Back Yard: #1

I am regularly looking for something new to paint. When I want a new subject, it’s pretty common for me to get in the car, and drive out to look for something interesting. I end up in the rural areas around me, or at one of the reservoirs where I like to fish. The problem is, I end up losing a lot of daylight driving around looking for something to paint.

Today, I decided to take on what I heard as a challenge by Joseph Zbukvic who said in one of his videos that there are no bad subjects, only bad paintings. So, I went out into my back yard, and snapped a photo. There isn’t any thing particularly romantic about this composition, it’s just the common ordinary view from my very normal back yard. Earlier in the morning, when I went to feed the birds and squirrels, I remember seeing the sun glinting off of the top of that pine tree, so I decided I would try to capture that memory in this painting.

I mean, c’mon – it’s not particularly beautiful. So… yeah. I have my work cut out for me.

First, I sketched the image, and made two small changes. In the photo, the pole on the fence is on the left, but I wanted to move it to the right so it would balance the vertical line created by the tree. I also removed my next-door neighbor’s house, just because I didn’t feel like it contributed much to the composition at all. Other than that, It’s pretty much the same.

First, I used clean water to wet the background. I knew I would want to mingle the shapes of the trees and distant bushes, so I carefully wet the paper underneath the roofs of the houses in the back ground. Then, I used Indie Blue, Cerulean, and Yellow Ochre to paint a graded wash for the sky (Indie Blue at the top blending into Cerulean, and finishing with Yellow Ochre at the horizon near the trunk of the pine tree.

While that was still wet, I used a clean straight edged brush to lift pigment from the sky to suggest clouds. The sky in my photo is much darker than the sky here, but I find that when I paint the sky dark, it flattens the composition, so I kept the sky fairly light in value.

While that was still wet, I used a mixture of the three colors to paint the shapes of the trees and shrubs. The blues and yellow that I used create a pretty neutral green, so I added some violet to make that green a bit more grey. I should probably have used red instead, but I thought the violet would read as more distant.

I guess I got a little bit lost in the painting, which is probably a good sign, because I didn’t take any other in-progress photos. In general, my approach was to use fairly watery pigments (coffee, and tea consistency) until the very end, when I switched to more cream consistency for the darkest values.

To paint the fence, I placed a piece of gator board on top of the painting, and put the ferrule of the brush against the edge of the board. Then, I lowered the brush until just the tip was touching the paper, and dragged the brush across the paper, keeping the ferrule against the board. This helped me keep a straight line. For the fencing itself, I just used the same brush and painted the lines freehand. I kind of wonder if it would have been better to use the straight edge for those lines as well, but I worried that too many perfectly straight lines would feel out of place, so I decided to free hand it. I think this is the right approach, but next time I should probably wait until the massive amounts of coffee I drink have worn off – my hands were pretty shaky.

Well, that’s it. Not a ton to write about here. I like this one, and I’m glad I was able to paint something I’m proud of even though the subject wasn’t as romantic or awe-inspiring as many other subjects.

I’d like to paint more subjects like this in the future. I genuinely believe that art can be used to help us see the beauty in the ordinary things around us, and I hope that I’ll gradually improve enough to more readily showcase the natural beauty of mundane, ordinary subjects in the future.