Well, this blog is nothing if not honest. Tonight I painted a truly wretched painting. Which is a shame because it’s such a nice photo.
While this painting isn’t at all what I was hoping to create, I am very encouraged by it, because I think I know exactly where things went off the rails. And knowing what went wrong is a good sign that I’m improving.
The biggest issue I had here was tunnel vision. I got stuck in the fiddle bits as I painted, and tried too many different approaches to the same problem.
It started off badly. That’s not a good sign. I painted the sky, but didn’t capture the effect of the dawn light in the clouds, so I overworked it right out of the gate trying to fiddle with what came out into the paper in a misguided attempt to turn it into something it didn’t want to become. It’s not terribly obvious here, but watch what happens to the sky when I go from a nice fresh wash, and then I try to gussy it up by adding more shadows, and some warm tones to the clouds.
The sky goofed. But it really isn’t a huge problem because it’s such a small part of the composition in terms of focus. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted, but I also knew it could be overlooked if I were successful on the rest. This mindset put a lot of pressure on the midground… and instead of succeeding under pressure, I shit the bed.
When I painted the midground I thought:
- Soft edges
- Cool tones
- Dark values
- Warm tones in the nearest areas.
- Don’t forget about ambient occlusion!
- Wait, you want to practice that lifting thing.
- Leave a tiny little highlight around the figure, you’ll need it for scale.
- Keep the darks against the lights so you get a good amount of contrast.
- Remember, it’s morning, the light is highly filtered, so tonal contrasts should be subdued.
- Try to get a nice blossom to suggest a tree somewhere.
- That worked maybe? Try it again… and again… and oh shoot.. stop stop stop!
See? There is just too much theory there, and not enough artistry. All of the things I was thinking are valid, but when I let all that theory drown out my instincts, I just end up with an overworked patchwork of attempts to appease a cacophony of voices.
This is especially noticeable when you consider the source photo. There is essentially nothing going on in the midground! I fretted so much over all these little details, and it was completely unnecessary. The midground should really just be a dark triangle. Maybe use two colors so it adds a bit of interest, but that’s all you need.
I did like how this looked though… until I ruined it.
When I got to the house, trees, and bushes – I almost righted the ship. The first pass at the house wasn’t actually that bad. I got the tonality about right, and the lack of tonal contrast. I even like the way those trees came out above the bushes. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like that or not, but it worked here, and recalled the source pretty well.
Which is probably why I tried (unsuccessfully) to replicate that with the tree on the right. I should have left good enough alone. Hopefully that’s a good lesson – know when to stop, and trust your instincts.
Those stylized branches in the trees on the right didn’t quite work as I had imagined, so I figured I could try my new lifting technique. After all, I used Bloodstone Genuine on the trunk – and that pigment lifts like a champ.
But nooooooo! Lifting all that pigment just created a big puddle of mud!
At this point, the painting was sufficiently ruined, so I just experimented with some things in the foreground as I wrapped up.
It’s a disaster of a painting – but at least I learned a lot.