Friday, 20 December 2013

Observation #8 Terry's Farm
    Dec. 20
 -: how it came together-a few notes on just some of the stages in the making of the painting.

First of all, let me say that this work could be called an 'illustration'. When I was an art student one of the worst things one could hear about one's  painting was that it was 'JUST an illustration'.Well I don't intend to get into a discussion of the difference between a painting and an illustration -and I don't think I care anymore...
   No matter if I am doing what I may call a painting or an illustration, the principles of design, composition and all the aspects that constitute a quality work remain the same .For me a good illustration is a good painting-a lousy illustration is just that-a lousy illustration.
                 This farm picture also has nothing at all to do with my interest in those old places.
                 What I'd like to discuss are just a few parts of the painting that  might be interesting  -mostly 'problem' parts because it is the solving or fixing the problems that I think may be interesting. I will skip over a lot and I won't mention any problems I may have noticed after the final varnish went on-luckily  I didn't see much I would have done differently.. really I didn't !.

This time I'll put my comments above the pictures
                                         This is a view of the farm taken from about the same location as another photograph I received at the time of the request for the painting.This picture was taken on my second last trip to the site....It was October and I was hoping the leaves would all be gone so I could see what had been obstructed in my spring and summer research trips.The initial choice of where to stand to paint the place (some folks call it the station point) was made the spring before.That wasn't an easy decision because there was no one place from which to look to include everything that was needed.
           I also realized that this would be a picture without that allegedly all important 'center of interest'.- don't mean to sound sarcastic but as an old painter there are some terms that get more and more annoying as I get older. I think I like 'rules' less and less ('principles' I can live with...) but yes I know, a good painting can't usually be made by monkeys or come out of the end of an elephant's trunk no matter what the Freudians say....Several more trips were made to get information about sizes and locations and to see what liberties I could take to include everything that was asked for. Arranging and rearranging nature is what landscape painters do all the time, but in this case I couldn't lie about what trees went where or what the distances were between various parts.
                                    This was not to be a copy of a photograph  (I have never worked exclusively from someone else's photograph and never will!) there !    As always I'd like the result to be something that someone who just 'likes paintings' and couldn't care less about whose home it is, would still say it has merit as an aesthetically pleasing painting. My original scribbles or what some might call preliminary sketches are so messy and drawn all over it is of no value to include them here. However I do have to get the composition into my head by making quick little scribbles,or sketches. I know from experience that  for me this is a step that enables me to 'see' the final outcome. That is not to say things don't change, but the basic composition remains intact once I start believe in it.

Because this is a Blog, I'll leave out a lot- I'll assume I'm not writing this for art students.
My old students may be impressed if I can manage to keep this brief.
The size of the painting originally asked for was obviously going to be too small to do my plan on so I  decided to seek forgiveness rather than permission and chose a canvas that was 20 X 40 inches-cotton  with 3 coats of sanded Gesso.
    I did a full size drawing on tracing paper and the traced it onto the canvas in the 
old fashioned way in pencil-(turned the tracing paper over and put pencil (8B) on the backside).
I then blocked in the sky area after a lot of indecision about where to put the horizon line. I used a photograph of the sky that I took in late summer from this location and knowing the lower part would be painted over kept it fairly simple.That sky is to the west- a little north of west and I hoped it might have the familiar-to-me look of the sky over lake Huron. This farm is about two miles from the lake. I grew up about one mile from the shoreline. Several times while I was at the farm there were seagulls in the distance and I think now maybe I should have included them-even if birds in a picture often feel inauthentic to me.

                                                 When massing in the large areas I kept the paint thin so I could see the drawing through a layer of paint.The heavily applied opaque paint is applied at the end. I approach painting like this in a way that does not make me feel committed to any colour or texture initially. Everything is sketchy and is in flux. I know from experience that I have to keep making adjustments as I go along and the  even if I think I'm close to the finish I know I'll have to make some areas more intense and some areas less so-push some things back and pull some things forward-sometimes that is done by means of contrast or exaggerated perspective or overlapping planes and sometimes colour temperature. I don't have a hard and fast approach. I envy those who say they have a technique that they find tried and true and use all the time.Sometimes I paint like a watercolourist, sometimes more like an oil painter, sometimes I  work on a coloured ground sometimes om the white of the gesso.

I know I should use a bigger brush at this stage but I tend to build up shapes in a shape like a tree gradually so I more or less draw in colour the edges of things. Beginning the painting of the trees is  partly through observation of those actual trees and partly through watching what happens when one keeps an eye on the overall balance of the composition. The liberties I took in this painting will forever remain a secret but I am sure no one will look at one or the trees and say that tree is smaller than when we planted it -or that it is in   the wrong place-
 The red of the farm wagon and the warm brown of the mail box will need to be watched...

The west door of my studio lets some light in but the window(not seen here) to the left
is one of the main sources of light -this room is not ideal and as I was finishing the painting during a week of nonstop snowfall(darker than usual daylight) I had to bring in some more artificial light-that mess on the table gets organized each morning before I begin and incidentally unlike a lot of my work, this one was done more or less at one go over 3 1/2 weeks and I calculate it took about  100-120 hours- that's not a lot in my books, it just happens to be one work that was easy to tell how long it took to do because I uncharacteristically did it 'in one go'.
As I said above I don't have hard and fast rules- that goes for colour too. Some painters boast that they use only 6 colours or 8 colours or just the primaries and some like to say they never use black. It would, I'm sure, be easier if one's technique were 'cut and dried', but I think I'm too much of an experimenter to ever stop trying out a colour just to see if it works. I don't think I really even have an colour 'preferences' -it all depends on what I'm painting. In this case the local colours in the farm setting  need to be'what they are'.
Maybe it's a good time to repeat that my paintings aren't about me-they are about my subject matter.
 Regarding colour,I really appreciate a good water colour in which the artist uses a well thought out combination of 3 colours other than black in order to make his or her blacks. I also appreciate good colour harmonies when I see them. Aesthetically I don't think you can beat a rich luscious, luminous Rembrandtesque oil painting but I might change my mind tomorrow if I bumped into a large colour field work
by any of the many Abstract Expressionists whose work I enjoy at the level of  pure colour.    I am certainly here not recommending that anyone ever paint like me.
Those tubes and bottles of paint  that can be seen on the table include fluid acrylic and soft body and heavy body acrylic  in all brands.     I need all the help I can get. I seldom use acrylic medium for a work like this.

  I debated with myself about including the vehicles that were there when I took a photo close up of the garage doors ...A painting like this will stay in a family and knowing how time passes I know that someday these vehicles will look like antiques- they will be a part of a family's history, just as are farmer's tractors. While my  family did not live on a farm when I was a child we did live in the country and I remember the loyalty farmers had to one make or another of tractor -It might be worth mentioning here that when Terry was a child his father was still using horses-so the vehicles stay... 
the colour came later and the driveway and bricks  got considerably cooler.The old windmill was blocked in and it was something I didn't want to think about....

Now for a confession: I overlooked  the abstract shapes that happen in a painting regardless of the content and failed to notice the way the eye movement caused by the positioning below of the mailbox relative to the tree behind it caused.... well it's obvious.
When I did the initial layout I didn't even include the mailbox thinking it would just be a small aspect of the
overall composition-anyone who takes pictures knows that if I had taken  just one step to the left the mailbox would have appeared to be  more to the 

so, I took that imaginary step to the right and looked again at the mail box and noticed it was not so tall, not so high- that's better-One can also see from the previous picture that by this point I decided to include the farm Truck and cattle wagon. At first I thought  maybe I don't have time to include it- it looked complicated -a lot of parts and I never did like drawing wheels and then the thought (the problem of scale) : how big should it be ? Since it wasn't there in that exact place in  any photograph, I had to draw  and redraw it at least 4 times !-each time making it bigger or smaller or higher or lower on the picture plane before putting it more to the left, then more to the right.... after 4 days of living with it in this position I figured it made sense- Did you ever wake up in the middle of the night wondering if you put a truck in the right place ? 
I drew the mailbox in with white chalk

This section  had to be looked at closely and altered a very little bit to enable
 me to show the house behind that tree in the front yard. While I had  I visited the farm at various times of the day, it was only at this point in the process of doing the painting that I even thought about shadows. I noticed the shadows were going from left to right on the ground. In my photographs the time that seemed to work to have the subtle shadows creating a sense of light, and space was mid-morning... I did visit the farm one morning- just at sunrise -in August, but the light then was too dramatic and harsh and there was too much green. It was about this point that I began to consider how I would deal with the large areas of grass and the fallen leaves.It also became apparent that the colour of the stone/brick driveway was drastically different depending on the time of day it was perceived.

The large spruce behind the driveway stone pillar seemed like a quite a major part of the composition 
and I knew I had to get it right -Blue Spruce are much bluer at some times of the year than other times.
I blocked it in about the size it should be and began to think that  it is not blue enough-sure enough looking at my hundreds of photographs of the place I was surprised at how I failed to notice its colour when I initially painted it in... That windmill in the back started to really bother me about this point.

As this picture below conveys I had begun to intensify the values in the blue spruce and fortunately
I had a good photo from which i could determine the tree's colour temperature. I confess I did not make it as blue as I could have- maybe even should have to be literally faithful to what the eye sees, but,(and it's a big but), what the eye sees when this painting  is on the wall, is what is important- it's obviously a blue spruce and that is enough... throughout this painting I thought it would be nice to have a bigger monitor-my good, old, much bigger monitor died a few weeks before and  I thought in replacing it I can live with this refurbished $70.00 monitor for now...when I win the lottery there will be some changes here!
The spruce with contrast added...
This one is out of the order but never mind -
these are not all the colours I used either...
..what the monitor showed me...

after using some cool blue/green and before adding the darks and the 
little brown cones near the top-by no means finished yet...

...that tree in the front yard with some mid value greens added
notice the trees to the left have been darkened down a lot and that 
annoying windmill is still waiting for it's salvation.

This is closer to the actual colour of the tree but now I notice that I don't like the 
way the leaves in the frame above are not cooperating with the bottom roof line  so... 
so I painted them out, yes, having to fix the windows and repaint the eaves trough
...but I think it was worth it...
You'll notice here I painted in the emergency numbers on the small
sign in the front yard-had to be sure to get that right !

now for that windmill........
or maybe I'll save it for next time 
     This  writing about what you have done is hard work and nothing looks as good as it did when the work was finished and varnished... and I feel like I'm leaving out too much... ho hum...
 It feels a bit like talking to myself too... I'm seeing quite a few things I'd do not exactly differently, just better- and no, I'm not being overly critical and don't get me wrong, I feel pretty good about the final results- I just know that, like every painter who is honest about it and doesn't have to carry around a big ego, painting -or making any kind of art means always striving for that result you know you can get a hold of and actually do sometimes.  
            The close up of that blasted windmill may give the impression that the canvas had a heavy texture but that is because I held an artificial light quite close and immediately above the area I was shooting
creating a 'raking' light

The next three pictures are about the beginning of the repainting of the windmill
Painting over it.....
then deciding how big to make it....

That's enough for mow-have to go shovel snow before it is rained on and turns to cement
...till next time...........................B.D.

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