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Sunday, March 5, 2023

Extreme Makeovers for Plein Air Paintings: Clouds and Peaks

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Madeover:  "Clouds and Peaks"
12x16 Oil / Available
Read About My Process Below

We've all been here:
With bold confidence, I apply the last stroke of paint.  I step back, feeling pretty good about this one.  Yes, indeed, I've made a fine painting.  I pack up my gear, satisfied, and head home.  I sleep well that night.

But after some time, I go to the studio.  As I pull the painting out of its box, my pride takes a hit.  Something about the design isn't quite right.  And the color seems a bit off.   Hesitant, I heft the painting in my hands.  Should I heave it into the recycle crate or try to save it?
Usually, when I bring a painting back from the field, it only takes a moment of consideration and a stroke or two to bring it to completion. (I give myself no more than 30 minutes to work on a painting this way.)  But now and then, a painting calls for more than that.  Because I think there's still hope for it, rather than scraping it down, I put it in a pile with other misfits.

This winter, we've had unusual weather for the Southwest—weeks of cloud and lingering snow.  Since I didn't feel like going out to paint, I took the opportunity to go through some of my old plein air pieces to see if any of them could be redeemed.  I pulled out a stack that had promise and decided to make my best effort.

And that's what this new blog series is about:  Extreme Makeovers for Plein Air Paintings.  I want to walk you through my process for each of them.  Here's the first one.

1.  Original painting.  I painted this in Sedona, Arizona, years ago as part of a plein air festival.  I believe that I was enchanted by not just the mountain view but also the Italian-villa-style bit of architecture in the foreground.  I was never quite satisfied with this painting, and I think it was because the building had as much interest as the distant mountains.

2.  Building wipe-out.  Often, when not pleased with a piece, I'm not quite sure what the problem is.  Not so here.  I was fairly certain that the building is more of an obstacle for the viewer than a pleasing enhancement.  My first action is to immediately paint out the structure.  I also add a few tentative touches of a richer blue into the shadowed mountain vegetation; the scene seems overly warm and a bit muddy, so I'm working toward putting in some purer cool notes.

3.  Foreground.  With the building now gone, I can see that the mountains were indeed what first attracted me.  This is already a big improvement.  However, the foreground now becomes a problem; it doesn't have any topography to support the viewer "walking" out into the distance where the center of interest is located.  I make a stab at introducing a pattern.

4.  Patterning. The pattern helps, but it needs to be enhanced.  Having hiked over this terrain countless times, I have a good sense of what to do here.  (I find that an intimate familiarity with a particular landscape always helps the painting.)

5.  More foreground work.  I continue reinforcing the idea that this pattern is perhaps a road that follows a set of ridges that lead the viewer up.  I plant trees and shrubbery to help the road come and go visually, providing a little mystery.

6.  Into the mountains and sky.  Satisfied that the foreground is now working with purpose, I move to the mountains.  I sharpen edges, punch up highlights, giving the rocky ledges a more "rocky" feeling.  I also think the sky needs a little work.  It's a bit muddy, so I add some of the purer blue that now appears in the shadowed mountain vegetation and reshape the clouds into a more pleasing pattern.  I also add more touches of blue into the mountain areas.

7.  Finished.  I add a few dark notes into the foreground to bring it closer to the viewer, enhancing the sense of depth in the painting. 

This "extreme makeover" went pretty quickly, as I knew right off the start what the biggest problem was.  Once I corrected that, everything else seemed to follow logically, step-by-step.  Not every painting needing a makeover goes this smoothly, as we'll see in upcoming posts.