I have another photo that’s been sitting in my pile of photos I want to paint for several months.

This was taken in Gnaddenhutten Ohio, just after sunrise in November. There was a hint of ice frost covering everything, and it was windless, quiet and still. I took this photo, and really like the geometric shapes, and strong contrast. The organic shapes are cut apart by the man made straight lines. The grey/green of the grass in the foreground, and translucent white of the phragmites in the distance contrast with the crisp black field on the shed and the distant hollows in between trees. The clouds and grass move in the same direction, down and to the right, but the distant trees move down and to the left, while the shed breaks both rules and sticks straight up.

I really like the composition, and it seemed like it would be an easy one to paint. Maybe it would be for someone else, or for me at a different time, but I struggled with this one.

On the first attempt, I overworked the distant trees to death. I see a slight halo of warm tones in the hills in the source photo, and the rest is muted blue/grey. So, I painted the hills a blue-grey (cobalt+raw umber), but it was missing that slight crescent of warm yellow ochre. I tried to add that in, and it looked wrong, so I fiddled the whole thing to death. By the time I moved down to the phragmites, it was too late – the painting was ruined.

Regardless, I decided to keep trying, and painted the shed with the thickest pigment I could find for some ungodly reason. It honestly looks like I painted it with lipstick and nail polish. Uhhh. That’s not how it’s done.

On the next attempt I thought I’d try to emulate the distant trees technique from Ray Hendershot’s “Texture Techniques for Winning Watercolors” but I overworked it massively again. I don’t know why these are commanding my attention so much… the trees are really just a single shape, and should be painted in seconds.

I gave up in this one and just grabbed a new piece of paper. That’s the danger in using the back side of a painting: is it doesn’t go exactly right, I tend to give up quickly because I start knowing it isn’t going to be anything of any value beyond the experience.

For the third one I did away with the distant trees technique from Ray Hendershot. In this painting, I really wanted those trees to fade away, so I went with a very cool wet in wet wash, which I’m actually really pleased with.

Unfortunately, I destroyed the painting by adding that barn with that muddy bossy red. I overworked it, and gave up fairly quickly. I finished the painting almost out of spite. Once again I absolutely hated the shed, so I went to bed.

Today I tried one last time. I committed to a more total painting – seeing as the source photo is pretty much all one value. I also decided to push the shed further into the distance so that I could focus more on the grape vine. I wanted to do a better job of capturing the stillness from that morning, and I thought pushing the shed back would make it feel like the viewer was more isolated. I think that played out well. I’m not over the moon with it, but I don’t hate it as much as I thought I would when I was about halfway done. Too bad that other painting is on the obverse.

Anyway, there’s a lot I could say about why I don’t like this one, and why I was surprised to find that I don’t HATE it, but honestly, I’m sleepy, and I need to make dinner.



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