Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Angel Oak paintings

     While working on the first Angel Oak painting I started in the fall, I knew I had to do more. This one was started towards the end of October:

     My usual process is to work out the composition with a drawing first, but here, I jumped right in with the paint. I chose this angle because it shows the branches gracefully arching up and out to the left. While working, I've realized that the painting is not only about the trunk and it's branches, but also the space between me and the tree. Another thing I noticed, is that each time I would return to paint, the tree would sometimes be covered with small ferns. Somebody pointed out to me that this was the 'resurrection' fern, an air plant not actually attached to the tree. When there's moisture out, the leaves open up, and when it's dry, they curl up and remain dormant....very cool.

     As I continued, I began to see so much that I was editing out, both with the tips of the branches as they moved to my left and the canopy above. I also wanted to include this tiny patch of unobstructed sky, and this would have occurred in the upper left hand corner of the canvas (had I used a larger canvas.)

     As I continued to look at it back in my studio, I realized that the painting needed some more space. After doing some measurements on site with the painting in front of me, I figured out a plan to add on. There would be a panel attached to the left side and another on the top, and I would attach them with bolts through the frames from behind:

     I worked on it like this for awhile, but wasn't really satisfied with the way the different panels were fitting together. The seams were slightly off, with some irregularity and problems with the alignment, and I wasn't really sure how the different panels were functioning with the concept of the piece as a whole. The painting being pieced together seemed arbitrary and haphazard. What I wanted to paint was a cohesive depiction of a clearly defined space, and the new format wasn't working. It was a tough call to start over after so much had been done, but I knew it was necessary.

     After some careful measuring, I re-cropped the overall image again, dismantled what I had started, made a new frame, and stretched a new piece of linen. I stapled the three different panels to a large piece of plywood and then gridded it out using string. From this, I could transfer what I had started, reproducing the entire image on the larger canvas in my studio.

     Not wanting to ditch the original canvas I started with, I decided to re-stretch that one again and work on both simultaneously. The smaller one I work on during overcast days, which is how I originally envisioned the light, and the second, larger one, is the one I work on during clear days. The two pieces now become a tandem piece, functioning not only as the same image seen in differing light, but also as a window that zooms out of the scene:

in progress - 21" x 28"

in progress - 25" x 37"

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Shem Creek Park

10" x 15"
     My most recent series of paintings depict a newly opened park near my home. As I watched the progress of it's construction through the summer, I knew it was a spot I wanted to paint. It's located right next the famous Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant, a small inlet off the Charleston Harbor. Consisting of a series of docks for shrimping and fishing boats, along with about a dozen seafood restaurants and bars, it becomes quite the scene in summer.  The light over the harbor is stunning, with dramatic cloud formations and sunsets continuely on display. All of these paintings where done in the morning, which is usually when I have the time to work, but someday I vow to make some paintings of those sunsets.
     The park consists of a series of boardwalks that zigzag back through the marsh and sea grass, with various shelters and connections to Shem Creek along the way as it empties into the harbor. Hovering over oyster beds and channels, the boardwalks penetrate this large expanse of space that would otherwise be off limits. Again, I was drawn to this idea of a man-made structure in contrast to the fluidity and changeability of Nature.

     Most of these paintings were preceded by pencil drawings in my sketchbook. I use these to determine the composition and how the space will function. Back in my studio, I can finalize the image and transfer it to a toned canvas. I'll re-draw with black paint and a liner brush, duplicating what was done with pencil and paper. Not only does this save me some time before I get on site, but it allows me to familiarize myself with the subject; drawing and re-drawing as a way of learning.

sketchbook drawing - 10" x 13.25"
oil on linen - 10" x 15"
      All of these are fairly small (10" x 15"), done in about 2 sessions on site. Usually if I put in 4-5 hours on site, I can wrap things up either from memory or the drawing. Because the tide becomes a factor, I had to do these on consecutive days, to ensure that the water and light levels remained fairly consistent.

sketch book drawing - 10" x 13.25"
oil on linen - 10" x 15"
      I did this whole series over a few months, with a big break over Christmas. I was amazed that when I resumed, there was this dramatic shift in the color of the sea grass. It had gone from green in the summer, to a golden orange in the fall, to a bleached out brown in the winter. I love getting to know a new area, with all the specific changes that occur throughout the seasons.

sketchbook drawing - 10" x 13.25"

oil on linen - 14" x 21"
     This last one (above), is the largest in the series, and was done over the longest period of time. The sea grass color had changed drastically over the month break. I took some photos to work on in my studio, because the weather had gotten colder and I wasn't able to work outside. I find it hard to switch back and forth between photos and painting from life. A photo is good to record the light, but the descrepency between the color of the photo and the color from life becomes a hinderance. For this one, it was probably equal parts site painting/drawing, photographic reference, and painting from memory. The last one in the series is still in progress, but I'm waiting for the weather to warm up in order to finish it:

(in progress) oil on linen - 12" x 18"