Sunday, November 1, 2009

I've deluded myself into thinking there might be a couple of people (besides myself) interested in seeing a larger work develop from start to finish, so here goes. Click the images for larger views.



Here is the photo reference for the painting, a view in the canyon along Catherine Creek, near my home. I selected a portion of the image for the design.




A 40 x 30" canvas was stretched and primed with two coats of Utrecht heavy body acrylic gesso, applied with a wide plastic spatula. I don't have a set process for beginning a painting. Sometimes I begin on the white surface directly with color. In this case I decided to begin with an allover tone. Using a 3" housepainters brush I scrubbed a thinned layer of transparent yellow iron oxide artist's acrylic over the entire canvas. When thoroughly dry, the design was loosely sketched and basic shapes blocked in very broadly, using burnt umber oil paint thinned with mineral spirits.



With a #12 flat natural bristle I started laying in color, working as broadly and directly as possible. I usually mix my paints with a small amount of Winsor and Newton Liquin, but with this painting I tried Gamblin's Galkyd Lite for the first time. It's too early to tell for sure whether I like it, but it did provide an interesting resistance, keeping the paint from feeling too "slippery" while still allowing brushstrokes to stand.




Further development, trying to strike a balance between refining areas and maintaining a painterly feel. I tend to use natural bristles most of the time, resisting at this stage going smaller than a #8 flat to keep from nit-picking too much.




After laying the groundwork of values and colors, I work with somewhat smaller brushes in selective areas, trying to suggest some of the complexity of limbs without detailed rendering.




The right side of the painting has been bothering me. I was uncertain from the start how to create a feeling of equilibrium, to balance the weight of the mass of trees in the upper left without it looking forced or obvious. In the photo the forested hills fall away to the right, so I felt the need to somehow "lift" that side back up visually. I tried to use more cottonwood trees to do this. Here I use a paper towel dampened with mineral spirits to lift color off, preparing the surface for a tree form.





Here I begin to drag lighter color, a mixture of white, ultramarine and manganese violet, over darker tones, starting to suggest reflections in the moving water. I try to keep a painterly feel to the strokes, not being overly reliant on the photo. Photos of moving water show it in a frozen instant of time. That is accurate, of course, but not really true to how our eyes percieve the motion in real time. I search with the brush to find an equivalent for this kind of perception.




The painting feels close to completion, but the right side still bothers me. It is maddening sometimes how blind I can be to the obvious. Suddenly the awkwardness of the two trees on the right is apparent, echoing too much the ones on the left.




The trees breaking the horizon line on the right edge seem to call too much attention to themselves. Once again paint is wiped away with the towel, back down to the ground color. I decide to depart from the photo and add a distant hill, gently sloping up. This seems to me to better provide that equilibrium I've been after.





Here's the painting in its present state. The foreground felt too dark, so I decided to lighten a portion of the large rock, suggesting a subtle sunlight dapple. This seemed to help. In the later stages of a painting the photo reference should become less important, as one responds to what the painting "needs." This painting probably needs a little more work, which I'll try to do without overdoing it (maybe it's already too late.) I think I'll study it awhile from my special chair.

26 comments:

Meru said...

Thanks for sharing Don. It looks lovely!

Cathyann said...

Thank you, Don ..yes, some of us are interested in process. I visit pretty often...like your work very much.

RT said...

That was really interesting Don. I keep meaning to do that as well. Thanks for the great example.

rahina q.h. said...

i was fascinated from the beginning to the end of this post: i also understood what you meant by the tree on the right. when you put a hill on its head the painting did have a better balance: good judgement.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for being delusional Don! Please dont stop. I love it. Laura

Pam Holnback said...

I so appreciate your steps. It's a little mini-workshop for me. We all ask ourselves the same questions, and work and re-work problem areas in our pieces. Thanks.

Don Gray said...

Thanks and welcome to the blog, Meru. Good luck with your painting.

Don Gray said...

Cathyann, thank you. I enjoy your blog and paintings.

Don Gray said...

Thanks Randall (RT,) I appreciate hearing from you.

Don Gray said...

I'll try to keep on being crazy, Laura--thanks!

Don Gray said...

Hi Rahina, thank you. It is a rare experience when a painting seems to happen without effort, isn't it? Most of the time it's like my experience with this one: try something...scratch my head...try something else.

Don Gray said...

Hi Pam--thank you. Yes, painting is definitely problem-solving much of the time. The challenge is to try to hang on to the spark of excitement that made you want to paint something in the first place.

Gerald Schwartz said...

Don, Beautiful painting, and Yes! to seeing the development of a painting.. I to just finished and was planning the same...

Don Gray said...

Gerald, thanks for the encouragement!

artistbarb said...

Interesting, Don. But would you do another step by step using watercolor? Thanks. Barb

Don Gray said...

Hi Barb--thanks. I'll try to get around to a watercolor step by step before too long.

Rebecca said...

Very fun to see your steps! I tend to do more portraits, so interesting to me to see the steps for landscapes...

kookaburra said...

Hi there--
It's completely interesting to see your process; thanks for sharing it. I can't believe you finish this in a day!

Don Gray said...

Thanks, Rebecca.

Don Gray said...

Megan (kookaburra)--thanks and welcome to my blog. I should have been more clear--this painting is not a daily. I've been working on it over several days.

Your blogs are engrossing and your art is very intriguing and beautiful, Megan.

Susan Beauchemin said...

Thanks for the breakdown--it's always interesting to see the process--beautiful painting!

Don Gray said...

Thanks Susan. I've been enjoying your gulls and seaweed paintings.

Martha Miller said...

thanks so much for sharing your process, don!! amazing!

Lynne said...

What a pleasure to share your painting process with us all. It is always of interest to me to see how others accomplish their painting goals for a work. And it is validating to learn that someone that does work as fine as yours does things so similar to the way I work. Love what you said about the photo being less and less important...after all, no one will be seeing the photo, only the work you have so ably created.

Don Gray said...

Hi Martha--thanks! I appreciate how much you share of your own process as well.

Don Gray said...

Thanks, Lynne. I'm glad you liked my little demo. My working process is pretty typical, I think, so wasn't sure it would be of much interest.