Friday, October 18, 2013

Two more cloud paintings, this time with landscapes

Afternoon Light

Hooray! The good weather came back for a really nice fall spell. The good news is that I got outside to paint again. The bad news is that I have to take time now to do as much work in my garden as I can, because when this good weather ends, that's most likely the end of it for this year. But I did get out for a few more plein air sessions, and chose to spend them in the northeast corner, looking at a bigger view. (I gave up on the ligularias for now. I'll play with them more in the studio this winter and see if I can make anything out of it. I did get good photos of the leaves while they and the flowers were still looking good, but I know when I'm in over my head.)

I set up in the new spot three days in a row at the same time each afternoon, and the clouds I painted were there on the first day. The first day I came away with what looked like an unfinished underpainting sketch. The second day I turned it into the ultimate in banal mediocrity, truly awful, laden with superfluous detail; it fairly screamed "Bleah!" The third day I attacked it with a larger brush and the intent to loosen it up, make more of the larger shapes, and force myself to go faster so I didn't overwork any of it. Ta-da! Success! It came back to life with a sigh of relief.

But when I looked at it again in the studio, there was a problem—the sky and the ground looked like two separate, unconnected paintings. It took me a couple days to figure out that it was a color issue. I had painted the clouds pure white because that's how they'd looked early in the afternoon when I started on the first day. But by the time I got around to painting the house and trees, I was seeing warmer, late afternoon light on the house, and trying to get the fall colors in the trees. So the sky looked cool, but everything else looked warm. In the studio, I painted over the clouds with the same pale yellow of the house, and that pulled the two parts of the painting together like a good zipper—it was one image now. But the next day I wasn't quite happy with the yellow; I was unable to recall ever having seen pure yellow clouds. So I tried pale yellow orange, and after I did the clouds, I used the same color to warm up the house a little bit. And that seemed to finally do it.

Clouds #12
I tried one more little cloud painting that week, this time on an 8x10 canvas panel. It was an exceptionally beautiful bunch of clouds—for about 3 minutes—then a huge gray mass blew in from the north to cover the whole sky, and it began drizzling. I took shelter under my woodshed overhang and kept trying to paint what I thought I had seen. Fortunately, I had my camera with me and had taken a shot right before I started painting. When I got back in the studio and looked at the photo, I hadn't even come close to getting the cloud shapes, so on the next day while it was raining, I tried doing a studio painting over the same panel from the photo. Like the other plain air painting above, it was awful. I tried two different color schemes for the clouds, and they were even worse. So I decided (a) it was too detailed, and (b) I'm no good (at least not yet) at making up cloud color schemes. I searched through my photos for an authentic color source for the clouds and, again, took a larger brush and worked over the painting as fast as I could, not worrying about the brushstrokes but just trying to get the colors and values right. Again, that approach gave me a much better painting. Not great, but not awful, either.

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