Thursday, December 16, 2010

Canyon Spirit


Last September, I was blessed to see some of the most amazing scenery while vacationing in the Canadian Rockies with family. There were soaring jagged peaks and fantastic glaciers but the place I wanted to paint the most was Maligne Canyon. It's a lush forested place accessed by a trail that crosses the chasm via six bridges. I didn't have my painting setup with me but took many photos. I came back and looked at them and at first nothing stood out. I finally settled on a concept combining cliffs and a large raven that followed us around for about half the hike. What I had in mind was very different from anything I had done before. I wanted more mood and looser brushwork but didn't know how to achieve it. Inspiration came while painting with artist and friend Jeff Legg in October. Besides painting I also benefited just talking about art and practical things like brushstroke variety. The final piece of the puzzle came from re-reading Richard Schmid's "Alla Prima." I could finally envision what this thing was supposed to look like and how I would get there.

After tinting the 11 x 14 canvas a warm gray, I made my first marks with a large flat brush. I tried to make every stroke accurate and visually pleasing. I was planning on leaving exposed areas showing the initial brushwork. I painted the bird as dark of a black as I could mix.

My next goal was to go for a finish on the background and rock face. I used large brushes (for me anyway) and thicker paint. I tried to mix some colors on the canvas, worked thicker still and finally went after it with a palette knife. I painted the negative spaces around the bird, defining it's silhouette. End of first session.

Canyon Spirit, 11" x 14", oils

The next day I was happy to find most of the painting still wet and workable. Painting the highlights on the raven, every stroke was calculated and thought through. In my reference photo, I could just make out the highlight in the bird's eye but chose to leave it out in order to add mood and a sense of mystery. I'm sure that eye detail would have made the bird "cute" and I didn't want that. I finished up by pushing the highlights on the bird's rocky surroundings. I'm very pleased with the end result.

Canyon Spirit detail

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Late Fall at Sailboat Cove


Brown and Blue, 8 x 10, oils

This piece happened quite spontaneously. I was working on a painting in the studio and was about done for the day. Getting ready to scrape the paint off my palette, I thought, why don't I transfer this paint to the palette of my pochade box and go knock something out instead of throwing it away. It was 57F outside, very warm for this time of year and I instinctively headed for Sailboat Cove. There was one boat in the water and I decided to do a symmetrical composition. I felt like one of the impressionists while painting the water. The boat was anchored but slowly turning in circles so I could only work on it when it was 'in position.' A good exercise in memorizing detail. I laid down most of the paint in an hour. I went back the next day to work on it more but the boat was gone and the wind made painting impossible. I ended up spending a bit more time on it in the studio working from memory.