Thursday, November 24, 2011

Botanicals with Color

Botanical studies with color pencil

The past couple of weeks have been particularly hard--the daily road warrior commutes from my new job in Virginia have been horrendous, averaging close to three hours each evening. One evening set a new record--a four hour struggle on that quaint slow stream of traffic locally known as The Beltway. It's left me little energy for painting on the weekends, except for my Botanical Illustration classes, which I am enjoying tremendously.

A couple of weekends ago Herb and I went for a walk on Rock Creek Park (see photos on Flickr Fall Walk on Rock Creek Park) and collected some interesting botanical material: an assortment of leaves, twigs and nuts. The assignment for the Painting 103 class in the Certificate Program, which I finally decided to enroll in, is to create a "scatter composition" using leaves and flowers or fruit and paint it in watercolor using flat and graduated washes. The above is a page of studies for the elements I plan to combine.

We were given some lovely Lumochrome coloring pencils at the first Painting 103 class last Saturday, and I colored parts of the leaves in my study so I could record the colors before they changed. I'm still working on the final composition--I'll try to post my finished assignment this weekend or the next. This  drawing was scanned rather than photographed--I think this may be a better way to reproduce these small delicate drawings.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Burnt Gold in the Woods

Burnt Gold in the Woods, oil on canvas panel, 11" x 14."

 I have been waiting a year for just the right autumn day to return to paint the beech woods on Rock Creek Park where I had taken those marvelous photos the previous year that inspired two studio pieces (Beech Wood at Sunset and Golden Beeches).

The Beech Woods on Rock Creek Park

Yesterday was The Day--I packed my paints and set out towards DC in the afternoon to capture the majesty of the place at this time of the year. I had the pull-off all to myself as I walked across the bridge to find the best view for my painting. The ideal spot was right in the middle of the bridge, but of course that was too dangerous, so I set up on the far bank where a trail crossed the road.

The afternoon sun illuminated the distance, and the foliage seemed more burnt gold than last year, although there was still a smidgeon of greens on some leaves.  After quickly sketching in my composition in vine charcoal, I set to work--there was not a moment to lose--the light would be gone in a couple of hours. I laid in the trunks of the foreground trees first and then the orangy leaf cover on the ground, covering the white of the panel as fast a possible in fiery strokes. Then some very light yellow for the sun on the distant slopes, and deeper yellow-orange for the tree tops, leaving some white for the sky.

At that moment the painting looked so garish--but every painting goes through this ugly stage after you've blocked in the masses, and I've learned not to despair. I would break up the mass with the distant trunks later, after establishing the contours of the sloping hills with a bit of lilac for the shadows. The light was fading fast, the sun barely skimming the treetops as I started painting in the distant trunks.

At that moment, an owl interrupted the silence of the forest, "Who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-too?" This is the call of the barred owl, one of the birds we saw at the Soldiers Delight refuge a few weeks ago. A concert of owl calls from several different directions followed. I looked up to see if I could spot anything in flight, but there was no movement anywhere. There must have been two or three other barred owls answering the first one's call. This went on for a bit, then the owls became silent.

I left small details such as the sprinkling of leaves on the branches in the foreground for last, figuring they could be put in later in the studio if there wasn't time on site, which turned out to be the case. It was becoming dark as I put away the painting and packed my kit. The owls called a few more times while I was walking back to my car.

Here is the painting. I may put in some finishing touches with the aid of my photos after it dries, and then again, perhaps not. It manages as is to capture some of the magical quality that drew me there.

Monday, November 7, 2011

End of the Season

Tridelphia in Fall, oils on linen panel, 11" x 14"
Friday morning was cloudy, but the sky started to clear in the afternoon. I grabbed my paints from the freezer, got my kit and drove out to Tridelphia Reservoir, to a spot where the Howard County Plein Air group had painted last summer. The summer session had been in the morning (see my summer painting here for comparison); I wanted to study the changes brought on by the season and a different illumination.

For some odd reason, perhaps the inordinate amount of rain we had in September, this year our usually spectacular maples and tulip poplars have been rather subdued in color. But to make up for it, the oaks, which normally turn dull shades of brown, have taken on some of the loveliest colors--golden caramel, yellow-ocher with hints of olive, rusty reds and orange.

The breeze was chilly, and I layered up with an extra jacket so I could be comfortable. There were a couple of fishermen out on the water, but other than that, I had the place pretty much to myself. As the afternoon wore on and the sun started going down, those last rays of light seemed to set the foliage on fire. I hate seeing the days become shorter as the winter solstice approaches, but at moments like this, the brief autumnal sunshine, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, burns with such a lovely light...