Saturday, July 31, 2010

Borrego Palm Canyon Demonstration


This will be my first step-by-step posting. A 20" x 20" studio painting on canvas based on my own photographs. The scene is Borrego Palm Canyon, a beautiful oasis in southern California that I hiked back to last March. After working out a square composition at 8" x 8" I scale it up to the big canvas by drawing a grid. I do this because it's hard to see a large canvas all at once and very easy to get proportions out of whack. I start on white gessoed linen and do the under drawing with a thinned down brown tone using a large brush. I don't want to get too caught up in detail because I'm going to cover everything up with thicker paint.

Now it's time to squeeze out some serious paint. I begin blocking everything in the scene that I perceive as in shadow. If you think of white as 0% and black as 100%, I'm painting everything that's darker than 50% gray. I'm going pretty quickly here, thinking more about big shapes and not details. Everything lighter than 50% I leave as canvas white for now.

The next step is to paint all the lighter areas of the painting in the same manner. My goal in this session is to get the entire canvas covered with paint. No details yet, just major shapes. I know, the triple palm looks silly without any trunks but I would rather paint the distant hills as one mass and then paint the thin trunks than try to paint inside the little negative spaces between them and try to make it match. This is the part of the painting I'd rather not have someone looking over my shoulder. After finishing this block in, I can already see values and hues that I'm going to have to adjust. To put it bluntly, there are some things here that bug me. But that's what I like about oils. I can add more paint.

What was bugging me the most was the big white rock pile in the middle. It was stealing the show so I knocked it back with some warm and cool grays. I've also added those palm trunks as well as details in the background, the rocks on the upper left and the water.

In this session I finished the water feature and tuck lush foliage all around it to emphasize it's life giving power. The goal here is to contrast the water and foliage with the surrounding desert.

At this point I started to sense a composition problem. My eye wanted to flow from the upper left to the lower right and out of the picture. To fix this I added some palm foliage above the big rock on the right to hold everything in. Finally I go all around the entire canvas, taking each area to the level of finished detail that I feel it needs. I then sign the lower right and call it done.

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