Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Studio Painting From Nature Part I

I wanted to paint a big landscape, but the size prevented me from lugging it to the locations I normally scout for plein air. So I decided to gather as much information as possible so I could paint it at my studio. This is a series documenting the progress of a relatively big landscape painting.

Photographic References
I don't have a projector, but I took protographs with a small digital camera that I then printed not as an aid to understand color, but as an aid in the drawing of the landscape objects. I taped the photos together to form a panoramic view. I used this view to draw with a brush on the canvas.

On my second visit I took a much better camera that redered color more accurately, but even these photographs would not convey what my eyes remembered. Again I used them only as place and textural references.

This time-honored way to register the color nuances of a landscape was my first attempt. Since it is spring, I knew there would be lots of foliage with small variations in hue and texture. I went to Wildcat Creek at about ten am, and used a 9 x 12 watercolor pad and black ink to scketch the color, structure and location of the trees and plants.

I returned home very satisfied with myself, only to discover the small size of the pad left out lots of details that would be necessary in a 30 x 40 canvas. So I started painting, but only those elements I felt sure about.

Value Studies
I didn't do any during my first visit, and soon realized they would have helped me to pin down the differences between each of the objects I was painting. The watercolor only told me where the areas of biggest contrast were, but was very vague about the mid-tones. And this did not facilitate the work of traslating landscape elements onto the canvas.

Color Indication
On my second visit to Wildcat Creek, I decided that more than a bigger watercolor, what I needed was a "color indication map." This time, having started to paint on the big canvas, I was more acutely aware of what I needed, and next to a simple drawing of each object, I wrote a short "recipe" for the color. These recipes clarified the subtle differences seen by human eyes and would enable me to go back to my studio and mix them with some degree of accuracy. Interestingly, I could only come up with these recipes because I had been painting on the previous day and had these colors fresh in my mind.

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