Monday, April 10, 2017

Choosing an Interpretation

How do you keep from being overwhelmed by nature when you're painting in the wild?

When I start a session, I usually make some decisions right away about how to simplify a subject. Even if my goal is to capture the perspective and the forms pretty much as I see them, I often make some decisions about interpreting value and color. 

For example, here's the scene I'm looking at next to the gouache painting I do from observation:

I choose to flatten the tones of the far trees and translate the actual colors into more basic warm and cool colors, sacrificing a lot of blue and green.

I hoped that transposing the color scheme into this elemental range would capture my feeling about this farmyard surviving another winter, ready to awaken into spring.

I made another sacrifice as well. (Link to video) The only sketchbook I had with me was full, so I had to paint one sketch over another. Doing this requires "seeing through" the paper to the painting on the other side of it, and finding it all with the brush.
This video is a sample from "The Living Sketchbook, Vol. 2: Metro North," which releases one week from today. Check out the first volume, "Boyhood Home," available now at the App Store and Google Play.

“Gurney’s new "Living Sketchbook" app combines multiple creative disciplines (painting, writing, filming, audio) into one seamless artistic experience that anyone can use with ease. Well, done!”
Scott Burdick.


Mario said...

Painting an image over another one requires much confidence and skill, but has some advantages too. The painting looks interesting and thrilling from the very beginning; the new image slowly consumes the background, growing and evolving on top of the old image; you can simply suggest the bare minimum, because the painting already has a nice complexity. When you paint on a white surface, the first stages of the painting are often a bit ugly and poor.

James Gurney said...

Mario, what a magnificent description! Your words awoke a thought that was dormant in my mind. You are exactly right: that complexity does make the experience thrilling. In order to find the new painting on top of the old one, I find I have to "see through" the old painting to the finished image on the other side of it.

Mario said...

James, it's interesting that the same process can have different "shades". You say that you "see through" the old painting: this reminds me of Michelangelo who "saw through" the marble block and extracted the figure. I tend to consider the background as a biological "culture medium", where strange creatures are starting to grow; I try to spot them and develop these suggestions (works better when the old image is not completely different from the new one).
Either way, the process is really thrilling for the painter himself, but I suspect (and hope) that something is left in the finished image too.