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Sunday, May 8, 2011

True Confessions

In the summer of 2008, I traveled to Canada with my family. We have enjoyed several visits to the Canadian provinces. Our neighbors to the north are ceaselessly polite and pleasant and the landscape is second to none. On this particular trip we went to Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia was beautiful and I got a lot of resource material for future paintings, but (true confession #1) this trip devolved into what we refer to as the helliday. My brilliant husband planned way too much driving for this trip. We clocked in much more time in the car than we ever had out in nature. Our feet rarely touched terra firma. This prompted much consternation from my then nineteen-year-old son, and frankly I was none too happy either. That said, the first part of our trip was devoted to the lovely small fishing village of Digby. The steel blue of the water was different from the water in areas closer to home. Although expansive, looking at it evoked feelings of melancholy in me. I am described by many as relentlessly upbeat. That said,  I actually enjoy reflective moods.

At the urging of my pastel students, who requested reflections as a subject for a demonstration, I chose one of my many photographs from Digby. This image was taken in the morning. I was moved by the calm waters and the interesting cloud formations, as well as the slight mist rising from the water. Ultimately, the fact of the matter is that I had a gut feeling about the image and my memories of that early morning in July. This gut feeling prompted me to want to paint this scene.

The challenge for this particular piece was in keeping a limited, monochromatic palette. I wanted to maintain extreme subtleties and a minimalist approach to the piece. I tend to often take a bolder plan of attack. I always start with a black and white sketch before beginning the painting to be sure that the composition is working. This saves a lot of time once I begin painting. To set the stage, I started with a monochromatic watercolor under painting. which was completed during the demonstration for my students. I always have to brace myself before doing a demo never knowing what the results will be. In other words, I am a bit nervous painting in front of others. (True confession # 2)

Watercolor under painting of Digby #2
 After the watercolor dried completely, I began placing areas of pastel judiciously on the painting surface. I often describe this method to my students as thinking twice and painting once. If I cover the watercolor with pastel, there is no going back to the watercolor. As a result, I want to be sure that I am pleased with the pastel placement.

Just the slightest amount of pastel placed on Digby #2
 I took a short break and realized upon my return that I needed to add more light in certain areas and break up the foreground shape to enhance the composition.
Lights added and foreground area broken up a bit on Digby #2
 At a certain point, I was frustrated to discover that I wasn't comfortable with the direction that the piece was taking. I felt that the composition was failing (true confession #3). This issue had to be remedied.  A slightly darker value to the lower left hand corner of the piece would solve the problem.  In order to do that I added pastel to that quadrant. Immediately, nausea set in when I realized that I HATED the way the pastel looked. In a bit of panic, since I needed to leave the studio for an engagement, I hurriedly brushed the pastel from the surface and dabbed the offending area with a kneaded eraser... still hideous. Not satisfied, I snatched the painting from the easel, grabbed my water bottle, poured water in a plastic cup and started wetting the area with a paint brush... still hideous. With nothing to lose, I started frantically dabbing the wet surface with a paper towel. I left the studio sure that I needed to admit failure and scrap the piece while I kept reminding myself that this would be a learning experience for my students.
Ugh! Digby #2
 It was with mild trepidation that I gingerly tiptoed into my studio to discover that I wasn't nearly as disappointed with the piece as I had originally thought. In fact, I felt with a few more touches it would be fine. I don't know what happened overnight, but clearly stepping away was a good thing. Here is the end result. Yipppeee!
Digby #2 DONE!

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