I’m a big believer in pushing yourself. One of the coolest things about making art is that you really never stop learning and evolving. Every piece offers the potential to bring something new and the onus is on us to keep pushing and exploring. The more difficult the problems are, the more satisfying it can be to solve them. I’m totally addicted to this process. I used to wonder if it would ever get old, but after all these years its become clear that it won’t.
The deeper you get, the more complex the problems become. I think its important to keep this up, because new challenges help keep it interesting. It allows for opportunities to introduce fresh ideas and approaches in your work. It keeps your brain engaged, and in the long run it can push your craft further than you would have never thought possible.Its this building block approach thats led me to the current piece the easel right now.
When I started painting these backyard scenes a few years back, it was a bewildering experience. I’d never sat down and tried to faithfully paint trees and foliage, and I quickly found myself treading deep uncharted waters, figuring out the layering, textures, branch hierarchies, etc., it was a lot of fun and I quickly became addicted to it. Now, I won’t say they’ve gotten easy or routine, but the last few I noticed things had become, somewhat, predictable. At a certain point it starts to feel like you’re retracing your tracks and traveling through familiar territory as opposed to forging new paths. While there is comfort in the familiarity, for me at least, it doesn’t lend itself to as much discovery, and its that thrill that got me into this in the first place. So what do we do? MORE WEIGHTS!
I’ve been thinking for a while about tackling a larger more detailed forest scene, and kept finding myself fascinated with the thicker underbrush areas out in our yard. It’s mostly like a combo of grass, stinging nettles, blackberries, and a ton of weeds, crawling vines, and various other ground cover. Theres such a cool chaos to it. Sometimes when I’m out mowing I catch myself staring into it, getting lost in the layered chaos… So I decided to give it a go!
For about a week, I spent like half hour each day wandering through he more unruly areas of our yard with my camera snapping pictures of areas I thought looked cool. Various times of the day, middle of the night, 5 in the morning…trying to capture something compelling. Through process of elimination, it came down to these two comps:
The first one seemed more traditional, with a nicely placed objects creating a good sense of depth, some nice clear dappling , and kind of an idealistic little scene, but my eye kept going back to that second one, with all that underbrush and the chaos. it didn’t have as much of a sense of depth, but i liked how it read as a whole, the abstract pattern it created, and felt like while it’s a less “salable” scene, it seemed more interesting to paint. plus its got that big maple poking in the scene back there and ill always jump at an opportunity to paint that beautiful old gal.
I set up an 8x 8 inch grid on the panel and drew out the general features lightly with a 4h pencil. I don’t draw everything out but more try to delineate the big shapes and value patterns. I keep it super loose since I’m just gonna paint over it anyway. The drawing didn’t give me a whole lot of confidence, as it looked like “a bunch of scratchy marks” as my oldest put it.
I sheepishly started in the bottom corner, so I could easily bail and wipe it out if it felt like it wasn’t gonna happen. I usually abandon the grid once I’m done with the drawing part, but because of the complexity and density of the scene, I kept more to it and worked usually 2 squares at a time, so I didn’t lose track of where I was.
It was intense! Like 5-6 hour sittings would just kind of burn my brain out. I had a couple long days where I probably spent 7-8 hours on it, and other days where id spend maybe just one or two. I tried to keep pushing forward on it every day though, so not to lose momentum, and also its best to work wet in wet at this stage so I wanted to get it all in before it started drying on me 🙂
In the end it took 9 days, which is prolly one of the longer block ins I’ve done. Man! It felt so good to paint those last few squares.
here are a few details:
I try not to be slavish to my reference. While it serves as a guide in terms of color, value and shape, I’m always looking for less literal ways of interpreting it. Especially during this stage in the painting, I look hard for rhythms, areas to abstract, and opportunities to let the paint do the work, and speak in ways my clumsy hands never could. Its ALL about mark making at this point, plus I know that I can always come back in later in the painting and tighten certain things up more if necessary. For now I get to sit and wait a week or so for this to dry completely, then next steps will be glazing some softer shadows in here and there to help push the depth more, and then onto the color!!!
This desaturated version reads the best right now I think: