that earns his living by walking dogs in the neighborhood. There are children playing in the playground in the background, and many other citizens engaging in leisurely social display. All of this is enveloped by the stately jacaranda and plane trees.

The large painting began with the study and an elaborate photomontage. I drew the cartoon rapidly, squared up from the montage, without spending a lot of time on detail. The lay-in was begun at the top, simply because of the logistics of working a painting this size; the canvas sits on the floor so that I can reach that portion. Once I have the lay-in far enough along on the upper half, I'll set the canvas on the easel and work the lower half.

More images of this work will be posted as it progresses.
Here is an image taken alongside my skeleton "Bonaparte," to give a sense of scale:
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Bonaparte with work in progress.
The study, painted in Buenos Aires, 2008.
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Plaza Guemes Study, oil on canvas, 23 x 31 inches, © 2008
My palette for the lay-in phase.
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My standard palette: french ultramarine, cerulean blue, viridian, alizarin, burnt umber, burnt sienna, venetian red, cadmium red medium, cadmium orange, yellow ochre, cadmium yellow medium, cadmium lemon, titanium white.
My Apple display, where I can zoom in and out on the montage and other photo references for Plaza Guemes, Buenos Aires.
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Work Product 
Additional montages and other work product.
These images represent alternate groupings and poses. There is a somewhat random quality to the interaction of people in a public square, as well as a deeper dance with fate. After all, this is where love is found!
Google Earth 
Here is a Plaza Guemes screen-capture from Google Earth. I've included Google Earth coordinates in a kmz file.
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Download Google Earth kmz file

Currently on Easel II

A View of Mount Rainier

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A View Of Mount Rainier, oil on canvas, 22 x 30 inches, work in progress, copyright ©2016
“A View Of Mount Rainier“ is a piece that is being painted en plein air from one of the viewpoints or overlooks that can be found in the Madrona neighborhood of Seattle. The light and landscape shift rapidly as the sun washes across the hills leading southward, and as the cloud cover lifts in the afternoon. I have moved Mount Rainier 3 times since the beginning of the painting.

There was a period of a month when the painting was not actively being worked on, between the third and fourth state. During that time I was preparing a show. Since getting back to it the color of the foliage is pretty consistent, but will probably change rapidly as Fall presses on.

After a couple of brief sessions in the Spring, I have returned to a Fall look. In the meantime the large, dominant tree in the foreground has been cut down, exposing some buildings and a yard. This composition seems more coherent to me. I am also returned to Fall’s darker palette and deeper shadows. Some paintings have to wander all over the place before they settle into a groove.

Monroe Street Bridge, Fall

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Crossing The River, oil on canvas, 24 x 64 inches, copyright ©2016
“Monroe Street Bridge, Fall“ is the second painting of this subject that I’ve painted in the past year. This is being done in the studio, based on studies and photo references that were developed during my last trip to Spokane. The wide format provides an opportunity to present the full extent of the bridge in its urban context, without the picture being overwhelmed by sky. We are looking west, downriver as the Old Spokane trips over the falls and winds its way around Fort Wright and toward 9 Mile.

My Old Haunt

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My Old Haunt, oil on canvas, 52 X 52 inches, work in progress, copyright ©2015

The Red Lion Tavern is a Spokane institution. In the mid 1960s it was a predominantly black bar, with a separate food concession that fed fried chicken, fried bread and ribs to the bar through a window. The food concession was open to teenagers, and we would hang out there eating fried bread and listening to the jazz and soul that populated the juke box. In the bar there was a white bartender with appropriately long sideburns. Everyone called him “Whitey.”

In the later 60s the food concession was absorbed into the bar, which expanded to include pool tables. There was a painting on the wall next to the bar, of a man stabbing his own eyes out, perhaps an Oedipal reference. The graffitti above the urinal in the Men’s Room said “F**k the whole 5th grade!” It was now a mixed bar, full of hippies and cruisers. The constants were the great Jazz and Soul on the juke, the chicken and ribs, and Whitey.

In my early to mid twenties the Red Lion Tavern was the launching pad for not a few love affairs, and certainly the source of a good number of headaches and hangovers. It still exists, at Division Street and Main Avenue. Whitey is long gone. It is quite a bit more staid, and there are no longer the ubiquitous peanut shells all over the floor. But the chicken tastes the same, the ribs are still good, and the fried bread is just right.
Technical Notes 
Technical Notes:

The first image represents the cartoon, drawn very rapidly, first w/ graphite pencil, then fixed w/ burnt umber using a medium small filbert brush. The painting was first squared up from a smaller sketch.

The second image represents the lay-in. The objective was to get an approximation of the color, in very general terms. This was done also very rapidly, using large brushes and mixing the color directly on the palette. No colors were pre-mixed, I prefer to always be responding to the color in my subject as I paint.

The color at this stage is a bit exaggerated, and I want it to remain so. I want it to be a bit garish, like the bold colors of comic books or shin hanga prints.

Currently on Easel III

Snohomish Valley, End Of Summer 

Snohomish Valley, End Of Summer (Work In Progress)

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Snohomish Valley, End Of Summer, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches, work in progress copyright ©2016
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Snohomish Valley Study – Greens, oil on canvas, 11 x 16 inches, copyright ©2014
This is a subject that I’ve returned to many times. This current iteration was begun in late June, and is painted over another work that I was dissatisfied with. I rarely do that, preferring to work on a fresh canvas, but I did not have one at the ready, and also wanted to obliterate the painting that had earned my disdain.

This represents three or four sessions, starting with a lay-in that captures the big light effect, I’ve developed the image further over the coming days, with an eye toward building up sufficient impasto to obviate any future pentimenti from the older painting.

The painting has undergone changes as the days have changed over the course of the summer, with the grasses getting dryer and the trees growing thinner and beginning to shade into fall colors.

The smaller painting that accompanies this post is an earlier, slightly different study of the same hills, trees and fields.
No Trespassing 

No Trespassing (Work In Progress)

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No Trespassing, oil on canvas, 33.5 x 39.25 inches, work in progress copyright ©2016
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No Trespassing plein air setup.
This is a painting that I’m currently working on site, at the Snohomish Valley viewpoint. We are looking west on an unused Department of Transportation right of way, with gate chained shut and marked no trespassing. There is a red road sign that has no icon or instruction, and the entire fence, sign and the right of way itself seem in danger of being completely overtaken by nature. It reminds me of Sartre’s description of foliage waiting to envelope the abandoned town in his novel ‘Nausea.’

No Trespassing: I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that even if there is a sign and a fence barring entry, one’s eyeballs can penetrate the prohibited space, and go dancing and gamboling about like birds on a wing. One can inhale the colors and textures through the organs of sight, like forbidden fruits stolen from a farmer’s field.

This photo was taken after the second session. The painting is being brought up gradually, with the slow articulation of leaf forms and shadows where the brambles of blackberries entangle the left side of the painting. I may emphasize even more the static banding of gray-blue and gray-purple of the sky.

One can often see wildlife at this location; hawks, deer, eagles, garter snakes, wrens, red-winged blackbirds, crows and finches. On the day that this photo was taken I saw a small lizard, which I almost mistook for a twig. It was a fence-sitting lizard, so-called because they are often seen sunning on fence posts. It is the only indigenous lizard in the area, hence easy to identify.

Arrangement In Gray, With Accents

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Arrangement In Gray, With Accents, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches, copyright ©2015
Arrangement In Gray, With Accents is a work in progress depicting Riverside Street in my hometown of Spokane WA. The title is a bit of a play on the weather, set against the predominantly neutral tones of granite and marble that make up the core of the downtown architecture. In this painting the loose cartoon was quickly laid out, and the imprimatura was added over the top, after the cartoon had dried. I immediately started working into the imprimatura while it was still wet.



The paintings on this page represent works-in-progress and new works. They are presented with various state photographs, sometimes with accompanying work product and sketches.


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William E. Elston is a professional artist and teacher living in the Pacific Northwest. He has exhibited for over 40 years, and has works in numerous public and private collections, both in the region and internationally. He is best known for urban and rural landscape images. He is also a founding member of the Northwest Figurative Artists' Alliance.

William Elston teaches ongoing plein air classes during the Spring, Summer and Fall months. Classes are held at various locations throughout the greater Seattle area.