I’ve spent the last week working on two commissions and yesterday was the first chance to get back to my Sepowet series. For this painting, I toned the paper with a combination of raw umber light and raw sienna that created a lovely soft orange brown that I will use again. The first painting (#1) was done on burnt sienna. I’m including this early shot so you can see the color of the surface. I’m finding that I love working on the Rives paper. I’m beginning with Giraults, then using Ludwigs and Unisons–soft but not extremely soft. In the past, I felt that I got too gummy, but not with these paintings. It’s great to be able to use the soft pastels and enjoy it so much! As you can see, I’m not terribly interested in reality when it comes to the color. I worked from black and white again and decided to focus on greens and blues after doing several small color studies. I love using this warm green for the sky. In the center, I added some yellow to lighten it. so there would be a contrast with the cooler green at bottom. In the partial picture, you can see part of the layin, done with charcoal and just simple lines. For this technique, I want as little charcoal or graphite as possible, as it’s important to have the surface remain pure. I should have spent more time with the initial shapes as I had to correct a few and it’s not easy. Brushing down is not a good thing to do, as it dulls the undersurface and I had to do it very carefully. But I’m LOVING this! This week I move into my new studio! I’m going to buy a few things today, but we’ve found a lot of stuff in the house to bring and my husband is going to build me a new pastel box that I’ll be filling from my many drawers of pastels. Having a second studio is going to be a challenge. But having a more public venue should be stimulating. I want to continue working in this style and build on it. Have I found my style yet??? Who knows–but what fun!
The weather here is dreadful and I’m spending time in my cool studio. Now that the sunset pictures are out of my system, I can play with the images from Tiverton, RI–an area called Sepowet. This has always been a magical place for me because of the beautiful fields, stone walls and elm trees against the backdrop of Narragansett Bay. I decided to experiment with using broken color instead of the painterly color that I usually use. I bought three sheets of Reeves BFK printmaking paper (white) and applied to coats of Art Spectrum Liquid primer, toned with burnt sienna liquid acrylic. I used a 1″ brush and was careful not to leave thick areas and even apply it. I find that hard pastels don’t work very well on this surface, so I used soft pastels–mainly Terry Ludwigs and Schminckes and a few Giraults. I worked from only a black and white photo. Since there is foliage, it has to be summer and there has to be green, but I didn’t want it to be as green as in the photo. (I haven’t looked at the original color photo since I did it!) In addition to the greens, I wanted to add warmer pinks, peaches, and red violets. The challenge is not to turn everything grey! The sky was overcast on this day so I decided to keep away from real blues. The color of the water is primarily a very light aqua. For the background land mass, I used a Ludwig blue violet, then put lighter violet and orange over it. The complement grayed it but also gives it some life, when seen close up. In the foreground, I applied violets, warm grayed reds and greens. I kept the colors pretty subdued, then applied a little brighter green to the foliage in the foreground and on the island. I had a really good time doing this and will try using this approach for other pictures from the area. I’ve also ordered 5 16 x20 ProArt UART 500 boards and might try doing the same picture on it using the color photo to see what might happen. (This is a 16 x 20). But I really love working from the black and white and learning to “see” my own color within it. This is what I want to teach in workshops.
Yesterday I awoke to a bright blue sky and decided that I’d go out to paint, despite the prediction of 90’s later in the day. A friend went with me and we found that standing in the shade by the Potomac River was quite pleasant. When I first arrived, the foreground was all in shadow and there was a flock of geese. I took a picture of them for reference. Later, a blue heron flew in and landed to the left of the bright grasses on the little island. Took a picture of him too, but in the end left him out. I began with a hard pastel underpainting, going primarily for value to begin with. I didn’t limit the palette or give a lot of thought to the colors I used. I was more concerned with shape and value. I worked from top to bottom and by the time I got to the bottom, there was a lot of sunlight on it and it was very different from what I’d seen early on. I struggled with the foreground and considered it to be the weak point in the picture. This morning I looked at my photo of the geese and the dark foreground and decided to try to reproduce what I’d first seen that so attracted me. I brushed down the foreground and used dark colors to lay in three geese and grasses and added a few streaks of light. The geese were a bit of a struggle. Adding poorly drawn animals or birds to an otherwise pleasant landscape can make it look amateurish. I’m hoping that what I ended up with is acceptable. I like the dark foreground as it sets a contrast for the beautiful light on the water. I used some very light yellow greens in the water just about the foreground and in the distance. I love the way the river takes a bend at this point and the land on the left is cooler and more blue. I probably won’t get out again this week. Very hot and humid all week and I have so many other things to do! But it was wonderful being there for a brief time.
Here is the final picture. I have worked it and reworked it and refilmed it many times. These cloud pictures never seem to get done! I’m longing for a nice building at this point–something with defined edges and shadows! I used a lot of Girault in the clouds and only lightly added color to the sky, given the blue that was in the underpainting. I tried to use the same colors that are in #2 as the two pictures were taken right after one another. However, the foreground is a little lighter in this one. You can’t see it in this photo, I don’t think, by I added two little salmon colored dots where the road disappears to indicate a car. This is not as vibrant as it might be, but I like the subtlety. I’m glad that I did these and I’m glad to have them done! I don’t usually do this type of subject matter and it was fun for a change.
I decided to do something different with this third–and LAST–cloud picture. I didn’t like the cakiness in the last one and decided that I wanted to get the color in right up front. So I used Liz Haywood-Sullivan’s method of lightly applying soft pastel, than washed it in with mineral spirits. I didn’t start with charcoal with this one and the drawing was pretty sketchy. As a rule, I don’t like to use soft pastels for an underpainting, as I think they can become too gummy and thick if you aren’t careful. But I can see it with this subject matter as there aren’t enough of the right colors in the hard pastels for skies and clouds. (Reading this over makes me think that I sound like the writers in Cooks Magazine! If any of you have it, you’ll know what I’m referring to.) For some reason, the bottom is strange–there was a section in the middle that wouldn’t take the pastel very well. The Wallis paper didn’t always seem very happy with these applications!!!
I put this in a place in my studio where I could look at it and the more I looked at it the more I became convinced that the sky was too dark. So yesterday, I brushed a lot of it off (just blue sky, not clouds) and went over it with lighter blues and a lighter blue green at the bottom. I had to brush off as the surface was getting cakey and I didn’t like it. For some reason, finding appropriate sky color is one of the most difficult things for me! Either they are too dark or too light, too violet or too green. The Blue Earth pastels have helped a lot and they are what I primarily used in this painting. But they are very soft and build up fast. Girault doesn’t have the best sky colors, from my perspective. I ended up adding some of my new Ludwig ultramarines to the top, which gives it a more violet cast, but I like the effect. The bottom is pretty dark but I decided not to change it. And next–Taos Sunset #3!
Here is the completed painting, for now at least. I spent a lot of time on the water and reflections, then the pond scum! What was nice was that it was in both shadow and light, so I added some blue green to the shadow areas, and a pale yellow green to the sunlit pieces. The water at bottom in the photo was more blue green, but I used a Ludwig blue violet that I like a lot and I think it works. This is far from perfect but it does capture the scene, I think. Now I think I’ll go back to bed!
At this point, I’ve done a lot more with the upper part of the painting, adding in the lock, stone wall and greenery. I kept the water splashing at left cooler and a little darker than the water at right, so as not to compete. I’ve tried to break up the large mass of trees at upper right, and I’ve added some sky holes in the trees at left. I’m using my box of Girault greens, along with grayed violets and browns for everything but the sky. Having gotten this far, I realize that this would, indeed, have been a difficult demo. It’s the kind of thing that is best left to the private studio. Too much picky detail!
I recently gave a demonstration for the Falmouth Art Guild, where I’ll give a workshop next summer. The demo was of a house in New Mexico–not a subject I’m terribly familiar with! My original choice for the demo was this scene from Great Falls on the C&O Canal. It has a lot of detail, however, and I was afraid that it wouldn’t be a very good demo. So I used it this week when giving a one day tutorial. This was as far as I got. I couldn’t sleep this morning, so i decided to get up and finish it! The tutorial was about underpainting. I chose to do a big shape block in that encomapssed the trees and reflections in the water. But I left my drawing of the lock without underpainting, so as not to lose the small details. I debated whethe to just focus on water and add the shapes of lighter pon scum later, but decided the shape was key to the picture and gave it a separate color for the underpainting. For the dark area of trees, I began with a dark violet NuPastel. Then added warmer, lighter red violets, along with some oranges and browns in the trees to left. The dark area looks pretty flat at this point. I began with the building and falls (this isn’t the “great falls”–this is a really “little” falls!), which are the center of interest. I used various pale, cool green Giraults for the water initially, to tie it to the greenery around it. Then added a little yellow to spark it up.
So here is the final picture. I filmed this “final” picture many, many times! I realize that with clouds, you may never be completely done! I began with the broad shapes of the clouds and added blues around them. Then I worked the clouds over the sky, particularly the light, wispy pieces. For this painting, I primarily used Giraults. I began with them in the sky, then used the Blue Earth pastels to achieve the colors I wanted. The clouds are primarily Girault, with a little Schmincke added at the end. I wanted to keep the foreground simple. I used several values of blue and blue-green Girault, then indicated a few roofs. I also then added some lighter blue green into the base of the clouds. Dark warm green was also added in the foreground. Doing this painting reminded me of the difficulty of doing clouds. They are nebulous, filmy things, but in order to have a strong painting, you have to have strong shapes. Getting these shapes, along with appropriate values, and sky holes and no hard edges, is the challenge. But a fun challenge, nonetheless!