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?


  1. Looks as though you're coming along great, Mary!
    I agree with the premise that "less is more"...especially in landscape paintings. Otherwise the detail is overwhelming.
    I'm sure your large painting will come out great!

  2. Thank you for visiting and for your encouragement, Dean. I hope to find the courage to try a larger piece soon, either following this study or of another subject.