Monday, February 27, 2012

The Angel Oak series: Finished (for now)

25" x 37"
     I just finished my largest and most involved painting of the Angel Oak tree.  It was definitely the one I wrestled with the most...my wife called it my 'White Whale', referring to the story, Moby Dick. I spent hours staring at it, working and re-working certain areas, waiting for warmer weather so I could go out and paint on site again. I took a bunch of photos of the branches from the spot I had painted, but they could only get me so far in resolving the space of the painting. It's a difficult way to work, going back and forth from photo reference to working from life. The main reason I don't like working solely from photographs, is because space gets compressed and flattens out, and the richness of color just isn't there. It helped in mapping out the intricate branching structure of the tree, to a certain extent, but after a while of working from the photos, I just hit a wall. I needed to go back and be with the tree.
     A few things that help me out while painting in the studio: a small handheld mirror and a camera. In my studio, I stand across the room and with my back to the painting and hold the mirror in front of my left shoulder, so that I can see the painting behind me reflected in the mirror. This flips the image, and allows me to 'see' the painting in a new way...it's one of those old tricks that painters use. Somehow my mind sees what's 'wrong' with the image more easily, or at least forces me out of the conditioned way that I've been looking at the painting.  Another way to do this is to photograph the painting, and look at it on the computer. The photographed painting shrinks down, giving my eye a fresh take on what's there. I can also manipulate it by flipping it upside down or sideways. Because of this, I now have a record of the different stages the painting has gone through:

Early version with the different panels (and Persian kitten, Belle)

started over on the single canvas

Final, finished state
   Calling a painting finished is one of those things that is so hard to define. On the one hand, I know I have to keep working on a painting when I can still see problems with it, whether it's structural or some way the light just isn't working, or the color is dead in a certain area. There are also those moments in the painting that become special, either by way of the paint handling or a certain color relationship. These need to be preserved, and worked off of. I guess I conclude that it's done when all those different elements are working in harmony. Sometimes, it becomes a matter of fatigue...you just resolve it the best you can during a certain point in time, and the painting just exhausts itself. There's no need to keep working on it. You definitely have to stop before you get bored with it...if you're bored with the painting, either the idea or the paint itself, it shows.


  1. wow. it's incredible. i LOVE clicking through the progression, it's just... incredible!

  2. Very cool. I like the twisted nature of the tree itself, but also how the ground radiates out from the trunk. You can really feel the space envelop you.