Friday, April 8, 2016

For those paintings that take a long time...

Lunch In The Arbor
12"x16" Acrylics on linen panel $175
You can purchase this painting HERE.

The second of the Villa Catalana paintings from last year is finished. I did a lot of glazing on this one to build up the colors on the stonework and the fuzzy grasses in the foreground. I was frankly surprised at how fluffy they looked when I finished. I started with a couple layers of light greens, and then the pale yellow tufts, and the yellow ochre tint in the center, trying to get the translucency of the clumps. I worked similarly on the rest of the painting, especially on the stonework, trying to give it the look of bright shade, between the brighter back- and top-lighting and the deep shadows under the heaviest vine foliage. The stones were so many different colors I couldn't decide which to paint first—the grays, the golds, the blue sky reflections, the rosy beiges. The vines were a similar problem,  greens in a half dozen colors, plus highlights and shadows.

Even though it seemed I was doing more experimenting than painting, somehow the painting looked a little better, but it never came to life. I intensified the colors of the tablecloth and the people, added new hues of blue, turquoise, and more yellow highlights on the leaves. I deepened the shadows with red-violet, and it looked better, but it still looked flat. I felt as though I'd thrown every color I had at it, and had simply run out of ideas.

Then last weekend I went to a show opening of Leland John, a well-known artist and former teacher from this area. I stayed a couple hours, and did a lot of staring at his paintings up close, looking at the brushstrokes and the amount of paint he used on each stroke. Then I noticed something that all my favorites had in common—that you could take any 4-inch-square area on the paintings, and count around fifty different colors.

I thought about that a lot the next day, looking at the arbor painting again. Maybe I just wasn't using enough colors. I thought there must be one or more colors missing from it, and suddenly I looked at the grasses and pale scrub in the foreground, and realized how yellow they were, and thought that was the missing color—the complement of yellow—violet. I painted virtually every middle tone and shadow with some violet, and the more I put on, the better the painting looked. When I washed the thin lines of violet into the center of the big grass clump, that finished it.

It doesn't look anything like a Leland John painting, but I'll never look at a painting the same way again. When I look at it now, I can't see the violet at all—but it looks alive. It's not flat any more.