note: I accidentally missed out posting an excise prior to posting this one (painting from a working drawing). I have now posted that exercise immediately after this one. There is reference to that exercise in this post.
Review of previous work
The paintings that appeal to me most from this part are two finished pieces and one study:
They all have a looseness about them that I like, and is probably the primary reason for their success. I really want to bring that into this assignment. I am also very personally attached to all the places represented too and I think that has really spurred me on in this part of the course. I need to feel a connection to what I am painting. I am particularly drawn to atmospheric skies both of which are important in the two finished paintings above. The linear perspective in ‘Walking the dog’ is particularly successful and the sense of shape in space is good in ‘Trees on a Hill’ and ‘Study for Cityscape’.
I have been very lucky to see a decent body of work by contemporary landscape artist Zoe Taylor recently (inspriation for ‘Walking the dog’) and I find her work to be both inspiring in terms of creating atmosphere and in terms of mark making. I certainly think that my mark making has been influenced by her work. She uses a lot of scratches and scrapes to reveal under layers. In addition, the looseness that I am trying to create in my paintwork does bring the Impressionists to mind. I really admire the series of paintings by Cezanne of Mount Saint-Victoire . He has painted some of my favourite mountain landscapes, and this one with tree in the foreground, loosely defined detail in the middle distance and hazy mountain in the distance appeals with the general subject matter of my final assignment piece – a mountain scene.
For my assignment I chose to paint a scene to which I am particularly connected. That of the forest covering the lower slopes of Mount Kinabalu in Borneo. I had been toying with the idea of this for a while whilst completing this part of the course. In particular I had in mind a view across a small valley of the village Kaui nestled in the forest on steep slopes of the mountain. For much of the day the mountain is completely covered in cloud and you can stand on a ridge and look at the houses on the steep slopes and not realise that there is a huge granite rock behind it. However, first thing in the morning, the mountain is often clear of cloud and the dark mass rises up quite forbiddingly behind the brightly coloured houses. I wanted to get a sense of grandeur in this painting, of the dark mountain, the coloured houses and the mass of forest around.
I chose to work in oil paint as overall I think I have had more success in handling them than acrylics. I had about a week to complete this assignment so I didn’t need the paint to dry overly quickly. I also chose to paint on a better quality canvas than I have previously. I like the feel of canvas but I am very aware that you get what you pay your. Unfortunately I was unable to get a large one in time to do this assignment (poor planning on my part) and so had to make do with a smaller size that suggested by the exercise. It was a 40cm x 60 cm natural linen canvas. I like the idea of not starting with white!!
As I was working from a photograph, my initial sketches were really about finding the shapes that worked and what detail would be ok to leave out. I did a linear study and a colour study and then a tonal study to see if the general composition and overall tones would work. I had also been working on some studies of trees prior to this assignment that whilst not directly related to this piece of work, were useful reference experiments in my sketchbook (access here)
From these three studies I identified 4 main compositional areas that I needed to focus on to make this painting work:
- The forest foliage in the immediate foreground needs to stand forward relative to the houses, otherwise it looks as an extension of the forest across the valley
- The houses had a lot of pink tones in them. In order for these to appear in the mid-ground I was going to have to desaturate slightly. I had to do this without losing the light on them. I also realised during my studies that I needed to simplify the houses a little so that the painting would not be over detailed and messy.
- The mountain is very dark but it definitely needed to be in the background.
- I also realised that I needed to mix lots of different greens. I had been looking at jungle greens in different areas of the tropics. The foliage in this part of the world was very dark as the forest tended to be denser. Much of the forest in this painting however was not closed forest as much had been cleared in the process of building the village. Light areas and individual plants could be distinguished. I needed to be careful how this was going to be depicted. Too much detail and everything could look very scrappy, not enough detail or changes in tone and the canvas would be very flat and dull.
Recognising that I was going to need a variety of cool and warm greens I had a go at mixing some. At first my experiments were a little ad-hoc (see above) however it soon became evident that I needed to be a little more systematic with my mixing experiments so I created two colour charts making different greens from
- Cadmium Yellow and Ultramarine blue and
- Windsor Blue and Cadmium Yellow Pale
I mixed the two base colours to make a mid-green colour, then added cad. yellow, cad. red, diox. purple or yellow ochre to produce a selection of warm greens (then lightened with titanium white). I obtained a selection of cool greens by mixing the mid green with lemon yellow, alizarin crimson, viridian cerulean blue or phthalo blue. I also moved these cool greens to lower saturation points by the addition of black. (please note these photos were taken when the oil paint was still wet and so these are not, as yet, labelled)
I used Payne’s grey paint heavily diluted with liguin to block in the mountain shapes with a very broad brush. Underneath this I blocked in the main forest areas using diluted sap green. Taking a rubber colour shaper I then moved the dilute paint around to create areas of lighter tone to mark out position of the houses, the various rock faces of the mountain and some foliage shapes in the foreground.
Leaving this underpainting for 24 hours, I returned and started laying down colour in a more structured way, marking out the (simplified) houses and blocking in areas of greenery with more detail. The houses were my main focal points and it was important to get the perspective of their sloping roofs right. I added more colour to the vegetation but kept returning to the colour shaper to maintain some basic shapes in the foreground and to add detail such as tree trunks to the mid ground. The colour shaper moving the wet paint creates an interesting effect of darkening the edges of a shape where the paint collects, whilst letting the light canvas show though. I also added some cloud at this point, mainly to break up the huge mass of the mountain. I wanted it to look as if it was just starting to roll in over the ridges.
Returning to the painting a further 24 hours later, the bottom two layers now being touch dry (due to the amount of liquin I used) I started on my third layer. This time I concentrated on building the greenery of the forest, creating shapes over the underpainting marks. I painted a layer of cooler green over the middle distance forest to give the impression of it receding from the foliage in the foreground. I also concentrated on resolving issues with the houses regarding which was perceived to be in front of which.
The final Painting
My final stage was to add back in some of the foliage highlights that had been lost, especially in the middle distance. The mountain up until now had been quite dark. I had done very little to the initial underpainting, allowing the canvas to provide the tone for the lighter faces of the rock. However the darkest areas were almost neat Payne’s grey and whilst it certainly provided was imposing site, the mountain was not receding into the distance. In order to do this, I needed to ‘blue’ the area. I managed to do this by adding a wash of Zinc white over the Payne’s Grey. Zinc white is translucent rather than opaque and it had the effect of blueing the dark grey/black tones, immediately sending the covered area back. I left the nearest mountain ridge as Payne’s Grey which further added to the effect of receding distance.
What worked well
I am pleased with the end result of this painting for four main reasons. Firstly, it is a recognisable painting of the area. I showed the end result to my family and they all knew where it was. Secondly, I identified at the beginning 4 main areas of concern with the composition and I managed to resolve each of these satisfactorily throughout the process of painting. Thirdly I have managed to keep my brushwork loose and varied, I’ve not got bogged down in detail and have managed to simplify where necessary. Lastly, I have discovered a new way of moving paint around a canvas, namely with a colour shaper. I picked this up on a whim (I have often used one for blending pastel drawings so had one to hand). It worked better than I could have expected! I loved the textural way it left areas of thicker paint at the edge of the marks, and allowed the canvas to show though in other areas.
Things that could be better
There is perhaps not the energy in the brushwork that I was striving for, even through it generally they are loose in style. The fluidity between the different areas of the painting are lacking a little. Perhaps I should have scratched more into the paint in the foreground to add more detail to the leaves?
One thought on “Assignment 4”
[…] I have been playing around with trees on and off throughout part 4. This is a log of my studies. Whilst they weren’t completed for the exercise in which I depict trees, they form part of an enquiry in how to depict trees, information that I use in both the exercise ‘Painting from a working drawing‘ and ‘assignment 4‘. […]