Monday, October 22, 2012

Sometimes you have to go for it

Working from a photograph on a chilly day I tackled a shaded hillside in northern Victoria, Australia. Mostly I was trying to catch the shade under the trees, the atmospherics of the distant hills, and to give some sense of the steep perspective as the hill falls away at the viewers feet.

At this stage, I was fairly happy but I knew that I needed to make a few adjustments. The next hill over was too brown and warm for the rest of the painting (especially in this photo). I didn't feel the shadows under the trees were strong enough. And I knew that I had chickened-out instead of including the scattered flock of sheep in the reference photograph.

So after strengthening the shadows I did a bit of research looking at how other painters have tried to show distant sheep with just a few strokes, then held my breath and went for it.

I'm still not thrilled with the brown hill... but the sheep seem to "work". They're small.... but they're sheep! 

This is 9" x 12" on Arches 140 lb cold press, entirely painted with an Isabey 2/0 Squirrel Quill Mop brush, except for the sheep which needed something smaller and stiff. A teeny bit of gouche for the sheep whites. This second photograph is more true to the actual color.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Boston from Buck Hill

We had a glorious warm autumn day yesterday, so I packed up the field gear into my backpack and headed off to the Blue Hills Reservation in Milton, MA. This wonderful network of trails, ponds and hills is within a half hour drive and offers surprisingly grand vistas for a spot so close to the city, so close to the coast here.

I chose Buck Hill, taking a brief but very steep and rugged leaf-covered trail straight up from Route 28. Suffice it to say I was reminded of my own sloth, lack of exercise and even mortality on the climb up. At the very least, I was rather grateful the trail wasn't any longer!

I don't have much in the way of photos here: just the painting (9 x 12) and a documentation of what I was looking toward. When I started there was still a bit of haze and/or fog hovering over the city presumably due to temperature inversions of some sort, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky. We're already a bit "past peak" for many of the fall leaves - they came and went in a hurry this year!

Thursday, October 11, 2012


The difference between the way a painting looks at arm's length (the way it's made) and from across the room (the way it is often viewed) can be truly mysterious and sometimes astonishing, even to the painter.

When I stand back to look, I'm often looking for nebulous qualities. Things like "Does the painting hold up?" or "Is that detail lost?" become just as important as judgements about color, shape, composition, emphasis, and whether or not I've successfully conveyed what I set out to convey.

The recent paintings below are deliberately shown small here to give you some idea what they look like from across the room. They're all less than 9" x 12". But if you click, you'll get a better sense of how they look to me when I'm painting...

The bottom one is a first sketch attempt at depicting a complicated and colorful scen along the Charles River in Newton, Massachusetts. Lilypads, turning leaves, reflections, forest shadows... these are all significant challenges for me and up close I didn't think I was getting them down in a coherant way. But from across the room something magical happens - I had caught more than I thought!