Sunset – Sunrise Paintings

As an artist, this is interesting.  I feel as if I’m finding my personal voice in terms of influences: Impressionism v. Tonalist & Luminist art. (Those links open in a new window and take you to Wikipedia.)

For me, Impressionism includes apparently disconnected colors & textures (at least, up close) that create the visual and emotional impression of the scene.

Tonalism is less about color and more about misty, foggy, or mostly-dark scenery and (often) a glassy surface to the finished work.  Sunrise 28 jan 2011 - detail

In many cases, both styles are best viewed from a distance of 20 feet or more. That almost always applies to my paintings.

Luminism — which came before Impressionism — is more about the glow, and it’s currently a leading influence in all of my work.  (See work by James Augustus Suydam for the glow I’m talking about, and Sunlight and Shadow by Martin Johnson Heade for the colors.)

I also keep revisiting the images from the Like Breath on Glass exhibit, and the audio tour (with images) that’s online.  There’s something wonderfully rich but also eerie about many of the paintings.  For me, they’re compelling and hauntingly lovely.

So, I’m experimenting with different painting styles, pushing my limits and then absorbing what I learn from each experience.

The painting shown above is this morning’s sunrise study. It shows a fleeting moment and the rapidly changing skies.  The original is 9″ x 12″ on canvas board.

At right is a detail from the painting.  That’s about a one-inch section of the canvas, from top to bottom.

I think I’m moving away from harsh edges, though many of my sketches will — by necessity of the time available — look somewhat sloppy and ragged.  For me, capturing the light & color at the moment I see it is key.  The urgency in those works is clear, and has its own merits in terms of visual and emotional energy.

Many of those quick sketches will be resources for later, larger, more Luminist works.

Last night, I’d worked after dark, creating a color study inspired by the sunset.  As usual, I was challenged by artificial light (v. painting in the dark) and — when I saw the painting this morning — I wasn’t satisfied with it.

Sunset 27 Jan 2011That’s it at left, after I worked on it this morning. Fortunately, minor tweaks restored the creative vision that had sparked the work.

I feel as if I’m finding the middle ground (no pun intended) between soft edges and color contrasts.

I’m not entirely sure where this is going, but I’m pleased with my progress.

And, of course, I woke up in the middle of the night with an idea for an abstract painting… and had to sketch it immediately, with notes.

In other words, my art is still a juggling act with a variety of inspirations and influences.

I’m not sure that I’d want it any other way.

Spring 2010 – Revisited

Sometimes I look at an older painting and it’s lacking something.  Oh, it’s often “nice enough,” but… well, that’s not enough for me unless it was just a quick sketch.

My March 2010 painting, Spring is on the way, was like that.  It just didn’t have the oomph that I wanted; that may be partly because it was a difficult week for my family.  Sometimes I paint just to keep busy while I’m processing challenges in my life.  When I’m not fully committed to the art, particularly in terms of my emotions, the finished work can seem a little lackluster.

Also, I’ve learned a lot about color and technique since then.

Anyway, feeling very pleased with the improvements in Orange Hills, Revisited, I decided to improve the spring painting as well.  That’s the finished version, above.

Much of the work involved bringing the colors forward, and softening the areas that weren’t well-defined. Sometimes when I keep fussing with part of a painting, the area doesn’t emerge clearly and the busy-ness of it detracts from the finished work.

Spring revisited, detailThat’s what happened with the previous version of this painting.

This week, I was reminded of when I studied art with Larry Gluck, and he’d talk about turning paintings into “little gems.”  That’s what I was doing with this canvas.  (And yes, it is fairly little at 8″ x 10″.)

Fortunately, this week’s landscape colors were surprisingly similar to when I began this painting last March.  (With the winter we’ve had so far, I’m hoping it’s an indication of an early spring, as well.)

On the right, you can see part of the canvas, suggesting the subtle colors and the varied brushstrokes.

I’m very pleased with this painting, now that I’ve polished it into a more vibrant and representative work.  The emotional content is richer, too.

The colors and textures have depth.  I look at this painting and smile, because it’s tremendously evocative.

I’m still learning when to leave a good painting alone, and when my art can be improved upon with just a little finesse.

With this painting, the latter was definitely the case and the final product is truly good.

Orange Hills Revisited

This is an example of what happens when I look at one of my earlier sketches and all I feel is, “Well, it’s okay…”

I started with the oil sketch from January 8th, the Orange Hills at Sunset painting.  Frankly, I was going to put it into eBay at a low starting price, just to keep the art moving.  (If art just sits in my studio, I reach a point where I stop painting… creating empty space is vital!)

However, I just couldn’t do it.  I mean, I don’t want to wince when I think of ho-hum paintings out there, when they could be so much better.

After about an hour of tweaking the eBay auction — never fully satisfied with it — I gave up and removed the auction listing.  I put the canvas back on my easel and started working on it.  This wasn’t just sketching… I wanted to push the colors into a far higher realm.

Of course, it helped that the sunset outside my window was cooperating.

At right, you can see an actual-size detail from the painting.  I added a lot of color to bring the hills to life, and to give the sky more energy.

The original painting is lighter and more vibrant than this photo, but the picture shares the general idea.  If you compare it with the sketch as completed on January 8th, you can probably see a significant improvement.

When the painting was finished, about an hour later, I decided that this will be a gift for HT’s mom.  She’s a wonderful woman and I want her to have some of my artwork.



Orange Hills, Revisited
NH landscape at sunset
9″ x 12″ oil painting on canvas board
21 January 2011
Private collection

Sunrise – Snowy Skies – 14 Jan 2011

This morning’s skies looked ominous at first, and the colors were there for just a couple of minutes.  I was glad that I’d already set out my palette with the colors I was likely to need.

This was a small, fast oil sketch on an 8″ x 10″ canvasboard.

Many sunrises feature the brightest colors dusted on the surface of the clouds.  This was one of those other mornings, when the colors were inherent to the sky, and acted as a backdrop for clouds ranging from white to lilac to lavender.

Sunrise painting - detail - 14 jan 2011The snow reflects the skies colors, so it was like watching a flashing sign or something, as the snow went from muted blues and greys to shades of peach and orange… just for a second.

When I work this quickly, the paint runs the gamut of something thick like lathered butter to just grazed color as my brush skims the surface of the canvas.

At right, that’s about a 1 1/2″ section of the canvas, to show you the textures, colors and brushstrokes in the work.

Since I plan to clean off my palette today, I was freer with the white paint than usual.  It’s a habit that I want to get into.  (Using the paint with more freedom and abandon, that is.)

On my errands today, I’ll be buying more paint.  This time, I’m investing in the big tubes of white and blue.  I usually buy white in volume, but since I mix most of my colors from red, yellow and blue, I’m going through a lot of blue (French Ultramarine blue) with the sky and the snowcover.

I’m really enjoying starting my day with these sketches.  The art puts me in a strong and happy frame of mind, and I think everything else goes better when I begin the morning like that.

And, yes, my computer keyboard now has paint on it.  I didn’t clean my hands — which always end up with paint on them — before sitting down to post this.

It’s time for me to get ready for a day of errands now… with a smile because I was able to capture a truly lovely (if fleeting) sunrise.

Sunrises – Two More – 13 Jan 2011

It was another sunrise with quickly-changing skies.  I had to work very quickly to capture the colors on these two 8″ x 10″ canvasboards.

The first one includes darker colors and higher contrast. (In real life, the reds aren’t that vivid, blue-ish, or light.)

The sun was just coming up (in back of me) and so the hills were still very dark… but the painting’s hills are a lighter green than in this photo.

Mostly, the higher clouds and sky caught the sun’s rays; everything else was relatively dark and sometimes subdued.

The morning’s second oil sketch is below.  As you can see, the contrast was not so extreme and the hills were lit by the sunlight.

The snow was whiter, the red in the sky was diminished, and the clouds were fluffier and more clearly defined.

If I’d been painting realistically, it was the kind of sky where an artist would be tempted to add a colorful hot air balloon.  It was that kind of “picture perfect” coloring, and almost too-perfect cloud formations.

NH sunrise #2 - 13 jan 2011Mostly, these are color references.  They were so hastily worked, unless someone already knows that the subject is a band of trees on a hill, with snow in the foreground… well, I’m not sure that it’s representational enough to discern the subject.

Because of the pace of my work yesterday morning (when I painted these), the colors are fairly vivid.  They’re far more energetic than they look in the photos; I’m still learning how to tweak the colors with this new camera.

Later in the day, I completed another, full-size painting.  However, I wasn’t going to post it here because it’s not my usual style or subject.  In fact, it has an odd backstory.

However, I’m waiting for the right light because the colors are a little difficult to capture in a photo.  And, since I’ll be out most of today, I may not have that painting posted here until early next week.

Flurries at Dusk, Revisited – 13 Jan 2011

With some minor changes, the larger Flurries at Dusk painting is now completed.

(See the nearly completed version plus backstory, here. Mostly, I added contrast in some areas, and softened the white areas in the sky.)

It’s a higher key than I’d expected, but I’m pleased with the lyrical quality of the color.

The completed work is 18″ x 24″ on stretched canvas.

I like how far I pushed the colors in this piece.  It’s not quite what I’d planned to paint, working from the original sketch, but… well, it’s a pretty painting.

Flurries at Dusk – In Progress

I’m beginning to work on larger paintings, based on some of my recent color studies and oil sketches.

The photo (above) shows the first stage of this painting.  I’m happy with at least half of it, so the finished work won’t look tremendously different… or at least I don’t think it will.

(Sometimes a painting has so much of its own energy, I’m not sure where it will lead me as I revisit it with successive layers of paint.)

This painting is based on my earlier Flurries Near Dusk color study of January 7th.  That’s it, below on the right.

The original oil sketch was 9″ x 12″ and this larger version is 18″ x 24″ on stretched cotton canvas.  Both are oil paintings.

However, in the current work, I have the luxury of experimenting with more colors and richer hues.

Flurries near dusk - 7 Jan 2011 paintingI’m aiming for a higher key in this work.  That is, warmer and brighter colors that are far more juicy than last Friday’s color study.

I’m not aiming for Biblical drama in my work, but something that holds the viewer’s attention, and makes you want to go back and look at the work, over & over again.

The current work may be one of several, based on the original oil sketch.  I’m intrigued by the idea of working in more extremely subdued colors than in the first piece… and then accenting the subtle colors in the hills.

For now, today’s beginning pleases me.  It’s passionate and rich, and includes elements that I want in the finished work.

Though some of the colors were only lightly scrubbed onto the canvas, the concept is clear and I know where I want to go next with this painting.

Vivid Pink Sunrise – 11 Jan 2011

This is the second of two paintings of this morning’s sunrise.  Within minutes of completing the early sunrise painting, shades of pink seemed to dominate the sky.

Continuing the theme of “urgency” from my previous work, I deliberately chose a larger canvas.  This painting is on an 11″ x 14″ stretched canvas.

My thought was: Since I have to work quickly to capture the scene before the light changes, if the canvases are larger, my work may convey even greater urgency as I hastily scrub in the colors.

So far, this is a successful experiment.  I am very pleased with this painting.

sunrise 2 - pink - detail - 11 jan 2011At right, the photo shows a one-inch band, from top to bottom, in this landscape painting.

Like the previous work, there’s tremendous variety in the thickness of the paint.  In some areas — particularly the clouds and the snow — the paint is thick and juicy.  In others, the cadmium red underpainting and texture of the canvas show through.

The passion of the color and the emotion of the scene were what I wanted to convey.

I think this work has succeeded.

I also think I’m making some tremendous breakthroughs with my recent art, as I push toward greater contrast and more vivid colors.

I may use this oil painting to inspire a larger version with similar colors and energy.

Early Sunrise – 11 Jan 2011

This is the first of this morning’s two oil paintings capturing the sunrise.

I was consciously working with more vivid colors to capture the true impression of the sunrise.

Though I wanted to keep tweaking the painting to get it “just so,” I’m also very inspired by yesterday’s discussion with my daughter, Amber.

As we talked about art in general, she used the term “urgency” to describe what makes the earliest album by U2 so compelling.

Early sunrise - 11 jan 2011 - detailWe agreed that we both like music that’s still raw and untidy, with glaring imperfections almost obscured by powerful emotional content.

That’s what I’m working toward with my art: The raw, emotional content that’s so important in any art form.

So, some of my coming works may be less “tidy” than in the past.  It’s part of the process.

This is an oil painting on 9″ x 12″ canvas board.  The paint is thick and a little unruly, but it’s also very expressive.

The detail at right represents a one-inch section of the painting.

In some areas, the paint was applied thick, quickly and with flourish.  In others, the cadmium red underpainting shows through.

The trees at the horizon are cadmium orange with a suggestion of green between them and the blue band of color immediately above.

For me, this piece captures the vivid tones often overlooked early in the day as the sun is barely visible in interior New Hampshire.

This is an oil painting on a 9″ x 12″ canvasboard.

Quick Tree Sketch – 9 Jan 2011

Some of my oil sketches are sort of doodles… quick artwork exploring themes.

That’s a good description of this sketch of the woods near our home.

The purpose of this was to see what would happen if I tried to convey sunset colors through the trees.

It’s a whimsical piece giving me more to think about, as I consider what I want to capture as I paint a different landscape outside my studio windows.

For me, trees are a challenge.  I’m never sure how detailed to make them, and what’s most important to include.  No two artists will make the same decisions about trees.

I think I’m heading toward a more lyrical approach, but… I’m not sure, yet.

This is an 8″ x 10″ oil sketch on canvasboard.

(Note: I later painted over it. See it at Tree Sketch – Evolution Series, Feb 2011.)

Orange Hills at Sunset – 8 Jan 2011

I hadn’t planned to paint on Saturday.

My husband and I spent most of the day running errands.  The new indoor farmers’ market in Concord (NH) was a delight, and we returned home with great food items and some yummy-smelling soaps.

However, as sunset colored the landscape, there was an amazing contrast between the lilac and lavender tones near the horizon, and the contrasting deep red-orange colors of the hills.

Though the sky seemed to retain its blue (also reflected on the snow below) far later than usual, the orange/purple combination was what energized me to quickly sketch the scene.

This is a 9″ x 12″ oil sketch on canvas board.

A later, similar painting: Orange Hills Revisited.

Flurries Near Dusk – 7 Jan 2011

Toward dusk on Friday, the sky had that eerie mix of muted colors, from pink to blue to a greenish-blue cast.

When the colors are that subdued, the more unusual colors in the hills seem to glow, and the snow is dark but intense.

It was lovely, accented by light snow flurries.

Of course, I took out my paints and captured the colors as quickly as I could.

Though I love the coastline, New Hampshire’s interior scenery can be equally powerful in the winter.

This oil sketch will definitely be an inspiration for a larger oil painting.

I’m very pleased with these colors.  They’re subtle, but just dramatic enough.

The original is 9″ x 12″ on canvas board.