Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A different canyon, a very different experience

I wanted to paint this canyon as soon as I saw it; it seemed like the archetype of a high desert canyon. I picked it for my second try at Zion and was hoping for another short and easy sketch, but by the time I had five hours on it and it still didn't look anything like I wanted it to, it obviously wasn't either.

I decided it must be a problem-solving session for painting rock formations, and that's something I want to learn to do, so I just kept working on it. The big question in my mind was, how much detail should I put in? I guessed the answer is, however much as pleases me. I had to try to find a balance between the endless textures in the photo and the minimum amount required to make not a quick sketch, but a painting. It lacked the strongly delineated shapes of the last sketch, so it seemed that I would have no choice but to work on the surface textures of the walls. I put in what seemed like a medium level of shapes, feeling like I should concentrate the detail around the canyon opening. After that I spent quite a while first figuring out the colors, and then contouring the shapes. I left two areas without any detail just to see how they would compare with the rest, and I decided that was not enough detail.

There was one area I just couldn't get to work with the other sections, and I stared at it for a day without getting any ideas. But the next morning I woke up knowing I was ready to gamble that something good would happen if I just kept working on it. So the first thing I did that day was cover the whole area that didn't work with a wash of dark red. Immediately it not only fixed the problem, it completed a larger pattern of blocks of color that I hadn't really noticed beneath all the textures. It occurred to me that the design of this painting, rather than being lines, was the shape of those color blocks.

A couple of the sketches I've done lately have had more interesting compostions that I had in mind when I started them, so I've spent some time studying them. I'm going to try and keep track of the ones that I like.

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