Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Fields of Winter

In many holiday seasons I drive my family back and forth between New England and the Midwest - nearly 1,000 miles each way, much of it on the New York State Thruway. Navigating through and around the potential for bad weather, especially in the lee of Lake Erie, can often be a challenge. This year's trip outbound gave us sleet in the Berkshires (which did indeed look "dreamlike on account of that frosting", as James Taylor would put it) and then a blustery but dry snowfall between Albany and Buffalo.

One of the prettiest parts of this journey in winter is around the towns of Herkimer and Mohawk, right where one would exit for Cooperstown and the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Erie Canal runs parallel to the highway here and the valley opens up to rolling hills gridded with evergreen forest and farmland to the north. With snow on the ground, and one eye on the road I can let my other eye memorize the high-contrast features of the land, and recall the wonderful snowscapes of Russell Chatham - one of my favorite contemporary landscape painters.

This year I've put in a little more than a week's work to try and capture something of the allure of this scenery for me. I used hastily snapped phone photos of that drive for reference, adapting freely.

 I started with pencil value sketches, combining features and altering them to end up with this 7"x10" sketch:

I then tried to move up to a half-sheet (15"x22") to see if I could capture the same sort of thing. Very similar at first glance. Some parts worked as well, others less so:

 The second close-up detail shows (to me) how I almost always stiffen up when I move up in scale, and how my free and loose style doesn't benefit from operating in fits and starts...

Later I tried another scene back at 7"x10" again. There is still lots to learn about making flat light on snow work!

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