It's been a long time since my last post! There have been 4 paintings on the easel in various stages of completion over the past couple of weeks. This is the first of those pieces I'm ready to call "done!" Inspired by my recent travels through the Rocky Mountain West... "Bugle".
It's kind of a weird thing... this insatiable desire to be a better painter. On one hand, it forces me to regularly step outside my normal artistic self and try new things. On the other, it can be almost self-distrucive by taking time away from production and I can spend weeks without ever producing anything suitable for sale. For me, the fear of failure is nearly paralysing! So working on things I'm not very good at is like pushing a big rock uphill. It's hard. I suppose there is a balance in there somewhere, though I have yet to find it. So this week I'm up to my elbows in oil paint... something I'm not quite comfortable with, but slowly getting there. These small lanscape studies are mostly an attempt to learn about the paint and how it blends, mixes, and dries. Some are more successful than others, but all are part of the learning process (there's that word again... "process"). As I sit at the easel smearing paint from one end of my shirt to the other (occasionally getting some on the canvas), I often think about how I would define "better painter". Of course I'm the only one who can nail this down as it applies to my own work and I'm sure everyone has an opinion that differs to some degree from mine (maybe getting less paint on me and more on the canvas would be a good start). I used to think it meant learning to paint in a very realistic almost photographic style. I worked for years pushing my art that direction, but as I get older, my tastes are constantly changing. Now the goal is to say more with less. There is still a desire to capture some subjects in a hyper-realistic manner and I'm grateful to have learned these techniques (like accurate drawing!). There will be times when I need to lean on those skills. Still, I find my brushes are gradually getting bigger, my color choices a bit bolder, and I seem to be acquiring an ability to walk away from a painting before it's completely over-rendered. I'm not there yet, but that destination had been programmed into my artist's GPS and I'm on my way... even if I seem to be taking the long way.
Ten years ago, I could not have imagined painting in this style. It wasn't even on my radar. Ten years from now, who knows what I'll be doing... sculpting in bronze? I have no idea. It's a process (see?). It's always said that "it's more about the journey than the destination" and in the case of being an artist, it couldn't be more true. We always have a destination in mind, but things change... so enjoy the journey. It's almost never easy, but I wouldn't want it any other way.
These two tiny 4x6 studies ended up being huge successes. Not only did they end up being relatively pleasing to look at, I really learned a lot pushing the paint around on them. The play between warm light and cool shadow has always been a bit of a mystery to me. It's great when I can make it work, but I'm not always as successful as I'd like. In the heron study, I'm particularly happy with the way the warm and cool hues work together making the harsh lighting seem almost "squint your eyes" bright.
Blending acrylic paint is not exactly the easiest thing I've ever done, but with the help of an "open" medium, it gives me a bit more time to manipulate the edges before the paint sets. It might not seem like much, but it's a big deal when trying to soften objects in the background or lose edges here and there. Let's hope I can translate all this fun stuff into some larger works!
In keeping with my theme of working toward a more impressionistic style of painting, I began work on a landscape inspired by a trip some years ago to the Tetons in Wyoming. The underpainting was put together quickly with a 1/2" flat brush and relatively thin paint. Once this stage of the painting was complete, I had reservations about going any further. I really liked the freshness of the painting at this point (and it was VERY impressionistic!). That being said, I also know when I feel this way about the underpainting, the finished piece usually turns out to be something special... so I pushed forward.
As I began to work through the next stage of the piece adjusting edges and refining shapes with thicker chunks of paint, I kept feeling like the piece needed a wildlife element. At first I thought something small. Perhaps a magpie or two? But the more I thought about it, the painting was asking for elk... and not just one. Such a large compositional adjustment at this stage of the painting poses more than a few challenges. My wildlife pieces are mostly designed around the animals themselves, not the other way around. So adding the elk this late in the game was a big risk. Most often, major elements added as an afterthought end up looking like just that... an afterthought. Finally settling on three elk, I didn't want them to be static. There needed to be some movement and tension. Once I worked out the positioning, another problem became apparent. To keep the spacing and scale of the elk in step with the setting, the lead cow's nose was uncomfortably close the edge of the painting. After pondering this for the better part of the weekend, I resolved the issue by letting the values of her face blend closely with the background foliage. Finally, the cow stopping to look back before bolting for the next county brings the mood of the piece together as I intended.