Bridge at Kensington

Bridge at Kensington

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

French Broad River Fields

Just outside the southern city limit of Brevard, North Carolina, you cross the French Broad River. One of the main rivers in Western North Carolina, the French Broad plays a major role in the history of the region, as all rivers do. It was a means of transportation for the Native Americans before it saw the first settlements of Europeans, primarily the Scots-Irish fleeing religious persecution in Scotland.

The flat valleys along the French Broad are still farm land along much of the river's course. I crossed the French Broad numerous times as I drove throughout the region, especially as I traveled farther west. But I didn't have to go far to find a beautiful, quiet expanse of farm fields. Less than three miles from the entry to the subdivision where I stayed was a picturesque, tranquil scene rimmed on two sides by distant mountains and depending on the time of day, traversed by a herd of cattle.

As I drove to and from town on an almost daily basis, I looked for places I could set up and paint. I considered the parking lot of a large church at a far corner of the fields, but it was too far away. I tried a corner opposite the fields on what appeared to be a substation for the local telephone company. But that angle faced directly west and I was squinting into the sun and telephone lines early in the afternoon. The road shoulder was narrow and I didn't want to be a hazard. Finally, I stopped at a daycare center adjacent to the fields and asked if I could set up and paint near the road, far from children's activity.

For my first 6 X 8 inch painting that afternoon I isolated a section of field with the mountains behind. This time I felt a bit more ready to tackle the values of the mountains and pushed myself to work fast and not overthink the image. One of the primary reasons I was so attracted to this view was because of the interesting patterns of the cattle herd I frequently saw. What I didn't realize is that cattle have schedules. The field was empty while I painted, and empty for most of the rest of the afternoon. The herd appeared and started to move across, from left to right in this view, as I finished the second painting and was packing to leave. I have reference photos, so there are still cows in my painting future.

I then turned 90 degrees and squinting into the late afternoon sun in the west, decided to paint the field on the opposite side of the road from the first painting, my side of the road. You can just see the road and the bridge where it crosses the French Broad, in the top right side of the canvas. The river is not extremely wide at this point.

It's very interesting how juicy and fluid oil paint becomes when the sun is beating down on your canvas. No shade nearby and too breezy to set up my unstable plein air umbrella. But the sun lighting up the corn fields in front of me was too luminous to pass up. I was even visited by several curious horses, separated by a thin wire fence.I'm not sure if that is a house or barn behind the trees in the distance. Metal roofs are common in this part of the country so that roof was indeed, white.

As much as I enjoy painting the garden vignette, a large part of me leans toward the traditional genre of long-range-view landscape painting. On the other hand, it's highly intimidating to be faced with a 180 degree scene of intense beauty and attempt to translate a small slice of it into paint on canvas. My left brain always argues to include more of the scene, more details, while my right brain, my visual brain, is working feverishly to reduce what my eyes are seeing to simple, elegant images. Suffice it to say that after an afternoon of painting in the sun, your eyes aren't the only part of you that is glazed over.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Late Summer Garden Paintings

This is much delayed and I have much catching up to do.
Let's just say I had all the technology with me that I needed but high-speed connectivity was not convenient.

The month in Western North Carolina was fabulous and much different than I expected. Ideas, plans and ambitions crafted while still in the city looked almost silly while I was there. Then I got a chest cold that had me sleeping and resting for most of a week. Anyway, these next posts will not be so much in sequence of when the pieces were painted as by place or subject.

These are, again, vignettes of the gardens around the home where I was staying. The lady-of-the-house has an eye for pleasing arrangements of color and texture and I couldn't resist. And why should I?

The predominantely yellow and green painting, Late black-eyed Susans, is the first time I've used a different yellow, Cadmium Yellow Medium, for outdoor work. I typically use its lighter sister, Cadmium Yellow Light. Cad Yellow Medium is a more intense deeper yellow, and right from the paint tube, almost exactly the right color for the flowers. I mixed it with Chromatic Black to get the rest of the greens in the painting, which is why the painting has an almost monochromatic feel to it. It was painted in early evening and into dusk, which I think I was able to capture in the soft grayed yellows and greens. (For non-painters, most black pigments have a lot of blue in them, so mixing them with yellow produces interesting, earthy greens.)

I was attracted to this section of the garden for the shapes and repetition of the flower heads, yet I didn't want to try and paint dozens of small black dots. Actually, I started down that patch and quickly painted it out. I resolved the challenge by using my palette knife to create spots and dashes of dark, which is really what it looked like to me when I squinted my eyes.
I'm not sure if in preparing the file for the web that I got the colors of this piece just right; the yellowed greens are a lovely olive green with a bit of brighter green here and there. You don't realize until you come inside how your eyes adjust to the fading sunlight, and I was thrilled at the mood this one captured when I viewed it indoors.

This piece, Orange Flowers and Jug, seems to be everyone's favorite. This was another late afternoon session and a frustrating one. The flowers are a passionate, intense orange that I couldn't capture in paint no matter how many mixtures of different reds and yellows I tried. And, I was more frustrated by the fact that I didn't have that many paint colors with me, so I still wonder if there is some combination of more intense red and vibrant yellow that may give me a color closer to what I saw, because that's the reason I sat down to paint this vignette.

Part of my challenge in painting swaths of flower beds is to not try and paint every petal, but give the viewer enough visual information that their mind fills in the rest but their eyes enjoy what they are seeing.

The lady-of-the-house expressed an interest in buying this piece, so I'm not going to offer these paintings just yet.

And what do painters do with all that leftover paint when a painting or session is done? Some scrape the palette clean and throw it out. Others scrape it into a jar or tube and save it for another day. Some mix everything together to create a rich, neutral "mud" that can be very useful to tone a canvas as a "ground." Or, you can spread it all over a fresh canvas and see what you get. Hence, this oddity, Palette Scrapings Cad Red. Cad Red is just too expensive a pigment to throw away, and I love the color. I don't think this really stands alone as an abstract, but it may be the start for something else in the future.