Thursday, November 24, 2011

Monument Valley II

1.56 Monument Valley II. Painting progression. Monument Valley provides a great subject for painting. Its shapes are so unmistakable that it lends itself to depiction with few details. Also each form is dramatically isolated. Long telephoto views of the valley provide an appealing layering of shapes which keep the scene interesting. What I really wanted to depict here was the extremely warm glow that appears during sunset as well as the slow dimming of a clear sky.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Arches NP

1.54 Arches NP. Painting Progression. What a difference a new brush makes. I have a habit of working with a brush until the bristles are frayed an bent in every direction and the base has hardened with paint that never got cleaned out completely. I feel like it makes the pattern produced by the brush stroke more random and lends itself well to creating an interesting texture. Alas as I was trying to scratch the clouds into the background of this painting with a brush that worked more like a dirty palette knife I decided it was time for a new brush. Thrilled with the renewed freedom of a flexible brush, I flipped the brush back and forth and swept white paint across the sky to form my clouds. I kind of like them. I was trying to remember my lessons from the last painting of monument valley; trying to keep the shapes simple. I managed to do this pretty well in the distant background but started to get a little more detailed in the foreground. What I like most about this is the perspective. To me it captures the feeling of standing before these massive standing sheets of stone.

Monument Valley

1.53 Monument Valley. I was really pleased with this because I didn't feel the need to add too many details. My opinion on any kind of representational creative pursuit is that every detail that must be added to successfully convey the subject is a failure on the part of the artist. The most striking art is that which can convey a place, person or feeling with only a few sparse details. That experience of seeing a fish created with just four brushstrokes in a sumi-e painting affirms our humanity as it reminds us that we absorb more through our subconscious than any machine. Because of this, I cringe with every little bit of texture and finely detailed shadow that I have to add in order to give a recognizable shape to the subject that I'm painting. In this painting more than almost any other I was able to relax and trust the overall forms to convey the scene rather than the details. I also engaged in a little more manipulation of the scene than normal, stacking multiple layers of background up into the sky. I wanted the sense of the expanse of space in monument valley that you see in an aerial photograph but I still wanted to be up close to the mitten to feel like we were sitting with it, watching the sun set.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


1.52 Shiprock, NM. Not my favorite painting... but I was happy with how the horizon turned out. When you have access to a high vantage point you see that haze and distance combine on an immense flat area to create a horizon that fades from red to brown to grey to blue. This effect has always been really difficult for me to recreate because I always try to do it as a perfect gradient. What I realized here is that the transition is not a perfect gradient but instead transitions abruptly or gradually depending on the rise and fall of the landscape. If there is even a small swell in the distance then the transition to blue will progress abruptly just over the top of the hill. Flat areas will have a more gradual transition. The problem with a perfect gradient across the horizon is that it implies that the land is perfectly flat, which it almost never is.

  The problem that I ran into here was that I couldn't get a good grasp on the three dimensional form of Shiprock. No matter how I tried to suggest a real three dimensional object with the addition of shadows and color variations, I just couldn't get it to come off of the canvas. At best it now looks like a few pieces of paper cut into jagged shapes and held up in front of a desk lamp. This is probably what causes the long shadow to look so false to the people to whom I have shown the painting. One person said "The shadow looks way too tall". This must be because there's no way to tell if the Shiprock in this painting is a massive, jagged protuberance or a pebble in the sand. For a pebble in the sand to have a shadow reaching out to the mountains on the horizon is ridiculous.

Goosenecks of the San Juan

1.51 Goosenecks of the San Juan. Painting progression. After finishing the last painting, I decided that I'd like to do more paintings that did not show the sky. The landscape of the southwest does not offer many clues to the scale of what you are looking at. All the normal objects that one would use for size comparison are few and far between: trees, animals, houses. One way that you do realize the size of what you're looking at is the way that distant objects seem to fade into the haze. Their colors become less vibrant and their shadows lose contrast. Sometimes things seem to be so far away that the sun has already set on them while you're still watching the sunset at your current location. That was the look that I was trying to convey in this painting.
For some reason I didn't use any solid colors in this painting and instead found that I liked the look of wavering streaks of color. This was due to the appearance of the cliffs that I was trying to depict. They weren't clean hewn walls of stone but rather slowly crumbled slopes. All sizes and colors of rock were mixed in along these slopes with hints of the underlying stratification peeking through. I tried to counter the messy look of the rock with clean and definite shadows.

Canyon de Chelly

1.50 Canyon de Chelly. This one is interesting to me. I often find that paintings that I really like don't look as interesting when I view them on the computer screen after photographing them. Conversely I find that paintings I dislike often look better on the screen than they do in person. This one falls into the latter category. Its still by no means one of my favorites but there are certain failed effects that I was trying to create that look a little more believable now. The first (and the whole reason that I attempted this painting in the first place) is the look of the dry riverbed. Its should appear to be streaked with ruts from where the last trickles of water ran before the flow ceased altogether. I was also trying to give a hint of this texture even in the area that is in shadow. I used a couple different shades of brown with a retardant to slow the drying of the paint. I kept laying each shade on top of the other, drawing the brush through the whole course of the riverbed each time. I tried to change the path slightly each time so that the ruts would cross over one another.
One particular detail that I'm very disappointed in are the low shrubs in front of the canyon wall in the right middle of the painting. In a book the reader's interest is held by the author's skill in picking out important details and calling attention to things that the reader may not have noticed if he or she were observing the same event. This doesn't mean giving every detail right down to the amount of rust on the nails in the floorboards; it means picking out the details that provide some insight into the essence of the scene and then finding a way to concisely describe them. These shrubs to me were a key to this scene. The shadows that they cast on the canyon wall gives the viewer a strong sense of where the sun is: just over their left shoulder. It also shows that the horizon is clear and subtly reminds the viewer that the canyon walls are really huge. I failed to depict these shadows. I painted them onto the wall before painting the shrubs but then covered them up when I painted the shrubs.
Seeing an object cast an accurate shadow in a painting is something that is very important to me and it is not so difficult when that object is a large boulder. I must get better at depicting more delicate objects like shrubs though...