This past summer, I spent a week on vacation with my wife’s family in a house on Lake Erie. One morning I woke up very early to go fishing. It started raining lightly, so I ended up going back into the house and enjoyed a cup of coffee while I waited for the sun to come up and stop the rain. When the rain began to let up, I went out and snapped this photo of the sunrise. I decided to paint it today.
I also decided to record the painting process. I regularly think a painting is going quite well, and somewhere along the line I fuck it all up. So, I wanted to set up something that would permit me to record my painting sessions so I can see what triggers these catastrophic failures.
Because I don’t have any sort of filming setup, I had to build something. Fortunately, I have a bunch of galvanized pipe left over from a project I was doing for my daughter’s dance competition, so I used some of that to build a long arm that extends over my work surface. Then, I had to build a little box-type thing to hold my web cam.
Here’s the little box thing I made. At the top is a pipe hanger that I use to attach it to the galvanized pipe.
Here it is attached to the pipe stand, hanging over my work surface.
And here is my painting corner. I built that little table to the left of the easel out of the galvanized pipes, and old flashlight from Rachel’s pappy, and some left over Ikea countertop material from when we installed new counters in the kitchen. And yes, I am left handed.
And what the hell, while I’m at it… here’s where I spend a large amount of my waking life.
On the left is my art desk, on the right is my work desk. I spend the days working, and then when I’m done running kids around town, I go to my art desk… so I spend a good bit of time in this little corner of my home.
Anyway…. the here is the photo I painted today:
Because I haven’t recorded myself painting ever, this painting was a bit of an experiment – I admittedly didn’t know much about how I was going to paint it. Normally I do a couple of draft paintings before I set out to paint something for real, but I decided not to do that this time… so this painting reflects my current instincts when it comes to painting.
One thing I noticed is that because I was recording, I felt a little bit rushed. I didn’t want to waste a bunch of time drawing, because I thought it would make the video boring – so I skipped that phase a bit. The benefit to this was that I ended up following the marks as they were made on the paper more than trying to squeeze those marks into a predefined drawing. I kind of like how this went, but I also felt like I could have had a better understanding of the shapes and structures that I was painting before I started if I had spent more time on the drawing first.
Because I recorded the whole thing, I didn’t bother taking any pictures of the progress – but here’s a photo of the finished thing.
And, here’s a link to the video showing how I painted it. Warning…. it’s long, but I thought it would be nice for other artists to see the pacing I take when I paint, I think knowing how long it takes to do something might be helpful to people who are learning… who knows. At any rate, here it is.
I’m not sure if this sort of thing is useful to others. If it is, let me know. If you think narration would be interesting in a video like this, let me know that as well. I could explore doing something like that.
I like how this painting came out, but there are a few things I would do differently if I had to do it again.
First, I would use a darker palette everywhere. The painting doesn’t feel like a sunrise because none of the objects are silhouetted. In that early morning sunlight, there isn’t a whole lot of contrast between objects. I painted everything as if it were lit at high noon – which makes that orange on the horizon feel out of place. The clouds at the top of the painting are also much too bright. I was too timid to really lay in dark greys there, and I think it needs them. When I try this painting again, I think I’ll really go for it. One of the big reasons I became so timid is because when I started laying in the clouds, I painted them too quickly, and the paper wasn’t wet enough when I did so. That caused the marks I made to have crisp edges where I wanted soft blooms. I tried to fix that by painting over everything with clean water, but that killed off a lot of my highlights – making me worry that I was going to just create a whole bunch of mud. It didn’t end up looking muddy thankfully, but I also didn’t get that grey-blue moodiness that I see in the photograph. So there is a lot of room for improvement there.
I would also add another tree. I sketched a second tree in the original drawing, but the “rule of odds” got in my head and I decided not to paint it. Now that it’s done, I think it could use that second tree to help sell the perspective. As it is now, that singular tree appears to be either just before the horizon, or on the horizon – in which case it would be about 12,000 feet tall… (which is probably like eleventy sixteen meters for everyone else in the world.)
Lastly, I would spend more time thinking about the structure of the waves. I think this painting could use a big spray of water between the rocks that reaches up and breaks the horizon line. I tried to add that when I was laying in the initial masking fluid, but I worried that it would cut the painting too much in half, separating the ground from the lake. I am no longer worried that it would do that – so I think that element would be an interesting experiment. I don’t know if it would work, but I’d like to try it out.
Oh, and second-lastly, I wouldn’t go back over the lake with clean water after my first pass. I painted the lake in one pass, and then when it dried I painted over it to get more cerulean blues in there. I don’t think it needed that – and doing so softened a lot of the edges in the lake. I think the choppy surface of the water needed those ragged lines. Instead, I would probably rather lay down an underpainting of yellows and oranges to match the colors in the sky. Then, I would paint over those with the blues, leaving gaps to reflect the sky. I like that idea a lot, and I think I’m going to try this one again so I can test that out.