Edge of the Woods: #1

When we were at Malone Thanksgiving I took a handful of photos that I want to paint. This weekend, I painted the second one for the first time.

Here’s the photo I painted this weekend.

The morning when I took this photo, the whole world was quiet. I was awake before Rachel and the girls, and I decided to take the time to be alone and try to get inspired by the quiet farm behind the house we were staying in. There was a thin layer of frost on the ground, and I walked around the perimeter of the farm, looking at the trees and grass and harvested crops. I could see my breath. I don’t remember hearing a sound.

For about twenty minutes, I squatted down in the tall dry grass and sat as silently as I could, hoping a deer would cross by. Eventually, I figured the kids must be awake, so I started back to the house to help get breakfast ready. When I stood up, there were three does at the opposite side of the crops, starting at me.

I was feeling very contemplative at the time. Very still-minded. Very interested by the morning around me.

And those are the memories that I see and feel when I think back to the scene that inspired this painting.

To start, I drew some very basic shapes, and painted a very simple sky. I used a clean cloth to swipe away the clouds, and added a tiny touch of Yellow Ochre to the clouds to try to get the feel of a sunrise. Then I painted the distant trees by painting a line of Laps Lazuli and Quin Purple into the horizon after the shine was gone from the paper.

For the field I used Naples Yellow and Raw Umber. I should just point out, I don’t often use Naples Yellow because it’sin my main palette, but I think I might love it. I’m going to have to experiment with it… it’s a very low key yellow, with a creamy white side, I need to play with it some more.

The field was just a few lines and a ragged edge of brown. By leaving a lot of white paper near the horizon I was hoping to give the impression of frost on the ground.

In the foreground, I painted very heavily pigmented patches of color with the intention of lifting most of it after it dried. I haven’t used this technique before, but when I was lifting color from the castle in my last painting, I was reminded of the effect I see in Joseph Alleman’s paintings that I love so much.

Here’s what it looks like when a master uses this technique.

I have wondered for a while how he achieves that effect, and when I was lifting paint on the castle I noticed how this pushed pigment into the edges of the areas where I was lifting pigment. I was immediately reminded of Joseph Alleman, and realized that he must achieve that effect by lifting pigment. So, I decided to try.

Here you can see the effect of lifting in the back, there was less pigment applied here, so the end result was much more white.

I kept lifting pigment over and over, trying to get those gorgeous patches of soft and crisp edges that Joseph Alleman has perfected.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the effect quite right, no surprise since it’s my first attempt. I realized pretty quickly that this painting wasn’t going to work as I wanted, so I decided to embrace the failure, and use it to my benefit by pushing the technique as far as I could—to see when it would break.

I tried two ways to lift pigment in this experiment. First, I lifted with careful repeated brushes with a painted round, which makes a teardrop-shaped line. Second, I tried aggressively scrubbing away patches of color, which works more quickly, and produces shapes instead of lines.

Aside: Lattice of Cotton Fibers

A synthetic blend brush works much better than sable or squirrel for this lifting effect, I assume because the stiff bristles are more aggressive at scrubbing the pigment out of the lattice off cotton fibers in the paper.

A long time ago, I used my daughters play microscope to look at a painted piece of paper to see how pigment settles on paper. Below are two images from that test. For these images I used blBloodstone Genuine, which is very heavily granulating, and lifts very well.

In the top image, I painted the color on the paper, and didn’t touch it again. In the second, I painted it and then “over worked” it by brushing it back and forth a dozen times. You can clearly see that when it was overworked, particles of pigment were nestled deeper between the cotton fibers, which lets less of the whites of the paper show through.

One swipe of pigment.
Same amount of pigment and water, but painted back and forth a dozen times.

Back to it…

I definitely over worked the painting, but oddly – that seems to almost work here. I think my favorite parts of the lifting technique are where it leaves crisp dark edges from pigment naturally collecting at the edges of where I’m lifting. See the strong vertical in the middle of the foreground?

I definitely need to experiment more with this. I really like the effect, but it is a little hard to control. (It’s similar to wet in wet in a lot of ways.) I think I might try this same painting again, we will see…

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