Oil sketch – Blizzard 2010
The news is calling it the “Blizzard of 2010.” I’m not sure it’s that dramatic, but it’s definitely very white outside. It began snowing at about 8 last night, and it’s predicted to continue through the morning.
I’ve never tried to paint a snowstorm before, and the landscape is fairly limited. The hills I usually paint… well, they’re out there, somewhere. I can’t see even a shadow to suggest them.
Sometimes, I can barely see the moving van parked next to our driveway, as one of our neighbors is moving. It’s that snowy out, this morning.
Recently, my husband bought me a Wolf Kahn calendar. It’s to remind me that it’s okay to just paint trees; the views outside three sides of our home are mostly trees. Lots of trees.
Anyway, that calendar gave me the courage to pick up the paintbrush this morning. The trees outside my window can be seen now and then, but mostly they’re just shadowy forms in whiteout conditions.
I was trying to capture the stately elegance of the tree trunks, standing very still in the falling snow. This photo of the finished sketch… well, it doesn’t really convey the actual painting. (My daughter in Florida wanted this painting, so now it’s in her home.)
For example, the photo doesn’t show the darkest tree trunk clearly. That part of the painting includes shades of blue and yellow, along with the purple tones.
One thing to remember about painting landscapes is that it’s like acting on the Broadway stage: Artistic hyperbole is almost essential to convey what’s going on, with all of its emotional depth. If you want the people in the nosebleed seats to feel the passion of the moment… play it big.
In painting – at least the way that I paint – this means representing subtle colors with vibrant shades of paint and broad brush strokes.
So, though the actual view is mostly greyish-brown and white, I looked for the nuances of color in the scene. That’s part visual, part emotional.
I also wanted to convey the rich intensity of the snow. For that, I used very thick applications of the oil paint. Though you can’t see it in the photo, some of the paint stands out about 1/4 inch from the canvas.
(Since white is the slowest color to dry, it may be June before this painting can be handled safely!)
The pure white paint is the trickiest to apply, working alla prima. (Alla prima usually means a painting that’s completed in one sitting. Especially when the paint is applied thickly, there’s a significant risk that the paint will smear and you’ll lose the line if not the color as well.)
I have a paint rag (torn pieces of an old bed sheet) that’s nearly covered with paint now, as I had to keep wiping the paint off my brush and dipping the bristles into the fresh, untainted white paint on my palette.
(Yes, that paint rag will probably become part of an art project. At the moment, I’m thinking of cutting it into narrow strips and winding them into cloth beads.)
Anyway, this is an 8″ x 16″ canvasboard painting. It had been underpainted with cadmium red, as I usually do. I created the landscape with water-soluble oil paints, using no water or painting medium to dilute it. It took me about half an hour to paint this.
While I was playing with the new camera my husband gave me for Christmas, I also took a photo of my easel and annotated the picture. Here are more comments, going counter-clockwise around the photo, starting at the upper left:
In that picture, you can see an older oil painting from our summer in Canada. That moonscape was the scene as we crossed the border back into Maine, early one September morning. We were not far from New Brunswick, and that scene was on our right as we drove south.
I used my Ott light to start today’s painting, and then decided to rely on the available light through my living room’s sliding glass door.
White paint – and any color diluted with it – tends to reflect artificial light. That makes it difficult to accurately gauge the saturation of the colors, unless you’re viewing it in natural light.
To get the values (light & shade) correctly, I used a red film “value finder” that I’d bought years ago in a quilting supply store. It’s one of my most useful painting tools.
My easel is just like my mom’s. When we visited her a couple of years ago, she wanted to give me her easel since she wasn’t using it very often.
Then, we decided that it was better for Mum to leave it to my niece, Rachel Morey, who’s very artistic, too. (My mother was so pleased that at least one of my brother’s children had inherited an interest in art.)
I bought my own, similar easel when we arrived in NH from TX.
And finally in that photo, the Wolf Kahn calendar is tiny, but it’s enough to remind me of the impact of color and design, so I don’t cling to the idea that the subject itself has to be interesting.
Before we move, I hope to take more advantage of the lovely tree-filled landscapes that cover almost the entire block, across the street from my home. It’s a beautiful scene, and a fresh challenge for me!