Friday, September 24, 2010

A new series and a new medium

It's finally time to shake things up in the studio a bit.  I've been working exclusively in soft pastels for the past year (almost), and while that has been great and I don't plan to abandon them, I am feeling the urge to return to oils.

I say "return", because for over 12 years, I worked exclusively in oils...but never on 2D canvas, and never a single landscape, still life or portrait.  The "canvases" were polyresin equine sculptures and the method of painting was decidedly different than the direction I want to go now.   It would often take me weeks to complete a single piece, done in multiple thin layers and glazes, with much attention given to minute detail and careful blending and color matching for real equine coat colors and patterns.   Brush strokes or any kind of impasto technique was absolutely, positively not acceptable, nor was loose, impressionist-type work; it was all about photorealism.   That was good for many years, but eventually I got burned out and desperately needed a break.

So, while I feel comfortable working with oils, it is somewhat limited in scope:  no alla prima painting, no juicy.   Over the past several years, I've accumulated many oil painting technique books, with a focus on landscapes.  I've managed to replace almost all that were lost by the PO this past spring, and I've been re-reading them.  I follow many landscape painter blogs and almost always have books by contemporary or deceased master artists I get from the library.  I'm inspired by the works of O'Keeffe, Hopper, Maynard Dixon, Edgar Payne, and contemporary landscape painters Ed Mell, Matt Smith and Clyde Aspevig.

Our trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, across a good slice of the Colorado Plateau, was the inspiration for a new series of paintings, based on the photos taken during the drive along Hwy's 160, 89 and 64, and of course, the Canyon itself.

Here's the piece that kicked it off - my very first landscape painting in oils:

West from North Timp Pt
5x7 inches
oil on gessoed cardstock

Perhaps not the recommended subject matter for a first painting in oils, but it worked for me.  Reason:  it's a subject matter I'm very well-aquainted with, and thanks to haze and time of day, what would normally be an overwhelming degree of detail had been rendered to a series of horizons in simple shapes and a simple palette.  What better way to work than as a value study devoid of distracting detail?  Plus, it follows the tenets of atmospheric perspective.

I probably fussed over it too much, and it was clear that I need to overcome my resistance to loading the brush with paint, but it was somewhat exhilarating.  I ended up doing it in two sessions, as I needed to correct some values and the paint was just too thin.  

For those familiar with the Grand Canyon, you'll instantly recognize this topography is not in the main part of the park:  those wide benches are known as the Esplanade, which is the thickest layer of the Supai group of sandstones and mudstones, and it trends thicker and towards forming these slickrock extensions as you head west.  The reddish cliff layer visible in the lower left section is the Redwall limestone, so named from the stained appearance from the 4 Supai group layers above it.  

I used a simple palette of burnt umber, ultramarine blue, burnt sienna, yellow ochre and titanium white.   BU + UB makes a glorious chromatic blue-black - perfect for those receding horizons.  

Anyway, my goal is to do 2-3 of these small studies per day, working my way across the Colorado Plateau.  I figure by the time I work back to the Mesa Verde area, I should be much more proficient!  And probably pretty close to 100 paintings as well.

Here is the first in the Four Corners & Colorado Plateau road trip series (or, second, I suppose):

Road to Red Mesa
5x7 inches
oil on gessoed cardstock

Alla prima - added cadmium yellow and A. crimson to the palette for this piece.  Red Mesa is past Four Corners and on the Navajo Nation, as is all of Hwy 160 as soon as it enters AZ.  I had issues with the paint thickening, possibly because the oil was leaching into the palette board I was using, so I may add some walnut oil for future paintings so the paint is less tacky.  I'm used to using Liquin for a drying/glazing medium, and may use it in the future.   

The cardstock, which I made from existing white archival matboard pieces cut to size and coated with 2-3 layers of acrylic gesso, works okay, but I may switch to small canvas boards in the future.  These are nice because they are excellent to practice on, but if a piece turns out well, it can be framed.

I'll keep tossing pastels into the  mix, probably as pieces for this series, and maybe some random other pieces as well.  For now, though, it's onward along Hwy 160 towards the Grand Canyon!

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