I think I might need to rename this painting. Now at the third iteration, I think it’s more about the rocks and vegetation than it is about the sky.

At any rate, I have volunteered to work part-time during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a very strange time in the world right now, and I don’t necessarily want to focus on it, but since I’m waiting for the masking fluid to dry…

When this pandemic first started making the news, there was a sort of tongue in cheek smirk about the heightened reaction in the news among a lot of the people I find here in Ohio. Now, as the virus has spread, and we are nearing a million cases worldwide, it seems the reaction was warranted. Still – with the world on quarantine, and the global economy squeaking as it slows to a drip, I wonder how different things will be when this is over.

My take on the COVID-19 pandemic

Chances are you didn’t come here to read about my thoughts on the pandemic, feel free to skip ahead.

I see this going one of two ways:

1) People don’t take the quarantine seriously enough, and the Pandemic blows through and kills millions or billions. Then, the nay-sayers who are annoyed by the economic slow down will claim they were right all along – the virus killed millions even with draconian quarantine measures. Not only did the virus kill millions, but our overreaction derailed the global economy as well. We would have been better off to just keep the economy running since a quarantine didn’t effectively reduce fatalities anyway. Meanwhile, proponents of the quarantine will estimate millions more deaths would have resulted were it not for the quarantine.

2) People will take this seriously, and the virus won’t be as deadly as the worst-case scenarios say it could be. Then, the nay-sayers will come out and say, “See? There was no point in detailing the economy, the virus wasn’t as bad as everyone said it would be.” Meanwhile, the proponents of the quarantine will claim millions of lives were saved.

No matter what happens on the other side of this, the people who are annoyed with the quarantine will claim they were right, and the people favoring an abundance of caution will claim they were right.

In which case, I say better to be cautious. Yes – that caution will have a deleterious impact on the economy. But if it could save lives – then it’s worth it. How dare we think for even a moment that we should grease the gears of global corporate wealth with human blood? Surely, we aren’t that far gone, are we?

Ok … my masking fluid is probably dry now.

Initial Sketch and Masking

Here’s what my drawing looks like:

Like I said earlier, I don’t think this is going to be a painting about a cloudy sky today. Instead, this is going to be about that pond, and the rocks. Which is funny – because the rocks and high vegetation in the foreground didn’t even exist in my first attempt.

I decided this time to increase the height of the near vegetation for two reasons. First, I wanted to add the phragmites that I feel are missing, even if I don’t like them. Second, I wanted to alter the composition to an L to make it more interesting. I this the asymmetrical composition will be a nice balance against the peacefully distant barn and still water in the pond.

The Plan

Before I paint, there are a few things I’m trying to achieve here:

1) I want to paint the nearest rock with two clear quartz veins. The crystals will be perpendicular to the path of the vein, because that’s how the quartz would have grown – it would have bridged a gap in compressed granite.

2) I want the grasses on the left of the nearest rock to be a soft variegated wash – I don’t want to paint every blade, just allude you them. I hope this will focus the eye on the rock.

3) I really want to nail the pond this time. The water should be a smooth graded wash, broken only by highlights for reflected light from the sky. And the reflections in the water should be subtle, not mirrors of the objects above.

4) I want the rock on the right to be a much simpler version of the rock on the left. Both should have similar veins to indicate that long ago, they were part of the same cracked granite slabs.

5) I want the sky to be very simple. And I mean very – very simple. Just a blueish slash of blooming pigment. I have no idea if that will work, but it’s what I’m picturing, so we’ll see.

6) The distant trees need to be done with a cauliflower. I need to wait for the sky to dry to just the right stage before adding clean water to push it up and create misty distant trees. Again, I don’t know if that will work – we’ll see.

7) The barn will be very simple, and distant. Just a grey shape, and a white shape.

8) Lastly, I want to make the grasses feel backlit. Nearer grasses should be in shadow, and deeper grasses should be in shadow. The rest should be golden green and yellow.

Sky

The sky was painted in three steps. First, a wash of clean water to wet the page all the way to the horizon, and no farther. Then, a strip of light yellow at the horizon. (This is a mix of isoindoline yellow and raw umber because I don’t have any yellow ochre on my palette right now.)

You can also see that I decided to make the rock on the right a bit taller than in the sketch. I think this will makes it feel more connected to the rock in the foreground.

EDIT: This turned out to be a mistake. Oops.

Then, I painted a zig zag of ultramarine blue into the sky. I wanted to leave that alone, but it was very geometric so I used a damp brush to soften the edges a bit more. Now, I’m letting it run down while it dries. Once the sheen is gone, I’ll add clean water at the horizon to make the distant tree line with a cauliflower.

The Distant Trees

As the sky was drying, I got a substantial bead at the horizon. I need the sky to dry more evenly than this bead of water will permit, so I mopped it up with a dry flat brush. Then, let it dry some more.

See how shiny the paper is at this angle? I’m waiting for that to dry to a more matte finish before painting the distant trees. It has to be dry — but not too dry — in order for the water to push the pigment upward the way I want. The goal is to create a backrun, or cauliflower, to suggest distant misty trees.

There, that’s more like it. It’s a very subtle difference, but too wet and the cauliflower will go everywhere. Too dry, and it won’t move pigment at all. It needs to be in that Goldilocks zone where the sheen is gone, but it’s not completely dry.

Then I turn it upside down to dry.

As it dried I noticed that the effect wasn’t as pronounced as I wanted. So I added some more water to clean the horizon a bit and send more pigment to the edges of the cauliflower.

Then, before it completely dried, I added a few drops of light-valued blue.

Now I let it dry completely, (and without a hair drier which I find reduces the strength of the edge on the cauliflower.)

Here it is after drying. It might be too subtle, but I can always go darker later. It’s really hard to go lighter. I’ll leave it for now and see what happens.

Barn and grass

The barn is just a single shape of grey. The silo is the same grey broken a bit. I don’t want to define it completely, because I want it to appear to be far away on the horizon. I may need to add some darker shadows later, but I doubt I will. Better to leave it simple – more detail will just bring it forward.

The grass is a wash of yellow and blue and brown, then two stokes with clean water to suggest shadows from clouds (in the negative areas around where I painted the clean water.)

Rocks

I went to paint the distant rock, and noticed that when I made it taller I changed what needed to be masked. This is why masking fluid can be such a pain. You can’t really change your mindon where the whites will be without removing it. If I paint the rock with the masking fluid as it is now, I’ll have grass growing from the middle of the rock – which is obviously not going to work. So, I need to change my plan. I’ll need to cover the rock a bit with grasses, which I think will look nice. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice this until after I pre-wetted the rock. So, now I have to wait for it to dry completely before removing the masking fluid and reapplying it.

Now I eat lunch while that dries.

After lunch, I saw that the barn didn’t stand out as much as I wanted, so I painted another row of trees in the distance with some blues and purples to give the barn something to contrast with.

Finally I can paint that rock. First, I mixed blue, brown, and neutral tint on my palette, enough to paint both rocks.

Then I wet the rock, and drop a few dots of these colors on the shadowed side, and ever so gently coax it around to the lit side of the rock with a damp clean brush.

I’ll need to erase those pencil lines if I can.

This is where the masking fluid really helps. I can paint the dark color of that rock and I don’t have to be careful to paint around the leaves and quartz veins. I can drop pigment in place and let the water do its thing.

Then, just before it was completely dry, I trapped in some green to suggest algae growing on the bottom of the rock. I added a few drops of water to the top of the rock, just to see what it would do. Now I have to leave it alone before I destroy it.

Next, I used the same colors to paint the near rock, in much the same way. Drops of pigment here and there into wet paper, coaxed around with a damp brush.

A few drops of bright green for algae.

Pond

I can’t avoid it any longer… I have to paint the pond. I have no idea what I’m going to do.

I still have those colors for the rock on my palette, so I might as well use them to start the rock’s reflection. This might turn out to be a mistake… we’ll see.

Sink or swim I guess… I painted the pond by wetting the paper, and just applying the pigment. I used the blue from the sky, and whatever came up from the reflection… I’m not completely happy with it, but I know messing with it is a bad idea, so I’ll let it dry and see if some reflections will help once the masking fluid is off.

Immediately after, I painted the grass and trees on the left. I wanted these to blend softly at the bottom of the painting so I painted them right away while the pond was still wet. Now, a few drops of water for some big old back runs, and a drip of purple or brown here and there…

Reeds

I intend to leave the reeds very loosely rendered, so I painted them by slashing greens and browns into wet paper. The phragmites are brown this time of year, so I used more yellow as they got taller. I’m now getting tunnel vision, I am having trouble seeing the whole painting. So, I’ll step away for a bit and thaw some chicken for dinner.

Jewelry

I removed the masking fluid and tried to erase as much of the pencil as I could. Now I’m proceeding to the “jewelry stage.” That’s Joseph Zbukvic’s word for it, and I love the way it captures this stage. This is where the painting is made and lost. I have to add a few details to make some of the characters really stand out. Too few and this painting will be lifeless and boring. Too many, and it’ll be an argument. I have to tread carefully.

Here’s the first pass at jewelry. The goal here was mostly to soften some of the edges from the masking fluid, and then to add a few deeper shadows here and there. I used very light pigment on the rock to allude to a curved face, which I’ll need to do on the other rock as well.

The pond itself is done. Maybe — MAYYYYBE — I’ll touch it once or twice at the end, but I think I should leave it alone now.

In fact, I think the only things left are to paint some cattails, and shadow one side of the distant rock… that should do it.

Cattails

The cattails were just a single press of a brush for the female flower,

a flick with a wooden skewer for the male flower,

and finished with some darker pigment on one side, a few and dots beneath to suggest the cottony texture of the fertilized female flower, and then a stroke down to suggest the stalk.

Finished

And that’s it. I spent a lot of time on this one, largely because I was trying to take my time and explain the decisions as I went and take lots of photos of my progress. All in all, this painting took me 6 hours. I would like to try this one more time, but without documenting anything as I attempt it.

I learned a TON by writing about this as I went. Stopping to think through the next steps was very useful – but it wasn’t a terribly enjoyable process. I doubt this is something I will do often.

Because it took a long time, I’m tempted to pretend like I think it’s finished and I don’t see the mistakes. But come on… seriously?

I don’t like how the cauliflowersd distant trees came out. I think I need more pigment next time which can then be displaced with clean water.

I also don’t like the pond. Again, I didn’t get the results I imagined. Before I try this again, I’m going to practice some back runs and try different techniques for water.

Ok – I’m sick of writing about this painting now. Bye.