Tonight I blocked in my newest painting. I have painted the sky, using manganese blue, phthalo blue, titanium white and a touch of alizarin crimson. I have blocked in the rest of the canvas using thin paint and a limited palette. At this point, I have not worried too much about precise colours, but have aimed to place the main shapes and cover up most of the white canvas. I have also indicated the darker shadow areas.
Quite often, before I have finished blocking in, I get distracted and start putting in detail, or trying to represent the exact hue that I see in my reference photos. Usually, that just leads to trouble! A colour that looks just right on the white canvas will look wrong once other colours surround it.
You can see in this one that I have suggested the texture of the reeds, the direction of the reflections, and the shininess of the pond. I have found that, even in the very early blocking in stage, I have to capture some of the key elements that I find interesting in the scene. Otherwise later on, I will lose the rhythm of the painting, or the concept I am trying to convey. I feel that I have been successful if I have left myself something interesting to work with in the next painting session.
Every time I start a new painting, I set myself a particular challenge. The challenges relate to things I want to learn, or issues that I have struggled with. With this painting, I have set two challenges. One is the long narrow landscape format of the canvas. I rarely paint in landscape format, but rather tend to choose a portrait orientation for my paintings (even though I mostly paint landscapes). And I have never tried a long narrow format.
The other challenge in this painting is that I am aiming to paint with confident looser brushstrokes, rather than reverting to finicky, precise dabbing. I think this will prove to be particularly challenging for me, especially as I have chosen a complex composition.
In the previous painting that I just completed, Kettle River, Before the Fire, I had two challenges. One was to paint a large section of intense colour (the blue water). Although I am not afraid to use intense colours, I tend to daub it on in small bits, and therefore end up with very busy images. The other challenge in my last painting was to paint a large section of green trees. I find green very hard to work with, and always struggle when there is a lot of green in a painting.
Other challenges I have set for myself in recent years include: painting nocturnes to force myself to use more dark values; working more with greys; using a larger canvas; painting large calm areas of muted colour; incorporating a figure in the landscape; incorporating buildings and other structures; painting en plein air, and painting waves or running water. I almost always run into trouble with a painting at some point. But I am always learning new things, and I never get into the rut of painting the same objects or themes over and over, in the same way, with the same palette of colours. For me, problem-solving a painting is half of the fun!