I took a photo of this scene while on a storm-watching trip along the remote outer coast of the Washington Peninsula. I stood on this cliff knowing I would eventually paint it, hoping to convey the feeling of vast space before me while sheltered within the cocoon of wind-sculpted trees. I wanted to explore our tendency to hold on to what is familiar or what we grew up believing versus the expanding universe and a feeling of deepening awareness of the world around us. I’ve always gravitated toward reverently illustrating nature as a metaphor for human experience.
My Design Strategy
In creating a visual tug-of-war between that which is close and the distant horizon, I knew I needed to keep the ocean and sky light, cool toned and slightly out of focus. I rendered the tree foliage loosely with a dark and muted palette, reserving detail and warmer colors for tree bark and grass. The details on the tree trunks and grass serve to distract and almost block the view, further illustrating tension between the known and the unknown.
My Working Process
I work with Unison soft pastels and Lenox 100 paper or Uart 800 sanded paper. Anticipating extra pigment layers in this painting, I chose Uart 400 for more grab. I pin the paper to the wall and lightly sketch just the major lines. Even though I work large scale, I prefer to reference a printed photo approximately 11 by 14 inches, because the flattened image and reduced detail allow me to more freely incorporate my own memory and intuition. I work top to bottom, usually completing a section before moving on. After blending the distant sky/ocean/beach with my fingers, I went back in with a light touch and a warm black pastel for the base layer of the tree trunks. I turn pastel sticks on their sides and drag lightly for certain textures and break sticks with pushpins to create sharp edges for detail. I don’t use fixative and when finished I very carefully vacuum the piece while still on the wall.
I believe that the energy used to create is tangible in finished work. I try to remain present and purposeful, minimizing distractions, playing inspiring music or podcasts, and taking lots of contemplative breaks (including petting the studio cats).
Email: re[email protected]nayshaffer.com Website: www.renayshaffer.com
Coming To The Edge Of Everything We Thought We Knew, pastel, 26 x 34½" (66 x 88 cm)