Friday, October 26, 2012

Newest Painting Is Complete--"River View at Kingsley Plantation"

     I felt a little rushed to complete this 18" x 24" acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas in time to deliver it to Paddiwhack Gallery for a special exhibit. However, I am quite pleased with the result. "River View at Kingsley Plantation" utilized my cabbage palm painting photos and study, mentioned in the most recent previous post. It may not seem like a big deal to everyone, but creating the palm trunks and especially the palm canopy (and even the part of a canopy visible on the far right) required special study and careful work.

     Then, the first try after my studies produced a very nice canopy on the furthest palm away from the viewer (which appears in the middle of the three seen), but I painted much of it out and started again. That canopy had been very high on the canvas and was not seen in full (in other words, the viewer of the painting saw maybe the lower two-thirds of it at most). On e-critique advice from Linda Blondheim and on further reflection myself, I concluded that for good composition and better balance, that entire palm canopy needed to be lower so that it would be seen in full. Other changes from the main reference photo (seen below)--made to enhance the composition--included painting in a more interesting sky, adding a kite, which is one of Florida's gorgeous soaring shore birds, and simplifying the tall grasses.  My literal rendition of the bulkhead along the river at the Kingsley Plantation National Parks historic site bothered Linda. She would have preferred a softer, more organic, curving line, perhaps of the mud flats that line the river bank at low tide. I did consider her suggestion to replace the bulkhead, knowing that it would certainly work well. However, in the end, I stayed with the straight  bulkhead as it is, partly because viewers who have visited Kingsley Plantation have seen it there and partly because something about the sharper angles appealed to me as a change from some of the softer composition edges I have used in other pieces. 

     You can see other changes from the actual scene that I made in the painting. But, you can also see that this particular photo already represented a composition that appealed to me without major rearrangement. Compared to the times that I have used a reference photo that had appealing elements but was not composed well and required major revision in painting, beginning with a solid photo composition is much simpler and more satisfying.

Question of the day: Do you personally prefer fairly realistic--or even near photo-realistic paintings--or some other type such as impressionistic or abstract?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Studying Cabbage Palms for Better Painting

In my newest painting, which I'll show you soon, three cabbage palms frame one side of the scene. They are seen fairly close up, so needed to be painted quite accurately. Painting a realistic cabbage palm tree proved more complicated than expected. After all, I thought, there were some decently rendered distant palms in some of my paintings, and I had good results with a tropical beach scene that had the island sort of palms near the viewer. Painting them close up was a whole new challenge, humbling, but very interesting.

Cabbage palms (technically the Sabal palmetto, Florida's state tree) are actually quite complex. The fronds in the canopy grow out on various levels as the tree grows taller. In nature, the lower fronds gradually brown, droop, and eventually drop off, sometimes cleanly and sometimes leaving spiky pieces of stem behind (as on the loosely trimmed palms in the photo above). At the national historic site scene I was working on, the browned lower fronds had been regularly trimmed away from the palms, leaving a mostly bright green "lollipop" shaped top. For visual interest, I had decided to add a few browned fronds hanging down, but did incorporate the fairly smooth trunk with no spikes sticking out, just as I saw it at the historic Kingsley Plantation. The plantation is one of our favorite places to visit or to bring out-of-town guests; if you wish, you can view previous Kingsley Plantation posts here.

As I worked to learn more about the cabbage palm, my mentor, Linda Blondheim, advised me and provided one of her own printed tutorials with detailed pointers on painting various species of palm trees. The tutorials may be available from Linda--here is a way to contact her. I also viewed dozens of palms on a perfectly timed weekend watching the dogs at our kids' beach town home while they were away. The yard of their home has gorgeous stands of palm trees, Then, just the shortest walk in their area provided many more palms to study and photograph--each with its own unique form and character. That weekend, I sketched a few palms and parts of palms to get a good feel for them and took dozens of photos, some showing a whole tree or stand of trees, others mid-range, and some intense close-ups for information about details. Back in the studio, the painting flowed much more successfully--will post the results soon.

By the way, please bear with me for a couple of months with less frequent posts. Mark is recovering well from recent rotator cuff repair surgery, and I go in next week for total right hip replacement. I plan to prepare a few posts the rest of this week (if all goes well) that can post automatically, but probably two posts a month will be my max for awhile.
Question of the day: Do you also find that one of the joys (and sometimes, frustrations) of creative pursuits is that each new project presents new challenges and opportunities to grow?