I took a mini hiatus from painting because I felt my batteries running dry. Tonight, I wanted to paint again, so I went for it. Usually I’m more compelled to paint – even if I don’t want to, I feel like I must. Tonight, I wanted to.
I know I haven’t managed to capture the feeling I got from the Hartville Barn, so I decided to try again. This time I’m leaning on the photo for inspiration instead of trying to recreate it. I hope this approach will loosen my mind a bit and help me paint what that scene felt like to me.
And, I guess I can’t do that very well without first dedicating some time to reflecting on it.
A long time ago, I used to keep a journal of poems that captured everyday moments. It’s something I haven’t done in a long time, and it’s high time I started again, because I really enjoyed it. So, if you’ll bear with me, or scroll past it, I’ll try.
I spent the day on the water
wrestling between tiny freshwater waves
with Rachel and Winnie.
Norah and Cora.
Jarrod and Heather and Ellie.
My suit is too old.
Yellow paint stains on the hip.
I’m too fat now for those shorts.
And I should be more embarrassed than I am.
But I was just there.
On the boat.
In the water.
The sky ducked down and scowled a sickened grey green
as we docked and I hopped in the car.
The wipers slapped at the rain slapping at the wipers.
kicking up a frothy mist through farms and twisting trees.
I drove out from under the storm,
I passed grassy farmlands
fresh from the attacking winds and clouds.
over a hill
around a bend.
Corn reached up like the grassy fingers of a thousand weary men,
scratching their threadbare beads,
wondering where the day had gone,
where the summer went
as I drove.
Over a hill.
Around a bend.
A sod farm.
Deep earthen gashes in giant black patches
between larger patches of jungle green grass.
I was there,
and that was all I felt.
A bluster above me and to the east.
White mist behind.
And I was there.
That storm was a rage,
an angry meaninglessness scratching at the sky
trying to get loose.
And in me,
there was some silent answer,
but I couldn’t quite find it out.
So I drove.
Over a hill.
Around a bend.
And there, in the mirror,
on the left,
a plain white barn danced with shadow and light,
sailing in the glow of the golden hour,
riding the light like a kite.
An old tree loitered to the west,
drawing shadows across its roof and face.
And the light from the sun scattered,
digging through the grass,
bouncing off the belly of those once angry clouds
to the face of the barn.
Like a child,
exhausted in bed after a good cry.
And I was there.
In that inanimate moment, watching the sun and the sky.
I allowed myself to become entranced for a moment.
I stopped the car in some unknown gravel driveway
and stepped out to better see the barn.
I watched for a moment,
my memory licking the scene like a kid with an ice cream cone
melting between his fingers.
I was there.
And just like that,
I clapped closed the door
Over a hill.
Around a bend.
That sort of sums up how I feel about this image. It’s what I’m trying to paint. Maybe that makes sense, maybe it doesn’t. I kind of don’t care.
Step 1: Sketch
I started by drawing the scene again. This time, I omitted the corn, and added the road. I included more of the space to the left of the barn, and let the barn escape the right-hand side. This seems to better represent the feeling of driving by.
Then, I masked off areas again. I wanted to be very restrained on the masking fluid, but I ended up deciding to try to sketch with it a little bit, dragging it quickly across the page to get some lines that I hope will read like an inverted sketch… we’ll see.
Step 2: Sky and Foreground
I suffer so often from ruined paintings because I either don’t wait for things to dry, or because I overwork areas as I try to “fix” things.
My big goal this time is to avoid these two mistakes.
For the sky, I went with a warm greenish brown because I remember how soggy and dreary the sky was. The photo tells me the sky was blue, but my feelings tell me it was a warmish green grey. That feels a little weird when I painted it, but it’s what I feel. So I went with it.
While the sky was still wet, I dabbed in some grey green trees in the distance so they would bleed into the wash and create a sense of depth of field.
Then, I painted the foreground. I really didn’t want to over work it, so I tried to paint it with as few strokes as possible. I found myself immediately wanting to fiddle with it, so I put the brush away, and spritzed a bit of water on it, and just watched it set for a second or two.
Then, I spritzed a shot of water where the tree is, and painted some leaves. I warmed up the sky color a bit and painted some golden spots of color, knowing they would feather out a bit. Then, when it dried just a little, I cooled it down with some UM blue and Prussian Blue, and dabbed some smaller ragged strokes.
Again, I felt the urge to fiddle with it, so I stopped.
I want to take my time with this one, and though I felt the urge to paint the midground, I know it will just cauliflower into the foreground, so instead I decided to turn the light off and go to bed. I’ll try to get back in the same mood tomorrow… I wonder how that will go.
Step 3: Midground
I sat at the easel for a total of six minutes and painted the midground grass in as few strokes as I could. I glazed over the foreground with the same color, and stopped to let it dry.
Both the far distant midground, and the nearer midground are the same color, I just used more water in the far distance.
Step 4: Midground Shadows
Once that was fully dry, I cooled the green a little bit with a drop of UM Blue, and then used a very sharply pointed round to dapple some shadows. I wanted to indicate that the midground hill was darker at the bottom, so I painted some lines of clean water at the bottom, then painted some lines in that cool green. The pigment leaked casually into the pre wetted lines. Then, I painted the shadow of the tree, being careful to describe the curve of the hill by darkening a slim line at the top, and gathering the shadows in the corner.
Then, I painted clean water lines at the bottom of the foreground, and dragged some pigment across the bottom as well to bring that forward. I’ll probably lees to do a little more once it’s dried, but I’ll step away for a moment to see what happens.
Then, I used some Raw Umber and UM Blue to paint some shadows on the tree and add branches. I warmed that color and added a few leaves on the side where the light was coming, and then cooled it down to dapple in a few leaves in shadow on the opposite side. I wanted to suggest that the shape of the canopy was defined by the branches, so I didn’t paint highlights only on the left of the tree, rather I painted those highlights on the left side of the main branches, hoping this would make the tree read less like a sphere. I wanted to continue fiddling, so I stopped.
Step 5: Road and Barn
I removed the masking fluid from the landscape (leaving the masking fluid on the barn. Then, I mixed a cool grey, starting with the warm neutral left from painting the sky, and adding some UM Blue, Quin Purple, and Raw Umber. I watered this down considerably, and painted the road. First I watered it down with clean water, then painted the pigment in starting at the bottom so it would grow lighter as it moved toward the horizon. Once that dried a bit, I dragged a clean brush to suggest tire tracks, and tried to preserve some white right in the middle of that first hill. I imagine the toad dips there (at least that’s what the shadows seem to say) so I figured a puddle would end up there. I want to paint the reflection of the tree in that puddle, but I’ll need it to stand out against the road pretty sharply in order for it to read like a shadow. I kept a small highlight which I hope to use to add a glare to the puddle.
I then warmed up that color, and thinned it considerably. I painted the barn with this color, trying to keep both faces mostly the same color and value. I cooled it down a slight bit with a smidge more Quin Purple, and dragged that color across the roof lines.
I will need to darken the face that is not in sunlight, which I will do by glazing the same color. That should intensify the value on that face without changing the color scheme. If I use a different color to darken that face, it will end up feeling divorced from the lit side of the barn, so I’ll deepen the value by adding more of the same color. But first, I’m going to let this dry.
Step 6: Roof
For the roof I used a cool grey made from Raw Umber, UM Blue, and a touch of Quin Red. I painted the roof with a flat wash of this color, then added a bit of Indie Blue to it, and dabbed that into the wet wash where the roof ended in shadow. Now I’ll let everything dry before I add the shadows cast by the tree.
Step 7: Puddle and Shadows
In order to get that puddle to read as a puddle, I needed to darken the road around it. This was tricky to do without destroying the value structure, so I added light washes successively into the road, being careful to paint negatively around the puddle. Then, I added some dark blurry patches to suggest the reflection of the tree and barn.
Next, I wanted the barn to separate from the distant hill a bit so I darkened that hill slightly, and glazed that same color all the way down to preserve the value structure I had earlier.
Then, I used the warm neutral to paint the shadowed face of the barn in order to make the lit side appear brighter.
Then I used a 1” flat brush to dab in some suggestions of wooden cladding.
Finally, I mixed a very dark grey with Raw Umber and Indie Blue and Quin Purple to paint the window and doors.
I’m dangerously close to getting tunnel vision and ruining the whole thing, so I stepped away. A quick break should help me see the painting anew. The next step is to paint the shadows of the tree, then add some of the “jewelry” as Mr. Zbukvic calls it. That will be crucial to bringing the barn forward and establishing it as the clear focal point. It’s also the point where over doing it could destroy the whole thing. I’ll need to be careful here, but not intimidated by the thought of ruining it.
That’s a tough balance to strike…
Step 8: Ruin it