Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Morning sun and shadows in a canyon

Canyon Shadows
Yesterday after I finished the last sketch I drew this one onto another 8x10 canvas sheet. I put about 5 micrograms of paint on the bluff tops in the wrong shade of yellow green and said, anhhh, tomorrow. Restarted after lunch today, knowing it had to be more citron-ish. Went through several shades of gray before I got a good general representation of the basalt cliffs, tricky because of the late morning light and blue-sky shadows, and ended up having to wash them all with ultramarine and black before I got the value right. I also had to stand back about 12 feet when comparing it to the photo, in order not to get lost in the detail.

I had a background goal to try to finish this as quickly as I could as a sketch. My watercolor friend says she likes to finish in one or two hours, so I set a goal of two hours, but it took me three and a half to get it to this point, not counting a fifteen minute walk through the garden in the middle.

This one didn't put up much of a fight, but I really didn't set the bar very high—I wanted it loose and I was much more interested in figuring out the colors than in focusing on detail. This is based on the idea that if you get the right colors in the right places, it's going to look pretty much like your subject, and "pretty much" was right what I was aiming for.

I really want to do this one bigger at some point—it's one of my favorite shots from my trip—but I wasn't sure I could handle the detail. It wasn't a problem at 8x10 size, but it'll be a different story at 18x24 or bigger.

So I'll do more sketches first.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Blue & yellow color study sketch

After my experience with blues and yellows not wanting to work together on the daffodils, I thought I'd try a couple color sketches, just to play with them. I wanted to find a color combination that did look attractive to me.

For this first one I used another photo of Catherine Creek I wanted to try, and pthalo blue on land, ultramarine and a bit of dioxazine purple on the river, diarylide yellow in the sky, and diarylide plus primary yellow on the far hills. As soon as I added a couple tints of the blue, it looked like a late evening in winter, which was a surprise, and I was surprised to see how almost realistic the colors look.

I thought the colors looked great together here, so maybe it was the higher proportion of yellow in the daffodils.

In theory, this should have needed some red or red-orange to balance the blues, but I guess the Diarylide, a yellow-orange, adds enough balance to keep it from looking one-sided.You never know what you're going to find out when you start playing. In this case, I found an interestingly pseudo-realistic color treatment.

I spent a couple days last week exploring this same part of the Gorge with friends, and got a lot more photos to work with. I'll be quick-sketching a few of them. Don't know if I'll try any more snow scenes now; maybe in August.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Progress of skills is not linear

I never thought a two-day sketch of daffodils could be so hard to paint. It was interesting the first day, frustrating the second, really frustrating the third, and after the fourth I was ready to give up. But on the fifth it finally started looking a bit better, and today, it's okay. What took the longest was nailing down the basic colors. I've never done much work with whites except clouds. Lavender was the first tint I tried for the un-highlighted areas on the white petals, and that wasn't awful but it wasn't pretty. Then I tried gray-greens, and blues—I've always loved blues and yellow together, but not this time—before finally settling on an almost teal, which went well with both the yellows and the greens.

The other big problem was that the photo reference was strongly backlit, and I couldn't make that work in two days of trying so I gave up and faked more normal lighting. Once I got that far, it finally got to be fun. Now that I'm ready to call it done I'm thinking how I could have done it better—but that's a major point of sketching—get the first one out of the way, and stop thinking about it. Just get the experience under your belt.

But I did really get a good education in yellows and ruffled edges, and I only rarely work in yellow or orange. I invoked the artist's privilege to outline the coronas in purple; that was anti-realistic and fun. Sometimes I just want to find out what I can get away with—it's good practice drawing with the brush, and 100% approved for sketching. That's still how my mind works, unfortunately—Is this okay? Is it allowed? I sure hope I can get to a point where I can stop worrying about that. The only things that matter are how the painting looks, and what lessons did I get from this one?

Monday, April 3, 2017

A post-sketch painting of Catherine Creek

Memaloose Island
After doing the sketches of the gorge I wanted to see if they made it any easier for me to make a painting of it, so I basically copied the image of the second one, a combination of the two photos—the basalt outcrop at Catherine Creek, and the gap just east of there. And no big surprise, it did make it a bunch easier, enough that I finished it in just over a week, working around a bit of stomach flu. It did take me a few hours' work coaxing the complex hills and bluffs into a close approximation of the way they actually look.

I'm still not very familiar with the geography there, but I think the near bluff on the right is Rowena Crest, and the more distant land on the left is around Lyle. (I added some buildings to the painting after I took this photo.)

The most fun part was the foreground, playing with the big color range from the black basalt through the dried and the green grasses, to the wildflowers, blue Camas and a pink thing that looks like a clover flower that I can never remember—Rosy Plectritus. I used 3 yellows, two greens, brown, orange, white, and black just for the grasses! Fun playtime!

I wanted to make a center of interest around the right cluster of flowers to bring attention to that area, so I put some soft highlights in the trees just above them and then darkened the ground just below them, and that gave them just a little boost.

It was nice to finish it so quickly—last year a painting like this would have taken at least 2 weeks of work and a lot more worry; I credit all the sketching & quickie exercises I've done this year for the speed improvement. I used to get into so many situations where it just seemed like there was no way out, and that doesn't seem to be happening any more. I'm getting into a habit of just trying something, anything, when I get stuck now, and once I stop worrying about the outcome, it's amazing how many times those wild-guess experiments just work.