I loved this picture when I took it—a fairly foggy morning with the low sun trying to burn through, and a row of Japanese maples above sword ferns, leaves turning all possible fall colors, most of them all at once. I know the leaves don't look like maple leaves, but the color was the important thing.
Fall is my second favorite season, but it might be my favorite season for painting.
I felt so happy with the simplification in my last barn painting that I wanted to carry my boldness a little further on the next one. But, it was one of our gloomy days and I was a bit tired of painting gray skies and dark clouds, so I chose a photo recently taken in the high desert on the east side of the Cascades on a mostly sunny morning. I really wanted to stimulate myself to paint in warmer, more dramatic colors, so I started the painting with a drawing in black and burnt orange.
I was able to get the greens I wanted in the juniper needles, and the rough twisty bark of the juniper trunk was looking promising. I kept taking photos because I wanted to see later how it evolved. I kept laying in blocks of color, giving those colors the first priority, figuring I would shape them later, and hold off on detail till the end.
But on the second day, when I thought it should be close to done, the painting didn't have the same dynamics as the photograph did—it looked flat and uninteresting. When I got up on the third day, I spent some time looking closely for what I had missed in the composition. I noticed that the main difference was I had left the top part of the painting, especially the upper right quarter, too light. I added the dark area in the upper trunk, and darkened the foliage there as well, and with that the painting came back to life for me. It was only then that I realized how important that darkness was, in that part of the design, to the visual impact of the painting.
Juniper, Oregon High Desert
The whole time I was working on this painting I kept thinking of the line from "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel"—"Everything will be all right in the end; if everything is not all right, it is not yet the end." I was determined to do whatever I needed to do to make this painting live up to my high expectations of it.
I'm finally getting to all the barn photos I've taken since last fall. I decided to just try quick workups on paper of as many of them as I can get done, just for practice. As usual, I'm mostly trying to be loose and not get hung up on detail, but just have fun. Many of the photos were taken in pretty soggy weather—and one even when it was snowing—so I've made adjustments in a few. But what the heck, I'm not doing a documentary, I'm just painting. A few of them did have blue buildings, though, which was fun.
I started with the one I thought was hardest, and it went down surprisingly easily. I was expecting the tree to give me more trouble, but it didn't.
This red barn was probably the crappiest photo I had, but parts of it are okay. I think that the longer I look at this one, the more things I'll see that I should have done differently. For instance, the sharp line around the rectangle of plants on the right of the tree trunk that really attracts too much attention because it's so sharp. Also the lopsided look of the front tree that really was that way, but just looks awkward in the painting.
The third one came out really simple.
In fact, when I stopped, I thought, this is too simple—I've gone too far to the simplistic side, and I really need to push the pendulum back a bit. But then I thought, no, I need to just try and stay here a little while, and get used to working more simplistically, until I really get the feel of it. It's hard to give up putting in too much detail—I want to make sure I'm cured.
I'm thinking that we naturally notice and remember the small details and the sharp lines just because those are the things that attract our attention, and giving them most of our attention keeps us from seeing the overall composition and how the bigger shapes and forms of things relate to each other.
In painting, focus on forms or details or both becomes part of the painter's style, and paintings that are all detail or all simplicity can both be successful with viewers. But whatever the style, it all has to work together within a painting; it has to be coherent at some level that the viewer can both grasp and enjoy.
For myself, I love the precise mathematical detail of physical nature, but I don't like it in paintings. I love details in photographs, and I want photographs to show me those details. In paintings, I want shapes and forms that relate to each other, layers of complex colors, and rich textures that evoke the impression of details that aren't really there. I agree that the mind creates details in an image it understands, when they're not actually in the image. I'm especially interested in paintings that evoke a feeling or emotional response, and details in paintings just don't do that for me, even though details in real life fill me with awe, respect and love for the cosmos.
I've still got another dozen or so old barns and houses. More to come!
Last night was the opening of the "Pollen Count" group show in beautiful downtown Milwaukie at the In Bocca al Lupo Gallery of Roxanne Clingman. I was there last night with three of the other artists, Dianne Jean Erickson, Bridget Benton, and my gardening & art buddy, Marilyn Woods. Roxanne shared one of her mixed media paintings, a beautiful large sunflower with brilliant colors, rich and splendid. All the artists were really fun to meet and talk to, and their works both include encaustic, and they're really strong compositions and very worthy paintings. Bridget's painting explored the macro-micro juxtaposition with luminous colors, and Dianne's struck me as a higher-level abstraction, an ethereal essay on Nature, that on reflection makes me feel as if I were standing outside in a garden. Marilyn's new acrylic florals combine strong abstract elements with very delicate flowers that remind me of Odilon Redon's floral pastels. He has been a favorite painter of mine for several decades.
The First Eden
Roxanne generously included two of my mixed media works, The First Eden and Fern Lake. This is my first time in a gallery in a few years and it was really fun. In Bocca al Lupo ("In the wolf's mouth") is a bright but intimate gallery in the south part of Milwaukie, which is a walkable small town halfway between Portland and Oregon City right on the 99E, and there are plenty of restaurants and tea and coffee shops nearby to make it a lunch or suppertime destination. The gallery hours are limited, Thursdays and Fridays 1-5pm, and during Sunday Markets, 9:30am to 2pm.