On Location with Michael Stasinos and
It never ceases to amaze me how unique each painter's vision can
be—in everything from the subjects they choose to the color choices they make
or the type of painterly handwriting they use. There is perhaps no better way
to see this in action than when two painters work side by side, painting the
Mitchell Albala (left), Michael Stasinos
Michael Stasinos and I had an opportunity to do this last summer during a plein air painting
session. We set out to paint the view of my neighborhood in Ballard, Seattle.
From our elevated position, we could see the setting sun light up the streets,
turning the gray asphalt into orange and yellow stripes that made colorful
patterns of light and dark. How would we each tackle this difficult visual
Michael Stasinos is an extraordinarily talented landscape
painter (and figurative painter as well). In many ways, our approach to landscape
couldn't be more different. We are both representational, but he tries to get
to the soul of a subject through highly focused detail; I try to reach the soul
through abstract shapes and a diffuse light that renders forms with
considerably less detail.
A photograph of our outdoor
We both selected the exact same view and a vertical
format as well. This gave us more sky to play with—an important decision since the
sky is the light source and integral to the drama of the subject. He began with
a warm cadmium orange undertone, which he said was unusual for him. He usually
starts with an undertone of Paynes gray. I began with a blue undertone with the
intention of placing my warms—the light-struck streets and rooftops—over
the blue underpainting.
For a moment, I imagined us like Monet and Renoir painting La
Grenouillère together in 1869. (Well, maybe that's overstating it.) But I did
wonder what they might have talked about. Did they paint in silence or did
Monet lean over to Renoir from time to time and say, "Pierre, are you really
going to use that yellow?" Did Renoir mumble under his breath, "I really suck
at this. Monet...he really knows what he's doing." Michael and I exchanged
friendly advice from time to time and thought out loud about our own patterns
and habits. Were we approaching the problem the way we always did or trying
After an 90 minutes, it was obvious that we were both
interested in the patterns made by the streets. However, there was a clear
difference in the way we went about capturing the effects of the light and
glare. Michael used considerably stronger value contrasts than I did.
He used many small touches of saturated color, but there were also many dark,
neutral color areas. The values in my piece are much lighter overall and
have a narrower range. My colors and shapes are also grouped into tighter color
groups, which is one way I try to emphasize a unified light and atmosphere.
The result of our efforts: my plein air painting at left, Michael's at
It is also worth noting that neither of us tried to record
the precise colors we saw. That's really never possible. Instead, we manipulate
color and value in different ways to create a metaphor for the actual light.
What is remarkable is that our divergent conclusions both express an effective
impression of the visual experience we had that day. If we've done our homework well, our color
solutions will capture something the photograph never could.
Mitchell Albala is the author of Landscape
Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice
(Watson-Guptill, 2009). Find him on Facebook
From Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for
Plein Air and Studio Practice
"Real Light vs painter's Light and the Limitations of Paint" -
"How Value Affects Color Identity" - pages 114 -119