Sunday, July 26, 2009

Exploring and Learning--Landscape Painting--Hanna Park Heron

Last post, I showed you a reference photo for a possible painting--a quick, drive-by snapshot of a great blue heron at Hanna Park Lake here in Jacksonville, Florida. As I studied that photo and others taken that day of the heron, the lake, and the surrounding trees, I knew that I could base a painting on them. But, just how should I compose the scene?
In the June 17 post, I described the creative process involved in a different painting and my difficulties choosing the focal area for the piece. Unlike that project, this painting had an unmistakable focal point. In spite of the appeal of dark, shimmering water, tall palm trunks, and jungle-like vegetation, the heron clearly draws the eye of the viewer. I felt certain, in fact, that the heron itself knew that he (or possibly she) had no competition for the starring role in this little tableau.
In preliminary sketches, the main issues I worked on concerned how to arrange the elements--how much yellowed grass in the foreground? where to place the major horizontal elements? how much vegetation area in comparison to the water? And of course, just where to place the heron? In the photo, it is too near the center and is looking out of the scene--clearly unsatisfactory. Some of the other elements could stay more or less as they were in the photo.
The major change from the photo to the painting may not be immediately obvious. I decided to move the sun. The relatively short time we spent at the lake that day gave me no choice about the lighting, and I took photos with a bright overhead sun. However, I wanted more dramatic shadows in the painting and moved the sun, first to a point low in the sky behind the background trees and palmettos. Then, halfway through the painting, I moved it again--higher in the sky to the viewer's right. 
What fun! There is such power in creative projects--I can move the sun itself. However, the fact that I changed the light source as I worked caused a fair amount of readjustment in the painting along the way, as you artist readers can well imagine. Luckily, working in acrylics allows me to paint over nearly anything, which saves me and my paintings every time. Such changes are more difficult or even impossible in some other media. 
You will notice other differences from the reference photo. The background vegetation gradually took on a life of its own and became a sort of jungle fantasy instead of a literal rendering of what I had seen. Also, I realized late in the process that the varied greens in the background, despite touches of blue, yellow, and rusty browns, needed to be broken up by some other color. Given that there were winter-bare branches and dead trees nearby, I felt free to add a few fallen branches and to import a pair of dead trees from another scene. They might look familiar to my regular readers--do you remember the post about an outing with my good friend Dee that yielded the reference photo for these trees? They help the overall composition in more than one way, I think, as they also echo the grey tones of the heron and add one other distinct vertical. 
This work-in-progress is not yet signed although I feel quite satisfied with it. The final version may be slightly revised, but I like it as it is and may leave it unchanged. On my computer screen, the colors do not appear nearly as deep as they are in the painting, especially the dark tones--I hope you can get a sense of the way it actually looks. 
Question of the day: When you pursue a creative endeavor, do you normally begin with a clear vision of the final outcome and then create that? Or do your creations change along the way? Are you comfortable and flexible if your original vision changes as you work?


  1. Mary,
    What a thought provoking blog post. One can learn so much from the thought processes of fellow artists. ..... Makes me realize how much more I have to learn.

    Thank you for your earlier remarks and support!!

  2. I appreciate your response, Marian. I also enjoy reading about the thought processes of other artists--and creative people who might not think of themselves as artists.

    I am thankful that we all have mush more to learn--that is a major joy in life, I think. :>)

  3. That is an excellent piece of art..It is gr8 to find your blog through Liz. The heron is exceptional and the reflections are well put. Excellent Work!

  4. Megha, I am thrilled that you visited the blog. And thank you for your response and encouraging comments.

  5. Very lovely, Mary! Yes, our ability to change what we see is wonderful and creative. Did you decide to change this one, or leave it as is?

  6. I did decide to leave it as it is, Jean. All I did was to "point up" a few spots, like the black cap on the heron's head and then to coat is with medium. Now the colors look more intense and glossier. Thanks for stopping in and commenting.

  7. Very nice painting, Mary and very interesting question too. I paint from a totally different aspect than you. I paint from photos, but usually have no idea how it will turn out. I change design aspects as I go along. Some days I paint very freely and some days not so much, but I let the brush lead me there. That is why I am currently exploring abstracts and trying to paint out of my head.

    Thank you for your very kind comment on my blog. I enjoyed your blog also, especially the diversity of subject matter.

  8. Carol, thank you for visiting and especially, for seriously considering the question. It is enriching to hear something about your creative process. I appreciate all the comments people take the time to make on my blog, but the "funnest" ones are the ones that engage in a conversation in some way.