Monday, September 13, 2010

Two Approaches

"Quoddy Cliffs I" 9x12, oil

The other day, we went out to West Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec, the easternmost point in the States. There's a lighthouse, but I avoid painting it. ("Why?" deserves its own blog post.) Usually, I'm drawn to the 150-foot cliffs and the challenge they present. Although the jumble of cracks and planes seem to defy a painter's need to simplify, you can see the underlying pattern if you try. I spent a couple of overcast hours painstakingly observing one prominent cliff, working especially on the subtle colors of the rocks. I felt it was important to accurately observe. The overcast light gave me steady shadows, so I didn't have to rush.

Then the sun broke out. The cloud shadows speeding over the cliffs killed any chance of a leisurely approach, and I had to move on to a different painting. Now, observing anything accurately is tiring work, and I wasn't up to doing that again. So I took a more intuitive approach, focussing less on exact form and more on capturing light effects and a sense of atmosphere. (This is how I most often work.) Also, rather than mix color carefully on my palette, I chose to mix directly on the surface. That's a gut-wrenching way to paint, especially if you're a very methodical painter. But you paint yourself into a corner, and then you find you can paint yourself out of it. It was like a carnival ride, putting down a too rich, too dark blue for the sky, and then stirring a dollop of white into it to make it work.

I'm curious: Which of the two paintings seem to work best? (By the way, the second is not the exact same scene, but a different view of a different rock.)

"Quoddy Cliffs II" 9x12, oil

10 comments:

Sara Mathewson said...

I like them both Michael!
but, the looseness of the second one really intrigues me! So, I guess that would be my first choice:)

Sara

Candi said...

I like the second on better. But my hunch is that you could only have pulled off such a lively, spontaneous and exciting work, after your more thorough exploration. They look like two completely different weather days, especially the ocean.

Deborah Healy said...

I like both of them for different reasons Michael. The clarity of the first/ and the light on the distant water in the second....What a lovely day it looks there!!!

Norm said...

I don't know Michael, there both beautiful but I get an "involved" feel in #1. Feels like I right there. #2 the feeling is I'm across from it on another point, looking back at it.

Randy Smith said...

Hi Michael, Both are great but the second one is alive and breathing!

Rae O'Shea said...

Second one has more movement so it gets my vote!

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, everyone! Your comments help.

Dot said...

I like the second one better...the colors grab me and so do the bold strokes. I love it!

Celeste Bergin said...

They are both good paintings! My vote is for #1--because it feels like an unusual composition. I like the geometry of it and the colors feel exactly right.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Well, it's close, but #2 is still in the lead! Thanks, everyone.