One of the nicest compliments I’ve received as a painter came from a fellow art workshop student’s friend who attended our final class session/potluck. We each brought several of our finished pieces to critique. The guest, a rugged looking older fellow, looked long and hard at one of my paintings, then said, “This painter’s really working it.” That could be taken as “overworking it” (which I’ve also been told I can do), but I took it as a compliment. Some paintings are a struggle with composition, technique, palette, pigment and paper, but I don’t like to give up. If there’s something else to try to claim a success from a failure, I’m determined to try it, and if those attempts don’t work on the first sheet of paper, I start over, another form of “working it.” That remark made 4 years ago has become my mantra.
This subject was a vineyard scene in autumn under stormy skies. Have had small successes in the past capturing cloud shadows on hills. There was that in this scene, also tree shadows, the ever-challenging geometry of vineyard rows and their curving lines as they follow the contours of hills, and the color of the vines themselves: mainly yellow and red.
black and white image of photo–to emphasize values
It was a windy day, clouds moved quickly, and I caught the scene I later wanted to paint out the passenger window of our moving car. The photo wasn’t perfect but had elements worth developing and enough of the scene’s magic (light, color, lines) to pursue as a subject.
First, I drew a simple value sketch on grey-toned paper. Fine. I like it, let’s scale it up, sketch it lightly on watercolor paper and start a painting.
notice the added break in foreground vines
Not so fast, apparently. Communicating separate values in black and white is much simpler than doing so in color. I’ve observed this many times, have created colored value charts to focus my attention on the different values of different pigments and various dilutions of different pigments. It still poses a challenge.
Another problem was hue, particularly yellow and orange. If you don’t paint, you may not know how many decisions a painter makes when creating color blends. Yellow is a particularly tough color to create happy blends with. If the yellow I’ve chosen works well with certain blues to create the greens I want, it fails when blended with reds to make the right hue of orange. It’s not simply a matter of warm and cool though that has something to do with it. For example, I’ve found that Quinacrodone Gold mixed with Phthalo Blue makes a warm, beautiful and plausible (realistic) green–notice the first line blend in the chart. However, it is sooo warm, that, mixed with Quinacrodone Red, it makes a strident orange (line 2 blend). The red is cool (pinkish) so I thought it would knock the intensity down a bit, but it didn’t. Using a different yellow for the orange blend risks creating a work that seems disjointed though this can be done and artists often have a palette of 2 yellows, 2 reds and 2 blues and one earth tone (an umber, ocher or sienna). Look at line four in the color chart here and you can see that using a cooler yellow (Hansa) still made a very intense orange and that making a green from the Hansa Yellow and Phthalo Blue made a poster-paint hue (line 3).
Here are my three attempts to paint the scene with a couple of further sketches between paintings (one in pencil, one in paint) to see if I could learn something about the subject I was still not getting. I worked this thing as much as I could and I’m glad I did. The third painting is better than the first two, and changes in pigments and process helped.
the actual vineyards transition from yellow to red subtly and erratically; that orange took over the whole section quickly and could not be lifted
(Don’t like the colors, don’t want to paint each row of each vineyard; although I spent some time trying to change things, I did abandon this one without completing it. Can’t accurately report the pigments I used because I let my brush visit several yellows trying to knock down that orange.)
again with that orange! resorting to oil pastels (mixed media) sometimes works, but it’s often a signal of defeat
Second watercolor, with oil pastel (pencil) over paint:
More sketching, once in pencil, once with watercolor
…and a new process and limited palette of 3 colors: Hansa Yellow, Quin. Red, Winsor Blue–Red Shade (Phthalo). Started with an underpainting of the blue and red as a blend to capture shadows. Also forced myself to walk away and let stages dry completely rather than overblending wet areas with further additions of paint.
Early on in 3rd attempt. Shadow shapes in under-painting. Yellows and reds applied with more restraint.
The final version (rectangular)
and as framed, (squared)