On a recent, warm, Free Friday morning my dog, Connor and I venture into the nearby Sacramento, American River Parkway. We are there from about 9:15 to 11:15. We returned to the studio with eleven, 4.5 by 6.5 inch value plans. Probably the best of he group is, as is usual in my case, the first effort.
I rarely work in series. However, what I don’t realize at the time is this single value plan will become the basis for six future paintings.
After completing the Two Stumps painting in the studio environment, I realize this experience might make an effective method of demonstrating a simple approach to abstracting a complex landscape.
So, to offer a learning experience for present and future students, I decide to return the next day, same time, same place, to photograph each scene as I experienced it the previous day. Since, as a matter of habit I note the date and time on my value plans I have all I need to recreate a reasonably accurate representation of each scene as I viewed it 24 hours earlier.
It is important to note the photographs are in no way used as reference material for this, or future paintings; The photos are only for illustrating and documenting the creation process described herein. As the late teacher and artist Milford Zornes noted, ” I have no use what so ever for the use of the camera in relation to painting. It has nothing to do with painting and it’s a damned nuisance!”
Posted below is a photograph of the scene as I saw it, followed by the resulting relatively simple value plan, and the final, first of six, paintings.
(Above) What attracts my attention is the contrasting back-lighting of the two, smaller, but unique dark, “U-shaped tree trunks. These shapes are seen slightly to the right of center in the upper photo. Also noted are the two, larger, dark tree shapes leaning to the right in the upper right, and the dark, flora shapes toward the lower, left-center corner.
On the right side is added an imaginary structure that might be found elsewhere on the parkway. The structure’s purpose is to keep the viewer’s attention from traveling off the right side of the composition.
Those few items, shapes, are about all that are required for an interesting composition. To my mind and eye, everything else is complex material that can be eliminated (less is more), or best simplified in one way or another
(Above) For compositional purposes, three garbage can shapes of various sizes and values are added to the horizontal rectangle. Garbage cans are readily seen at locations throughout the parkway. Finally, a couple of birds, are added to complete the value plan.
TWO STUMPS 2
(Above) TWO STUMPS, is less about reporting the actual subject matter than it is about finding an excuse for acknowledging the importance of Shape (composition),Value, and Color,IN THAT ORDER. I like to think of this process as resulting in a painting that is deceptively simple.
TWO STUMPS 2
Days later, a second painting is the basis for a classroom demonstration. The same value plan provides what might be termed as a roadmap on how to achieve a second painting.
(Above) This second painting, Two Stumps 2, uses the same secondary color scheme, but is a bit more colorful, and has more textural content. It is, perhaps, a more assured work. This time the birds are added, as is the blue area at the top of the rectangle. One could imagine this as foliage, ore perhaps that of a sky area, etc. There appears an additional tree, some fencing, and somewhat more calligraphic detail (or fussiness) throughout the painting.
TWO STUMPS 3
(Above) This painting, Two Stumps 3, begins as a demonstration of one of several ways to create a non-objective work. In this case the process has absolutely nothing to do with the Two Stumps paintings, or value plan.
Due to time restrictions of the class, the non-objective painting is about half completed. No problem, we’ll finish it next week…or so I thought at the time. At some point during the interim period, my attention is drawn to the Two Stumps value plan laying unattended on a nearby table top.
From a distance the dark values of the TwoStumps value plan easily captured my imagination. What if I superimposed those darks over the half-completed non-objective painting? Could the two compositions meld into one interesting painting? Would they? The only way to find out is to take the risk, accept the challenge and try it.
In the near future I plan to add a blog post showing several progressive images of the development of Two Stumps 3. So, if you’d care to see the step by step process of how a non-objective beginning turns into an abstract landscape, this is the place. As we say, “stay tuned for further developments.”
TWO STUMPS 4
(Above) Two Stumps 4 is simply a variation on Two stumps, and TWo Stumps 2. Here, the same color scheme is employed. A gray sky area adds further harmony to the painting. The way the small, grayed garbage can is tilted to the right seems charming. It’s what might be termed a “happy accident.” That happy, little can makes me smile every time I look at it. Also, the small, light valued,rectangular pieces remind me of pumpkins and Halloween. Maybe that’s just because as this post is being written Halloween is near.
TWO STUMPS 5
(Above) Two Stumps 5, is another demo painting, this time the emphasis is on showing the strength and interest of a monochromatic, three, or four value painting. One does not always need vibrant color to bring off an interesting, worthwhile statement. If the shapes (think composition) and values are well stated, then the color options are almost limitless. Arguably, too many of us are overly dependent on the use of color to save a poorly designed painting..
Among the goals of this watercolor is to create an exercise in following the original value plan. However,it’s worth noting here that the value plan is only one of the many ways of creating a work of art. In other words, not all paintings must begin with a sketch, or value plan.
TWO STUMPS 6
(Above) While Two Stumps 5 is a demo for the morning class, Two Stumps 6 is created for the evening group. Admittedly, I seem to get carried away with the splashy texture, especially in the mid ground area. I don’t become aware of this until the following morning. What to do now?
The mid-ground area of concern is dampened with clear water, being careful not to disturb ta few marks that are best left dry and sharp. Next, a bristle brush and tissue are used to eliminate, or soften the excess texture. This process is done in several steps, with each step being allowed to dry before proceeding further.
After the fact, I notice the small garbage can is painted in a darker value than originally intended. Thi seems to draw attention away from the two stumps, the desired focal point. Great, another problem to solve. But, isn’t solving problems an important part of the joy in creative painting?
Well, why not go with the situation and intentionally make that small garbage can the focal point instead of the two stumps? As the late Henry Fukuhara had noted some years ago, “An artist can move mountains.” If that’s true, and I believe it is, then why not move focal points. After all, this is not a test of intended centers of interest.
However, I further complicate matters by not scrubbing out the dark value before continuing the “repair. Instead, I add a transparent red over the dark, Ivory Black (I know better) to intentionally increase attention to the new focal point. Still unhappy with the effect, an attempt is made to increase the chroma of the can with a more opaque, intense Cadmium Red. Next comes a transparent yellow over a narrow strip of white paper adjacent to the can. Better, but as the saying goes, “no cigar.”
The final appearance of the garbage can seems a bit labored and over worked (perhaps because it is labored and overworked). I intend to lift most of the color of the can and try again. If and when this is accomplished, I’ll[ post the final image here.
I can hear my dad saying to me as a youngster, “Have patience son. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.’ Yes, I agree…but with watercolor it is always best to get it right the first time.
Well, as promised…below is the corrected version. I masked out the original garbage can and removed the color down to the white paper. Once the area is dry and mask removed, a pen line is used to restate the can shape. Various reds and yellows are added to the gan, plus a few more marks representing sticks, birds, etc. Done. I
‘ll try not to be so wordy in the after.
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