A couple Aprils ago, I had the great fortune to be able to spend a few days in Colorado with my childhood best friend. We went to Rocky Mountain National Park. It was amazingly beautiful. This painting is based off a photo I took there. It makes me want to go back.
I hope you’re not getting sick of looking at oil paintings, because I am having a blast making them. Today I executed two paintings based on photos I took while visiting a dear friend in Colorado.
First the photo reference…
Then the painting…
I was quite happy with how this one turned out. I feel like the snow on the top gives these foothills to the Rocky Mountains a sense of dimension.
First the photo reference…
Then the painting…
The angles on the hills could have been less extreme, I think. And the sky didn’t turn out exactly as I envisioned. But it’s all part of learning. I do like the foreground quite a bit.
The big problem I have now is that I have four still-wet paintings and nowhere else to put them to dry!
Today I painted snowy mountains. It was a relaxing afternoon after two days of intensive learning, coaching, and teaching at Write on the Red Cedar 2017 (which was awesome, BTW). I did manage this time to remember to take pictures after each major stage, so here’s how this painting came together…
You start with the bottom covered with black gesso (let dry completely) then cover the whole thing with a thin coat of liquid clear. Then you put some black oil paint at the bottom as well.
The sky is next: prussian blue, a bit of black, and a bit of alizarin crimson, then fluffy white clouds with tinges of pink and yellow ochre.
Mountains are next, put in with the knife.
Highlight and shadow colors are mixed and laid on with the knife, and then comes the snow. Keeping the angles making sense took a lot of brainpower for me.
Then I added in a couple closer, shorter protrusions, which push the big mountain back a bit.
Next come distant pine trees and more snow.
Each layer pushes the last one back in your perception, and the fields of snow between help to keep them separated.
Next come Bob Ross’s happy trees. These are a little fuller than I wanted to make them, but I’m still getting the hang of it.
Add in snow beneath the trees, then pull it down with a dry 2-inch brush to make reflections. Voila! Instant water.
I ended up adding some bare trunks to make the trees less full, plus a couple more rock outcroppings because I thought there was just too much white snow all in the middle of the painting.
This one was definitely challenging, but fun!
I think when winter settles in, lots of people immediately put on their grumpy glasses. Everything about winter irritates them — the cold temperatures, the snow, the driving — and they are miserable until April. They see life in winter through a cold filter, like this:
Others put on a different pair of glasses. They see winter as a chance to be cozy at home, a chance to do winter sports, or even just a welcome blank space in their social calendar (post-Christmas, at least). They see beauty and artistry. They see life in winter through a warm filter, like this:
No matter what our station in life or what the season, our enjoyment of life is directly correlated to how we choose to see it. If we see adversity and enemies and obstacles everywhere we look, if we see everything as an inconvenience to us, then that’s what we’ll get. But if we can see that winter is merely a wondrous part of the yearly cycle of nature in a temperate zone, maybe we’ll enjoy it a little more.
After all, we’re all experiencing the same winter if we’re in the same area of the country. If you hate it and your friend loves it, the difference isn’t in winter, it’s in you. It’s in how you’re choosing to experience the exact same circumstances as your friend. Maybe if we stop complaining, we won’t feel so put upon by winter (which really isn’t out to get you — it doesn’t even know you’re there).
I have a friend who is experimenting with liking winter this year. She hates it, but she’s decided not to complain about it. And you know what she realized for the first time? Just how much other people were complaining about it. The experiment is ongoing, and I’m not sure if she’ll last until spring finally comes, but for right now, I’m really proud of her. If you’re normally wearing your grumpy glasses all winter, I encourage you to try it out, even if just for a week or two.
Besides, if you just can’t hack it, I’m sure Florida will take you.
Last month I shared a photo from an excursion to Fenner Nature Center and mentioned I’d like to paint it. Yesterday afternoon, I did.
I did it partly as an avoidance tactic (the couple-day warm up has made me think I really ought to clean out the garage) and partly because I’m stuck on manuscript revisions (until I can get a call with a criminal attorney who is out of town) and partly because this is a big reason I quit a bunch of stuff (unscheduled time for creative endeavors).
This time around I didn’t take pictures between each step because I was mostly working wet-on-wet and you have to work fast without letting things dry between washes. But I do have a side-by-side comparison for you.
I wasn’t trying to reproduce the photo, just to use it as a reference, especially for the low horizon and big sky you get with the portrait orientation. Taking all photos in a landscape orientation (even when you’re taking photos of people, traditionally called portraits) is an easy trap to fall into when you have a traditional camera in your hands. It’s how they’re oriented — buttons, hand holds, etc. — and it’s especially easy to only take landscape photos of…well, landscape. But turning the camera in your hands can give you a far different perspective on your subject.
Looking at the side-by-side, I’m thinking I could have tried to keep the light bits of the sky a little brighter yet. I could re-wet the sky and lay in some darker clouds to make the contrast greater, but, as I said before, there’s always the risk of overdoing it.
I think I’ll let well enough alone.
While I spent most of my time in Albuquerque writing, one workshop I did attend was Kimberly Brock’s Tinderbox Workshop. Before we all packed for the trip, our Retreat Planner & Organizer Extraordinaire Orly Konig-Lopez told us what we should bring: a journal or notebook, magazines and glue, stickers and interesting paper, markers and pencils. It was clear that this workshop would have less to do with writing than most offered at writers conferences or retreats. As I had recently purged my house of unwanted magazines (see earlier posts on decluttering in anticipation of listing our house for sale in the future) I decided to bring my watercolors and some pastels.
I won’t go into details about the workshop content (except to say that if you have a chance to be in a Kimberly Brock workshop you should take it) but I will say that she had to assure participants that they were not “wasting time” by not writing and that there was not a “right way” to do the exercises. I’ll share a page from the journal I was working on as she spoke about creativity:
Underneath that collage is a pretty simple painting of a face with colors coming out from all angles — my interpretation of what Kimberly was talking about. When she said we were going to start covering it up with collage, I said to myself, “Um, no. I will not be doing that. Thank you very much.” I was happy with what I’d painted and drawn and I wasn’t about to obscure it with things pulled from magazines.
But then I did. And it was fun. It’s been a while since I did any sort of collage and it was pretty fun finding images and words that inspired me and went along with some of the concepts Kimberly was talking about.
When I got home, I didn’t want to put my paints away. The retreat was held at Hotel Albuquerque at Old Town, a beautiful space that really got under my skin in a good way. So I decided to paint one of the pretty outdoor spaces: the pavilion. Friday night we all ate BBQ under here and Saturday there was a gorgeous wedding in this space. But it was most beautiful to me when it was empty of people and dappled with sun and shadows.
It’s funny how creativity works. I went to New Mexico to write, to learn, and to meet other writers. Bringing paints was definitely not part of my original plan. Neither was collage. But I came home with a heart and mind full of the place and a bit of dormant creative spirit unleashed. So now I not only find myself painting, I’m also plotting a novel set in our hotel, with an ensemble cast drawn from some of the people I saw (and many more I am imagining). Opening the door to one part of your mind often lets in enough wind to blow open other doors.
When was the last time you let yourself just fool around with art supplies for a few hours? When was the last time you allowed yourself time to just have fun doing something kind of mindless, like you did when you were a kid? My guess is that it has probably been too long.
So when are you going to start?