These were some of my notes from a few months ago, prior to this blog being established, so bear with me as I bring things up to date:
1. After several months away from my paints while I set up my studio in my new home in Las Cruces (not to mention a long break traveling to see family over the holidays), I was ready to begin work for the Wide Bay / High Desert exhibition. The painful first step was trying to decide what subjects to paint. I intend to do at least two large works on paper, so wanted my first painting to be bold and relatively simple so I don’t bog down and fail to meet the exhibition deadlines. This is non-trivial, as my more realistic watercolors can take a month or more to complete. The last large-format painting took me over two years, so I was a bit anxious not to get in that kind of rut again. Since I moved to the Southwest US last July, I’ve been collecting many, many images of subjects I would love to paint. This area is highly inspiring for a landscape colorist like myself (that’s a Dave-label, so don’t go running for your art history books). It was time to get serious. I laid out some of my favorite options on the dining table and let the inner voices speak to me.
2. I ultimately chose an image of the Three Rivers Trading Post as my subject matter, cropping down to focus on the white-washed stucco walls of the odd, conical tower structure at one end, contrasted against the dark blue desert sky. A tall signpost nearby cast an odd shadow on the tower, perfectly aligning with the window to create an unusual abstraction. I sized and cropped to match a frame on hand at BRAG, in the event that I can reuse this frame for the exhibition. My technique usually involves making a very rudimentary grid on a computer printout of the image, and transferring the areas I want to paint in loose freehand drawing onto the paper, in this case a full sheet of Arches cold press. Only a few reference lines are needed as I want to keep free in my painting.
3. I then lay on the first few layers of paint, allowing some wiggle room for adjusting the detail layers to follow. Like Kenneth MacQueen, one of Australia’s great watercolorists of the last century, I like to start with the sky in my landscapes. I try to put at least some paint on most of the paper for this first painting session to maintain a relatively constant value set as I proceed. I like the first results, and the work has immediate impact. But this is normal. Later stages will surely depress me as I build up my detailed layers. Usually it isn’t until the last session or two that I feel good again. But for now, I can be happy that I’m back painting again!