Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Scene

I have started a new painting. It is a winter snow scene set in an urban park. I am working from a reference photo that I took about a year ago of the location. At this time of the year, late December, the days in Canada are very short. The light fades by four o'clock. I took the photo on an overcast day in the afternoon just as the light was waning. 

What struck me about this scene was the dramatic composition. The arched wooden bridge on the left  crosses from an island in the foreground to a land causeway (not visible) to the far side of the small lake. The bridge and a tree are reflected in a bit of open water, whereas the rest of the lake is covered in snow. I like the way the snow-covered boulders and the bridge lead the eye toward the reflections, the tree, and the horizon. 

I began by drawing the main shapes with graphite. Today, I finished sketching in the lines of the main shapes over the pencil lines with thinned yellow ochre paint. 

I don't often draw the lines in with paint, but I wanted to for this one because it is a very structural painting. The arched bridge was challenging to draw, and I did not want to lose the drawing once I started to block in the colours. As well, the stark tree and its reflection, and the jumble of boulders add complexity that I would not have felt comfortable blocking in as masses without doing the drawing first. Redrawing the lines with paint over graphite also gave me a chance to correct some drawing errors. As you can see, I have indicated some of the areas of darker values -- the trees and the shadows of the boulders. In drawing the boulders, I found it helpful to give them some three dimensional form. However, I haven't indicated the areas of darkest values, which are the bridge reflection, the wooden bridge foundation and buttress, and the far treeline. 

This painting will be challenging for me in several ways. It is the largest painting I have attempted, 20 by 30 inches. I have been trying to start working larger, but the next largest one I have done in recent years is 18 by 24 inches. I am hoping that by working larger with larger brushes, I will be less tempted to pick away at tiny details and end up overworking the painting. 

Another way in which this painting will be challenging is because of the colours in it. I usually tend to create very colourful paintings, often dominated by light values. This one will force me to work more with a grey range (blue greys and purple greys), and I know I will find it hard to make the snow values dark enough. However, the snow has to be rendered in a mid value range so that the little bit of bright sky and reflected sky will really shine.

A final challenge will be the large areas of more or less solid colour, like the snow field in the middle right, and the large snow covered rock in the bottom right. I tend to create very busy images, and often  avoid painting larger "blank" areas. Yet they are so important to frame the focus of interest. 

So you can see that I have set myself quite a task with this snow scene. 

I presently have a dilemma with how to proceed with the blocking in. Initially, I was planning to do a value underpainting in a contrasting colour. In particular, I was thinking of magenta. However, I spent a long time contemplating the photo, and went for an afternoon walk to the same location today to look at the actual scene again. Although some snow scenes have a pink undertone (and I have used pink or red violet or magenta effectively in snow scenes before), I just don't see a pink undertone in this one. 

So then I contemplated cadmium orange or cadmium red medium or Indian red or burnt sienna as possible colours for the underpainting. Or another possibility would be to block in the main colour areas and values with the local colours that I see in each major shape. I am reluctant to do this though, because that would mean putting white in the mix right in the first layer in order to make the greys. I would prefer to block it in with transparent colour and only in subsequent layers begin to add white, because pigments mixed with white become opaque, which I find can lead to a chalky or muddy look. 

Hmmm. What to do? Maybe I should do a couple of small studies with various contrasting choices of underpainting. I am usually so eager to get on with the actual painting that I skip this step. Or I could finish blocking in the values with the yellow ochre, and then lay Indian red or burnt Umber over top of the darkest darks. Or maybe I could use one of my blues to create a unifying underpainting. Hmmm. 

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