Saturday, July 19, 2008

Painting High Peak

On a recent weekend I thought I’d try the idea of painting a landscape area-by-area instead of blocking the whole thing first. It’s kind of like paint-by-numbers, but without the numbers.

I set up the pochade box on an estate along the Hudson with a view toward the river and High Peak in the Catskills.

I took 20 minutes to draw in the tree silhouettes on an oil-primed 8x10 panel. Then I started painting in each area with a small bristle brush, working from background to foreground and trying to get a finished effect right away. This felt weird at first because I don't usually complete one area at a time, but then I pretended I was doing a cross-hatched pen and ink drawing.

Here’s the painting most of the way finished, with the real background behind it. I consciously enlarged the relative size of the mountains compared to the trees, and I cut that slot in the trees leading down to the river.

And here’s the finished painting. Just as I was signing it, a little gnat landed in the wet paint of the sky and got stuck with his wings stretched out in the exact position of a soaring red-tail hawk. I didn’t have the heart to scrape him off. I guess he didn’t die in vain.
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Earlier GJ post on area-by-area painting, link.

15 comments:

dragonladych said...

*takes notes* "remember to fling a gnat at wet paint to simulate passing hawk"

But seriously, that must have been confusing. Interesting exercise!

jeff f said...

I like the result.
Do you find this way of painting is harder? Moving around the picture plain to make things relate and working from large shapes to small, going for the action and the effect which is the way I work seems counter to this idea.

I have to try this as it was a practice that Church used, however I think it was more a product of his training than anything else.


The way I was taught is based on some of the Impressionist and the Lyme school via Frank DuMond.

craigstephens said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
craigstephens said...

I have an easier time using this approach to painting when I'm doing a still life. I think it's because there are actual "things" to paint. I can do the pear or the hammer or whatever and then move on to the next object and then the background etc. With a landscape it seems like the space is the "thing" and that mostly fills the whole picture plane so I find myself typically starting with darker values and then going from there, which I think is probably a more common approach in this day and age. I like the finished result of this and I can see the value of shaking up whatever method we commonly use and may be stuck on. I'll have to give this a try next time I'm feeling brave and experimental! Thanks again.

Shawn Escott said...

Nicely done!! I often wondered about this technique. I've been painting so long where I block everything in first with big shapes and then work down to smaller more refined shapes. It looks like fun to do this and change it up a bit. Great work!

Dianne Mize said...

Interesting and you do it well, but I'd go stark, raving mad.

Andrew Wales said...

We were always taught not to paint that way. I think if artists who don't have the chops you do try this and usually don't pull it off. A lot of amateur artists work look like it was painted area by area but there is no unity. My theory is that because of experience you have a vision of where it's going and can have a unified piece.

Keni said...

Looks like rural Brazil. Brings back fond memories.

mirko said...

Do you know that pochade use in the photo?

Gurney is a Master!

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I smiled when I got to the last comment! Such is the luck of the plein air painter! :)

I can't do area by area, it's the whole thing or nothing with me - but I do like seeing you try new things.

Erik Bongers said...

I second Andrew Wales' comment.
I also think experience is required or you'll get lack of unity with this technique.

stephen erik schirle said...

haha, the gnat. great stuff, as always.

Eric Orchard said...

When you do landscapes do you so much preliminary drawing first? I find I'm always unhappy with the results of just laying out colour right away with no under-drawing. Was this just an experiment?

adebanji said...

Discovered your blog today from "making a mark" - I have fallen in love with all your stuff! This landscape is POWERFUL!

James Gurney said...

Adebanji, thanks for your compliments. I'm glad you're enjoying the blog.

Eric, I rarely do careful preliminary drawing for oil painting, but I try to measure the elements and place some accurate anchor points. With a watercolor painting I tend to do a more comprehensive preliminary drawing.