Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Landscape 911

Catching My Imagination

Unlike some folks, I often paint out of my head, deep in the comfort of my studio. Since I'll be teaching a class on Friday, en plein air, today I was able to hide out inside.

Thinking about what I'd paint, I looked through some starts, hoping to have one catch my imagination, just begging to be finished. I found a 24x30 that was a studio beginning, probably made last autumn. It was begun from my head, and after I'd established the sense of a place---water's edge, a group of plausible waterside buildings, something far out along the horizon, and a close up lane---I stopped. I don't now remember why I didn't carry on at the time, but something must have intervened. Here's the state I found it in today:

The canvas has a tint made from a very thin application of Blockx Capucine Yellow Light. Despite the name, it's a pinkish tint, which is strange since I'm sure it was named for the habits of Capuchin monks, which are certainly not yellow, more of a rusty brown. Go figure.

Anyway, I'd apparently done an under-drawing mostly in burnt umber, with a bit of ultramarine. I then seemed to have added some ultramarine in the water, still very thin, and a bit of Prussian green, again transparently, on the edge of the road and also near the buildings. To my way of thinking it was definitely now a place, but I didn't really have any idea what I wanted the painting to be about. My students hear me continually running on, always saying, "I see what it's a picture of, but what's it a picture about? How do you want me, the viewer, to engage with this place?" Now, of course, I was asking the question of myself. I needed to do something that would trigger my interest, something that would lead me to an idea that would catch my imagination. If I could do that, perhaps I might make a painting which would catch the imagination of others, too.

I knew that I couldn't manage this by simple, tentative, mark-making. Something bold needed to happen. It was time for a cheap brush and some Liquin, some ultramarine and some burnt umber.

I often find that a bit of wholesale brush-swinging can make me find a raison-d'etre where none seemed to be before. In this case, I dragged the dark color across the top of the picture, then brushed a lighter version of it across the lower portion of the sky. A darker value filled in the water and darkened the building and the near shore.

The result of all that value-changing was the left-over portion of the sky, in the middle, that became a definite bank of lighter clouds, tremulous against a somber sky. At this stage, I considered that I might make it stormy in the far distance, while having the road in sunshine (this is something I may still do---I'm keeping my options open!)

For now, though, I further darkened the road and its verges, added some more Prussian green to the roadside and to the land near the buildings. I darkened the buildings some, and wiped away a bit of the new sky, along the horizon, exposing a bit of the pink of the canvas. A dawn sky?

Your guess is definitely as good as mine about where this painting is headed, but I can begin to feel some poetry, some mystery----a hint that will encourage me to continue, with the hope of ultimately engaging you, too. 

If you want, I'll keep you posted on where this painting goes. Just let me know in the comments.



  1. Thanks for the post.
    All of this boils down to this stream of thought......
    Patience, thoughtful reflection, ask ourselves questions, take risks, make changes, be patient, see where it takes us, tell a story, believe in the story, enjoy the journey, and always ask ourselves "What's it about"

  2. Yes, please keep us posted. I find your process of change and reflection quite inspiring.

  3. I second Mary! That's what inspires me in paintings - when you can sit and look and look and there's mystery/a dreamlike state - that means the painting stays with me in my head - is 'poetry' not just a purely visual experience. This one makes me think of somewhere north of the Lake District in England, 1999... ..Ravenglass? ....

  4. I third Mary. Does Johansen go fishing at dawn?

  5. Seems pretty clear that many of us would like to see updates on your painting in various stages. I find it particularly helpful reading what techniques you use and particularly I like it when you go into detail about your use of various colors and changing the values in your work. Seeing examples is a great help. Thanks