Thursday, November 25, 2010

Large-Format Pastels - Revisited

I've had a chance now to revisit the two large pastels I did in the field the other week. I'm very satisfied with the 9x24 panorama of Lee Mountain and the Rabbit's Ears. Here is the finished version:

On my second trip, which immediately followed the first day, I spent three hours refining my first day's work. As you may recall, that first day I was able to capture the light and shadow patterns and basic color temperature relationships. In the second outdoor session, I refined shapes. Refining shapes also meant breaking up bigger shapes into smaller ones and thus creating an illusion of more detail. Like most outdoor painters, I then spent some time in the studio - two hours - adding finishing touches. One major change I made in the studio was to the foreground hill. It was simply too warm and jumped out of the picture plane. To integrate it more fully into the painting, I severely cooled down the colors, both in the shadow and lighted areas. I think this painting works just fine.

The second painting, the one of the canyon beneath the view of Munds Mountain, I'm not so satisfied with. I followed pretty much the same process as with the Lee Mountain painting - light/shadow and temperature relationships the first day, and refining shapes the second day. Once in the studio, though, I realized I had an obvious composition problem, which a large mirror helped reveal to me. I wiped out the area and repainted it. I also felt the temperature difference between near and far could be pushed a bit, so I adjusted it. I played up the reflected light in the shadows, lessened the contrast in the mountains and cooled them down a bit.

Yet, I intuitively feel something is still "off" in the painting. I've tried to reason it out using the five basic questions:
  • Is it a composition problem?
  • If not, is it a value problem?
  • If not that, is it a problem with color?
  • Well, then, is it a problem with aerial perspective?
  • What about the mark-making, then?
I'm still thinking on this one. To me, it seems like there's too much going on and the painting still seems a bit flat, with not enough depth in it.

I'd love to hear your opinions! Here it is, 24x18:


Marsha Hamby Savage said...

Hi Michael, They are both beautiful, but I do understand your hesitation about the second one. It has beautiful colors, values, perspective, mark making, etc.

My thought is . . . there are two paintings, the top half and the bottom half. They just don't have something that bridges the gap. Only my opinion and you know what those are worth!

ZanBarrage said...

I love them both but I see a strong composition in the first with a focal point where the light and shadow meet on the cliffs above.

I don't see any focal point in the second. My eyes float all over with no resting place and there are too many shapes.

I love your work, but plein air is that way sometimes as you know. If we end up with one keeper every once in a while we are good :) That is never a reflection on our skills, it is what it is.

Caroline Ratliff said...

Hi Michael, I've been following your blog all year. As to your second painting, I took a piece of paper and covered the sky. Makes a difference.

Elena Maza said...

Hi, Michael. I've been following your blog for about half a year and love your paintings. I tried covering the bottom part of the second painting to about where the diagonal line of first plane begins, and this seemed to make it work better. Try it.

I hope to take one of your workshops in the future, specially a mentoring or large format workshop.

Dot Hoffman said...

Hi Michael, you know how much I love your work. For what it's worth, the multiple horizontals in the second painting stop my eye. I think Marsha's recommendation is a good one.

I look forward to seeing you again at the next IAPS.

Ed Terpening said...

I think you have two competing subjects, background and foreground. I would try pushing back the distant hills by quieting the color saturation and removing detail.

Susan Johnson said...

Hi Michael,

I think the bottom painting needs some darker darks, especially in the foreground area. On my monitor everything is pretty much the same value.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

All excellent comments! I think I will take out the magic cropping tool and do some work on it this afternoon. I'll post the results later.

alotter said...

It is a beautiful painting and no doubt you would prefer a solution that does not require cropping out some of the elements. A vertical landscape is, they say, hard to compose. I have done several such that make me happy, but they were calling out for the vertical slice in the first place and they got it more extremely (narrower slice). A new concept I have absorbed lately is gradation--perhaps if you were to darken the corners ever so slightly, that would keep eyes within frame.

Deborah said...

Pretty strong horizon line in the middle of the composition at the moment, but that's an easy fix. (Bet you already changed it!) I'd shorten that tree on the viewer's left-hand side, too, as it touches center. It's in good hands. I look forward to seeing what you do with it. :)

Bob Rhodes said...

I believe that the extension of red, beginning at the foreground through part of the mid ground, has the effect of "squeezing" the depth. Although i like the high chroma red in the middle of this red sea, The red hue needs to be reduced in strength, moving from foreground to middle, perhaps greying a bit as you go.

Anonymous said...

The painting you're questioning is a composition actually have two great paintings...mts, and canyons. Unfortunately the canyon wall in the center of the painting, running horizontal, cuts the painting in half. I love the foreground to the canyon edge in the "bottom painting" and of course the "scree" into the mts in the top. but, if you wanted to keep it as one, you'd have to run the "middle" canyon wall diagonally, probably with the higher end of the diagonal to the right, and/or break the line.

virginia belser said...

Hi Michael- I too am a big fan of your work and your blog- and I look forward to a Campobello Island workshop one day. At any rate- my thought about the second painting is that the energetic mark making is very similar throughout- and I wonder if perhaps smudging the background marks a bit wouldn't help? I also agree with Susan Johnson that the foreground could maybe use some darker darks.