watercolor 15 x 22 inches
In the above painting, done in plein air, just yesterday, I
had to hold back and carefully construct a color and value strategy that would
carry the composition.
First was the overall shape of the Dark Values (mass) on the
right side of the painting, then, somehow, tie that to the left edge of the
picture space. At the same time, I
needed a strong sense of distance to evolve and give the viewer a feeling of both
height and distance. Naturally,
perspective took a lot of the credit for doing that, but to have the foreground
jump out and pounce on the viewer would take something more than just
size: I needed to display a strong
difference in color temperature from front Foreground to Background, a value
change and a shift in color saturation . . . .all at the same time through that
passage of distance.
Mind you, when one is standing quite near the edge of a 100
foot cliff, while painting, in a stiff wind, which is threatening to blow your
easel over the edge and into the sea, concentrating on these seemingly
unimportant parts of the painting is darned difficult. It takes all an artist has in concentration
to ignore the elements and to force careful thinking, cautious but deliberate
color mixing and put forth a strong painting.
Value pattern and temperature changes literally make a
painting dance. These two things are
difficult enough for studio painters to grasp.
It often seems much more important to the novice painter to capture the
‘’details’’ in order for the painting to seem “real.” Taking a glance at the receding cliffs as
they go off into the distance, one immediately gets the sense of their presence
in the ‘far away.’ That is due to the subtle
shift in color intensity (saturation) and the shift from very warm in the
foreground to cool neutral at the farthest point. All of that shift must take place in a
graded change or progressive transition.
That, combined with a similar gradation of value really sets the strong
feeling of distance.
The painting in the last post, “The Edge of America,” had
the very same challenge. In both
paintings, one can sense the effects of a slight mist in the air, like a very
transparent curtain, through which we see the diminishing cliff faces. This can only be accomplished with the
careful manipulation of color temperature, color saturation and value. This is a subtlety in painting which is
often overlooked in favor of capturing “the details.” If you are a painter, you know the
distraction that a subject can bring to us.
We have to step back and remember that we are painting, not photographing.
I call it the tyranny of the subject.
It can distract the artist from concentrating on making a painting
instead of slavishly copying what he thinks