Thursday, January 26, 2017

Reaching for the Light

"When Trees Rest" watercolor

Reaching for the Light

In my last post I referenced the idea of chasing the light as the hours of daylight grow longer. I had been working with a series of winter paintings in acrylic and watercolor. The two paintings in the last post were very different in approach: one with a dramatic winter lighting, the sun low in the sky but still lending enough light to bounce colors off the snow and cast long purpley-blue shadows. 

The second painting was more subdued with a pale winter sun and limited palette. It also made use of some abstract elements which teased our perception of foreground, middle ground, background.

In the third painting I had planned on a towering tree with bare branches against a powerful gray sky. But somehow "gray" never happened. 

I had sketched the tree on watercolor paper, and instead of pulling out the Payne's Gray, murky blues, and a little Raw Sienna, I filled my palette with bright cheerful colors and began dropping them onto a piece of crumpled tissue paper spread over my wet watercolor paper. I wasn't sure how much color would soak through the tissue paper but there was certainly enough to create the vibrant sky in the final painting. The crumpled tissue paper I had painted over, left a wonderful pattern of crinkly lines and blotchy spaces. The pattern and the push/pull of warm and cool colors created a sense of depth in the sky. The use of atmospheric perspective (branches reaching endlessly to the sky) re-inforced that concept.

I realized at some point that the tree and sky reminded me of the these words by Greta Crosby: "When trees rest, growing no leaves, gathering no light, 
They let in sky and trace themselves delicately against 
dawns and sunsets".

And so instead of a painting of a tree against a dark overcast sky, we have a tree at rest. Not growing, but still reaching for the light against a glorious sky filled with hope for the coming Spring.

The Art of Winter

You can see all three of these paintings in The Art of Winter at the Thousand Islands Arts Center, in Clayton NY. The show opens February 3 and runs through March 17.

Related Posts:

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Two Views of Winter

"The Old Toboggan"

Yes, I'm Still Painting Winter Scenes

In preparation for the Art of Winter Show at the Thousand Islands Arts Center, I started this painting during the week in between Christmas and New Year, finished it last week.

I'm not sure where this old toboggan came from, my dad acquired it long after my childhood sledding days. He offered it to me when my kids were growing up but since it had no cushion and my kids were more into skiing than sledding I declined the offer. Many years later I saw the possibility for using it as transport down and up the snowy, hilly road (?) leading to camp. 
When we go to camp in the winter after a big snowfall we usually cannot get even the trusty Subaru down the twisting, turning road. So the toboggan comes in handy for bringing the cooler, cat carrier and any gear we need for the weekend down the hill. And yes, you read that right we do bring the cats in their comfy carrier with extra blankets to keep them warm. We are usually wearing snowshoes to help us walk in the deepest snow, so I'm sure we are quite a sight. The woodpeckers are nearly falling out of the trees with laughter as we plod down the hill, with our gear falling off every time we round a curve. And that's the easy part. When it's time to go home it's all uphill--we move a lot slower but are nice and warm when we get to the top of the hill.

In this painting I've presented a winter scene in a traditional format of foreground, middle ground, background. The winter sun is low in the sky creating spectacular shadows across the snow. Various shades of orange, pink, yellow, white and purple mix in here and there and catching the high points. Atmospheric perspective is indicated by the muted colors and minimal detail in the woods. The toboggan is the focal point and receives more attention in its details. The warm colors of the toboggan especially where it catches the light bring it forward and pull it away from the background.

Another View

In the painting "Five Birches" (below) I've presented another view of Winter. 

In this painting the focal point is in the middle ground, but elements from the middle ground overlap into the  foreground which seems to disregard the picture plane indicated in the middle and background. I had fun with this one, and although there was some planning involved, there were parts of this painting that just "happened". That is one of things I like best about watercolor.

I used a limited palette of cool blues mixed with Payne's Gray, balanced by the warm tones of the purple and pale yellow to set the mood for this painting. I feel that the day is ending and night is creeping in, but the viewer might think otherwise.

At this time of the year as we are moving slowly toward longer periods of daylight, the idea of chasing the light appeals to me and it seems to be coming out in my paintings. 

Related posts
You can see another recent winter painting in my last post. Just click on the link below.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

You Say You Want an Evolution? (of a Painting)

Falling Snow, Rising Moon

You Say You Want an Evolution???

Ok, I couldn't resist the really bad pun reference to the Beatles song. Forgive me, it was too good (or bad) to pass up. 

The evolution I am referring to is the evolution of a painting. Many times people ask me how a painting comes about. How do I decide what to paint?  And why? 

Evolution of a Painting

The painting above was the image for our 2016 family holiday card. The painting, a watercolor, was imported into a graphics program and the words Season's Greetings were added at the lower right corner. And when people ask about the image itself I tell them that it is based on the scenery in the Pacific Northwest, specifically a misty morning in Bellingham Washington.

But the image did not start out that way. This painting was originally done as a demo piece for a class I was teaching in July at the Thousand Islands Arts Center, called Creating Atmosphere in Watercolor. And the moon rising over the trees was originally the sun. Oh--and there were no trees. Confused?? Read on.

For this particular lesson I was showing how to paint the sun by tracing a penny on the dry paper, and dropping a bit of pale yellow in the center of the circle and then adding a drop of water to the center, sending the pigment out toward the perimeter of the circle. And remember in watercolor--paint only goes where the water is, so the water stayed in the circle. The idea was to avoid painting a bright round blob that looks like it has been pasted onto the sky. After that had dried, I got the rest of the paper nice and wet and painted some diagonal lines in two shades of blue in the sky area, alternating with areas left unpainted (white). I used a paper towel to plot up pigment here and there until it looked like a group of fluffy white clouds scudding diagonally across the sky. And then I moved on to another demo and left my sun and clouds to dry.

Fast Forward to November

So my demo watercolor sat in the studio for a few months as I kept busy with other projects. But every time I looked at the painting I could see the possibility of changing some of those diagonal clouds to a line of trees covering a mountain. And the clouds resembled the mist I had seen in the mountains in Bellingham Washington one morning as we were headed to Seattle. So I chased the idea around in my head for a while and then finally in November I picked up the painting and finished it turning clouds into trees or mist and added a gently falling snow. Since I was turning the sun into the moon, I darkened the sky so that it looks more like evening.

So the painting that began as a demo for how to paint the sun, and was later influenced by a scene I remember from earlier that summer, became a winter painting of the Moon rising over a tree covered mountain.

And that is the Evolution of a Painting.