Sunday, August 25, 2013

New Direction

Below is a progress log of my new sectional painting, still in progress in my studio. Nine 18" sq. canvas panels, oils.

I've entertaining the urge to push toward something new. I've worked in themes and series paintings in the past, and have done several triptychs, yet all presented a continuous image, unlike this new work. Several influences aligned and off I went.

I've been pursuing a new image interpretation format, inspired by a crab apple tree just outside my classroom window at Cloudcroft Art Workshops in New Mexico. The tree filtered morning light coming through the window. I could not see the entire tree, only parts of it up against window panes. The lighting appealed to me and I kept looking at it from different angles. I took photos every day and the images stayed in my mind long after.

Inspired by those window-pane-cropped views, this sectional painting is my response. It makes for a puzzle-like presentation, yet the pieces don't match.  In planning, I first printed a bunch of color photos, then printed grayscale enlargements of my favorites. Cropped square sections from various images became my 9 references.

Red ground was applied first (HK Holbein Gesso Colors, 50/50 Orange and Carmine). Then branches and leaves were drawn on in pencil, editing out much of the details. At this point, my methods were like what I typically do in starting a painting (aside from the 9 sections):

Initial paint applications addressed highlights on branches and leaves in broken patches of light to medium valued greens, some with yellows. Again I was not far from standard my practices:

Feeling a bit unsure about colors in limbs vs. background color, I created a few small color tests:

I decided on deep values in Indigo, Ultramarine Blue, and Cobalt Blue for limbs and branches. The red ground popped against light/dark contrasts. Just what I was looking for.:
Next the background negative spaces began in Cobalt Violet with Titanium White and sometimes with Cadmium Yellow Lemon... thinking to somewhat represent natural lighting:

Continuing the "natural" look of darker heavily entwined areas nearer to the bottom of the tree, I went for Viridian mixing with various blues and a bit of Cadmium Yellow Lemon to lighten the value:

I stood back and thought "NO WAY!". There was just too much color competition. I wanted the red ground to be more important and the background less important. Moreover, I wanted to simplify. Soooo, I headed in a very different direction for me. Perhaps influenced by my little black & white cropped photos, I decided to try contrasting those colorful limbs and leaves against a field of mid-valued greys:

In theory, the greys work as a neutral negatives against color and value contrasted positives. I just had to try it. The muted value greys don't compete with colorful leaf and branch positives, as predicted. However, on an emotional level, this just does not send me. I kept looking at how pretty that violet corner looked up at the top right, and knew I had to do some back-peddling. After a few days of allowing the oils to harden, so I could paint over without mixing in, I went back to violet. Cobalt Violet served as the mainstay along with Titanium White and sometimes a bit of Permanent Violet, suggesting background branch business. I've never used so much violet:

It's not over yet, but getting close.


  1. Love watching this series progress!

    1. Mary, It took me a while to call this "finished". Its format is a departure from my typical work. I will continue to follow this approach to pictorializing my references in future projects. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Wow, didn't know you worked on 9 panels simultaneously --- 1 is great and 9 is AWESOME! I see how you really stretched yourself from your comfort zone. I love the effect of the light violet background - it still retains the red shade, and makes the leaves and branches popped out giving some space for the soft shadows in the background. Just a feeling: to my eyes, the violet background is a bit too rich and bright, it pulls me to the background, but my eyes want to linger on the leaves and branches. There is so much to savor in these pieces, the depth of each layers, the intricate twist and turns of the limbs and the space between them, the gentle sway of the young leaves in the sun - they look alive. It's meditative. Fabulous work! Thank You for sharing your process and techniques.

  3. Tina, Thank you for your insights. I so appreciate the depth of your comments and respect your opinion.

  4. Really interesting color combination here. I see your approach to color is so thoughtful, and the result is great