Friday, January 31, 2014

A Walk on the Headlands

I have started a new painting. It is from a photo I took during a walk with Rob along the headlands at Villa Nova de Milfontes, in the Alentejo region of Portugal. In fact, it was the same day that I took the photo of the seascape at Milfontes which I later painted. I have written about it here.


As you can see, I am just getting started. Working on this painting has made me reflect on how I get started on a new painting. It seems that I do not always start the same way. 

When I do a landscape, whether painting en plein air or from photo references, I always spend a very long time thinking about the composition, and sketching the main shapes lightly on the canvas. Although I do not use a grid or any other aids, and I do not do a really detailed drawing, I am very careful about getting the shapes and their placement relative to each other accurate. 

However, if I am doing an abstract painting,  I do not do a preliminary drawing at all. My abstract paintings often are quite organic and playful. 

With a landscape, after doing the drawing, my next step is to choose my palette of colours. Again, I spend a long time at this. Mostly, I limit my palette to 2 reds, 2 yellows, 2 blues, and titanium white. I mix my other colours from these primaries. Which reds and so forth that I choose depends on the effect I want to achieve, and the quality of the light. However, there are a few supplementary colours that I am quite fond of, such as mineral violet, Indian red, and magenta, and occasionally one of the umbers or siennas. 

The next step in my process varies. Usually, my aim is to block in the basic shapes and cover up the white canvas. Sometimes I start by doing a wash of the main colours that I see in each section, without really considering the values. In this case I correct the values later. 

Other times, I start with a monochromatic value study, either using a main unifying colour in the scene, or using a complement of the main colour theme. An example of this is the orange underpainting I did in this painting of my (mostly green) back yard. I do this complementary underpainting when I want the complement to bleed through, add visual interest, and make the main colour pop. Because I use impressionistic colour principles, I never do my underpainting in grey or brown. I want my colours to be clean, not muddy. 

In the painting that I have just started above, I haven't followed any of my usual processes of blocking in. Instead, I put in the sky and hills, and then painted in the fences and figure in a preliminary way. I was worried that if I did a wash, my fences and figure would disappear into the ground. I felt I needed to define them first. I also wanted to establish my darkest values, and these were in the figure, the fences, and some bushes and shadows. 

However, that left me with a problem -- a lot of white everywhere. When the white canvas predominates, you can't see the colours and values properly against each other. I started blocking in the background colours, and at first I tried to capture the actual colours that I saw and the values at the same time. However, that was not working, maybe because of all the white. So now I am just putting in the basic colour areas, and I can see that many of them are both brighter and darker than I want them to be. However, the colours and shapes so far have given me something interesting to work with the next time I paint. 

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