Ready for Work, 18 x 24 inches, oil on linen
This painting is currently on view at the Harrington Gallery at the Firehouse Arts Center in Pleasanton, Ca. The group show is all about the Eastern Sierra pack trips. For the last seven or eight years I have been going up to the mountains with a group of painters to spend a week up in high elevation (10,000 ~ 11,000ft) and painting the Edgar Payne country.
The exhibition features plein air sketches and studio works by some 25 artists who have been on the annual expedition in the past, and I have to say, it is a privilege to be counted among these great artists.
So the painting is above is a studio piece that I did using photo references and sketchbook notes. These pack mules haul our gear (art supplies, tents, etc) as well as a week's supply of food, and we hike in with a light day pack on our backs.
Not being all that familiar with horses or mules, I found it a great challenge to try and capture their gesture without overworking the small forms.
I was interested in presenting the mood - sunny, dusty and atmospheric. Pushing the atmosphere by flattening out the shadow side and obscuring much of the information - without getting too dark - accomplished this, and at the same time, allowed me to keep literal detail information to a minimum.
All the visual information of the "stuff" is in the light. I was very careful to modulate the values to show the volume of the beasts. Also I followed the form with my brushstrokes to help with the illusion where necessary.
On the main mule, the strokes describing the legs go with the form, rather than across it, whereas the strokes describing the drum-like torso go around the form. There's good reason for this; They're both celinders, but the torso is foreshortened, and the legs are not.
When painting cylinders, I often prefer to go with the form if I don't have a foreshortening situation, (not a rule set in stone, but my tendency) to describe instead other ideas such as flow and rhythm.
I can show the cylindrical form by modulating values, and most of the time, that's enough. With a forshortened cylinder, sometimes I need more visual cues than just modulating values, so I use my brushstroke direction to help accomplish that.
In the atmospheric shadow area where details disappear and everything goes flat, my brush strokes more or less go in the same direction, to emphasize the flatness. By not distinguishing the mules' head/neck area from the areas below them, I'm telling the viewer that I'm not painting heads and necks and background - I am painting the veil of dust catching light in front of the said heads and necks and background.
This is also why the values of this area can't be very dark–because the dust is lit up by sunlight.
Still, must be darker than the lit parts of the mules if we are to suggest what's behind this translucent veil of lit up dust is all shadow stuff.
If you look at the legs of the mules on the right, we do see dark shapes within the dusty shadow. I tried obscuring those just like I did with the left side of the canvas, but then it looked like too much information was lost, and it was too simplified. So I brought some distinction back into the shapes.
It makes sense, actually, if you consider that those legs are closer to the viewer than the ones on the left. And there may just be more dust kicked up over there, too.
I hope I was able to convey the fact that what look like casual and spontaneous-looking brush strokes have logic behind them, and same with the values and edges. I try to end up with fresh-looking applications, but in reality, you can't do it thoughtlessly. And more often than not, the final look of any given area is the result of multiple attempts.
The exhibition runs through February 17th. There are some amazing works in this show, so if you're in the area, be sure to check it out!
More info here: http://www.firehousearts.org/gallery/current-exhibits/