Saturday, May 29, 2010

Growing--Landscape Painting Experiment--Tranquil Creek Bend

I first showed you this painting about six months ago and am repeating that post for newer readers. Two photos show portions of the painting for more detail (and as always, you can click on a photo to enlarge it). Once again, the location is a spot that many people would walk by without stopping to look. A small bridge on Hogan Road crosses Little Pottsburg Creek near our home on the south side of Jacksonville, Florida. On the lookout for scenes with water features, I pulled over to explore and was especially taken with the view in one direction, where the creek widened and curved out of sight around a bend. A thickly wooded bank on one side was countered by oddly charming, spindly trees rising above bushes on the other. The trees reminded me of children experiencing a sudden growth spurt practicing in dance class, somehow combining awkwardness and grace.

This is the second painting to emerge from photos taken that day. I decided to push myself away from my favorite palette and began with a pinkish sky. Although the sky was actually a pale overcast grey, the pink tones somehow captured the bright, warm haze of that morning--the kind of light that requires sunglasses in spite of pervasive cloud cover. One painting goal was to let the sky set a certain mood and to continue experimenting with a limited palette of ultramarine blue, cerulean blue, Paynes grey, cadmium red deep, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and white. All greens, browns, and blackish tones are mixed from these colors. The second painting goal was to try to evoke the tranquility of the moment and the feeling of mystery as the creek glided around a bend and out of sight. The reflections in the water seemed central to portraying the stillness of the scene.

As usual, pursuing the goals of this piece gave me fits along the way, and it was even more difficult than usual to decide when to stop revising and to declare the painting finished. For some reason, I continued to tinker with small details, to wish it looked a bit different (but not knowing precisely what to change), and to put it away repeatedly to pull out days later for more tinkering. Of course, this can be the ruin of a decent creation, and I finally had to exert some self-discipline and just STOP. Have you seen news features about chimps, elephants, or other non-human animals who paint amazing abstracts? One commentator remarked that the unseen co-artist is the person who pulls their work away and gives them a fresh canvas. Left to themselves, they would happily continue slapping on more and more paint--producing, presumably, a less interesting result. I can definitely relate to the chimps who might not be the best judges of when to stop painting. However this piece, now signed and finished with a light coat of medium, has been declared officially complete and has hung on our bedroom wall for a few weeks. And, as it catches my eye in lamplight or as morning brightens, it has definitely grown on me. Update since the first time I posted this: This painting and several others are now available at a lovely local shop in the San Marco section of Jacksonville, Trends Home Decor. If you visit there, you will be amazed at the variety of distinctive art, home accessories, and furniture at affordable prices.

Question: What experiences have you had with the art of knowing when to stop?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Exploring--A St. John's River Park in Jacksonville, Florida

I hope you enjoy seeing scenery in and around Jacksonville, Florida, because this post has more :>). Since both our super sons and their wonderful wives were busy on Mother's Day, Mark and I enjoyed a quiet afternoon. The weather was so spectacular, clear and pleasantly warm with a light breeze, that we decided to take a walk in a park we had seen only briefly before when we were house-hunting seven years ago. The Lyons Club Park (that's the way the map spells it), lies on the western edge of a point of land along the St. John's River just before this north-flowing river makes its last winding turn east to empty into the Atlantic Ocean several miles from the park. After a delightful walk, we took a peek at a second lovely park, a preserve area just across the main road on the north edge of the point. Always on the lookout for "paintable" scenes, I took some photos as we walked in Lyons Club Park. One shows typical vegetation along one of the well-kept paths. Another looks back at the way we had come, a park boardwalk along the marshy river bank. The third shows the industrial port views across the river at this point, an interesting contrast to the parks and preserves that line some of the river bank, the lucky riverfront homes, and to the city skyscrapers and urban river walk downtown. We continue to be grateful that we chose Jacksonville for our home in this semi-retirement phase of life (and beyond, we hope). The variety of wetlands, wooded areas, beaches, and extensive preserve lands--the varied habitats and ecosystems are amazing. What a super home for a landscape and seascape painter! Exploring and discovering new areas of natural beauty are an important part of creative living for us.
Question of the day: What are the best natural features of your area?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Learning--Painting a Sandpiper and Studying Value Balance

On April 3rd, I showed you a photo of a sandpiper at the edge of foamy surf at Jacksonville Beach, a scene I wanted to try to paint. Here is that photo again and the current work-in-progress (looking a bit darker than it is "in person"), a study in acrylics on a 9" x 12" canvas board. Click on the photo to enlarge it if you wish. The painting was challenging because of the relative lack of color in the photo, but that was an advantage in using the scene to study balance in tonal values. For non-artist readers, by "values" we mean the tonal range of darks and lights (and all the in-betweens) regardless of color. The aim was for most of the painting to fall in a mid to mid-light range with a secondary emphasis on the brightest light tones in the foam and highlights on the sandpiper. That way, I reasoned, the darkest areas, on the bird, the shadow edge of the foam, and the weeds washed up by the surf, would stand out and draw the viewer's eye. On the whole, I am pleased with the way the tonal balance has worked out.
When I put this piece away for awhile a few weeks ago, I thought that it needed major work. However, a few added touches brought it to this point, and it seems (possibly) near completion. As I've mentioned before, knowing when to stop working on a painting, when further "fussing" might make it worse rather than better, is an art in itself. For now, it is perched on a small easel on a nightstand for contemplation :>).
You can see some changes from the photo, the main one being to reposition our feathered friend so that she did not run out of the composition. The line of foam is tweaked a little in shape. Originally, I had planned to change that line of foam somehow because it is so thick that it almost looks phony. However, at this point, it follows the look in the photo and seems pleasingly whimsical. To give a touch of perspective, I used warmer grey tones in the foreground, bluish greys in the mid-ground, and more or less straight greys mixed with white in the background. Almost none of the grey tones are simply mixes of black and white although some are variations of Paynes grey, a wonderful deep bluish grey. From the foreground to the foam line, most of the grey tones come from a mix of burnt sienna with either cerulean or ultramarine blue, lightened with white. Any grey or brownish neutral that results from mixing complementary (or near-complementary) colors is livelier and more interesting than a mix of black and white.
Some of you readers are avid bird watchers and may wonder precisely what variety of sandpiper this is. Answering that is well beyond my level of bird identification skills. Even our small guide to field identification of birds lists a couple dozen varieties of sandpiper, a daunting number of them found on Florida's coast. The dark legs narrow down the possibilities, and it seems most like a sanderling to me in size (about 6 or 7 inches long), beak shape, and coloring. The sanderling, like many Florida shorebirds, is brown and white speckled in summer, more black and white in winter. My photo, taken a few years ago in October, seems to show the winter plumage coming in.
Question of the day: Isn't it fun to tackle challenges--like painting a scene with little color?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Growing--Visiting a Quaker Meeting and a Peaceful Campus

Sunday, I decided to attend a local Quaker First Day meeting, something I have been wanting to do for awhile. This is the week I gave my shy self a push to "just do it". The members were welcoming and kind, making sure I felt comfortable among them. The experience of quiet reflection and prayer, with a few thoughts offered by participants, was meaningful and lovely. I felt renewed and refreshed.
The group meets in the library of a local private school with a truly beautiful campus. I had brought a camera in case I wanted to go hunting for painting subjects after the meeting and was glad I had. A calm stroll all by myself continued the meditative gratitude and peace I felt after worship. Behind a small building labeled "Latin", a feeder stream to the St. Johns River flowed by. The bright sunshine on spring-green leaves, the chorus of bird-song, the tree shadows on the grass, the caress of a warm breeze--the entire morning was a gift.
Question of the day: What recent experience has refreshed your spirit?