The Ravine: #6

I like this sooooo much more than #5. It still has a way to go, but I’m happy with this for now.

I was watching videos of Joseph Zbukvic painting, and I came across one of a painting that captured a lot of what I’m after in this exercise, so I tried to follow along. It’s tough because there is only music, but you can get the gist of what he is doing enough to try.

I started with a wash of clean water at the sky like he did, and then made a grey from Indie Blue and Raw Umber. It was nice to see that my instincts were right on #5 with my choice of pigments, but watching Joseph paint, I realized that I needed to dramatically reduce the details in the distance. Just letting that grey wash blend with a green grey wash is plenty to give me a background.

Then, I skipped the creek (which feels more like a river – the background is far enough away that the creek feels much too wide) and started painting the foreground. One thing I noticed is that I have a tendency to mix a color, and then splash it in as many places as I can – I think it’s a lazy way of avoiding going back to rinse my brush and make more color. Watching Joseph Zbukvic, I see that he tends to work very meticulously from the top down. I know from what I’ve learned watching Rick Surowicz paint that this is what I should be doing, follow the bead and all that, but I invariably don’t do it. I need to be more careful with that.

When I mix one color, and then apply it wherever I think it will be needed, I guarantee that I’m going to put polka dots of that color everywhere, and I’m guaranteed to work in the danger zone somewhere. When I paint top down, as I should, I’m always working on wet paper, and I’m never in the danger zone, where the paper isn’t dry, but it’s not wet. Adding pigment at that stage causes blossoms. These aren’t necessarily bad, but as the newly placed pigment blossoms, it washes the not-yet-dry pigment away with it, and creates mud. If I don’t like the blossom, I’m then tempted to go back in to try to soften it – which just makes more blossoms, and more mud. This habit of not working top down is probably the biggest reason my paintings tend to become lifeless. Pet the cat too much, and it’ll hiss and claw your eyes out.

As I painted the foreground, I dragged pigment up into the wet wash in the distance because I saw Joseph do this. I like the way this causes those trees to drip over the river, but I think I didn’t let that background wash dry quite enough before trying this. That, or I used too much water in that wash. When I dragged the trees into the distant wash, they blossomed all over the damn place. I wasn’t about to try to fix it – I hoped I could hide them later with more trees.

Once I had the foreground sufficiently muddled, I actually waited and let it dry like a good boy should. I didn’t see Joseph do this, in fact in his videos he almost never stops painting. He’s like a wizard who knows exactly how long it will take to do the next step, and exactly how wet his brush should be so he can paint step two while step one dries unmolested, then when step two is done, step one is dry enough to paint over without fear of muddying things. Maybe there’s a thick over thin thing going on – the first wash should be very thin, mostly water, and subsequent washes should be thicker and thicker so there is less risk that the next value will wash into the light values that were painted first.

After things dried, I started adding trees everywhere. I saw how Joseph Zbukvic dripped the trees into place, and I loved the effect he got by doing this, but as I tried it, I just got more blossoms and mud. Turns out, I’m not such a good boy after all – I didn’t let it dry enough.

Then I used increasingly thick pigments to paint the foliage on the trees. I also transitioned to my #2 squirrel mop at this point. I noticed that Joseph Zbukvic tends to start with a big mop, and move to smaller mops as he goes up the value scale. I tried this, but I used too much water on my #2, so I got some hideous running.

I then switched to my synthetic rigger. I really want a softer rigger – the synthetic is very springy, and doesn’t hold nearly enough water. The synthetic is basically like painting with sandpaper soaked in glue. The Sable brushes are more like a true paintbrush feel, and hold just enough water, though I often need to recharge. The squirrels are like painting with angel wings. They hold gallons of water, and they are so soft on the paper – there really isn’t a comparison. I wonder if they make straight-edge squirrel…

Anyway – I used the rigger to vomit trees out, and then swirled in some very thick dark pigment to give the impression of brambles. This isn’t something I saw Joseph do, but for me this painting is all about the peace and hopefulness of youth tucked hidden behind a sea of pricked that won’t let me go back there. That’s what nostalgia is for me – the knowledge that yesterday was glorious, and I can never go back. Maybe that should teach me to appreciate right now more than I do – after all, tomorrow, now will be yesterday.

Anyway – I added those brambles, and kept adding trees. Then I tried to confidently paint some shadows of the trees. This caused even greater scale, and seemed to raise the eye level, though I don’t exactly know how or why.

When I was don’t there, I added the two figures to reintroduce scale, and wrapped it up.

The end.

I like the figure further away.

Oh – I almost forgot… I left the river for the end. That was a mistake.

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