A couple years ago I created a painting which was in my eyes very successful. It was my favourite because of the easy way the paint went down in thin layers and abstract patterns, resulting in an image which was familiar and recognizable as a seascape. It sold last year and so I haven’t had it as a reference for the work anymore.

Moss st3
The Strait

I’ve been practicing plein air and studio landscape painting for a while now and am just starting to feel glimpses of ability come through. The ability to do what I set out to do.

I started Last Light (below) Monday evening after work, but I had been contemplating the reference and how to approach it for about a week. Gestating. The sky set in very quickly and thinly. I had to ignore my brain telling me to layer more colour and paint thicker because it was coming out so well in a thin application. I do love being able to see the grain of the wood under the paint. The next evening’s session started and the sky still worked for me so I began in on the water, thinking it would be the first of a few sessions.

The water was a bit of a leap of faith as I tried to figure out how to put grey and pink together while wet and again I the paint laid down as thin layers. Alternating grey and pink short strokes was the trick. Side by side and sometimes over top, the colours blended and stayed apart, creating variety and similarity.

When it came to the foreground waves, I thought I wanted the paint to be thicker there because water I’ve painted in the past was thick and gooey and I loved it. I laid down the under-painting by following the abstract patterns of waves and foam with a leap of faith. And I kept doing that with the various colours of the scene, stepping back every so often to see what was happening. It was progressing well.

And then the paint started to go down slightly thicker, with a dash of very thick paint on the tops of waves where the water is more frothy. And that was it! Just enough thick on thin. I listened to my husband who warned me not to over paint. And it was done in one session.

It was all a very abstract going down and when you look closely it IS just patterns of colour. Standing back from it it looks much tighter and controlled.

And that’s what I love. The tension within the paint and the tension in viewing the painting.

final light2
Standing back from the painting it looks like a tight application of paint.
final light
With the full painting in view you can start to see that it is thin and loose with very small thick areas.
And up close you can see the loose patterns of colour with just a dash of thick paint on the top of the wave.

Now the trick is to keep painting like this regardless of the subject matter. Thin when it works, loose patterns of colour, thick when you need that emphasis of colour, texture and drama. The thick paint is the fun part but if it’s all fun, it’s too much. And there’s that notion of balance again.

And the other trick is to paint like this en plein air! I need more practice.

Messy Plans

When I think I’ve completed a painting I usually take it out of the studio and prop it up in the living room to ponder during relaxation times. Often this leads my husband to complain about wet paint marks on our newly painted walls. He recently set an easel up in the corner for just this use so that the walls stay clean and I put one of my recent works on it, which looks great! And I then proceeded to prop up my wet painting again. I make him crazy.

However, the propping up also often leads to discussion about our work. I’ve had nice success lately doing water and cloud elements because they are so fluid and free, that it’s just natural for them to end up painterly and loose. But my land elements are still tight. So Andrew and I simultaneously told me to approach the land elements like they were water or air. And so I did. And so I had what I’d call better success making both the sky and land elements more fluid in this desert scene.

High Desert Cloud Bloom, studio oil, 12″ x 24″

While there is still plenty of room for improvement, this one felt looser as it went down and so I want to take that feeling and method into the next piece.

I have a plan.

Each studio piece I’ve been creating lately has been a matter of finding reference materials when I want to do a new piece. However, I want to create a cohesive body of work so the one-off approach isn’t great. Coming up with the “theme” or goal of that body of work is very difficult. And yet I’ve at least had a couple ideas for paintings starting to back log in my brain, which means something is brewing. The first back log item is a stunning, quiet sunset piece in 18″ x 24″. I say quiet because the sky in the reference is empty of clouds and has a layering of stunning, muted colours – which calms the piece down even though there is churning water in the foreground. I like that tension. The colours also play with that theme – the sky is multi-coloured while the fore is almost a black and white scale. Interesting tension again.

And then I have a back logged idea to do a triptych of paintings of empty campground sites. I love the idea of  the potential in the images. The spots are empty but you know there will be and has been plenty of activity in those spots. My mind sees them as lonely yet lovely treed spaces which evoke excitement about the future, about camping! There’s that tension again.

I won’t tease you any more with what I am going to paint. Because you just know that with the sunny weather, I’ll likely get pulled in to more plein air work and/or I’ll go off in another direction. Suffice it to say that the studio is well utilized, as is the living room, as is my brain, in painting. Fantastic.

And the walls will continue to gather wet paint marks. Just because.