Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Learning and Growing--Painting Process on Dune and Beach Piece, "Spring Breeze"

Today's post is designed for readers interested in my landscape painting process and in composition design in particular. The photos above show earlier stages of "Spring Breeze", with the final version at the top. The lower left photo is quite early, with some elements, like the sky and footbridge, more developed and others, like the wildflowers, just barely indicated. It was a real challenge to get the balance and focal point to work well on this piece. My painting mentor Linda Blondheim provided invaluable advice during a couple of months of using her e-critique services. With her guidance, I gradually added more curve to the path--even the second version of the path in the photo on the right changed further later on. The evolution of the path illustrates how landscape artists sometimes need to adjust features in the actual scene for a more pleasing composition. The first version reproduces the way the path actually looked in my reference photo, but adding curves and more variation provided a much more graceful lead into the scene. In a departure from my usual process, I painted the footbridge in a fairly detailed form early on because I was strongly drawn to the sharp shadows cast by the railing. Since that area was my intended focal point, I worked to render the bridge in correct perspective from the beginning.
I have no idea how often I painted out and revised the wildflowers on the left side. Although they are a major element, I wanted them to balance, but not compete with, the footbridge and its interesting shadow pattern. An important step in solving the overly even seesaw look of the foreground was to make the left side dune higher. At one point, I cut some scrap paper into a much higher dune shape, taped it (with masking tape) to the canvas, and emailed that image to Linda. She agreed that a higher dune made the composition more interesting than having so many elements on roughly the same level, but suggested going a bit lower than the line of my cut-out. However, I hesitated before revising the dune so radically because Jacksonville Beach dunes are not that steep. We landscape painters vary, I think, in the degree to which we are willing to change the actual scene when we work from nature or reference photos. For several days, this work-in-progress stood on the fireplace mantel for consideration while I worked on other paintings. The need for a greater variation in line won out over realism. Also, since steeper dunes grace some nearby beaches, the change was not completely out of line.
If some of you are interested, I will talk about the process of painting the sky and clouds in "Spring Breeze"in a future post. It can be difficult to achieve a semi-transparent, wispy effect with acrylic paints, so sharing our methods could be fun.
Question of the day: More of a reflection than a question this time: For me, achieving an interesting balance of compositional elements in a painting, with both dynamic tension and restful features, seems like a metaphor for a set of life skills we all need. What do you think?


  1. Mary, how wonderful to see your progression!! Linda is an angel, to be sure, and a joy to work with. I agree that we must change the photo we're painting from to reflect good composition and design skills. If not, just keep the photo!!

    As to your question, I find that yes, my art often reflects my life. When I paint and it's too crowded and jumbled - that can mirror my mind! My painting will often let me know that a shift is needed for balance - in my life *and* in the painting!

  2. A beautiful painting, Mary! So worth the effort - for me the process is a journey and I am never in a hurry to get to the end. By your post it's easy to see you feel the same way! I'm sure you were humming as you worked and reworked those lovely wild flowers and reshaped the dune! Great job!

  3. Lovely - very much worth the effort and thanks for taking us through it.

  4. Wow--lovely comments from three lovely souls--Thank you all!

    Jean, you express thoughts so well--your "mirroring" insight opens my mind to even more insights. Thank you for taking the time to share our creative journeys.

    Oh, Rosemary, you have a beautiful spirit. I wish I could claim that the process involved lots of humming, but I have to admit that along with fun times of experimentation and reworking, there were times of frustration and fearing that the piece would never work out well. I need to learn tranquility from you.

    You are most welcome, Robin. I appreciate your visit and company on our creative ways.

  5. when i become a millionare, i would buy some of your amazing works. :)

  6. Although there are no birds in the second picture and the flowers are not red, I like the vivid colors in it Mary but as you know I am not an artist so I guess I see different things in paintings. :)

  7. Thoroughly enjoyed the process of the emerging landscape - how you began with a "picture" of it, and then modified it for interest and impact ... the interaction of the artist with the canvas, the paint ... creativity for sure ... and your work with a mentor. Thanks for sharing the journey.

  8. How kind you all are--sorry I have been absent from the blogoshpere for a couple of weeks. I hope to visit your fine blogs again soon.

    Cher, way to make my day--week--month! You are a honey. The paintings are actually not terribly expensive :>). Once the economy improves, I may be offering some for sale online.

    Joan, I love hearing your response to the stages of this work--you have a great eye, and I know you will be honest with me. That is priceless. It is difficult (for me) to capture the paintings accurately in a photo, but it is true that I toned down some of the colors as I worked. For me, the final version is still fairly bright--I do like subtle color. But we all have different, very individual preferences in visual art--and I hear and appreciate what you are saying.

    Tom, it is a real treat to hear from you again, and you are most welcome. I know you are interested in all aspects of people's journeys and in mentoring. So it was the perfect time for you to stop in.