Friday, September 23, 2011

Painting the Grand View

"Low Tide" 8x10, oil
(Gamblin FastMatte Alkyds)

Before I get to the meat of this post, I want first to present the above painting.  This is an 8x10 I painted for the Scottsdale Artists' School annual Beaux Arts event.  This fundraiser for the School offers an auction of 8x10s painted by their instructors and other nationally-recognized artists.  The auction will be held November 12 at the School.  For more information:

A reader of my Grand Canyon blog posts asked, How does one choose and compose such a grand view?  Well, it's not easy to fit 227 miles of canyon, ten miles across and a mile deep, onto a 9x12 canvas!

Back in the Romantic era, when an expanse of wild, mountainous landscape was considered by some to be such a soul-damaging view that traveling ladies would mask their eyes to protect their delicate sensibilities, one might have cropped down the scene to something safer, such as a single, windblasted tree.  Even today, this is a good route to take when facing awesome views.  I use a viewfinder - a ViewCatcher  - and pick some small part of the scene.

But as one of the artists (David Haskell) at the event said, the whole point of painting the Grand Canyon is to capture the grandness of it.

In a small format, this is near-impossible.  Certainly in a squarish format such as a 9x12.  Ideally, a double- or triple-square would be best for the sweeping panorama.  (I like 12x24, which is a double-square.)   But if you are forced into a smaller, more square format, there is something you can do to suggest the grandness.  You can exaggerate the atmospheric perspective.

When I painted the Canyon, I took special note of the effects of atmosphere - how colors cooled as the cliffs receded, how contrast lessened, and how edges softened.  Then I "pushed" these changes to increase the sense of space.  Even in a scene with a windblasted tree, I would choose a vantage point to include some of the Canyon behind it, which would give an idea of the hundred miles of cliffs.  Ultimately, you must do everything you can to capture the grandness.

This doesn't mean you have to capture every little mesa top and cliff in the Canyon.  Sometimes, it's more effective to just suggest them with a near-abstract pattern of light and dark patterns that look like the Canyon, but aren't a literal representation of it.  If you manage the color temperature properly to evoke a sense of light and shadow, this works really well.


Sadeu said...

very good paintings!! : )

Ida M. Glazier said...

Great post! And very good information and thoughts on recession and the grand view. I also have a grand view where I live and daily think - - -"HOW" ?


from Felicia Barnes said...

Thanks for the info on capturing the grand view in small format. After reading this post I went back and reviewed the past ones and looked for what you said. I can see it. I think you did a great job capturing the "grandness" of the Grand Canyon. I think the most successful at this was the painting you did at Hopi Point with the small pool of water. Your work is so inspiring, but best of all is your willingness to share with us how you do it. Thanks again.

Susan Roux said...

It's interesting to read how you deal with capturing the canyon. Having never seen it in life, I can only imagine how overwhelming it must be to stand before it and try to decide what to paint! You break it down logically. So if I ever have the chance to see it, I'll know how to go about capturing it. I agree, the most important is to capture the grandness of it! Very nice painting, by the way. I like the atmospheric quality.