Tuesday, February 2, 2010
'Afternoon Shadows'... Step by Step
'Afternoon Shadows' - oil on linen - 24x36 © Marc R. Hanson '10
The painting is the result of my recent trip to Florida to teach a workshop and open an exhibit of my work at M Gallery of Fine Art in Sarasota, FL in early January of this year. One of the locations that we painted during the workshop was a state park called Myakka River State Park; Myakka is the second largest state park in Florida. I was and am really captivated by this park, or more correctly the landscape of Florida that has been left the same as it has been for eons.
There is a primordial quality to this park that really grabs me and has a tight hold on my artistic sensibilities. It has all of the ingredients that attract my landscape painters' eye... wildness, water, jungle, trees and vegetation that are so varied that they present a textural salad of everything from Spanish moss covered majestic live oaks to palms and palmetto. The arrangements of Florida flora are punctuated by snaking rivers and streams that are teaming with life, but especially with large birds and large animals. On top of the textures, the color of the varied vegetation is rich, especially when the sun is low, rising or setting. Another feature of this area of Florida that makes my mouth water, is the moisture rich air. As Maggie Kruger, owner of M Gallery of Fine Art, told me, the air is so rich with moisture and nutrients that much of the plant life in Florida can grow without much soil; they receive their needed nutrients from the air. Any environment with that kind of particulate matter in the air is going to provide some rich color when the sun's rays are low and having to make their way through it all.
That is what I was painting in this painting. As the sun began to set we were making our way from the river's edge back through some of the swamp and trees, towards our cars. It was then that the pink of the sunset lit up the landscape. It was amazing but short lived. When that happens about all there is to do is to get somewhat of an image captured on the camera and then to try to emblazon the rest of the sensation onto your brain. Hopefully when you get home, you'll be able to recall that experience and put it down on canvas... or linen!
#1- Because most of the color in the design would be on the cool side, I made the choice to tone the linen with a warm wash, mostly Transparent Oxide Brown with some Viridian and Alizarin Crimson added. I applied this pretty heavily, as a wash, then wiped with paper towels until the primer was stained and most of the wash had been removed. I started this at night so that was it until the next work day when I began to lay out my composition with this warm color slightly thinned. Since the arrangement of palmetto against a couple of tree trunk would be the most dominant area of the painting, I started there with the drawing.
#2- In this step I blocked in the large dark mass that is in shadow. That includes the tree masses and the ground shadow.
The paint is watery thin at this point without anything but OMS (odorless mineral spirits). There is some notion of color. I kept the washes dark but warmer than what the overlying color would be to play against the cooler tones of the palmetto fronds in shadow.
#3- This step shows the first use of any opaque color. I am keeping the strokes broken and open in order to feel my way around the composition. Because of the nature of the color of the final painting, I am starting my color out a little more intense than I plan to have it end up. I do that because I have a tendency to want to 'naturalize' my color as a painting develops. If I start with color that's more intense, I figure that as I naturalize it, I'll get close to where I want it to be.
#4- This step shows the painting entirely blocked in in terms of 'general' color passages. I am working on a linen that needs a layer of paint on it in order to start working 'with' you. So the idea is to get the thing covered, go to bed, wake up and start really laying down some paint.
#5- About all that you'll notice here is that I have put some light on the right hand tree trunk. That tree, and a distant bit of water reflecting the sunlight, are the two items that I hope will provide some compositional balance to the heavy shape of the palms.
#6- Here you can see that I've started to work into the foreground shadow and vegetation pattern. I think that the background that has been done is about what it is in the finished piece.
#7- In this step and the next one you're seeing my working back and forth with the foreground. There were several sessions of painting layers, scraping and overpainting until I was happy with the feel of the area. It was as a toss up as to how much to show, always an issue. I feel that in the end I met some middle ground and am happy with the way it worked out.
#8- More foreground work. I was doing a lot of, for lack of a better word, scumbling. It was more like dragging paint over slightly tacky paint to get some textural effects that I wanted. Looking for a light pattern in the shadows was another topic in my discussion with the painting. I won!
#9- Finally 'satisfied' with the ground area, I decided it was time to attack the palmettos. These were a lot of fun to paint, I'll admit. They're so bizarre in their makeup that I just had fun. The challenge was to think like a bird flitting in and around them, looking for the way they projected out and around the trees. My photos didn't do much to help, so it was mostly a memory and 'practical thinking' exercise. At first I wanted some light striking the back of one of the palmetto fronds on the lower right of the tree, and on the one to the upper left. But the one on the lower right upset the shadow area. So I played it down with just a hint of light hitting it's back, just to relieve that area from being all dark. I'm happy with that.
#10- In this the final day of painting, today, I adjusted the fronds of the palmettos. I lightly brushed color across the forms to add interest to the darks. You can't probably see much of that in the photos. I knocked some back, brought out a few others to bring the light across the space. That's about it.