Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A painting and its life stages: I-III

Here now I thought I'd do something I don't think I've done before, and that's post a painting in-progress.  In the past, when I've shown anything of this sort, it was either a pastel underpainting or the loose burnt sienna underpainting for an oil.

I'm taking a risk posting this painting - it won't be that enticing as a thumbnail on anyone's blogroll list or on their dashboard, but that's the way it goes...

Comb Ridge Shadows Stage I - newborn underpainting
18x24 inches
oil on alkyd-primed MDF board

I've been wanting to try a larger canvas size for paintings for a while now, but for various reasons, have not.  I made one attempt this past winter, but it stumbled right out of the blocks, and promptly got axed.  In fact, this is the same panel with another coat of alkyd primer over it, and you can see a faint ghost image of the old painting through the white in the top left.

Anyway, readers may recognize this from a photo I posted about 6 weeks ago from our trip to Comb Ridge and Cedar Mesa, UT.  I decided this was a good subject to try and go "big" on.  Me and my never-ending fixation with roads and highways.

And, coincidentally, this weeks DailyPaintWorks challenge, hosted by Carol Marine, was the Value Challenge using nothing but burnt umber and the white of the canvas to create a full range of values, emphasizing the importance of value in a composition.   Unlike some of the other entries in the challenge, this one is nothing to write home about; it looks exactly like what it is:  a scrappy underpainting.  I just find it difficult to achieve anything more with Turpenoid and burnt umber - it dries very quickly and doesn't handle well.  

But, it works well as a road map for defining values and composition.

Comb Ridge Shadows Stage 2 - walking upright

I guess I've done enough oil paintings now where I know what techniques work reasonably well and what doesn't work at all.  These underpaintings work well for me.  And while I generally prefer to finish a painting in one session if I can, with a painting this size, and starting late in the afternoon yesterday with the oils, it wasn't going to happen.

I don't have the patience to paint in multiple thin layers or glazes anymore, at least for any 2D works, so I try to lay down paint quickly and just finesse things as I go, wet-in-wet.  For this painting, I decided to try the Gamblin Neo Meglip that I bought last week.  The spec sheet says it adds body to the paint.  I did find adding some to paint which was on the thicker side did much to improve its texture and spreadability.  However, it seemed to behave similar to Liquin, in that it made the paint tacky pretty quickly, making it difficult to add or rework areas after 30 min or so without pulling the paint off.  It's still sticky wet this morning on the board.  It did give a nice texture to the paint, though.

I think many artists can relate to the "ugly stage" that an awful lot of paintings go through.  It's like parts of adolescence, I think, as the painting struggles for identity and purpose at times.  Awkward and gangly and rebellious, leaving parent and teen wondering:  "will this end well?"

Comb Ridge Shadows Stage III - Teenage years

The road and sky are essentially finished.  I may come in and tweak a few parts with another layer, but no major reworking needed.   Paint now covers most of the board, save for the pale sandstone sections within the main cliffs, and the distal monocline to the far left of the horizon.  

I don't care for the burnt sienna-based red for the slopes.  Too warm.  Thinking back to the last time I was painting similar subject matter in oils, I recalled that alizarin crimson was a constant in my palette.  I left it out for this, but I see it needs to be brought in to cool down those reds; the purple lake isn't enough to do the job.  I find some annoying detail wanting to creep in there that needs to be banished as well.

We are doing our quarterly road trip to Aztec and Farmington, NM today, so the painting will have to sit in its gangly state for the rest of the day.  I hope to get more work done on it perhaps this evening, and I promise not to drag out multiple posts on its progress.  Probably one more to show its final stages and conclusion.


  1. Wow! Nice lesson--thanks. Can't wait to see how the piece resolves. Working those larger surfaces in oil sure is daunting isn't it? I've been there. Good luck!

  2. Love the composition, looking forward to seeing it mature.

  3. Hi William - always nice to hear from you :). This larger surface definitely pushes me out of my normal cozy comfort zone, but the advantage is that some things are easier to render at a larger scale...we shall see!

    Hi Susan - thanks! I am sometimes surprised at how well the compositions of these "car snapshots" come out, including this one. Not much adjustment needed.

  4. You've got a lot of nice things working for you already, the sense of distance stands out most to me. I think this is going quite well, can't wait to see the finished piece.

  5. Great post and I like the composition Sonya!

  6. It is fun to see the underpainting and work.

  7. Thanks, Dan - I appreciate your thoughts. There is such a sense of space in the landscape out here that getting it right is key; I am glad to know you think that's working well.

    Thanks, Lisa - from one fan of highway paintings to another :).

    Casey, I always enjoy seeing artist post the stages of their paintings in their blog posts, so that's what prompted me to do the same. Glad you enjoyed it.

  8. Sonya,

    I love the composition of this piece: I love the sweeping curves and the road disappearing into the distance. I especially like it in its first stage, in all browns; in its early stage it has a sparse beauty, hypnotic to view and to lose oneself in wanderings on cliffs by the sea.

    Wonderful work, and I am glad to have you on the Art Blogs by Etsy Artists team.

    Respectfully yours,
    Aaron Fung

  9. Aaron - thank you so much for taking the time to stop by and comment - I appreciate it!

  10. I like seeing the progression of the painting this way. I often let a drawing set for a little while to help with adjustments because I tend to get attached to the way something is going and I no longer can see what is really happening. Sometimes the "ugly" phase is not so bad a day later and you are then able to make some smaller changes when the day before sweeping changes (or despair) seemed to be in order.

  11. Hi Ruth - I appreciate your insightful comments, and I agree with what you say about letting things gel for a day or so before addressing fixes because you're right - often one's perspective of the painting (both good and bad elements) does change. One of the biggest things I struggle with is not being able to see the forest through the trees, as it were, in a painting.

    Thanks, Celeste!

  12. LOVE IT! Love getting to see the progress and process in action, great post!:)

  13. Hi Davs! Thanks for stopping by - I'm glad you enjoyed the post :).


Your thoughtful comments add value to this blog - thank you so much for taking the time to leave them!

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