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.


  1. Sonya, this is really excellent! I love the composition and the light! Perfect Colorado December day.

  2. Sonya, this is a big step and I feel that you have broken new ground. Wonderful.

  3. Hi Sherrie - thanks much! I was quite pleased with how it turned out, and it does capture a perfect winter day here in our beautiful state, doesn't it?

    Thanks Leann!

  4. Hi Casey - crossposting, again! It actually *felt* like it was a big step, in fact, so I appreciate your comments to that end. I think it's hitting such milestones in our work that makes it so personally satisfying to be an artist.

  5. Stunning Sonya...absolutely stunning!

    Merry Christmas!

  6. Yes, very different subject for you. Very well done. I can feel the cold winter day in a way that I'd like to be there walking on that trail too! Like the compostion. I wouldn't change anything.

  7. Thank you, Carol!

    Thanks, Liz. I'm glad you find it to be an inviting trail to walk along - one of my goals with the painting has therefore been accomplished!

  8. It is truly beautiful Sonya. :) I love it. The purple really makes it sing winter. And what you say about deciding what detail to put in is a constant battle I face! I just actually had to crop a whole section out of a painting because I was being slave to the reference. Argh.

  9. Love this Sonya!
    The color is wonderful, feels very wintry. Love the meandering quality of the path.
    And I totally agree about your compositional choices. Thanks so much for sharing your thought process!

  10. Crystal and Debbie - thank you both for your lovely comments. It's much as I prefer the other seasons to be outside, I absolutely LOVE the winter landscape colors when snow is present! Possibly my favorite season to paint ;).

    I think there are few artists who *don't* struggle with composition, perhaps sometimes more than others. I always enjoy reading others' thought processes on this, so I was happy to share mine. I'm glad you found it interesting or helpful!

  11. Lovely piece, Sonya....I'm loving painting winter this year as well. Happy Holidays from Sedona!

  12. This is a wonderful piece, Sonya. Interesting to read your thoughtful analysis of the whats and whys of this design. Everything contributes--I wouldn't change a thing. I'm especially drawn to the wonderful way you rendered the rooftops peeking through the trees and the hint of color that reads as distant hills.

  13. Hey Bill - so nice to hear from you, and thanks much. Happy Holidays to you and Kim!

    Hi Don - thank you as always for stopping by and for your thoughtful comments. I'm delighted that the distal hill area caught your eye; it's one of my favorite parts of the painting as well.

  14. I love the winter colors in this Sonya. The figures are just right too. The pair together seem to be leisurely walking and talking while an older child is in more of a hurry. It tells quite a story.

  15. Thanks, Ruth - I do love the winter colors of this area! I am pleased that this painting allows for the viewer to create his/her own narrative as well with the figures.


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

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