Monday, October 25, 2010

Exploring--Autumn in the Smoky Mountains

We have just returned from a wonderful vacation, enjoying visits with family and natural autumn beauty. Driving through the Smoky Mountains this time of year is a delight, although I should have taken more photos on our way in when it was sunny:>). We had been delayed by heavy traffic on the way and wanted to keep going, so I promised myself photos at several scenic overlooks on our way south again. However, the Smokies lived up to their name as we drove back through the park, so my mountain vista photos are quite subdued. The mountain stream right next to the main north-south drive through the park, bubbling through a mix of autumn colors and trees still green, provided my best photo op that day.
We had come from the Atlanta, GA area after several days with our older son and his wife in their new home. Although they are not exactly around the corner from Jacksonville, we are thrilled and very grateful to have them so much nearer than their long-time home in Southern California. We then drove to Gatlinburg, TN to research a lodge we hoped would prove to be a good location for a summer 2011 family reunion of our immediate family, my three siblings, their children, and grandchildren. One of my brothers and his wife met us there, and we judged the lodge to be perfect for our purposes--hope the rest of the family enjoys it as much as we expect they will. It is surprisingly affordable, with 12 bedrooms, each with a private bath, an amazing kitchen which will easily handle our meal preparation needs, large dining room, two lounges with fireplaces, a pool table, and more. Since our family members live in various cities, we have few opportunities to gather all of us together, and we look forward to the reunion.
A couple more nights enjoying time with our son and dear "daughter" ended our delightful autumn vacation--now home again.
Question of the day: What natural beauty are you enjoying this season? I love our fall beauty, but also know it is spring for our southern hemisphere friends--love to visit your blogs and get a sense of our larger world.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Savoring--Nature, Relaxation--Life is Good Today

Did you need to look at the smaller photos to figure out what the larger photo shows?
It is, of course, the view from our backyard hammock. We are thankful to have cooler weather to make this a relaxing place to hang out again. The smaller photos show one more view from the hammock, looking toward the house, and one of the hammock itself. Y'all should come on down!
I truly hope that all of you have taken time lately for the renewing relaxation of spending time in the fresh autumn air. Wherever you are, whatever your responsibilities or troubles, you deserve at least a brief break doing nothing beyond breathing in natural beauty. A nearby park will do if there is no peaceful place at home. Three deep breaths--don't you wish everyone around you paused for three deep breaths several times a day?
Question of the day: Where is your favorite place to breathe deeply?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Learning and Growing--Cypress Swamp Work in Progress

I just got back to this cypress swamp piece today after working on a new, larger landscape painting for awhile. I had mentioned in my last post that I was using Linda Blondheim's e-critique service in the early stages of this 8" x 10" study. She was complimentary of the overall composition at the point I showed you last time, but asked, "What do you plan as the focal point?" Even though I was liking it in that form, with the simple pattern of cypress trunks against a soft background, it did need something more to draw the viewer's eye. The reference photos (seen in the previous post), as you may recall, came from our visit to Babcock Wilderness Adventures, a tour of extensive, varied preserve areas near Punta Gorda, on Florida's Gulf Coast.
I experimented, just lightly sketching one or more egrets or other wading birds in various spots in the scene, but they seemed "too much" somehow. I liked the simplicity and relative emptiness of the piece and wanted just a hint of something more. But what? Walking past the pond in our neighborhood just as a frog, turtle (or some critter) put a nose up gave me an interesting idea. Perhaps I could suggest the rich underwater life in this swamp without showing any particular creature by painting in some ripples to suggest that a frog, fish, or maybe even a gator had broken the surface of the otherwise still water. So, here is a start in that direction, which I hope will add a subtle hint of life.
I will continue to texture the nearest cypress trunk to the ripples (right foreground). Now that a subtle center of interest will be there, I will reinforce that with more contrast and texture and will tone down the trunk in the left foreground just a bit to avoid competing. There is also more work to do (as you can see) in developing and filling in the background and in completing the water and reflections. This one is developing slowly, given its relatively small size, but I am completely enjoying the process and am in no hurry. Given that I may paint the scene in a larger format later, I believe that taking care with composition and values now will be well worth it. Even if this is the only version ever, it is providing a pleasant creative journey.
Question of the day: Do you suppose that the tranquility of the cypress swamp I am representing has influenced my mood and pace in this work? The process has not caused any frustration--unlike some other slow-to-fruition works. Thank you, Florida Wilderness.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Learning and Growing--Painting Process for a Study of a Cypress Swamp

This work-in-progress is an 8" x 10" study using reference photos (I have posted two of them) from our visit to Babcock Wilderness Adventures, near Punta Gorda, Florida, on the Gulf Coast. I am considering what to paint on a 30" x 40" canvas waiting in the closet, which is larger than anything I have attempted so far. So, I am planning a few studies to try out some possibilities.
I first made full-page black and white copies of a couple of my photos to help me see the layout clearly. I love color so much that I have trouble seeing the "values" in a potential composition. "Value" refers to the relative lightness or darkness of objects, as if on a grey scale, and interesting value variation is a crucial element in good composition. Failing to consider value relationships can lead to a bland result, even if colors are varied and pleasing. I decided to make the sky and some of the background just a half-tone darker than they look in the photo so that the sunlight on the cypress trunks would draw the eye as the lightest areas in the piece. The reflections in the water also needed to be darker for the contrast and sense of mystery I hoped to achieve.
The actual scene has a cluttered appearance that is fascinating in nature, but not necessarily good in a painting. So, I decided to concentrate on the powerful cypress trunks themselves, to have some semi-abstracted vegetation on the far bank, and to leave most of the rest out. That one diagonal line in the photo is appealing, but just stole the whole show in my preliminary sketches (even though it was not intended to be a focal point), so I regretfully left that out, too.
I'll say more about the palette colors and later composition decisions when I post the final version--it is nearly done. Today, I wanted to show you the way I revised the scene before painting. Given that I was leaving out so much, the piece needed (in my opinion) a few more cypress trees. So, I played "cut and paste" with the photocopies until I had a pleasing arrangement of five trees, receding to the far bank. A rough line drawing helped in assessing placement.
Linda Blondheim provided very useful advice, as I was using her e-critique services during the early stages of this study. After getting the piece to the stage in the photo above, I had put it away while I completed a larger work and now am ready to finish it. Linda's question, "What do you intend as the focal point?" had me experimenting with a few possible finishing details. Soon, I will show you the result.
Question of the day: I love to hear about other people's thinking processes--in any context, whether is has to do with art or not. Do you find that interesting, too?