Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Work in Progress--Dune, Ocean, and Sea Oats Painting

This North Florida dune painting has been difficult for me to assess and complete. The reference photos were taken in dim conditions, so I am trying to recreate the brighter glow of some late afternoons at the beach just from my memory and from more recent walks on our Atlantic Ocean beaches. However, none of the days I have gone recently have had the atmospheric and light conditions I remember from a certain summer day. Late day photos I have taken in other locations along the shore have been some help, but haven't solved all the problems.
As many of us who make any sort of thing (art work, cake, cabinet, poem, garden, scrapbook, tin whistle, song, quilt, . . . ) know, some creations are more satisfying than others. I always struggle with each painting, but some really please me when they are finished. Others, less so. I have learned from experience that a piece I do not like as well as others may still appeal to someone else. In a previous post, I described how a painting delighted a client of the Trends Home Decor shop (although I did not mention that I had never liked that piece much and once considered painting something else over it!). She ignored all the other pieces I had in the shop and bought my least favorite. Viva la difference, n'est pas?
So, here's the thing. I have this particular work in progress (a 12" x 16" acrylic painting on gallery wrapped canvas) hanging on the wall and feel strongly that it needs further revision. I also know that it will probably never be a favorite among my creations, so have to resist overworking it and ruining any good qualities it might have. Interestingly, when I photographed it, looking at the photo gave me a bit of distance, and the piece didn't seem quite so bad.
The more distant beach line still needs work. It has been very hard to get the right perspective, to show how the dune slopes down onto the beach in the near right corner compared to the glimpse of the shoreline farther away, past the edge of the dune. I also may have made the sky too blue and bright for a late afternoon, although it sometimes looks this way, and I really don't want to grey it down much. Finally, this stretch of dune had a much thicker stand of sea oats, which would be an unattractive visual mess if exactly duplicated on canvas. I'd like to add a few more stalks, smaller and less prominent than those featured here, but don't want to overdo it.
Any suggestions you might have would be very welcome. Please don't just flatter the piece (you readers are all so sweet and kind); it does need some revision. What do you think?
Question of the day: How critical are you of your own creations and production? To what extent does your self-criticism work in your favor, and when does it hinder you?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Refreshing Day Trip to Crescent Beach, Florida

Several weeks ago, on a pleasant North Florida winter day, Mark and I took a day trip to Crescent Beach, Florida. This distinctive area is southeast of Jacksonville (where we live), an off-shore island south of St. Augustine and north of Daytona. Although North Florida beaches on the Atlantic Ocean share similarities, each has its own particular look as well as variations in vegetation, bird life, and animal population.
The Matanzas Inlet adds to the interest we had in the area; it is one of the few inlets around which is not protected by jetties and thus gradually moves with the currents and tides. The Matanzas Inlet leads from the Atlantic Ocean to the inland waterway, which runs on the inland side of a string of off-shore islands along North Florida. Of course, the inland waterway runs all the way along the Atlantic Coast, but varies from place to place in whether it follows rivers near the ocean or other available waterways. In one of the photos, you can see the large pond-like area into which the inlet flows and across the water, (if your eyes are sharp; it is by no means a close-up) the Fort Matanzas National Monument, built by the Spanish. More information about the Fort here. In the photo that shows the ocean on the left and dunes on the right (looking south), you may be able to discern the inlet by a narrow fog layer extending in toward land, with homes on the far side. Our friends who fish say that the inlet is prime fishing territory for many species of fish. One friend, who hand weaves casting nets in the tradition of her Cherokee ancestors, particularly likes casting for mullet here. She watches dolphins feeding near shore in the ocean for clues to the running of the mullet. Sometimes a group of dolphins actually cooperate in fishing, as some of them "herd" hundreds of mullet toward other dolphins so that they can surround them and feed.
Our day was delightful. In the photos, you can see the beach and ocean, fairly heavy with haze that day, the boardwalk protecting the dunes and their vegetation, the inlet, and--a real treat for us--a gopher tortoise, one of several who had just come out of their underground den. (Correction: I can't believe I typed "turtle" and then didn't notice for a few days; this is a true, solely land-dwelling tortoise, not a turtle at all). We are indebted to a couple of tourists coming along the walkway as we were headed in from the beach who alerted us to their sighting of these shy, elusive animals. Sadly, their numbers are declining, a great loss due to their pivotal importance in a whole mini-ecosystem. As my Audubon Field Guide to Florida says, " [their] methodically constructed tunnels are . . . not only home to the declining Gopher Frog and Eastern race of Indigo Snake, but 300 other species of vertebrates use or rely on the burrows for shelter or food." If you look carefully in the photo with a dead-looking small tree at the top, you can see the large opening to the gopher turtle burrow at the lower right. As always, you can click on any photo to enlarge it.
One important aspect of our "creative everyday life" is exploring our rich and varied local area whenever we can. Those of you who are regular readers have seen other posts about our adventures in Coastal North Florida.
Question of the day: Do you agree with us that some of the best travel experiences can be found near home for curious, creative day trippers and explorers?

Trouble with Blogger

Have any of the rest of you been having trouble with the Blogger program? I have a post ready to go, but can't get the image posting program to come up. Last night, I was able to open "images" and to list the photos I had chosen there, but they would not upload to the post itself.
I hope to be back to you with that completed post sometime today.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Techniques for Painting Shadows in Landscapes

Today, let's consider shadows in landscape paintings once more, this time considering a few "how-to" techniques. (Scroll down a bit for earlier posts on this topic.) Of course, since painting is very individual and variable, I realize that my techniques and methods are only one way to approach this important element in a scene. I would love to hear from other artists who approach shadow painting differently--as well as from readers who might "see" them differently. I think shadows are fascinating to consider.
"Wooded Path" is adapted from some photos I took on the extensive grounds of the Kingsley Plantation, which I have written about in several earlier posts. This historic site is nestled in an immense preserve area just north of Jacksonville, Florida. The Timucuan preserve includes salt marshes, wooded areas, and Florida prairie, as well as other land and water habitats. The 16" x 20" acrylic painting on gallery-wrap canvas shows a bend in a path as it leads deeper into the woods. Unfortunately, I was not able to get a good, true photo of this piece (don't know why that happens sometimes). The photo of the final version, seen below an earlier view and a detail of the foreground, looks misty in the mid-ground, whereas the actual painting is clear. The work-in-progress took a better photo--hope you can see some value in the improvements in the final version in spite of the poor photo.
At first, the path was too uniformly dark and mid-dark in tone, so in the work-in-progress photo above, you see that I have lightened whole areas, especially just before the bend. Then I added some shadow areas gradually, being careful not to overdo either the amount of shadow area on the path or the darkness of the tones.
Linda Blondheim, in one of her excellent workshops, helped me see that the foreground shadow of the tree trunk was too dark as it moved away from the tree. Real life shadows tend to be darkest at their "source" (right next to the object casting the shadow) and then partially fade along the length of the shadow. Actually, I knew that, but had not been successful in my attempts to vary the shadow. It never looked right. Linda advised that I pull in other path tones and colors from the sides of the shadow edge as it moved away from the tree. To my eye, that worked like a charm, much better than my earlier tries at just gradually lightening the color I used for the shadow as it extended out.
One other change, made before Linda's workshop, was to revise the curve of the path in the foreground. Although not related to shadows, I thought you might like to see that revision, too. In the earlier version, it seemed like the perspective was off, like the path sort of spilled into the viewer's lap. The detail photo shows my sketched lines for revision, which led to an improvement in the composition, I think .
Question of the day: Do you look at shadows differently after hearing about the challenges involved in painting them?