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

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