The Third Gathering of The Dead Paintings Society, 25 May 2012
We met, as usual, at my Amesbury studio, to consider a painting (18"x24"--46x60cm) which had been declared dead by its creator, and was now turned over to science.
This was our first painting not to have water as a primary feature, and our first to have a rugged topography. I found myself troubled by a number of things. First, I was not fond of the two pointy mountains and their two distant relatives. They seemed to me to be much too volcanic for New England, and to be monotonous in their repetition of form. Next, I felt that too much attention, and space, was given over to the foreground, perhaps 60% of the total area. It was unrelievedly of the same hue. I found the small trees/bushes(?) distracting and not convincing. The yellow flowers seemed to me to be a rear-guard attempt to enliven the foreground. The whole painting, including the sky, had an overall yellowish cast.
My first task was to introduce some cool colors in order to defeat the yellowness. I did this by replacing the mass of the yellow clouds with white, right out of the tube, scumbled over the forms. I changed the farthest pointy mountains to a ridge, and redesigned the two more-prominent peaks. Where the original had us confronting an uphill slope, backed up by the mountains, I sought to change the scale, and to look down onto the nearest planes. My idea was to create a greater sense of "bigness" in the land forms, achieved, ironically, by making them smaller, and farther away. I spoke of creating mountains and hills that evince a sense of muscularity. One needs remember, when drawing them with paint, the outline against the sky only describes two dimensions. I usually draw in contours coming toward the viewer, too, to remind myself of the tremendous bulk of the land. This fullness, if well-conveyed, is an easy, but often-overlooked, key to making convincing landscapes.
At this stage, some of the original scene is peeking through the somewhat vigorous paint from this session. I've made a decision that a wee bit of water, on the right edge, would be fun. The general consensus of the group was that painting a deer drinking at the lake's edge, a la Bierstadt, might be too much. We did talk a good bit about 'western' paintings, those which, for New Englanders at least, start at Poughkeepsie. In this case, however, we meant really west, like Colorado. The discussion emboldened me to put in a white wigwam. Alas, my wigwam skills were sorely lacking, and the wigwam quickly disappeared.
Because we only have three hours for the operation, we must, of necessity, keep moving pretty fast. I deepened and strengthened some of the colors, trying to get a richness into the general tone. With a 2" brush, I painted in a shadowed area in the lower left, gaining another strong diagonal to pitch the painting down toward the lake and, more important, gaining yet another opportunity for dark/light adjacencies.
While we hardly have a finished painting----I can see many things left to refine or even to change---there does seem to be a sense of place emerging. I hope the donor is pleased with the result.
The next meeting of The Dead Paintings Society will be on Friday, 1 June 2012.