This article is the second in a series of “studio visits” about the development of my current series “In Sunlight” (2010 – 2011). Nearly all the pieces in this series are mountain subjects. Find out more about the paintings in this series in Part 1 – Genesis of a Series and Part 3 – Beyond Value with “Border Peak in Sunlight”.
December Peak, 2010, oil on gessoed Arches watercolor paper, 10 x 10 inches.
All of my paintings begin with an observable phenomenon that inspires a visual idea. This subject, Pinnacle Peak as seen from Paradise on Mt. Rainier, interested me enough to take a photograph, but it wasn’t until more than a year later that I saw a potential composition — a narrow selection that would focus on the bold patterns of light and shadow on the side of the peak.
The white box in the photo shows the portion of the overall subject that would become my composition. By exerting a very limited focus — and eliminating anything that didn’t directly support the design — I actually increased the focus on the patterns that are of greatest interest to me.
Above left: I often generate digital studies which let me explore a variety of approaches very quickly. A series of filters applied in Photoshop distorts the subject and begins to suggest its abstract qualities. It also tests the idea of using more heightened color to suggest the sunlight on the mountain, instead of the white in the photo. Although the blue of the mountain’s shadow is quite radiant, I am curious to see if I can pull off using warmer colors.
Above right: Initially, I thought this would be a one session painting, so the initial block-in is fairly painterly. From the start I am thinking about the value and temperature differences between the light and shadow areas. How light in value can the shadow side be? How much color can be infused into the sunlit areas?
Above left: In the next stages, I continue to modify the colors. I know the result I want, but I’m not entirely sure how to get there, so a little experimentation is necessary. I also continue to build up the surface texture. The initial layer of thick paint, plus the texture of the cold press paper, helps with this.
Above right: By the final stage, I’ve spent a good deal of time refining the shapes to help suggest movement and the upward thrust of the diagonal light plane. To bring the light and shadow zones into alignment, I allowed them to share color: small hints of yellow in the shadow portion, and small hints of cool in the light portion, help unify the two areas of color. Thus, they are comprised of similar colors but in differing proportions.
Below, a detail from the bottom middle portion of the painting shows the surface texture.
Additional Resources from Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice
Color Mixes for Light and Shade, page 112