Saturday, December 15, 2012

Double Arch III

1.83 Double Arch III. I took a really long time deciding how many stars to show in this painting. I had spent a really long time creating the gradient sky on the 30x40 canvas and didn't want the stars to dominate and obscure the effect. So I pulled out my star chart and searched for a good section of the sky to place behind the arch. This view would be looking west so I had to choose constellations that would realistically appear in this part of the sky. Seeing that the geminid meteor shower was coming up I chose to put Gemini in the largest portion of the sky. 
With my constellation subjects chosen, I now had to decide how which stars to paint. It would be easy to pick and choose the stars with the best placement for balance and accent however one problem arises. I will illustrate this problem with a critique of the book "The Stars" by H. A. Rey, author of the Curious George books. It is a charmingly written and illustrated guide to learning the constellations for children. What he did was to re-draw the stick figures that the constellations were supposed to form, connecting different stars to form new pictures. The goal of these "new style"constellations was to present a figure that more accurately represented what the constellation was supposed to be. Ursa Major was rendered as a seated bear with a saddle on her back rather than the trotting bear with the ridiculously long tail that we all know. 
At first glance this seems brilliant, these figures are much more easily recognizable than the ones that we're usually taught. The problem is that these new figures make use of stars of apparent magnitudes up to 6 (with lower numbers being brighter). This means that someone would only see these stars in the darkest of skies, far from city lights. Furthermore if you were under a sky clear enough and dark enough to see these stars you would also be able to see the thousands more of that same magnitude that would be peppered throughout the constellation making it almost impossible to pick out the stars that make up the constellation stick figure.
This second issue is what troubled me as I was deciding what to paint. Realistically, if I were to choose a star with an apparent magnitude of 5, the viewer should also be able to see every other magnitude 5 star in the field of view of the painting. So I decided to limit the visible magnitude for the sake of relieving clutter in the painting. The sky you see here would be what you'd expect in Downtown Raleigh, not the Utah desert. 
This whole conversation is really pointless and persnickety but the sky is my favorite part of this painting. The actual arch did not live up to my excited expectations after my work on the sky. The arch is moonlit and I painted it twice, changing where the light was coming from. I enjoy these night scenes though, so I'll have to try again.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

White House Ruins VII

1.82 White House Ruins VII. By now these mysterious ruins are so familiar to me that I always choose to paint them if I want to just let my imagination run away with me and not even think about the subject. There is something about this place that inherently lends itself to abstraction. Photographs of the varnished, checkerboard cliff bulging above the Anasazi houses appear as a surreal representation of a cliff. The houses, made of the same stone appear to blend into ledge on which they were built. Here I decided to emphasize this by attempting no differentiation between the houses and the cliff aside from the shapes left where they disappear into the shadows.

Camel Butte

1.73 Camel Butte. I started this painting over 6 months ago. I was never really enthralled with the subject and I kept changing my mind about the colors. I started with a much darker rust color for the foreground stone. However, when I started to thin it out and add grey for the background I found that the background looked so bright that the foreground seemed to be entirely in the shade. So I redid all of the colors and started to work on the shadows. Unsure of what to do with the shadows in the foreground I tried to use intricate patterns of shadows to create the look of an alluvial fan spreading out from the butte. This made the thing almost painful to look at and, frustrated, I tossed it into a heap of unfinished canvases that seemed to always growing during that frustrating time. 

I returned to this painting on a day that I had off from work to see if I couldn't salvage what I had put so much work into. I redid the colors again and merged the venous shadows into one large area, imagining that there were some cliff behind the viewer casting a shadow on Camel Butte in the setting sun. I think that the background here is a lot more interesting than the foreground and I'll try to carry that over to a future painting. 

Ear of the Wind

1.81 Ear of the Wind. This is the reason that I'm always timid to block out a large area of a painting in one color. Here I bit off a huge chunk of the bottom of the canvas, imagining that the featureless sand could be a dramatic contrast to the arch above. I'm not sure if it would have been better if I revealed more of the arch, or just moved the whole scene down in the frame or scrapped the concept altogether. 

Sometimes what makes a photo of a feature like this so visually arresting is the placement of a person in the scene to suggest scale and to give a clue of which direction the light is coming from. I avoid placing people in my pictures because I think it grounds the scene in representational reality. As I've said before, my goal is to create landscapes that are pleasing not just as a scene, but as an arrangement of colored shapes. A human would be a distracting detail. However, I stopped just short of a human here, including these posts that have been driven into the sand around the arch. I thought that they would look interesting in contrast to the expanse of sand. I violated another one of my rules by using a small brush to paint the posts. Lately I've come to the conclusion that if a feature is going to require the use of a small brush then it is too finely detailed and fiddly to include and will only be distracting. I'm afraid that has proved true here. 

I always add grey to my foreground colors to use them for a background layer to suggest that the viewer is looking at these distant objects through a large volume of air. Lately I've begun to include purple in this mix and I like the result.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Melody Arch

1.80 Melody Arch. One of the things that I enjoy about painting as compared to photography is that in creating a painting you have absolute control over how to depict lighting. Shooting a photograph into the sun as in this view would result in all sorts of blown out highlights or details lost in shadows, you'd have to choose one or the other. Here I was able to show a slight contrast between the colors of the shadow on the sand in the foreground and the stone while also keeping the background dark enough to show the fainter shadows on the cliffs in the distance. Neither a painting nor a photo will show you exactly what you would have seen standing there that day, but at least in a painting you know that each color and shade is the conscious decision of a person who experienced it. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Skull Arch II

1.79 Skull Arch II. Skull Arch is a perfect example of the kind of subject that suffered from too much detail in my earlier attempt to paint it. Last time, I was preoccupied with creating some kind of starburst in the sky behind the arch, replicating desert varnish and texturing the stone. What I missed was the powerful shape of the pothole arch. I made the rim too thin, sapping its strength. I included so many little crumbly shadows in an attempt to make it look "real" but they only made it look flatter. This time I chose to focus on the shape of the arch, forming the small scattered shadows into bigger chunks of shade. I made sure that the rim appeared thick and strong. I'm trying to not be afraid of painting large areas of the canvas black-brown. I used to always worry that it appeared lazy to just block out a large section of the canvas with what was essentially devoid of visual information. If there is noting to see here, why is it in the painting? But I realize that the context of the lighted subject is important and by including these large areas of shade, the context is somewhat built into the painting. 

Surprise Arch II

1.78 Surprise Arch II. As I mentioned in a previous post, I've been revisiting a lot of painting subjects lately. I'm doing this for a couple of reasons. First, these recent paintings are an interpretation of another painting rather than a fresh interpretation of a landscape. This has allowed me eliminate superfluous details and refine the scenes further than I could when I was struggling to pick out the important visual information during my first attempt. Having all of my paintings hanging around my house gives me years to casually look at them and subconsciously work out the problems that I had with them. The second reason that I'm recreating old paintings is to take stock of where I am currently. My output dropped off to almost nothing for the majority of the past year as I struggled through a period of crippling ennui at my day job that spread to my work at home.

I consider each painting to be a step in a journey towards what I imagine as my ideal style. After finally getting back to work, I needed to discover where I had left off. Looking back, I'll share what I discovered.
My first paintings focused on exaggerated color differences between sandstone layers. I imagined by exaggerating this striking feature of the desert landscape I could evoke the awe that one feels when they see this otherworldly landscape.

Because I was so interested in the stone formations, I began to read books on the geology of the area so that I could learn how they were created. I hoped that my knowledge of the genesis of these formations would inform my depiction of them. However, what I learned about the deposition of the sandstone members of the Moab area made my wildly varying colors look ridiculous to me. I had been shoehorning the extra color into my paintings.

I took some time off and when I came back, I began to focus on texture instead of color. The variations in color of the sandstone were limited to no more than three varieties in a painting and the formerly smooth blocks of color were scrubbed with brown and red paint to simulate the granular texture of the sandstone. With this change, I felt compelled to include more details so that the added texture wouldn't look out of place. Soon clouds began to appear in the skies and eventually trees and scrub in the canyons. The absolute contrast of the older paintings was replaced by blending and what I consider sleight of hand techniques, representing leaves on a tree as twisting thrusts of a ragged brush.

When I was in high school art class, I used to draw photo-realistic recreations of portraits from magazines. A friend of mine in the class one day quoted me a passage from an art book to the effect of "with the advent of photography there is no more value in realistically recreating a scene by other means." I was offended at the time, and while I still don't agree entirely (photographs are not an absolute record of a scene as the medium has its own unique and surreal qualities such as depth of field and dynamic range) I now see that detailed recreation of a subject is not always the truest way to represent the subject. Often, refining the depiction to just a few details can align better with one's experience of a person or place.

Interestingly, the majority of the paintings that I have sold are from this set; which is my least favorite. This style stuck with me up to the summer of 2011 after I had started work and begun to first feel the damaging effect of strictly scheduled days on my will to create. After not painting for months, I had two weeks off in the summer. I woke and slept when I wished and went out walking all day. One day I came home and started a large painting of a river winding through a canyon. It was an aerial view and as such did not provide a lot of opportunities for cues to the viewer about the three dimensional shape of the canyon. As I painted and re-painted and covered over layer after layer, I finally realized that my best tool for conveying shape to the viewer were the shadows that the canyon walls cast on the river and the opposite rim.

Slowly shadow became a stronger theme in my paintings and texture became less and less prominent. I did paintings with just three colors: sky, shadow and stone. I tried painting a canvas the color of sandstone and creating the feeling of depth entirely through the addition of shadow. I felt that the effect of the landscape should be produced by representing only what was actually there, often less, and never more.

The restriction of detail that came with such a limited palette made me less intimidated by large canvases that would have taken weeks to complete in my older style. With the use of large canvases came larger brushes and with the use of larger brushes came more flowing shapes. I began to see my paintings as an arrangement of shapes that didn't necessarily have to be viewed as a landscape. I wanted the colors and shapes to be pleasing in a way that was completely separate from recognition and understanding of the subject.

At the cresting of this wave of rapid output I created one of my favorite paintings: 1.70 Canyon de Chelly. Then, as if I had simply exhausted the last of my creative energy I could not create another painting that I was proud of.

During this slump I tried to simplify again by creating line drawings. I made them looser and looser until the subject was unrecognizable sometimes. When this failed to jump-start my painting again I gave up for many months and didn't paint at all.

I was recently asked by a local art magazine to submit a bio for a possible article in their upcoming issue. I decided to write something new and in doing so had to reconsider where my inspiration came from. Remembering those dark forms towering over me the first time that I went into Arches before the sunrise I realized that the shapes and the shadows where what stimulated my imagination years ago and I tried to paint again.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Factory Butte

1.74 Factory Butte. I don't think that this is finished yet, but I liked the way that it looked unfinished, and there's a good chance I'll mess it up when I try to finish it, so I wanted to post the unfinished version and later add the "finished" version.

Grand Canyon III

1.77 Grand Canyon III

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Delicate Arch II

1.76 Delicate Arch II. I've painted over this canvas more times than any other. On three separate occasions, the first being immediately after completing my first painting, I've tried to paint this scene. So this has been sitting half finished for almost 4 years now. Watching the sun rise sitting on this cliff across from delicate arch is one of my favorite memories from my visits to Arches NP. I sat for 3 hours in the cold watching the shadows change and move across the cliffs and fins. However, this painting shows a sunset! I've been trying all this time to capture what I found so amazing about the sunrise but just couldn't find a way to translate it into a painting in the style that I wanted. Sunset casts a lot more of the canyon into shade and makes for a lot of interesting interaction between the large fins in the foreground. I may try again to depict this scene at sunrise, but for now it feels good to no longer have this half finished canvas propped up in my hallway.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Unnamed Maze Arch IV

1.75 Unnamed Maze Arch IV. It has been a very long time since I've completed a painting. After I completed the painting of Canyon de Chelly (1.70) I thought that I had reached the next step towards that style that I'm striving towards. However, subsequent efforts were all disappointing, to the extent that 1.73 and 1.74 are both sitting unfinished on the floor. I started the line drawings in an attempt to refocus on simple, effective depictions of the landscape. Even after some enjoyable results from that I still could not get started.
I decided to take a trip to Utah to see if I couldn't rediscover what had motivated me to start all of this 4 years ago. This time, instead of going alone, my best friend came with me. She had never seen Utah except in photographs and paintings. Showing Arches NP to her and watching her discover the feeling of awe and calm while sitting under Sand Dune Arch reminded me of how I felt the first time I saw all of these things. We got up early to hike out to Mesa Arch for sunrise and saw the sky so dark that you could see the Andromeda Galaxy.
After I came back, I decided that I would revisit some of the first paintings that I completed to see how 3 years of experience and change would impact their style. This painting is a recreation of 1.11 . I like the choice of colors in the earlier version best, especially the grey. But I like that the shadows are simplified in the newer version. Also I fibbed a bit in the earlier version, removing a bit of canyon wall seen through the arch. In this version I put it back in and I think that it helps the arch not look like it is floating in the sky, disconnected from any surrounding rock.
I'm going to try to revisit some more earlier paintings to see if I can't find the style I want without the added pressure of interpreting a whole new scene at the same time.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

2.5 White House Ruins

Monday, May 28, 2012

Landscape Arch

2.1 Landscape Arch. Trying something a little different. I can't decide if I want to keep adding color or try to focus on the shapes and keep it simple. Maybe adding just one color to the mix would be best.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Artsplosure 2012

Once again, I will have a chance to set up my booth near Moore Square in downtown Raleigh for Artsplosure. I am really looking forward to meeting all the people who stop by. Last year, I was amazed at the number of people who shared my sense of connection to the southwest landscape. I hope to hear lots of stories of hiking in Zion and camping in the backcountry.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Courthouse Towers

1.72 Courthouse Towers

White House Ruins V

1.71 White House Ruins V

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

Cedar Arch

1.67 Cedar Arch. Back to a more easily discernible depiction. I tried again to dull the sky to avoid that "popping" blue sky that is a dead giveaway that the subject is a landscape. Although the inclusion of trees undermines any efforts to conceal this fact.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spiderweb Arch II

1.66 Spiderweb Arch II. I think that I've finally reached the point where the painting would not be recognized immediately as a depiction of a natural arch if the viewer was not told so. This is a good exercise because my goal is to create paintings where the viewer's interest in the composition is independent of his ability to recognize the subject. I'm not sure if this is interesting yet, but I'm at least able to decouple the composition in my head from the actual object that I'm trying to depict.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Skyline Arch

1.65 Skyline Arch. Three colors and simpler shapes. One effect that I like here is the way that the black underpainting shows through the light color used for the stone. I feel like it gives the stone a feeling of rough texture. I intentionally chose a drab color for the sky so that it wouldn't compete so much with the orange-red of the stone. I'm trying to continue simplifying the shapes depicting the arch and eliminating unnecessary details.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Landscape Arch II

1.65 Landscape Arch II. Alright, enough efforts to convey realism. I want to get back to focusing on the basic shapes of my subjects. The subject in this painting is the morning twilight sky as seen through landscape arch. When you hike just before the sun rises you can't tell how close or large the forms around you are, just their shape against the sky. It's fun to sit in a place and wait for the sun to come up to compare the actual arrangement of the features around you to the arrangement that you constructed from the limited data available in the dark.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Kachina Natural Bridge

1.64 Kachina Natural Bridge. I saved my favorite for last. Kachina Bridge is deep in a canyon, shielded by trees such that you don't see it until you come around a mound in the riverbed just in front of the bridge. The span of this bridge is very thick such that when you stand under it you feel like you are in the atrium of a large building.

This painting combines a lot of the things that I've been trying to figure out over the course of the time that I've been painting; trees, desert varnish and that glowing effect in shaded areas that comes from red light reflected by the sandstone in the sun. I'm happy with how far those things have come in the time that I've been working on painting this landscape.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Owachomo Natural Bridge

1.63 Owachomo Natural Bridge. I struggled to find a view of Owachomo Bridge that was interesting and made it look like more than just a thin stone connection between two masses of sandstone. I looked back through all the pictures I took when I was there and noticed this ledge that protruded out at the base of the bridge like some large bench. I also wanted to emphasize the greenery around the bridge. I am happy with how the bushes shown in silhouette under the bridge turned out.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sipapu Natural Bridge

1.62 Sipapu Natural Bridge. Now that I'm finally back on track with the arch paintings I can get around to a series of paintings that I've wanted to do since my last visit to Utah in July. While there, I visited Natural Bridges National Monument for the first time. It is a small park, but packs in three of the largest and most impressive natural bridges that you will find in Utah. Natural bridges exist in a very different environment than most natural arches. A bridge forms due to flowing water and you will most often find them stretching over a riverbed where water wore its way through a cliff to cut off a goose-neck in the river. The presence of water creates a much greener environment around the bridge than you find high up on a cliff where most arches exist. Walking under Sipapu Natural Bridge, you view the massive span through holes in the dense trees.

A photograph of the canyons in this park can be almost unintelligible because of the layering of intricately carved sandstone canyons. I tried to sort out this confusing view by changing to color of the stone as it moved farther from the viewer. To explain this change in color, there is the approaching storm.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Paul Bunyan Arch

1.61 Paul Bunyan Arch. Painting progression. Back to my original subject! Arches. It has been a long time since I have painted an arch. Arches seem to look best at noontime when the sun is high and the arch casts shadows on itself. I noticed that I was adding lots of little bits of shadow to this painting and I tried to give the shadow more geometric borders.

The mass of stone on the right side of the painting is supposed to be much closer to the viewer than the rest of the scene. I tried to convey this with more vibrant colors and by making the area behind the stone completely immersed in shade. If this effect does not work, then it must seem very out of place.