From the BlogSubscribe Now

Story of making the painting, “Valley Light”

Oil paining, mountain, tonalist painting, tonalism, representational art, mountains, trees, panoramic view, valley, shadow line, clouds, realism, classical painting, rosemary brushes, contemporary realism, contemporary art

Presence, 24 x 38

Late one fall afternoon I was working in my studio – and I felt a hunch that I ought to go to my special view spot in the mountains.  It was faster to ride my bike than walk, as it was nearing the end of the day- so I grabbed a backpack and threw in my sketchbook and a packet of charcoal. The weather had been variable all day with patchy clouds and sun breaks.  As I headed up the trail I could see faint light glimmering through the trees.  Higher and higher I rode, as fast as my lungs would allow.  Once I reached the clearing, the sight before me stopped me in my tracks. Reflecting off the cliffs of Mt. Si was this orange-gold light – a spectacular vision that I had never seen before; orange light with a dark shadow line rising up the flanks of the entire mountain range.  The image of this beautiful valley light burned instantly into my mind’s eye.  I knew I had to create this scene into a painting.  But wouldn’t the time please stop and let me soak in the experience a little longer?  I knew it wouldn’t – moments don’t stand still do they?  They just keep unfolding, one after another.  I felt myself accepting the orange light as it sank into my bones and I stood there, silently observing.   No drawing needed.   Luckily I had been there before to draw, so, I had, at least, a record of the important elements.  If you have ever looked at a painting for a long time maybe you’ve experienced a moment through an artist’s rendering.  Back in the studio I had the opportunity to re-experience that moment many times over – from memory.   That’s why I called this painting, Valley Light.  It’s about the Here and Now.  I like Being. Here. Now.

From thumbnail to color study

I recently did some sketching of the water reflections on the Snoqualmie River and I decided to turn one of my ideas into a painting.  Well, I’m about half way there.  Let me show you the process from thumbnail to color study.

First of all, it was freezing outside, so I sat in my car and pulled out the thumbnail sketchbook.  A thumbnail drawing is about half the size of a post-it, or 1.5″x2″.  All I’m trying to do is see if my design idea works as a small black and white image.  I drew this one quickly with 6B pencil and added white chalk for the light areas.  As soon as I had something down I had to decide if I liked the flat, graphic image.  Was it an interesting design?  Was it simple enough or too complicated?  Were the darks clumped together or spread all apart.  The simpler the design the stronger it is.  It’s really hard to uncomplicate the landscape because there’s so much to look at!  I decided I liked the design.

Here is the thumbnail drawing

Later on I decided to make a larger, more complete value study, this time about 4″x6″.  Because I was in my studio I had to imagine the tree because I wasn’t working from a photo, just memory and the thumbnail to look at.

Here is the 4×6 value study

I liked it but something bothered me and I wasn’t sure what it was.  I showed it to my landscape teacher, Deborah Paris, and she said it’s not a good idea to put the trunk of the tree right next to the edge, as it pulls the eye right out of the picture.  I agreed and I also remembered that Edgar Payne mentioned the same thing in his book, Composition of Outdoor Painting.  So I decided to do another value study and move the tree trunk in.

This time I made the drawing an 8×10 because that’s the same size I wanted for the color study.

Here is the 8×10 value study (graphite and white chalk on gray toned paper):

As you can see the drawing is more developed and I have moved the tree in from the edge.  I think it looks better.  What do you think?  The tree is pretty dark because it’s close up and it’s a gray day in the Pacific Northwest which makes all the values pretty close together.

Now it was time to do the color study.  Working from memory of the day I did the thumbnail I painted this 8×10 study.  As I worked I looked at the 8×10 value study as a reference.  It was really interesting how I remembered the colors from that day just looking at the black and white drawing.  I think it’s fascinating how much we record in our minds without knowing!

Here is the color study.

I’m pretty happy with the colors, but I think some of my values are off and I made it into a sunny morning type feel rather than a gray day.  What do you think?  I plan to do another study to attempt to match the value study above.  If I can do that then I’ll go for a larger studio painting.

 

Skull on a Fence Post

Skull on a fence post 6″x4″ graphite and white chalk on toned paper
Loved this new Strathmore paper, Toned Sketch!  My friend, John Unbehend sent me a sample packet to try and I really like the surface.  Not too smooth, not too rough.
Funny thing, this skull looks like it has a baseball cap on, but, really, the “cap” is dried hide, curling up toward the sun!