February 18, 2017

"The Mill in Winter" day 2

I got to the NGA yesterday just before it opened, and was set up and ready to paint by 10:30. I started the day by examining the original closely, and took several close-up photos of different areas. I don't know how well they convey on the computer, but take a look at Redfield's thick paint and brushwork:

 (click the images for a larger view)

Redfield's paint is thick and luscious. If you look closely at the wooded area, it looks like he painted the general shape of the woods, slathered the sky color and snow color on top, and then carved out the tree shapes, exposing the underpainting, and then painting the trees in also. (Back and forth.) But I know that he did this painting in one 7-hour session, so the underpainting would have still been wet. I also know (because it tells you on the NGA website) that it was so cold that his paint was frozen, and he had to use copious amounts of oil to get it to be malleable. My conditions in a room-temperature environment are of course different, so I don't know if I could duplicate his surface (even if I was skilled enough), but I'm trying.

I decided to start painting on the sky and work my way down. I purposely did NOT work on the bottom of the painting, because I didn't want the bottom edge to be wet. I don't want to take the chance of getting paint on the National Gallery's wood floors when I set the painting down, which I invariably have to do at some point. So I just concentrated on the top half of the painting today.

Well, I really didn't get very far. I got a lot of paint onto the sky area, but kept feeling like my sky is too dark. But when I lightened it up with more white, it still didn't look as bright and luminous as his. I also started to work on the woods, bringing sky color down between the trees. A lot harder than I thought it would be. I kept running out of my mixed piles of paint, mixed more, used it up in a few brush strokes, and never could build up any kind of thickness. I worked until noon, and took a long lunch (which also included a trip to the library in the East Wing to look at a book.)

After lunch I worked a bit more, and wrapped up around 3. Maybe next time I'll get bolder about using more paint. I think a trip to the art supply store is in order.

February 3, 2017

The Mill in Winter, day 1

Today I started a new copy, of "The Mill in Winter" by Edward Willis Redfield. You can see it on the National Gallery's website and read a fascinating description of the artist and his process by clicking here.

As I said in my last blog post, I chose this painting because it's a snowy winter scene, and it's winter now (although not snowy.) I have painted in the snow a couple of times, which was fun but cold! I decided to approach this copy as I would a real landscape painting, so I started on a totally blank canvas, instead of sketching it out ahead of time from a photo of the painting (which feels like cheating to me.)

I stretched my canvas 32" x 36", which is substantially smaller than the 50" x 56" original, but is still plenty big! It's been a long time since I've been able to get out and paint from the landscape - having a full-time job makes it difficult - so it took me quite awhile before I committed to putting some paint on that blank canvas. I started by mixing some of the colors I saw: a mid-tone lavender-gray, a darker warmer gray, a light blue-gray and yellow-gray, and slightly darker and greener grays for the water. I then measured and made tic marks on the canvas for where the important elements fell, checked and double-checked my measurements, all while being watched by groups of visitors - I felt pretty self-conscious standing there in the "artist's pose" of holding my brush handle at arm's length and squinting down my arm, but what else could I do? Several people took videos of me with their phones, but I tried not to notice.

I think copying somebody else's painting is harder than painting from life, because it's so easy to see where you have gone wrong. When you paint an actual landscape, people can't tell if you were accurate - it really doesn't matter, as long as the painting works. But when you make a copy, it has to be correct (unless you don't want it to be!). So I worked very hard at getting the composition laid in correctly before putting any areas of color down. (I use a brush with a medium value color to do the drawing.) I shifted my head into abstract mode, seeing the large shapes and how they interlocked. I was very out of practice so it took all morning. When I felt that I had gotten pretty close, and my stomach was starting to growl, I stopped for lunch. Here is the sketched out bones of the composition.

After lunch, I started laying the color in. I could see that Redfield had painted the areas of trees first and then worked the sky color down in between them, and then back to the trees, which is how I also work when I'm painting outdoors. I didn't get as far as he did (he painted this entire painting in one 7-hour session!!!), but I made inroads. I tended to leave the lightest (snowy) areas blank. Next time (maybe in two weeks) I hope to mix and use more paint. His is painted quite thickly. That's something I want to work on, using MORE PAINT.

I worked for about an hour after lunch, and stopped early. I was pretty tired, as you might be after running for miles when you haven't even been exercising. Here is my painting at the end of the day:

(click on the images for a larger view)