JOSHUA ELEK: WATERCOLORS

Appalachia #1


Firstly: it’s pronounced ”apple-LATCH-uh” not “apple-LAY-shuh.” I didn’t know this until I moved to Wheeling, West Virginia.

Appalachia is named after the Native American tribe that Spanish explorers met in the mountains north of Florida in the 1600s (if I remember correctly.) For that reason, I think pronouncing it correctly is important. The US was so dishonorable to the indigenous people of our country for such a long time, the very least we can do is honor them by pronouncing their name correctly.

Secondly: Appalachia has a reputation for being poor, backward, intolerant, and uneducated. I want to say, I loved living here. The people of Appalachia that I know are kind, and generous, and hard working. There is a lot of poverty in the area, and there is a lot of wealth. There is a rich history filled with frontiersmen like Daniel Boone, and enterprising entrepreneurs like Johnny Appleseed. The area today is stunningly beautiful, and much of it still feels untouched. Appalachia has a warm place in my heart, and I wish more people could see it for the beautiful place that it is.

This painting was an attempt by me to paint from my heart – so I decided to paint a scene in my mind from the Blue Ridge Mountains. I wanted to break out of some of the ruts I’m in, such as:

Placing my focal point at the same distance all the time.

Overworking my composition.

Over-scrubbing skies, making them dirty and close.

Bringing the foreground too close.

And painting the same level of detail in every level of my painting.

To attempt to break free from these bad behaviors, i decided to keep the focal point on this painting very far away. In order to help me do this, i brought the foreground’s horizon down very low on the page.

In an attempt to keep the midground and background far away, I masked off the hills. Normally I would rely on a lot of wet-in-wet to blur the background, and send it backward. The problem is, my backgrounds always end up occupying roughly the same amount of vertical space in the composition. And the height of the background sets a scale for the mid-ground. So, I decided to forget the whole blurry background idea, and went with crisply defined lines (by masking them off with masking tape.)

I tried to use a lot of wet-in-wet in the sky, and then blotted it with paper towels to lift highlights, instead of trying to paint negatively around the clouds, and then carefully rendering the shadows. I still feel like I was a bit heavy handed with it, and the sky would probably have fared better with less attention. That’s something to keep in mind for next time.

In an attempt to keep the background back, I relied on color, since I couldn’t rely on blurry edges. Keeping the distant planes light blue, and gradually saturating, and warming the palette as I moved closer to the viewer, I think I was able to relay a sense of depth in a way that I haven’t tried before.

Lastly, I tried hard to keep the painting simple. I kept fighting the urge to add more details, and to paint large objects close to the viewer. By omitting these, I think I was able to convey a sense of space much more successfully.

Of course, there are things I would do differently, but overall, I’m relatively happy with it. I tried some new things, and didn’t work it to death for the most part. I would love to hear any feedback or tips you might have if you have time to drop me a comment.


2 responses to “Appalachia #1”

  1. Hey Joshua, I’m leaving a comment as you’re asking for them. I’ll I can say is that I really appreciate your website / blog, whatever you call it. I learn a ton from it and I’m not sure why you don’t get lots of feedback. Anyway, again. Thanks!

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