It’s been a while since I’ve talked about art around here, and that’s about to change. Mostly, it’s because I’ve been loafing around doing silly things like working, writing, and plotting out my next series of novels… and because this art project was a doozy. Seriously, it took me two months and change to go from blank canvas to presentable for public consumption. Let’s take that journey together, shall we?
This painting idea started out as a wedding present (and ended as a well-after-the-wedding-congratulations/house-warming present) for my brother and pixie-in-law, since they honeymooned in Aspen, CO, and hiked to see the Maroon Bells over the lake. Romantic to have a painting of said mountains in their first home, no?
So, for maximum romantic effect, I started this 3’x2′ canvas out thusly:
It was so big that I couldn’t trust myself to draft it safely without quartering it. Then I broke the range down into simple shapes and threw it on like this:
Now, I made a mistake with these first two steps: I did it in a brush-pen. I didn’t think it would show through the gesso in the next phase… but it did. And that greatly grieved me, so I ended up coating it over with a thick layer of color…
But the lines were still visible, so I re-gessoed the badboy:
That’s three layers of paint across the whole canvas to fix that initial mistake. Yay.
I used two main reference images. One was a photograph my mother had taken some thirty years ago when she hiked up to see the Bells, one from the vast, wide, world of the internet. The former helped with a bit of the detail of the shape of the Bells. The latter I shall not share here as it provided me with some color inspiration, fog behavior, and general idea, but does not actually resemble this painting in any meaningful way.
Back to the action: I propped my easel back upright, got a new camera with which to take these pictures, and ignored the massive art project in my room for over a month. After enough time had come between me and my initial failures, I thought it right to tackle the sky:
Now, because the lake is there, the sky becomes skyx2. Yay. I differentiated the water by making it a bit grayer, but between the initial bout with this painting and the sky… well… I had forgotten how insane it is to cover this much canvas consistently, wet, and all at once. I began to think of it as a screaming ascent from chaos.
At any rate, I was eager to move on and throw some mountains in here now that my drafting was completely obscured. ;)
Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiin grayscale. Because colors were intimidating to me at this point.
I couldn’t avoid the inevitable forever, however, so I eventually threw some color and approximate detail on top of my hasty grayscale.
It took a few tries for me to get the Bells themselves quite as big as they needed to be, but I’m pretty happy with where they ended up. I knew I needed mist to differentiate the ridges in the foreground, so what’s here was splashed up there for reference for than anything serious. I had also started experimenting with just which brush and colors I wanted to use while making far-distant pine trees. I believe in a single-brushstroke-tree type of technique when doing a WHOLE FOREST. Otherwise, this painting would have been overkill as a present. While this is fine as a raw, rough, sort of copy, it wouldn’t do as a finished product.
So… refining I did go. One or two more sessions produced this:
There was a lot more swooshing of a damp brush across the lake, a bit of fluffing when it came to fog, and no small amount of panicking as my painting finally crawled up out of the pit of chaos and into the shape of something resembling what I had intended. To me, most art follows some form of a panicked fall from grace that somehow ends up with a halo straight and wings perfectly white. Since that doesn’t make much sense, I like to think of art as a panicked, screaming, upward fall from the dark pit of chaos that is any artistic process. Or, if you rather, a fall up toward grace.
Often, art isn’t fun. The artistic choices we make often come from a place of trying to fix something. Sometimes we think it’s perfect, then we come back to find it isn’t. If you’re feeling discouraged about a piece, that’s all right. I think it’s a common trait among all artists, great and small.