Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Saving a Painting that isn't Working

"Perfect Day in Kananaskis"
12 x 24

Sometimes it's hard to figure out why a painting isn't working. I'll have stared at it for hours and be unable to see it objectively anymore. It's just clear that it's wrong somehow.

Ideally, I'd ask another person for a critique. My husband and children have become very adept at spotting problems at a glance though it takes careful questioning to pinpoint what bothers them in it. But if I don't have another body handy, I use a mirror to dissect the piece. Holding a painting up to a mirror is a way to see the piece fresh, from another perspective. This is the same reason that some artists examine their work upside down, through the lens of a camera, or in a different light or context. Just popping a painting into a spare frame can give you a better sense of what's working and what isn't.

Another great aid is a little piece of coloured cellophane or acrylic that many art supply stores carry. It's usually red, and looking through it turns your painting into a values-only composition in which it's easy to identify weaknesses. Usually, with me, the painting is too mired in midtones. There are too few highlights and too few and isolated darks. Putting in some stronger lights, or consolidating and strengthening some dark passages can work wonders.

The important thing, though, is not to give up on a painting without exploring all of the possibilities for saving it. It's tempting to just toss a piece, but it's awfully satisfying to rescue it.

The painting above needed some mirror work to rescue, but once I boosted the highlights, it all came together.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

More Light through Trees

September Light
16 x 12
Mundane things touch me more deeply than extraordinary things do.

I've got pictures on my computer of fabulous, famous sites from my travels, but when I browse photos for painting references, I never settle on these as options. Instead, I get caught up, once again, in the magic of small moments like the one above.

This was actually done on location in my favourite city park, but it could be anywhere. What I hoped to capture was a universal image: something that we've all seen and enjoyed, but, because it has nothing of real importance, is seldom painted or even photographed. I did take a picture of the place but it contains nothing of the wonder that I found there. It shows a tangle of trees and undergrowth and an area of light in the canopy. This reminds me, again, that I should paint from life, or, failing that, work really hard to notice what it is that I love about a scene. It'll be my memory, more than the photo. that helps to make a painting.

But even on location, I had to work pretty hard to show how special and luminous the place actually was.  The tree trunks couldn't be just their mid-tone gray, they had to have a more definite colour and temperature.  I find that purple enhances forest shadows and creates the mystery and magic that I'm after.  It can also take over a painting as it did with this one on a couple of occasions until I stood back, reevaluated, and toned some of it down.  Then, to compliment the blue and red-purples, I leaned the colour of the leaves towards yellow and orange-green. 

It's not a realistic representation of what I saw, but it is faithful to the spirit of the place that day.  For me, that's what art can and should be.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow

 Little Creek and the Bow 
20 x 20

Winter Light 
11 x 14

I've embraced the season - finally - and am enjoying the patterns of light on snow once again.  Jill at Collector's Gallery forced me into this acceptance by mounting a winter-themed, group show which opened yesterday.  I had to do snow to do the show!

It's actually pretty tough to paint snow.  At first, when you look at it, there seems to be only cool shadow (usually blue) and warm sunlight reflecting off of the white.  But, as always, the more that you look, the more you see.

I find it's necessary to add warm reds into the lower layers of snow paintings.  This not only creates interesting grays as you layer on different blues, but it also supplies the warm end of the spectrum, without which a painting seems just too chilly and artificial.  To my eye, there are all of the colours of the spectrum in every scene, and omitting one leaves a sense of incompleteness to the work.  But that might just be me.

The paintings above are two of the works in the show at Collector's, and depict two of my favourite things: a creek in Carburn Park, where I jog every day; and light shining through trees.  Both of these subjects make up an inordinate amount of the pictures on my hard drive, and I've painted them many times.