It’s been an unfortunate Fall. Way too much rain, especially on the weekends. The leaves have just been washed off the trees and without some sunlight, there is little to see. Saturation takes bright light and without it all you have is a two-dimensional pattern of reds, grays, oranges, and an occasional yellow. Still, I need to paint, and on the few nice days during the last few weeks, I managed to get my act together and get some work done.
Three weeks ago I had a free Friday afternoon so I gathered my kit together and drove over to Mabry Farm where I’m treated like family now. I park the Z and wander off into the pasture unhooking the electric fence as if I owned it. I like this and I hope don’t abuse Levada and Jim’s relaxed hospitality. On that day I was freshly inspired by a few video demos by Phil Stark that I watched on his website. The subjects—working from photos (which I never do…) one on color, and another on atmospheric perspective was interesting to me but his pdf on Modern Masters was very good and the insights he brings are first-rate and inspiring. So as I walked down the hill to the back of the pasture along the fence line —I was looking for a very defined separation of light and shadow that I could work with. I’ve been using my iPhone camera a lot to frame up views —even though it’s only really worthwhile at a distance. The lens distorts too much up close. In combination with the Value Viewer app, it can give you some helpful and time-saving results. After just saying I don’t paint from photos too! I really see this as a tool—nothing else. I took about a dozen quick shots from 100 yards or so back and then reviewed them and picked the best. I then switched to Value Viewer and did a few quick tonal and notan conversions. Taking this I transferred the view onto board very roughly and got to work. This is quicker than thumbnails by a long shot and I still use a stick of vine charcoal to get the basics in—often wiping and redrawing. It gets you to the paint quicker and when light is moving that’s critical.
So this first Fall painting (9×12″ above) is all darks and lights, color, and composition. It went together quickly and without much reworking. The paint is good and thick and the color is pretty clean —a tip from Mr. Stark. I also used a bit of his reddish-purple upfront in the shadows. A few hours later I was hoofing back up the hill to my car. After a visit with Mr. and Mrs. Mabry, I was home in time for early dinner.
Saturday was partly cloudy and I ventured over to McFarlane Nature Park to see if the Ginko trees had turned yellow yet…not yet. So I wandered around a bit and ended up with a view looking up the hill toward the old white barn they now use as a garage on the property. It has a nice stone foundation built from Sope Creek rocks, the same used to construct the two chimneys on the main farmhouse—more Sope Creek rocks later. The shadows were off and on and this 12 x12 was hard to wrestle into shape but I finally got the pattern pleasing and finished it up.
I spent another hour there working on an 8 x 16 view of the fence parallel with the wide-format leading back to a group of trees that had turned a deep red. It was late in the afternoon and a huge shadow darkens these trees in a very interesting way. I didn’t finish, so I took it home and put several more hours on the easel. I added a figure walking a dog and ended up with an interesting piece I call —No, this way
On Sunday the light was gone but I had an idea to go to Sope Creek and work up a large plein air version of the old paper mill that stands right on the creek. It was burned down during the Civil War and it has a very disturbingly cool vibe to it. I’ve painted it before and I stretched a 30 x 24 canvas a few weeks ago with the thought of starting a studio version from my prior plein airs. But with a very gray day, I thought I might as well see if I could do anything with it to this size—the light was going to stay the same pretty much all day so it would give me time to work on the larger scale without shadows changing much. I use a big pochade box —Judsen’s French Resistance large and it has spring-loaded easel arm that extends a good size. It’s one of the reasons I use this kit and what I take on in extra weight gives me the advantage of using a much larger range of sizes. Still, I had a good hike into this spot, but last time I was there I noticed a condominium complex much nearer to the creek than the parks parking lot. I found it on Google and by taking Columns Rd. in and parking in the complex I was able to cut down on the hike-in considerably—no problem.
Again, I did some prep work with my iPhone but with fewer results this time, it was just too flat—with no light. Still, I was able to get everything pretty well proportioned and I got to work on a rough-in. Lately, I’ve been using Old Holland red oxide for this work. It’s not as red as alizarin—in fact, I hardly use alizarin at all now. I used a lot of cad. orange on the rough-in too—maybe a bit too much. I spend a lot of time on the darks nowadays—about 75% of the painting. It’s basically a tonal drawing that I gradually introduce mid-tones to and then finish off with the light. On such a gray day is was hard to get much definition but the stream upfront and a bit of fall color behind helped. Finally, I got it into shape and put in the lights and the leaves on the trees. I thought it looked pretty good and at the time my intention was to work off some of my initial photos and my previous plein airs and finish it in the studio. So I packed up and hiked back to the Z.
This is the painting above and I was pleased with it as it was but it did not have the ominous feeling that I first envisioned. The more I looked at it the more ambivalent I became—this painting just was not what I was looking for, to bright, not spooky enough! I thought I’d better give it a few days and then take another look. Thursday evening I brought it out again and decided that “nothing wagered, nothing gained” so I mixed up some darks and really went over it good. At that point, I thought I give it another few days to dry then scrape some of the thicker paint off and put in some lights. Truth was, I was still very iffy on it.
Friday I was invited to go with my wife and her cousin to Helen. They wanted to do some shopping and I have some property up there that needed checking on. I love North Georgia so I busted my but and got all my work out of the way so I could go up for the day. I put my kit in the car just in case but as Friday came the weather was still terrible—hardly a beam of sunlight. We drove up in rain and after checking on the property I had my wife drop me off in front of the Old Sautee Store. This valley is one of the prettiest areas anywhere with the Chattahoochee River flowing through it and views of Mt. Yonah in the background. As they left me to go shopping it was as if the Lord parted the clouds and out popped the sun! A cluster of newly built stores (Sautee Village) across the street from the store included one with a wine tasting bar and a deck out the back. I asked if I could set up and they had no problem, so I got to it quickly. The view was petty perfect and the bright light saturated the fields in front of the distant blue mountain and backlighted the clouds. I had a great time and just as I was finishing up the clouds rolled in again.
Saturday I raked wet leaves and cleaned off my driveway—even a painter has chores. Sunday I woke up to a drizzle of rain and more gray skies. The heck with the Falcons —they stink this year anyway and off I went back to Sope creek with my supersize plein air to see what I could do. This day was even worse than the last foray—cold and rainy. Only the hardcore will paint in this weather. What can I say—I’m pretty hardcore. It was amazing how much the view had changed in a week. The rain had raised the level of the creek a foot and there were many fewer rocks, the water was darker, everything was darker…just as I envisioned it. So another three hours of plein air work got me to the version below. Am I done?