Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Landscapes

As mentioned in one of my previous posts, I've been doing a lot of small landscape paintings lately.  They're quite different from my usual narrative figurative paintings.  Those are usually developed over a period of several weeks, with lots of thought given to what's depicted, how it's depicted, and what's left out.  Things may get repainted several times.  I've been known to repaint everything in order to change the direction of the light.  Little or nothing is spontaneous.  I probably over-think them.

These small landscapes, though, are very different.  I started doing them because they were something that worked well with my schedule.  I could jump in, do a painting in the time available, and drop it when my time wasn't available any more.  I've found that this approach has its own demands, charms, and rewards, and I'm getting a kick out of it for its own sake.

These small landscapes are much more about the activity of painting.  When you don't have much time, you go for the important things and try to get them as right as possible as fast as possible.  They're kinda like gesture drawings: you're going for the essence, not the details.  The result is generally a liveliness that isn't in my larger paintings.

Late Afternoon Rest
Oil on paper, 7.5"x10.5"

This one shows something of what I'm talking about.  I did a quick pencil sketch to understand the values and composition, then went to work on gessoed paper that had been toned with a slightly warm brownish-gray tone.  You can see it along the bottom of the image.  There were actually two cows in the field, but in the spirit of keeping things simple, I just painted one.  The head and neck were blocked in first with burnt umber, then the shadow of the body.  Then I slammed in the green hill behind the cow, keeping it light to make the cow stand out, and throwing in a lot of cad yellow to show the late afternoon light hitting the field.  The tree line is largely just vigorous strokes of different dark greens and umbers.

Autumn Blossom
Oil on panel, 12"x9"

Here's another example.  This pink weed caught my eye.  It was the only spot of strong color in a bunch of dead weeds.  Basically, I laid in a bunch of vertical, light yellow ochre to provide a background for the dark stem, and laid in a dark muted green to provide a background for the pink blossom.  I wasn't sure how to do that blossom, but in playing around with it, I did a quick stroke and it worked.  So I did a bunch more, touched it up with a few darker reds around the center and bottom, and there it was.

So what's the point of these landscapes?  Well, what's the point of figure sketches?  It's all about seeing, and about getting the hand and eye to work together, and at the same time trying to get the essence of the thing captured in paint.  I've learned a lot about paint handling and decision-making from these little works.  And had a helluva lot of fun.

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