Tuesday, March 4, 2014

No Details Today...I'm Painting Atmosphere

Over the next few weeks I have tasked myself with trying to capture atmosphere in my paintings, particularly the acrylic paintings.  I have often worked with misty, wispy effects in my watercolors; they always seem so well suited for that fade-in/fade-out technique for portraying morning fog lifting off the  water and misty mountains.

But the acrylics call for a different approach; one that has more to do with the push and pull of veils of contrasting colors. I have been using my photos from Ireland as a basis for capturing atmosphere. And what better place than a an island full of mystery with crumbling castles, quaint villages and breathtaking scenery around every narrow winding road. A place where the locals say "if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes, it will change". And they are so right. On the day we toured the Dingle Peninsula we drove in and out of rain several times.

Dingle is one of the most scenic areas in Ireland with long fingers of land reaching out into the sea, and misty islands appearing, then disappearing as the fog shifts. Frequently a light rain blows in from the sea, washes the land and then quickly blows back out to sea, leaving behind misty droplets of water hanging in the air. Heavy clouds hang over the land, but the sun peaks through, casting dramatic shadows everywhere. At one particular spot where we stopped to take photos I was completely taken by the quality of shimmering light, not just on the water but all around us. And that is what I am trying to capture when I talk about atmosphere. Shimmering light, little to no details. But how do we achieve this effect?

I have found in my work that the push/pull of veils of contrasting colors and color temperatures (warm, cool) create a sense of subtle movement within the painting. Warm colors come forward, cool colors recede creating a sense of depth and making the viewer feel that they are a part of the atmosphere surrounding the scene. The blue/purple underpainting in the sky and water is still very visible in the finished piece. Shades of gold, rose, yellow, unbleached titanium and white were applied roughly over the under painted surface, leaving plenty of the blue/purple to peak through and add drama. I used a palette knife to apply much of the color. The palette knife deposits paint in a more random method than a paint brush. Areas of built up paint catch the palette knife as it scrapes over the canvas board. The little bits of paint left behind add a textured look to the finished piece, and in this case they also resemble bits of moisture hanging in the air.

This particular canvas board had paint built up in quite a few areas because there was actually another painting underneath: one that just didn't make it. Failed paintings can teach us a lesson and can also be the basis of something new and different. Every cloud has a silver lining...or maybe gold, or purple!