I went camping recently in Tionesta, PA with some friends. I am turning 40 this year (next week actually), and the goal was to celebrate by getting away for a week to do nothing in the wilderness.

Tionesta is really pretty, and because we had to kayak out to the camp site (towing everything we needed in an inflateable canoe behind the kayak) it was fairly isolated. The lake itself was pretty busy during the day on the weekends with skiers and motor boats, but the fishing was good, the food was good, the company was good. I probably won’t do it again, just because hauling all our gear in a kayak turned out to be a pain in the butt. Anyway… on to the painting.

While we were there, I snapped this photo:

I have some other photos that I think make for better photographs, but this one I think could be a good painting.

I think that because there are the well defined planes (leaves, canoe, background.) There are some nice triangles (the water, the mass of leaves, the distant trees.) There’s is contrast in value between the sky, the distant trees, the water, and the foreground. And finally, it tells a story (to me anyway.)

I tried to paint this while I was at Tionesta. It was a failure. I thoughtI took a photo, but must have forgotten. I actually made four other paintings while camping, and they were all awful failures. I subsequently used the paper to get a fire started after the rain. When I got home, I figured I would try again.

Sketch

Before I painted, I tried two quick sketches. In the first, I learned that the boat can’t be made the focal point with a sledge hammer. By reducing everything else to large shapes of value, the boat comes into focus, but it doesn’t seem to tell the story any more. It just looks like a boat in a mess.

In the second sketch I learned that the clouds need just the faintest hint of an edge to make them really stand out from the sky. I also realized that layering the leaves by placing down one large shape with a light value, and then successively adding additional, smaller, more representative shapes in darker values will end up reading more like layers of leaves.

I also realized that the leaves are a big focus of this painting. Originally I thought the kayak was the most important part, but after sketching I see how important it is to get the leaves right in order to establish the framing that I’m after. It looks like they stand out so much because of a few bright leaves against the dark shadows behind them. Representing those bright leaves very clearly is more important than representing every individual leaf behind them.

Painting #2

So I made my second painting (the first one died by fire, remember).

Oh lord – look how muddy everything is. I masked off the bright leaves on this one, which was the right move. And painting other leaves behind them in darker colors is definitely the way to go. But – boy oh boy, I overworked the distant trees, the boat, the grass, the mud… all of it. I didn’t even bother finishing because by this time, I had overworked everything.

I learned here that the distant trees need to be painted as a single shape, and so do the reflections. The boat will need to melt into the grass with a dark valued graded wash. And the dirt to the left of the boat needs to be light valued, and relatively light on detail.

The leaves need to be more carefully rendered, some of the shapes are just quick leaf analogs-I need to make sure the bright ones really read as leaves. And, I need to render the veins in the leaves. Without them, they appear flat. I think the veins will help give the leaves some dimension because they’ll help describe the contours.

Painting #3

I threw away painting number three before I even took a picture. It was that bad.

Painting #4

This one ended up coming out… mmm… interesting. The leaves on the right I really like. The sky is overworked, and all the detail in the clouds just pulls them forward. As much as I want to get to the point where I can render realistic clouds, this painting is not a sky scape, so I need to let the clouds take a back seat. The same goes for the distant trees – they are too large, so the lake feels too close. And the edges are too defined for the trees on the left, so they upstage the focal point. Those distant trees are an important part of the composition, they balance out the large shape behind the near leaves, and they echo the shape of the kayak, but they can’t take center stage.

I over worked the kayak. I must have painted over it six times trying to get it smoothed out because my first attempt at painting it wasn’t bold enough. The second attempt just muddied the first, etc.

I think a big part of the problem with the kayak was my reliance on masking fluid to keep the highlights. I should have just painted around the highlights instead – I think that would have made it feel more cohesive.

The leaves are awesome. At least I think they are. I painted them in steps. First, I drew them carefully, and then carefully masked off the brightest ones. Then, I dabbed in a graded wash of greens and yellows over top of them with my ragged brush. I tapped some distinct ragged edges at the top, and let that serve as the upper leaves.

Once that dried, I painted some leaf shapes using dark pigment, while the masking fluid was still on the paper. I painted the darkest leaves under the masked leaves so I would end up with my lightest lights touching my darkest darks.

Once those dried, I tapped some ragged shapes of brown into the paper to soften some edges, and give additional texture.

Then, I removed the masking fluid, and painted the remaining leaves with careful graded washes. I painted each leaf shape individually, and tapped a drop of yellow, brown, or bright green somewhere in the leaf while it was wet to give it some variation. I carefully painted around the veins, in order to ensure they helped define the contours of the leaves.

When that dried, I painted dark edges on some of the leaves to help define them a bit more, and eventually called it.

I’m very happy with the leaves. The rest? Not so much.

Painting #5

This time, I decided I would paint the leaves in much the same way as I did the last time, but I wanted to simplify the sky, reflections, and grass.

First, I sketched the composition. Because I’m changing the inflatable canoe into a hard shell kayak, I figured I could also place it somewhat differently. I realized that the kayak provides a lot information about scale—it needs to be fairly small in order to bring the leaves forward. I also think it should be parallel to the horizon, in order to cut up the shape of the shore, and bridge the leaves to the water.

After the sketch was finished, I used my fine line masking fluid bottle to mask off the leaves, horizon, and the top of the boat. I also tapped some doors of masking fluid into the dirt path to help give that some texture.

Background

Next, I covered the sky in clean water, and then using a fairly wet brush, I painted a stripe of cobalt blue at the top of the page, and let it wander down on its own.

While the paper was still wet, I painted a stripe of trees at the horizon, and let them wander up on their own. I used Hooker’s Green with a healthy bit of Cobalt Blue. I figured, why not use the color of the sky to cool down the color of the leaves? There should be more sky between the viewer and these trees, so instead of making them grey, and having them end up looking like a rain storm, I added sky color to the primary green in my leaf color. That seemed to work well.

You will also notice that there is a small horizontal line where I must have missed when I wetted the paper. The blue of the sky is falling down, but leaving that stripe of white. I wanted to fix this – but I know the sky is in the danger zone. If I add any water here, I’ll get a cauliflower. If I try to feather the edge with a dry brush, I will pull moisture unevenly in the paper, and cause a cauliflower. The best thing I can do is just leave it alone. Let it be what it is… that strip of white is now a cloud.

It is important not to mess with it at this stage. I literally painted the sky blue with two strokes of cobalt at the top of the page. The trees were painted with a single stroke of my blue-green, then I tapped the brush along the horizon to give the edge a less uniform upper edge. Then, I walked away and wrote everything you have read (or skipped) so far. That way, the sky could dry without me monkeying around and ruining things.

Here’s what it looks like now that it’s dried.

Next, I turned the paper upside down so I can use gravity to help paint the trees on the nearer shore.

I used clean water to wet the whole sky again, but left a strip of dry paper right at the horizon. Basically, I want to paint a strip of green at the horizon, then carefully usher it into the wet sky so it spreads, but leaves some white spots in-between. This way, I’ll get a soft edge for the trees, which should keep them in the background, but I’ll have some hard edges that should help differentiate these from the trees I painted earlier.

With the sky wet, I painted a strip of greens and blues, less blue than in the previous mix, at the horizon, leaving a fairly thick bead.

Finally, using a pointed brush with clean water, I tapped the paper between these two lines, creating a bridge of sorts for the paint to travel into the sky where it would diffuse.

The result wasn’t quite what I had in mind, I wish I had varied the colors in the strip of green before I brushed it into the sky. But, I fought the urge to fix it – because I know trying to fix it will just make things worse. I hope a strip of light brown beneath those trees will help bring it a bit further forward.

And here it is with a strip of grey at the bottom to suggest some rocks at the shore.

Water

The water needs to reflect the sky, and the distant trees. First, I’ll reflect the sky, then I’ll reflect the trees. So I end up painting the water much the same way that I painted the sky.

This time, I flipped it upside down again, because the water should be more blue nearer the shore. I then used clean water to wet the paper, and painted a strip of watery cobalt near the shore, and let that wander down to the horizon.

I’ll let that dry, then work on the reflections after it’s dry. Right now, it’s time for work.

After work, I went about painting the reflections in the water. These need to be darker than the object that is creating them, so I choose a fairly dark grey, made by mixing Hooker’s Green, Cobalt Blue, and Quinacridone Red. I then painted the reflections in the water. As I worked down toward the shore, I gradually broke the shape into small slashes. I’m not completely happy with it, but again… if I try to fix it, I’ll just ruin it. I won’t be able to tell if it’s really broken until I see it along with the rest of the image, so I’ll leave it alone.

Right. On the to shore, and bushes.

Foreground

Before I even start painting, I first mix a few puddles of color on my palette. In this case, I’m trying to paint shrubbery, grasses, and dirt. So I’ll need greens, and browns.

Whenever I do a variegated wash like this I want one base color, and some variations of that color that are warmer, and some that are cooler. This is what I’m trying to mix on my palette.

I know that I’m going to use Hooker’s Green as the base color, because that’s the Green I have used elsewhere. Now, Hooker’s Green can be very intense, (high key?) so I want to neutralize it a bit. The easiest way to neutralize a color is to use it’s compliment.

Red is directly across from green on the color wheel, so I know my Quin Red should neutralize the Hooker’s Green. BUT! I know from past experience that Quin Red will neutralize Hooker’s green into a nearly flat grey, because it is just about a true compliment. But I don’t want grey. I want a brownish green.

So, look back at the color wheel. In order to neutralize, without making grey, I can pick a color on either side of the compliment. That means Orange will make my Hooker’s green into a warm brown. Violet will turn my Hooker’s Green into a cool brown. Because this is in the foreground, I’ll default to warmer tones, so I choose Perinone Orange.

Perinone Orange is another very high key color (I hope I’m using that correctly). In fact, it’s almost neon all on its own. Which is why I am so surprised to find that it makes such a beautiful neutral green.

Perinone Orange + Hooker’s Green. Wonderful. More Hooker’s Green, and it warms up to a piney bright green. More Perinone Orange and it dulls into a Sandy brown. This is exactly what I need.

I also have to cool down my green, and for that I’ll use Cobalt Blue – because I’ve already used it quite a bit. Choosing the same blue helps ensure a semblance of color harmony.

I realize now that all the stuff I wrote about cs stuff I

With some puddles of vibrant, warm, and cool greens and browns mixed in my palette, I was ready to go. First, I smooshed my squirrel mop (this is why I love squirrel, it keeps that ragged shape because it has almost no snap) and then I dipped it into different colors on the palette. I tapped the ragged brush into the paper, rotating as I went to avoid any patterns. Every time I recharged the brush, I picked a different green. I had to work quickly to avoid crisp edges within the wash.

As I worked down toward the bottom of the painting, the different colors blended into one another on their own. I kept going, varying the colors as I moved down the page. It was also important that I didn’t leave white spaces within the large shape. I already have the brightest leaves masked off, these will remain white. If I left a bunch of gaps in this wash, it will look ragged and confusing when I remove the masking fluid.

When I got to the bottom of the page, I used more and more Perinone Orange, to warm up my green, until I was using the sandy brown color. I used that to charge my brush, and painted the dirt quickly, with only a little water. This leaves white unpainted spots in what will later become dirt and stones.

Finally, I used a bit more Perinone Orange to warm things up even more, and painted the keel of the boat. It’s important to me that this was done while the grass was still wet, because I wanted the boat to melt into the grass.

Now… I am waiting for that to dry.

Unfortunately, when it dries, I noticed a really awful cauliflower under the boat. I mentioned that I wanted the boat to melt into the grass, and this cauliflower screams “LOOK AT ME!” So, I had to do something about it.

But first, I decided to paint some darker leaves.

These are going to be the leaves beneath the bright one’s, which are currently masked off. So, I needed to paint some dark values shapes in order to really set the bright leaves apart.

To do this, I simply used a very dark values to paint a few rough leaf shapes touching the masking fluid.

Then, I used a ragged brush to pick up more greens, and swished quick little brush strokes. I’m not trying to represent individual leaves here, I’m trying to say here area bunch of ragged shapes, and here’s a mass of shadow.

Finally, I added some purple to my greens, and used that to kill off the cauliflower. While that was still wet, I pulled it into the stones with fast, dry brush strokes, barely touching the paper so I would have a lot of texture.

Once again-I have to wait for it to dry. This time, it has to dry completely because the next is where I remove the masking fluid.

Side note: that masking fluid has been sitting on the painting for over 24 hours now… I hope it comes off ok.

Focal Point

Ok, masking fluid came off just fine. I have never had any issues worth masking fluid coming off of good paper, but for some reason, it still worries me when it’s on over night. I know, I know… you’ve left it on for a decade and it came off just fine. I still get a bit nervous about it.

With the masking fluid removed, I now had to focus on the leaves. Up till now, everything has been fairly easy, and relatively forgiving. Now is when it can really go south.

First, I used a bitty bitty brush to paint the leaves that were masked off earlier. I painted each leaf individually because I think those crisp edges help separate them from the bunchpainted the top of the kayak. I’m disappointed in the color I choose, the kayak just kind of blends into the dirt. I don’t know how to fix it without trying to lift the pigment from the top of the kayak, and I’ve been so disciplined about not over working things so far, I really don’t want to start now. Best to leave the mistake… see what comes of it as I work in the last details.

Next, I’m going to paint in some shadows of the leaves, use a fine tipped brush to add a few edges here and there, and then scratch in the fishing pole… I’m nervous to be honest-because I have written a whole lot about this painting. It’ll suck if it all falls apart now.

And it’s starting to look like it will.

Remember what I said about it’s better to just leave the kayak alone?

I’m an idiot.

I’m going to leave now… hopefully I will find a way to fix this tomorrow.

Well. I didn’t fix it. So…. yeah. There’s a really long post about how to make a failed painting.

I’m going to try this one again, but this time I won’t document the whole process as closely. I think that pulled me out of things, and ended up causing me to create a disjointed image.

I also need to change a few things:

1: the distant trees are too bright. These need to be more grey.

2: the reflections is too dark. I think I can get by with a wet in wet reflection, as opposed to the wet on dry that I attempted here.

3: that boat – darn! It needs to be white. Or red. Or something not the same muddy color as the dirt.

4: the leaves are a tangle of nothing. Maybe I should focus on rendering some of them clearly, and let the rest be a very watery wet in wet wash of greens and browns.

5: the dirt is good, but it doesn’t need so many deep dark values.

6: I should move the boat so that it cuts into the lake more. or something… I need to do something about the composition.