Cloud Studies

Cloud Studies

I was going to be on my own for an hour while waiting for an event. I didn’t know what I’d find in this recently opened park but I was prepared to paint plein air, even though the weather seemed iffy. The park itself is essentially a series of city-block-sized, flat-topped artificial “hills” on whose cambered sides is planted what they’re calling a “sea of flowers.” On top are a few bits of sports-themed topiary and some cartoon characters. The current blooms were muted, and the square hills looked more like bunkers to me. I walked the perimeter. I climbed up top again and looked around. Really? Was my imagination so dull that I could find nothing to paint?

Ten kilometers away, however, winds from the northeast were driving heavy clouds across the Tatun Group, a cluster of volcanic peaks that tops out at 1,120 meters (3,675 feet). Glad to be in the rain shadow, I sat on the grass and watched great curls of mist roll down from the summits. After awhile, I pulled out my DIY Inktense Plein Air kit for a couple of small studies. The Arches rough  watercolor paper doesn’t like to be scrubbed, so I worked it as little as possible. Quick though they were, these are among my more successful attempts at painting this kind of weather with the Derwent Inktense ink blocks.

DatunShanStudies_Taiwan_Inktense_21x15cm

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Inner Vision: “Emerging”

Inner Vision: “Emerging”

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“Emerging” – Inner Vision – Acrylic on Canvas – 13×17.9″/33×45.5 cm

“Emerging” – Acrylic on Canvas – 13×17.9″/33×45.5 cm

The path to this sacred place is long and difficult.
Many times have I come to stand on this shore
waiting, hoping for a glimpse.
Each time, I have had to leave before the darkness falls.
Time and again, I have returned.
You knew I would.
Once more the arduous journey is taken.
Patience, persistence, openness, constancy, trust.
You emerge.
I see you.

Inner Vision: “Rediscovery”

Inner Vision: “Rediscovery”

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“Rediscovery” – Acrylic on canvas/linen, 25.6×19.7″/65x50cm

“Rediscovery” – Acrylic on canvas/linen
25.6×19.7″/65x50cm

Your great-grandfather had told of how our ancestors had wandered the great southern mountains whose summits gleamed with snow even in the summer. Unlike most people, you and I did not laugh at the old man.

The night before he died, he gave you his favorite book. He called it history. Everyone else called it hogwash.

In the weeks that followed the old man’s passing, we studied the book assiduously. Every page spoke of amazing people, their journeys, their sorrows and joys. Some of the tales we recognized from your great-grandfather’s telling.

In the very center of the book, we found the map he had hidden between the pages. The parchment was yellowed and frayed, but the markings were readable in good light. They showed our village, the southern road out of town, and six or seven routes through the mountains. Beyond that, it was a bit sketchy.

No one had ventured into the southern mountains for as long as anyone could remember. The reasons given were unconvincing to us. Too barren, they said, trackless and treacherous. There was no food or game and the water was probably poisoned. We knew all the answers.

By dawn the next day, we were long gone. We had told no one; what would be the point? A week later, we sent my father’s faithful horse back home and continued onward, following the long-disused track that led beyond the foothills.

It was our turn.

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These imaginary scenes (my “inner visions”) are getting clearer. I’m refining the process as I go. Further down, you can see the original rough sketch and get all the geeky details about how this painting came together.

Process:

I put an 18×24″ sheet of white paper up on the board and drew whatever came into my head. Once I’d captured a basic idea that I liked, I laid another sheet over the first to trace and refine the drawing. I spent quite a bit of time on the refinements, but when I was done, I decided I preferred the original unrefined sketch (below).

Rediscovery_Sketch_HiRes

Then I did some heavy shading with a soft pencil on the backside of the original sketch, following the lines of the drawing. After taping the sketch to the canvas, I drew over it with a pen, pressing the graphite on the back onto the canvas, kind of like using carbon paper. The pen’s colored ink helps me see which lines I haven’t traced yet. The end result is a thin outline of the main shapes on the canvas. I used a harder pencil directly on the canvas for the final outlines. I kept it loose and sketchy as much as possible.

Mixing Dioxazine Purple, Cobalt Blue, and Raw Umber in first more blue-weighted proportions and then more umber and purple-weighted proportions, I very roughly painted in the basic shapes from back to front. The result was rather heavy and dark, but I expected that since acrylic always dries darker. The important thing was that I had some subtle color variations, the proper cold/warm ratio from the background to the foreground, and some nice textures.

I wanted to “knock back” the stuff in the distance, so I lightly dipped a bristly old brush into some white primer and started scumbling a thin, semi-opaque layer over the far distance area. Whoa! With the very first strokes, I put down WAY more than I intended, but…I LIKED IT! I’ve always liked the look of new snow on bare rock with new snow, and this looked like that, so I went for it, scumbling as fast and loosely as I could. Improvised snowfields and avalanche chutes materialized as I painted.

Once I had the basic values and atmosphere set, I went over everything with Titanium White. In fact, for the entire second session, I painted with nothing but white. I had all kinds of fun playing off the textures, refining the snowfields, defining cliffs, crags and boulders, and adding mist and swirling snow. In the last session, I finished the snow and then improvised the design of the two apparent “openings” on the left and right. Again, I used only white to bring out the shapes.

Once that was done, some of the foreground rocks still needed some stronger definition, so made a watery mix of my original underpainting colors and fixed a few edges. Finally, I added the two figures (you saw those, did you?), letting them dry completely before adding more white to put them in proper context. I also added a bit of white to the darker rocks that had dried too dark again.

So there you have all the technical details for this painting. Thanks for reading! If you have questions, let me know in the comments. I’ll answer as many as I can!