I recently painted “Echoes of the Ancients,” using a technique that I have not tried on a landscape before. I call it the “self-evolving” process, since it’s essentially improvised directly on the final surface. In the case of a self-evolving portrait, I know only that the final image will be “a face.” I just scribble on the paper until the face shows up, and then I try to fill in the details as they appear.
In this most recent painting, I knew it was going to be “a rocky place with ruins.” That’s all I knew. Oh, yeah, and this time I was going to do it big and in full color.
I put a blank 24×18″ canvas on the easel and just started painting wet, broad brushstrokes of cobalt, ultramarine, dioxazine purple and raw umber in various proportions. On the right hand side, I also used some cyan. I used water to wipe out certain bits, and tissues to create texture or pull off some paint. Here’s what it looked like at the end of the first session:
I don’t know which inspired which, but as I was painting the upper right hand clouds, we got a serious thunderstorm!
By the way, the work-in-progress photos were taken with a handheld point-and-shoot camera and not color corrected, so they’re not A-1 accurate.
In any case, at this point, I wasn’t sure exactly how the land masses worked together. There seemed to be an opportunity for a cave, perhaps, and I made that zigzagging path to lead to it. It felt like a decent start.
In the next session, I developed some of the ideas that seemed to be suggesting themselves. It looked like this at the end of Session Two:
Those three guys in the middle-right were supposed to be made of stone, but there was no way to make that obvious. To me, they looked like giant dwarves coming around the corner: not what I had in mind. I did what I could to make sense of the lower left quadrant, but it didn’t seem to work. Ugh.
I had to take some serious risks now, so I did: I got out the white gesso and blanked out a bunch of stuff! I used some more of it to push the right side mountains further into the distance and to suggest a waterfall on the far right. When the gesso was dry, I used the same original underpainting colors to get rid of the old “cave,” and build up some more solid rocky areas.
Then I started bringing out as much detail as I could, using my smallest brushes to paint over the dark areas with titanium white. I also punched up the light coming out of the lower entrance. I found some other places where I seemed to see faces, so I refined those, using ultramarine, purple and raw umber for shadows. I also liked the idea that some water might emerge from that canyon area on the left, so I added that. Here’s what the painting looked like at the end of Session Three:
I decided I didn’t like the details on the end of the railings. They didn’t match the level of erosion in the rest of the image (and they looked like little “Godzillas,” so they had to go). They went.
I wanted the faces in the lower right to seem to grow out of (or be hidden in) the rocks, so I added cracks, shadows and highlights, accordingly. Adding a bit more atmosphere to the mountains, and taking out some other extraneous details started to bring the full image together. By the end of Session Four, the painting had become this:
Session Five was all about refinements in the foreground and definition in the middle and back areas. It was pretty much the last major session for the painting. Once that was done, I just had to add a couple of figures checking out the place. In the end, this is what it turned out to be.