Saturday, November 13, 2010

Struggling with Green!

On a recent day with artist friends Ruth Andre and Howard Rees, I painted in the Gold Country near Sutter Creek, Drytown and Amador City.  I posted my plein art paintings earlier.  I was very disappointed with the results that day.  Both paintings were very mediocre, and the first one was just plain bad.   From the emerald green of the gold country in winter and spring to the dark muted green of the valley oaks, I've always struggled with green in landscapes. 

I've decided to study greens in landscape painting, and although I've just started, I'm beginning to understand the issue a bit.  I found a very nice, if a little bit technical, article on line about seeing and  mixing greens.  It was aimed at the watercolor painter, but I think the challenges are somewhat the same.  I'll find the link and post it here later. 

First, I bought a couple of additional colors to experiment with.  I've started to make some color charts and I wanted to have a bit more variety for mixes and added colors.  In addition to the colors I already have, Sap Green, Cad. Yellow Lt., Cad Orange, Ultramarine Blue, Yellow Ochre, Cerulean Blue and Hansa Yellow, I bought Thalo Blue, Thalo Green, and Ivory Black.  I haven't used black before, but in reading about mixing greens, I have come across a number of references that recommend it for a neutralizing color.  In fact, when mixed with yellow in the right proportions, it's possible to make a muted and useful green.

After playing with the mixes for awhile I decided to take another try at the barn scene I had attempted in plein air.  I set up my EasyL in the studio, but the photo of the scene on the computer monitor and took a shot.

The original scene was strongly lit from the left with mid morning sunlight.  The tops of the trees and shrubs were raked by the light, while the left side and bottoms were in deep shadow.  On site, I allowed the entire painting to become very high key and I lost any contrast.  The shadows were just a mid shade of green.  There was so much bright sunlight that I think I was a bit overwhelmed by it.  To top it off, I was standing in the sun without an umbrella.  To shade my canvas, I more or less faced the sun. I've made that mistake before, but this time it resulted in the painting being too light.  The usual outcome of painting in bright light is a painting that tends to be too dark. 
The original plein air study. 
  Anyway, whatever the cause, the painting was a mess.....

In the studio, there were several things I wanted to accomplish with the new painting.  First I wanted to work with the greens.  I wanted much more contrast in the entire painting, and I wanted the barn to be the clear center of interest.  I wanted to darken the entire color key of the painting as well.  For the greens, I went much darker, using thalo blue in mix.  I also used black sparingly to lower the color intensity while staying on the dark side.  It was only when I was nearly done with the painting that I realized that I had used almost no white in any of the mixes.  The exceptions were the tin roof of the barn and the hill top on the left.  There's no white in any of the green mixes.  Most were lightened with Hansa Yellow (I didn't use my old faithful Cad Yellow Lt., either.)  I think leaving out the white and using a less intense yellow throughout the painting was an improvement...and an eye  opener too.  I am over using white in all of my paintings, and I'm going to try to cut down.  I was amazed at how little I used in this painting.

I like the second attempt much better.  Although it was done in the studio, I did it very much as though I was in the field...using my EasyL and glancing at the computer monitor for reference.  I actually spent less time on the studio version than I did working on location...just about an hour total.  That may be another improvement.  I've also noticed how much the feeling of the painting is changed by simply extending the background hills past the top of the painting, eliminating most of the sky.  Suddenly, the countryside seems much larger and the barn seems smaller, even though it's virtually the same size in both paintings.  That simple change in composition made such a difference. The  second painting captures the vast scale of the foothills.  I feel like I've learned something here.  Now back to my green mixing charts.

And just for the heck of it, I grabbed my new watercolors and dashed out this 'sketch'.  I added an oak from another photo to fill up the left side and strengthen a very weak effort.  I'm aware that I'm painting watercolors like an oil painter!  Oh well, more to learn!

1 comment :

  1. Great to see this post. I love the composition in your studio plein air barn painting. It is so strong and the greens are beautiful.