Evening Hour, 12 x 9 inches, oil on panel
This sketch doesn't have the river in it, but I'm including it in the American River Sketches series because I was standing with my back to the river. Close enough. It's part of the environment and experience, right?
I started this in the morning, painting with my students one day, but I didn't get very far then, since I had a job to do (going around helping everyone else's efforts). It had blue skies and a much cooler light. I didn't particularly like it–it was just a depiction of a scene, without any emotion or an idea behind it.
Does that matter? I say yes, absolutely. You have to be clear about what you want to say about a scene whether it's an emotional response, or a more analytical approach to design, color, etc. Or it might even be a purely technical investigation. You have to know what you're trying to accomplish with a painting. Otherwise, you're just going through motions and really, that doesn't count toward your canvas mileage.
Sure, if it's just a study, you don't necessarily have to think about every little thing and carefully design a painting accordingly. But then you can't expect it to be more than a study, either. And you still have to be clear about just what it is you're studying. Color? Value structure? A particular way of applying paint? Character of a particular tree? The concept can be very simple, but there needs to be one. A mindless study isn't a study at all.
Anyway, the painting I started in the morning was a demo about the general process, and I remember talking about the relationship between shadow colors and that of the sky, paying attention to characteristics of the eucalyptus, (what makes a eucalyptus look like a eucalyptus?), a little bit about aerial perspective, and varying brushstroke sizes, among other things.
The painting was essentially a vehicle to illustrate what I was talking about, and I never meant to finish it because it was never really designed.
Still, I saw some potential in the shapes and decided to play with it some more. I went back to the location a few days later, in the late afternoon to see how differently it looked under the late afternoon sun.
I started painting right on top of the unfinished morning sketch, and this is what I ended up with. Gone are the blue skies and cooler greens. The late afternoon sun has a lot more color in its light, as it has to travel through a lot of particulate matter in the atmosphere (dirt and smog kicked up into the air during the course of the day by wind and human activity) and influences everything. In fact, the orange light is so strong that it trumps the local colors (greens of the foliage and the grass). Only in the foreground do we see some indication of the local colors. Why in the foreground and not in the background? Because in the background you have to see through a lot more of the colored atmosphere. In the foreground, not so much. This in a nutshell, is how atmospheric perspective works.
How faithfully you depict the colors you see, is up to you. But without good understanding of how atmospheric perspective works, you can't manipulate it to help tell your story more effectively. And communicating your story- your concept- is, ultimately, what it's all about.
You don't have to agree with me, but if you're not trying to communicate your intent, you can't really complain when nobody gets it, now can you?