My Money's on the Hare

An errand brought me to Ault Park a couple of weeks ago, where I happened upon a fountain, which I decided to try painting. Here’s a snapshot of what I saw:

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Sometimes one wants to paint something just to see if it can be painted. I did a small sketch of the motif.

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It was kinda fun. I especially enjoyed describing big stone blocks with a single stroke of a broad brush.

But I did wonder if I could describe the scene in a more finished, and larger, piece, so I came back a couple of days later with a 20x24”. The light wasn’t quite right, which didn’t bother me. I figured I’d dedicate the session to drawing out the motif as accurately as I could, using a brush and some thinned Yellow Ochre.

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It’s a fairly accurate line drawing, but there is a peril in doing this sort of thing. I gave all of my attention to mapping out the lines of the scene, rather than giving full consideration to its composition. Was it a nice pattern of lights and darks? were the shapes pleasing? That sort of thing. I knew I was bypassing a very important consideration, but I figured I’d try solving one problem at a time. This proved to be a mistake, and a silly mistake. I had a sketchpad and a pencil. I could have played with the scene and anticipated problems before touching the canvas. It reminds me of the question, “Is it necessary to floss one’s teeth?” The answer, of course, is “Only the ones you want to keep.”

“Is it necessary to sketch out a composition before beginning to apply paint?”

“Only if you don’t want it to end up like this one did.”

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Anyway, I returned to the scene on the next sunny day and did the best I could.

The problem I had been pretending not to notice is fairly obvious here, at least to me. There are two illuminated areas of the canvas, unconnected. It looks like two or three separate pictures. Yeah, rules are made to be broken, but this never stopped bugging me. One might protest that this was just a study of a scene, and that’s true, but its disjointed nature left a bad taste in my mouth.

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Subsequent sessions never overcame the problem. I did learn some things about capturing the texture of water, and keying a picture to simulate the shimmer of sunshine, but for all the effort taught me, it never stopped feeling like a ball and chain.

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Carrying my stuff the hundred yards between where I parked and where i painted, i kept noticing that the shadows were really quite blue, much more than I’d painted them. So I mixed some blue with some red and white and scumbled the shadows. Then I painted into the scene. I softened the water a little.

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Which brought me to today, the last day. Did what I could to bring things together and simulate the shimmering sunlight on the water. But it’s hard to apply finish to a composition that you find boring to begin with. I gave it a couple of hours and decided I’d taken it as far as I could.

Twelve hours of work, not counting the oil sketch that started the whole enterprise. Nothing could pretty up a composition I didn’t believe in.

So I figured, since I was there already, maybe another strategy might be in order.

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Why not take in a larger scene and try to sketch it in oil on paper? I just happened to have one of the 11x14” sheets of kraft paper, taped to cardboard and sized with shellac. I allowed myself one hour, as opposed to the twelve hours I gave the failed study. Let’s review, shall we?

We’ll call this one The Tortoise:

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And we’ll call this one The Hare:

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Aesop got it wrong. This one’s more fun, and more interesting.

I have spoken.


Three Quickies

Lisa is a very kind and wise woman. On a Sunday replete with chores to be done, she sweetly suggested I spend the day painting. She said it twice. It was a bright early August day, and the weatherman was predicting five more like it to follow. With my comics stuff pretty much up to deadline, if I started something promising, I’d have the likelihood of several more days in which to finish it.

I drove to Hebron, KY where one of our sons lives with his family. A road near his house leads to a playground. I’ve walked the road with grandkids many times, and often thought that it offered some nifty silhouettes, worth building a composition around. Arriving at the destination late morning, I chose one such:

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It was the four trees rising out of bushes on the hilltop that interested me. I thought they had a nice rhythm. Above is how the picture looked after an hour or so.

Another intriguing silhouette was nearby. All I had to do was rotate my easel, and myself.

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I don’t know what particularly interested me here. The one tree arising out of a grove of trees, I guess. The rub-in took a bit longer.

After I packed up, my son Clint suggested I drive south on Rt. 20 in search of motifs. There were several interesting ones, including the skeleton of an old barn. I filed it all away for future use, and headed toward home. There was something else that might be suitable.

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This fountain, at nearby Ault Park, seemed like an interesting way to stretch myself. A nasty complicated motif. I had an 8x10” panel, and maybe 45 minutes before the light would change irreparably.

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One should not hesitate to try complex subjects. It’s a gorgeous scene. If I can get my comics work done in time tomorrow, I think I’ll return to this spot, only four miles from home, with a larger canvas.

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So here’s yesterday’s first motif after today’s editing. I think I like it.

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And here’s yesterday’s second motif, after a little more work.

You don’t repaint a sketchy picture in order to turn its brushstrokes into precisely rendered objects, such as tree trunks, foliage and clumps of grass. Rather, you repaint it in order to make better brushstrokes.

More Summer Skies

John Constable may have had a good point about painting as a branch of science — or, in the lingo of his time, “Natural Philosophy” — with each picture thought of as an experiment. What exactly is a scientific experiment but an attempt to study a natural phenomenon by restricting the possible factors which may or may not produce it? Particle physicists buried a vat of water hundreds of feet below the surface of the earth and armed it with neutrino detectors, knowing that only neutrinos could get to such a vat. The solar eclipse of 1918 provided a means of verifying Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity by restricting the various factors which might bend the passage of light. Keppler spent two decades hunched over Tycho Brahe’s precise observations of the positions of the planets, trying to find a pattern. Lois Lane spent even longer, attempting to devise a situation which would require Clark Kent and Superman to appear in the same time and place. And so on. Experiments are scenarios devised to establish or disqualify a hypothesis. If you’ve got a hypothesis, and have a way to test whether it works or doesn’t work, you’re performing an experiment, and in every sense of the term, you’re doing the work of a scientist.

Me, I’ve given a lot of thought to the hue found in the light areas of summer clouds. They can’t be a pure form of white, but what sort of color might they be? The sky sketches posted earlier were an attempt to answer that question. In each, I mixed a color which I thought corresponded to what I saw before me. But looking again at them, their tinted orange hues made no sense, and did not evoke the sensation of summer skies. So I whacked out three more today.

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Here was the first. I did mix some Cadmium Yellow Medium with my white, but tried pretty hard to reduce its intensity. You see orange lights in the clouds below, but the chroma is quite subdued as we rise from the horizon toward the zenith. A good painting? I don’t know. But a good experiment. This is closer to the mark than the sketches I posted earlier.

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The second sketch also could be termed a good experiment.

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And yet another experiment. All three of these were designed to isolate and prove (or disprove) my motion that my clouds were unbelievable, in large part, because I was painting them with too intense a series of colors. In fact, these three are actually an experiment in the use of Ivory Black, which was used to paint in the darks of the clouds here.

Bad? Good? Neither. Three experiments. I’ll mull over them and see what ought to be adopted from them for the procedure of landscape painting.