"Castaway Island Cedars" is the second of two paintings begun at a painting workshop with painter/teacher Roger Bansemer. I described the painting process for "Castaway Island Palms" a few posts ago when it was finished. Both are 9" x 12" acrylic works on gallery-wrapped canvas using reference photos and notes from my outing to Castaway Island Preserve on the intracoastal waterway here in Jacksonville, Florida. Each scene shows characteristic North Florida native trees and other vegetation growing in or near salt marsh areas, scenes like those that greeted the first Europeans to step on the shore of what is now Florida.
With apologies for the slightly washed out look of the palms photo, here is the other painting. As always, you can click on the images to enlarge the view.
I used the same limited palette for these two scenes so that they could hang harmoniously as companion pieces, but made certain each could also work alone. This palette includes: cerulean blue, ultramarine blue, Payne's grey, cadmium yellow light, Indian yellow, cadmium red light, white, and buff, with some burnt umber in a few of the mixes. As described in the "Castaway Island Palms" post, this is my first experience using Indian yellow, a warm, slightly orangey hue. It's very nice. I rubbed each canvas with an uneven burnt sienna mid-tone before painting, which provides a warm undertone unifying the entire work as well as a base from which it was easy to judge the tones (relative darks and lights) of the rest of the painting. Beginning with what I planned as the darkest darks, then moving to lights and mid-range tones, I laid in the rough shapes of the composition, then gradually worked in greater detail. "Castaway Island Cedars" came together more quickly (or in my case, less slowly :>) than the palms piece.
For each of these paintings, I had excellent reference photos, including those that showed more detail of the red cedar branches and needle clusters, or other crucial detail areas. Several times in the workshop, Roger Bansemer stressed the importance of starting with well-composed reference photos with adequate tonal variation. Sounds obvious, maybe, but I have begun with so-so photos more than once in the past and then struggled to compensate for a poor composition or monotonal appearance. There is a point beyond which I am not good at "making it up"--especially in trying to add something to the given scene that is not actually there. Some aspects of a scene are fairly simple to adjust. Given the lush, varied vegetation here in coastal North Florida, I inevitably need to leave things out to make a pleasing composition, which is simpler than adding elements. The horizon (which is often near the horizontal center of photos) can be moved easily to avoid cutting the composition in half (much less pleasing to the eye than placing it a third of the way from the top or bottom--or at another less symmetrical level). Beyond that, the fact that these works both came from good, solid reference photos helped me complete them with less stress and difficulty than sometimes.
Question of the day: In visual art (including photography), how often do you think about or notice the placement of various features of the overall composition? Do you know why you are particularly drawn to certain compositions?