My Art in the Making
With a basic red, yellow and blue broken background with white I lay in a general background that can be made into anything. But made atmospheric with a bit of blue at the top it looks like a nondescript sky with some sort of land at the base one-third.
The two figures I’ll use as they appear. No need to rearrange. Some water, a bit of land in the distance and shallow water in the front, a few wandering coastal type birds and we’re in an estuary. I’m attracted to the women’s colors, their free flow, the designs on the dresses and the magic light dripping and dappling over them. My multiuse Stingray fan brush in action!
The overlap of the figures adds another interesting dynamic to the composition—the suggestion of togetherness and friendship adds emotion. With their size being about 65 percent of the height of the canvas they dominate, and with well calibrated light will be very powerful against a benign backdrop.
The light on the figures is from the left so I work in a yellow sunglow from that side. It sits perfectly with the high-key mauve/blue/pink I’ve worked into the surrounding sky. It’s the triad of complementary colors at work. Light will “ping” out of this!
After the figures are in, I adjust the sky, allowing me to check the shape of the figures. Now with my Marilyn brush I dig into all the colors and define the shapes more. I use my “wet layering” technique to do all figure work. Paint is thinned to almost watercolor consistency by adding solvent with 20 percent of linseed oil. Each layer thickens in consistency and leaves about 20 percent of the previous layer exposed.
The sky needs to talk to the figures. I bring it more into play with stronger pulses of light from the left diminishing to the right. The foreground needs to engage so I shape some water ripples and small distant waves. I have the fundamental elements of the painting in place— now, it’s a question of advancing toward the final highlights in an orderly, rational way that results in the figures enveloped in light driving the painting.
More detail. The painting of the dress needs to be faithful to it. The face of the girl needs to be suggested to give some meaning while the falling folds of the dress that suggest posture and movement needs to be rendered. Likewise, the decorative dress panels and bunching of material and the play of light within all this needs expression.
The key to the detail is my magnifier. Without this aid, I simply would not be able to extract enough information to render faithfully what I am trying to paint. I would be guessing too much. By having the magnifier over the photo right beside the point of painting I am, with a 1-inch head movement, able to compare shapes, values and discover detail otherwise guessed and most likely missed!
All highlights are basically in. Now to the reflected light and the glow light through the thin dress fabric. Again I use the liner brush to “skid” the thin paint over the area so the tooth picks off the paint. At times I’ll use watery paint to render the transparent glow. Experiment.
I find it’s very important to develop a variety of different strokes to get the various looks that make for an accurate and compelling rendition of the subject or scene. The splash of water around the legs demands a different approach. I want fragmented water. The Roundup or the Stingray fan brush are my go to for this. First I decide on the splash line that amplifies the motion of the figures and drive that on with a bold, loaded brushstroke.
STAGE 8 (Continued) The shadow behind the splash and the figures are important “bedding down” colors and strokes. Done efficiently and confidently with just a few strokes, they impart a robust feel about the painting.
Often light needs to be caressed while other times it needs to be whacked on! I try to understand the nature of the various expressions of light before I start painting it. Like water, it can look dead wrong or stunningly right. Photographs are a huge help in de-engineering both along with the primary pathway of direct observation. The juicy parts of both are the most fleeting and they are the best to paint. Whether it be splashing water or shifting light they both are the drivers to great paintings but steep challenges for the artist to understand let alone master. Homework!
STAGE 9 Fun Times, oil, 20 x 16" (51 x 41 cm) A few sea birds bouncing around in the brisk breeze and the story’s told. A simple effective painting made almost solely into something by the use of light. Let there be light!