Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Winter landscape - A still life, of sorts

11x14 inches
pastel on acid-free construction paper

I'm not sure precisely all the reasons I'm drawn to such ordinary scenes like this one, but I am.  This is also the type of thing that I would love to have painted on location, but given that this was in about 15" of snow and at least 1/2 mile down the road to Haviland Lake, which was closed to vehicle traffic, that wasn't happening.  Perhaps one of these days, I'll snowshoe in to paint on location, but not for this.

The reference photo for this was taken on Christmas day, while I was out snowshoeing.  It was a bright, sunny day with no wind.  Just perfect.  The low angle of the sun at this time of the year and mid-afternoon light of winter produces the most amazing shadows.

Here are a few other photos from the day, which was a loop including roads and a trail:

Beautiful crystals of ice form on a small creek along the trail

Creek reflections

Cattails along the edge of Haviland Lake

Sweeping tree shadows across the frozen lake

This Red Squirrel [Tamiasciurus hudsonicus] was extremely put out by my presence.    He is giving me the stink eye from high up in a Ponderosa pine 25 feet away - hilarious!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Winter landscape - An urban landscape, deconstructed

December Morning 
12x12 inches - pastel on acid-free construction paper
© 2011, S.Johnson
Something quite different for me - a landscape with not one, but multiple elements of human presence...including some humans!

Based on a photo taken the same day and not far from the same location as the painting from the last post, this one of three gals walking along the Animas River Trail (ART).  Even as I took this quick snapshot, I knew immediately that: 1) I had to paint it; 2) it would crop perfectly to a square format.

When analyzing the photo for any compositional changes I wanted to make, I actually decided I liked just about everything (save for an off-leash dog...definitely out!), and that they were all important to the design and meaning of the painting.  It got me thinking about the importance of not blindly following a photographic reference, and asking oneself:  "is adding or keeping this element really necessary, and does it improve the painting?"

- the trail:  this multi-use paved urban trail is one of the many things that makes Durango special.  It is the source of great enjoyment and recreational value for its residents.  The path itself is the lead-in to the painting, and the non-linear curves keep the viewer from racing through.

- the figures:  the focal point.  They also symbolize the importance and popularity of this trail to its residents by their presence.  Odd number = better compositionally.   I was mindful to keep the intervals between them varied.  They were also by far the most challenging thing to paint!

- the lamppost:  adjacent to the figures, it balances them, and adds another vertical element to the painting.  Its presence symbolizes safety and comfort.

- the evergreen trees:  breaks up the purple-red-grays of the winter trees surrounding it, and helps to keep the viewer from leaving the painting by stopping the pathway, and hopefully, helps guide the viewer's eyes up to the...

- snow-covered rooftops of the neighborhood houses:  add a broken horizontal element to the painting and tie in with the snow on the sides of the path.

- the chamisa:  even with its faded flowers, this shrub is attractive.  It helps break up the rust-colored grasses and it sweeps in towards the painting.

Try covering up each of the elements with your thumb and see if you think the painting would work as well without it/them.  I don't personally feel it does, but others might feel differently.  Either way, I think it's a useful thing to apply to your own reference photos, and even during the painting process.   I actually do the same thing when I'm painting on location.

My goal and challenge with this painting was to make it look as though there is not much detail...but, yet, it required being detailed in some areas.  Does that make any sense?  Little dashes of color here and there to suggest shapes and planes.  Thin dark lines to suggest underlying tree structure.

I don't analyze my all of my paintings or references so carefully, but I thought sharing my thoughts behind this one might be of some interest to other artists; it's also the sort of thing I really enjoy reading on other art blogs.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Winter landscape - A new studio piece...finally!

First Season's Snow
14x18 inches - pastel on Somerset Black Velvet paper with Golden pumice ground
© 2011, S.Johnson
After what seems like an eternity, I'm back.  I've actually not been gone per se - just out of touch with much of everything, for lack of a better explanation.  Actually, my attentions and creative energy have just been diverted to things not art, and probably of no interest to most readers.  So, I didn't bother to share them here.

This piece was done from a photo taken 11 days ago and actually started on the same day.  It's not even that I struggled with it, because I didn't; I actually had it almost half finished after the first session, and had fully expected to finish it the next day...but, that just didn't happen.

December is always a weird month for me, and my least favorite.  While most people are enjoying the build-up to the holidays and such, I have an overwhelming desire to head off to a remote backcountry cabin, armed with nothing but art supplies, food and books, and emerge again on Jan 2.  Then, life finally returns to normal and the days are getting longer.

But, the upside of Dec is that it usually provides the first decent snow of the season, both in town and up in the mountains, which begins snowshoeing season.

For me, a day out snowshoeing is the antidote to the noisy, frenetic and spend-spend-spend mentality of the Dec holiday season, which bothers my sensibilities on various levels.  The absolute stillness of the land covered in snow calms the mind and allows one to truly live in the moment.

The landscape takes on a Zen-like quality of simplicity...

 Things ordinary become extraordinary...

Water, transformed, for a moment in time...

Sometimes, the snow offers a most curious transformation...

And views otherwise never seen are seen...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A final plein air...for a bit - pastel, 12x12

Late Fall Shoreline
12x12" - pastel on dark brown cardstock
© S.Johnson

Yesterday was probably the last "warm" day we are going to have around here for a bit, possibly months, and while the landscape is probably at its least attractive [in my opinion, anyway] in the period after the fall color has gone and before the snow works its magic on the land, I wasn't finding much inspiration to paint on location.

But, the urge to get outside and take advantage of the gift of a beautiful, mild day made me think of what would be interesting to paint.  Answer, of course:  the river.  New location for this piece, and one I'll most certainly revisit.  One of the standout features were the reddish bare branches of the shoreline willows.  I actually think they look more interesting and attractive without leaves - quite possibly the only tree/shrub that I could say that about.  Makes for a sweet compliment with the river, too.

I had to work quickly, though:  a hogback ridge is just across the river, and at this time of the year, the sun drops behind it early.  No sun = immediate drop in temperature = painting is over for me.  So, I didn't quite finish it on location, and despite having made some compositional adjustments to the foreground rocks on location, when I got home, I didn't care for them.  The closest rock had the misfortune of looking like...a hamburger.  Partially due to its shape and partially due to me being so focused on capturing its color variations, which were striped horizontally.  I hadn't given it much thought while I was painting that it might not translate so well in the painting.   And, there was some major funk happening with some of the colors I used in those rocks.

So, I messed around with it a bit this afternoon, fully expecting I might ruin it, which happens.  Then, suddenly, things seemed to come together and I decided that I liked it, so I took this photo:

However, upon looking at the photo on my computer, I saw two things, albeit minor, that immediately bugged me, and I knew I had to fix them.   Do you see them?  Actually, others will possibly notice different things (hey, if I ever create the perfect painting, my career as an artist will be over), but for whatever reason, these jumped out as very bothersome.  Even if you don't notice specifics, I hope you'll at least agree that the first image is better.

I mention this because I think it's a good example of how looking at a photo of the painting can be a good editing/critiquing tool.  As much as I try to catch these things before I declare the painting to be finished, sometimes I just miss them.  But, they often show up in the photo.  I still haven't figured out exactly how this phenomenon works, but I am grateful for it!

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