Saturday, April 25, 2009

North Window Arch

Painting 1.4 The North Window, Arches National Park. This is another of the very first paintings that I completed. I'd left it out until this point because I had always felt that it didn't fit well with what I made before or after it. I was trying to build off of 1.3 (white house ruins) where I had liked the dark encroaching from the sides and the fractured look of the rock. I took this and went overboard with it in this painting. I think that I used too many colors trying to depict different strata in the rock. Its true that there are many layers visible in a fin of sandstone, but I feel like these are too exaggerated. Because I'm interested in the geology of the southwest, it has become important to me to depict rock strata with some amount of realism. Its easy to treat strata as an excuse to throw every earthy color you can mix up onto the canvas, but I feel like this might convey a misunderstanding and underappreciation of the landscape and the mechanisms that drive its creation.

One other aspect that I wasn't so fond of was the shadows. With the sun rising behind the arch, there was really almost no light reflecting from the side of the arch facing me. I exaggerated the surface to look like crumpled paper with stark shadows. I always believe that the way that these places look in reality is far better than what I can conjure with my imagination. If I work to find a way to depict a place based on how it really appears, I am almost always happy with the result.

However, these issues don't bother me as much now as they used to. When I remembered walking up to the north window as the sun rose, I saw it as it is shown in this painting. Only when I looked back at a picture that I had taken did I realize that the arch was only a silhouette. The benefit of painting a scene is that you can make it appear as it does in a faint and romanticized memory. I'd like to do more of this in future paintings.

Giclee Print

Friday, March 13, 2009

Delicate Arch

Painting 1.1 Delicate Arch, Utah. This was the very first painting I ever completed. The university was having a spring art sale and I thought it would be fun to try to make something to submit. When was finished, I really liked it and didn't want to sell it. I wanted to build off of it and wanted to keep it around to look at and figure out what I had done wrong and what I had done well. Looking at it now, there are a lot of things that could have made it turn out a little better.

The first problem is the order in which I chose to paint the layers of the scene. I did it completely backwards: first the arch, then the wall behind the arch, then the field and mountains and finally the sky. I've since realized that it works best to paint the bottom layer first and to paint more of each layer than you expect to be visible when it is covered by the subsequent layer. The result in this painting is bits of white around the arch where I tried to carefully add in sky or background without painting over my arch. Bits of white canvas peeking through are very distracting in my opinion. Like a boom mic showing in a movie, it shatters the illusion that you are viewing reality. Every painting that I do now has a first layer of sky and a black shadow of what is going to be in the foreground. This ensures that there will be no white canvas peeking through at the end.

The second problem was that I went way overboard trying to get defined boundaries between the rock layers. I used painter's tape to make sure that one layer didn't bleed into another, but this restricted my ability to depict the actual shape of the rocks. Currently, I've gone to the other extreme and completely dropped noticeable stratification in favor of trying to show the shape of the stone. In reality the divisions between layers can be very noticeable, abruptly going from white to red and back. I'd like to get back to showing this, but find a more subtle way to do it.

The third problem is that I didn't do my research. At the time, I had never been to delicate arch and had no idea what the surroundings looked like. I found a few pictures of the arch and guessed on most of the rest. As a result I've added a strangely sloped wall behind the arch which slopes the other way in reality. I've flattened the field behind that and moved the La Sal mountain range at least 100 miles westward. Currently, if I'm trying to paint a scene that I haven't yet visited, I'll find as many photos as I can. Not just of the subject, but of the surrounding area. I'll look at satellite images of the area to figure out where that mountain range in the background really is and find out what kind of stone the formation is made from. When I do visit an area, I'll take lots of pictures of the surroundings just so that I can recall the scene more accurately later. The lack of a third dimension in a photo forces you to fake depth perception and can fool you into thinking foreground objects are part of the background. This makes pictures taken from different angles important to getting the scene right.

Giclee Print