Studio Foray —Pasture in the Clouds

This week I finished up a painting of Yonah mountain that I started just about a month ago. I’m pleased with it but perhaps more pleased with the process I took while working on it. It’s an idea that started as a plein air painting done on site this fall. I’m often driving over to one of my favorite spots in North Georgia about a mile off the main road between Cleveland and Helen on EJ Biggers Rd.. The valley, just below this 3,000 ft+ peak amplifies it’s rather impressive bald granite face. I’ve made the strenuous hike on several occasions and the views are well worth it. The day I was there it was fog bound with mist rising from a small lake that sits just south of the base.

The original plein air painting (below) used a 2 color complementary scheme of a redish purple and yellow ocher. The clouds behind the tree line make for a dramatic feel. A few cows were around so I stuck them in to help with the scale. At the time I was reading Edgar Payne’s book on outdoor composition and he talks about how having a low horizon along with some reference to it in mountain views to help it loom and appear tall. So I set the horizon low and reinforced it by adding a small pond in front. This worked out good in the plein air version so  when I was deciding to do a studio version I really pumped it up. After a rather quick work up and lay in thanks to the study, I struggled a bit with the foreground. The original version had a lead in from the right and this made the eye just keep going right off the painting so, in the end, I changed it to lead in from the left and crisscross before getting to the clouds that blow off to the left. I also joined up my darks with a line of fences and smaller trees. I painted this on a older canvas and the texture from the previous painting was working against me so I filled the offending area with thick paint and my palette knife. Finally, I darkend most of the foreground using a glaze of windsor green, alizarin crimson, and my alkyd medium leaving the higher toned areas slotted in between the dark bracketing trees.

Cows are always a challenge to me and I repainted them numerous times. Starting with a virtual herd I eliminated most of them but kept a few in strategic spots and mostly in silhouette. As it was, I needed lots of reference to get them the right shape—they are beef cattle, not dairy cows. The one focal point is a white heffer standing right on that horizon line.

I have not done a studio painting in over a year and I found it a great break from plein air. I was pleased with quicker resolutions to problems that cropped up. With even a few less avoidable mistakes I could of done this in a week. My skills have improved because of all my work this year and and I’m pleased with the results.

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