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.