Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Perils of Architecture

When it's time for architecture, grisaille is your best friend

Since we returned from the Savannah Workshop (about which I'll post when all the photos are in), I've been working on a couple of my plein-air Georgia starts. The most time-consuming one so far is one of a casemate (at Fort Pulaski), its embrasure, and the cannon. Bricks, bricks, bricks...and some very unusual angles. The cannon's not drawn correctly. There should be a good deal more taper in the barrel. I hope to correct that.

At Fort Pulaski, 16x20

This painting has been good practice for a 36x28" vertical landscape that has been requested. For me, upright landscapes are always a challenge, and I don't paint many of them. It's not for nothing that your computer and printer describe a horizontal rectangle as landscape format. But, ever the obliging servant, I said yes.

The challenge was to make a vertical that minimized its apparent verticality. 

I chose to revisit an idea that resulted in an 8x12" painting in about 1994. The view was from the hayloft of a gambrel-roofed barn I owned in the Berkshires. As I recall, the interior of the loft was excessively dark in the painting. This time I'll flood the loft with light, both direct and reflected.

First, I did a reasonably careful drawing of some basic framing, indicating the main timbers, and the purlin and rafters. (Because my last grown-up job, in 1979, was in a lumber yard, I have a basic understanding of wooden buildings. This helps). Just to be sure, I trundled the canvas down the hall of the mill building where my studio is located, to the offices of some friendly architects. They gave me a general certificate of suitability after commenting that the purlin (the top-most horizontal beam) ought to be beefed up. This I did.

Because the landscape, though not yet determined in subject, will probably depict a hot, hazy, summer's day, I knew that most of the upper part of the painting, under the roof, would be in quite low light. Thus I had a bit more latitude in my architecture.

I've been paying a good bit of attention to George Clausen (British, 1852-1944) recently, and I want the loft to have some of the hazy, golden light of his barn interiors, though I don't suppose I'll have his threshers and winnowers.

Many of the planes in this grisaille will get much darker in relation to others, and the floor, for example, will be brighter near the loft opening. I'll probably include some incidental objects within the loft, as well as some hay sparkling in the light. Haylofts, of course, lend themselves to all sorts of ribald jokes, but I'm going to dispense with odd bits of clothing scattered on the floor. This is how I pretend to be an adult.
One of the students on the Savannah workshop has written that among the takeaways from the trip was a strengthened understanding of the benefits of an initial grisaille. In the present case a careful drawing, and an initial grisaille in values, create a framework on which I may now paint more loosely, confident that the larger issues of the architecture are in order.

In setting the frame for the view---for that's the actual function of the loft in this painting---I'll seek to find a balance between its complexity and the eventual simplicity of the landscape, a view more about heat and haze than about specific features.

Remember, the more problems you work out in drawing or in grisaille the more freedom you afford yourself when the real painting begins.

Paint well!

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