Nittany Lion Inn - "Change of Classes" In-progress journal

Karl Eric Leitzel    July, 2009    main web site

Interesting Background Information


Plein air painting by Karl Eric Leitzel

Plein air painting by Karl Eric Leitzel


Initial References - Field Studies


I spent several days on campus in late April, painting small plein air field studies and taking hundreds of photographs, as well as just looking around and getting a sense of some of the best views to consider depicting for the project.

The two small pieces at the left were both completed the same day, the top one (8" by 8") in the morning and the bottom one (8" by 10") after lunch. Both were done in alkyd oils on canvas board. They are looser than the final large painting, and are meant to just capture the colors and general look of these views on campus. Figures are only roughly suggested impressions.

These field studies will become the property of Penn State as part of the overall project.



Initial References - Photos


I took literally hundreds of photos for the project, some for the views of campus and others mainly for the students and other people walking on campus.

The top photo on the right is the raw image that eventually became the basis for the final painting. I wanted many more figures in the view, though. Rather than use pencil sketching to develop the complete reference image, I used Photoshop on the computer to separate out people from other photos and add them to this scene. In doing so, I had to be careful to find figures with very similar lighting on them and also walking in the appropriate directions. In some cases, I flipped figures horizontally to meet these criteria, but if the person had any lettering on clothing or a backpack, I had to reverse those back to reading in the correct direction. I also removed the blue balloons that were hanging everywhere for some special event. I made sure the flow of people made sense in terms of pedestrian movement, and left "room" in the foreground for the viewer to feel able to "walk into" the scene without having to jostle for space. Of course, I had to add realistic shadows being thrown by the additional people, as well.

Finally, you may notice that I warmed up the overall color balance of the entire scene. In actually doing both the prototype and the final painting, I added more foliage to the trees and blossoms on the small flowering trees in the background, as though it were a few days or a week later in the spring.

Notice, too, the change in school name on the foreground student's shirt.

Photo by Karl Eric Leitzel


Composite photo by Karl Eric Leitzel



Penn State painting by Karl Eric Leitzel


Penn State painting by Karl Eric Leitzel


Penn State painting by Karl Eric Leitzel



Small Prototype Paintings


These are three prototype paintings I did before we settled on the final scene. They are very similar in style but depict different views and, to some degree, are populated with different people. You can, however, find some figures used more than once. These are somewhat more loosely painted than the final piece, both because they are meant to be working studies and because of the vast difference in size. The top two are 12" by 16". The bottom one and the final study (below) are 12" by 18", which is 1/3 (linear) the size of the 36" by 54" final painting.

These three paintings will be available for sale through the artist until each is purchased.



Penn State painting by Karl Eric Leitzel

Final Prototype


The fourth prototype met the committee's approval as the best scene to depict, with the request that a few more figures, with some more energetic body language and positive facial expressions, be added. This made sense to me and you can see those changes in the final painting, as well as the greater refinement of detail.

The building on the right is Schwab Auditorium, and in the distance you can make out the form of Pattee/Paterno Library. This final protoype will become the property of the university.



Paint paletteMy Paint Palette

I rarely use traditional oils, preferring the faster drying alkyd oils. These are only made commercially by a couple of manufacturers. They handle much like traditional oils and allow wet blending for most of a day, but are generally dry to the touch the next day. I find that I like this compromise between time to blend wet-on-wet and also being able to paint greater detail wet-on-dry when necessary, without having to wait days or weeks.

As you can see, I use a limited palette of two yellows, two reds, and two blues, along with titanium white. In this case I also have black on the palette for some of the deepest foreground colors, but in most paintings I don't use black at all, getting a near-black using the other colors. I find that a limited palette forces me to get an intuitive sense of exactly what combination of basic colors will get me the exact hue I need at a given moment, and makes it easy to shift slightly in any direction (warmer, cooler, more intense, more muted, etc.) from where my current mix is. These six colors let me mix just about any color in nature other than those in some flowers, insects, and birds, in which cases I might need a more intense tube of color.

I only use the one walnut oil/alkyd medium (or sometimes Liquin alkyd medium) or a drop or two of paint thinner of it's needed. My palette is simply a piece of gessoed masonite, very cheap and expendable, so I rarely try to clean the old paint off a palette board. The brush shown, an inexpensive 3/4" angled flat synthetic, is the single brush I've used for more than 90% of the painting so far. The edge and corner allow me to work on finer details without getting too picky about the small stuff. I guess I'm something of a minimalist in my approach to tools and materials.



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