Saturday, January 23, 2010


"Cathedral Vista" 4x11, pastel - contact Michael

Those of you watching the national news last night may have seen footage of the floods in Phoenix that wiped out whole towns and buried pickup trucks. If you've been following me on Facebook, you've heard about our own floods here in Sedona because of Oak Creek. We got lucky, and the predicted devastating floods never quite happened. We had high water, and it did hit the flood stage, but other than some road damage, we all survived. This is thanks to a lull in the heavy rain and the snow level, which dropped in the night. I posted a video on Youtube where you can see Oak Creek, just a five-minute walk from here, going through its paces:

Because we were still under a winter storm watch yesterday, we stayed in to work from photos and reference sketches. I've wanted to paint a view of the mountains from up the road for some time now. This is a view that is fantastic in evening light, a sweeping panorama of Cathedral Rock, Courthouse Butte and Munds Mountain. We took the opportunity to paint this, using a complementary underpainting. With this kind of underpainting, you must leave some of it showing through the final layers for it to be effective. It has a somewhat sketchy appearance, but I like it - I didn't want to polish it and spoil the brilliant vibrancy of complements. This vibrancy is hard to do with oil, which is why I selected pastel. (I've kept this image at full-size; click on it to see it.)

When the Impressionists first landed on the scene, critics denounced them for the "sketchiness" of their paintings. For many years, the critics, as well as the buying public, had been praising paintings made in the academic method. This prejudice blinded them to the beauty that occurs when the maker's process remains visible. Academic painting consists of a product with no visible brushstrokes; every trace of the painter's process is polished away. Sketchiness happens when the brushstrokes aren't smoothed down or when some of the underpainting or even the unpainted ground can be seen.

There is, of course, sketchiness - and then there's sloppiness. With sketchiness, the artist consciously stops at a certain point, knowing that his visible strokes enhance the work. With sloppiness, the artist doesn't care, and if he stops, it is out of laziness. Or, if he doesn't understand that there is beauty in the process, he polishes until he has mud. It would have been easy, I think, to take this little piece to mud.


Pam Holnback said...

Another beautiful piece. Love the repeated complements.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thank you, Pam.

David Westerfield said...

I think this is just the right level of "sketchiness" Michael. This would be good as a painting about 4 times this size without any additional detail.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks much, David!