Monday, February 11, 2013

Down by the Creek - and Cropping Down the View



Most of the year, Dry Creek is, as its name suggests, dry.  But if we have some good snowfall up in the red rock hills around Sedona, snowmelt will fill it to the brim.  We've had a couple of storms this month, and all the creeks and streams are up.  Last week, while working on my winter series of tree studies, I wanted to do a larger piece along Dry Creek, featuring some of the beautifully sculpted junipers along its banks, and to include some water, as well.

Setup
Saba on alert

Trina went off on a long hike, and Saba stuck with me.  Once I'd found my spot off the trail, I set Saba out to monitor the perimeter.  She found lots to keep her interested, and I don't think she napped a minute.   I found my own subject of interest - a dead juniper snag on the other side of the water with an interesting play of backlight and shadow.  I also found the water rather engaging; shafts of sunlight were plunging through it to the bottom, and the sunspots glowed with a warm, orange light.  But that ultimately became a distraction for me.

Drawing

Block-in

Working the trees
One problem I often encounter in the field when working in a large format is this:  the canvas presents a visual field so large that it all too easily accomodates multiple centers of interest.  It's as if your brain looks at this large canvas, notes that it covers maybe 60 degrees of space, and then decides to carve out a 60-degree chunk of landscape to impose upon it.  This problem occurs because of one's proximity to the canvas.  If you back up considerably before you crop out the scene, this 60 degrees shrinks to maybe half that or less, and your brain carves out an accordingly smaller - and thus more manageable - bit of real estate.  The rule of thumb is to back up three times the diagonal measurement of your canvas.  For this 30x24, the diagonal is 38", which means about 9 feet!

But I didn't do that.  I was backed up against some brush and couldn't get back far enough.  So, not only did I bring in that nice juniper snag but also those terribly enchanting sunspots in the water as well.

Close-up of palette and brushes
In the field, it didn't really matter.  My goal was the tree, and I spent perhaps two or more hours first blocking in everything (including those darned sunspots) but then focused on my tree.  Back in the studio the next day, I continued to work on the painting, relying on some photos but mostly on memory.  The upper half of the painting went fine, but when I got to the water, I knew I was in trouble.

The sunspots competed for attention.  I spent another two hours on the water but finally scraped it down and rubbed it out with mineral spirits.  But what I got was a nice, soft body of water with subtle reflections.  This ghost image worked so much better!

Ultimately, while "orchestrating" the painting (that is Albert Handell's term), I decided the water needed one point of interest, so I added a rock plus a few other points of light to pull the eye through the painting.  By the way, I didn't have a good photo of a rock, so I used the wi-fi, which reaches out to my studio, and my Kindle Fire HD to find one, and that became the model.  Here's the finished piece.

Dry Creek Sentinel, 30x24, oil

3 comments:

Marvyn said...

Good demo Michael. I'll have to remember the 60 degree rule.

Dru said...

Very pretty, and I like how you ultimately handled the water. Happy painting!

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Marvyn and Dru!