I just returned from Atlanta where I attended an opening for a group show at Anne Irwin Gallery, (it was a fantastic show!) and also taught an en plein air painting workshop. I'll post about the workshop when I get images of my demos.
Today, I thought I'd show you the changes I made on one of my painting for the show. Of the pieces that I included in the show, this one was the largest (24 x 36) and one which took me on the longest journey, with some breakthroughs and slumps along the way. So I felt a bit of emotional attachment to this baby.
This is what it looked like when I originally finished it for a different show five years ago (?). If you recognize it, it's probably because it was included in Mitch Albala's excellent book, Landscape Painting.
It hung in my house for a few years. I liked the mood and the simplicity of it, which was what I was after when I did the painting. As it happens with every painting I hang on to for a while, I started to feel this urge to make changes to it. I suppose it's only natural for me to feel this way, since my ideas for what I want out of a painting changes over time, and I see new and different potentials in older works, even if there's nothing I don't like about them.
One thing I wanted to do, was to make it moodier. I thought of bringing in more dark shapes in the foreground, and taking out the sunlight in this area so that the viewer would be standing in the shadows–both literally and figuratively. Not a gloomy shadow, but a quieter, more introspective place.
So I took a big brush and re-blocked in the whole thing. As I did so, I noticed that the foreground needed to be smaller because all that darkness at the bottom was a little too much. So I moved the foreground down, moved some trees around (many times I painted and wiped away, to find the right placement and visual balance)
And then I slowly developed the elements into a more believable space. A lot of pushing and pulling and painting and repainting still. In the midground I placed a barn to help define the lay of the land using linear perspective.
The pattern in the foreground also was meant to define the lay of the land. It also breaks up the big shape there.
And then I got stuck. Something was bothering me, but I couldn't put my finger on it– I tried changing colors and reshaping some trees, but it still nagged at me.
When I can't easily figure out what's bothering me about a painting, it usually isn't a technical issue. It's not because of a "mistake"in the sense that a color is wrong, or the value doesn't make sense. It's usually something broader and has to do with the whole, not little parts. It's usually a design problem.
In this case, I realized that the foreground had too much impact. It was too light in value and the pattern too prominent. What it did to the painting was that it made it more difficult for me to go past the foreground to the lit valley beyond.
By quieting the foreground (darker, less contrast) I could bring my attention back to the distant, warmer area, where I long to be.
I made this last big change just a few days before I shipped it out to Anne Irwin Gallery– I almost didn't do it because of the deadline (what if it didn't work? I wouldn't have time to fix it) but it came out great and I was very happy with the result.
It looked great installed on the gallery wall, and the red dot beside it made it sweeter still.