We've all got 'em, right? Plenty of "Old Turkeys" in our pile of past paintings. Well here's a little exercise you may find useful, when you can't get outside to paint. Pull out one of your older plein air studies that just didn't work. Especially an "Old Turkey" like this one. Ugh! (I'm almost too vain to show it to you.)
Anyway, the distance in time from having painted it, and the fact that you've probably learned a few things since then, make it a good subject for this process.
First, sit down with a pad and pen and make a list, critiquing your "Old Turkey" for everything you can find wrong with it. Don't get anyone else' opinion on whatthey think it needs. The point here is to work from what you know, things you've become aware of that you think will improve your work. From that list, make another that is your plan for how you will try to improve the "Old Turkey". Composition, focus, shapes, value plan, color, edges, paint quality, etc. Do some thumbnails, and make some notes about what you plan to do. I don't always use the same painting procedure but, here's how I handled this one.
Working quickly, and alla prima, just as if I were outdoors:
Step 1_ The "OT" seemed very crowded and poorly adapted to the 8x10 format, so I went to 9x12 to spread things out a bit. The "OT" had been done on one of my old gessoed panels that really drank up the paint. I decided to do this one on an oil-primed linen, since I love the way the paint can be moved around on that surface. I began by staining the linen with Transparent Earth Orange to provide a warm, neutral, mid-value for my three value plan.
Step_2 I thought the composition felt jammed-up and klutzy, so I introduced more of a feeling of openness with better size and variety relationships in the shapes. See how I made the tree on the left smaller? Now there's no question about which is the dominant tree. It also gets me a more interesting sky shape. Although I thought that I had tried to capture a coherent value plan back when I painted the "OT", it really didn't do anything for me, now. It felt random and disorganized. So, that's the reason I began this with a monochrome attempt to resolve those problems. I created the darks by adding some burnt umber, and wiped out with brush and rag to create the light areas. Very rough, no real drawing, everything soft edged.
Step 3_ The bright, garish color didn't do a thing for the painting, so I wanted to try using color to describe the bright light and depth of the scene. In this stage I'm not concerned with local color. I'm thinking about the warmth or coolness of sunshine and shade, along with the fact that warmer colors come forward and that distance generally renders them cooler, grayer and lighter. This step also shows me where I have the opportunity to juxtapose warm and cool colors, something I like very much.
Step_ 4 Now, I give attention to the local colors, but I will carefully adhere to my decisions about value and temperature relationships as I mix paint for each area. Beginning in the dark shapes, I introduce some deep local color and further develop the dark structure of the value pattern. Next, I connect the dark shapes with the mid-values. I want to lay these colors in with simple direct strokes, leaving bits of under-color showing through to give sparkle.
I'm also keeping in mind that I want to do a better job of establishing my focal area where the road bends under the big tree. So, I know I will be providing my darkest darks, lightest lights and greatest contrasts in color and edges in that spot. The photograph doesn't accurately show it, but at this point I am withholding placing darkest accents or brightest lights. The painting needs to be built on more closely contained values. Later, the accents and highlights will give it snap, like well chosen jewelry.
Step_ 5 (see the finished painting above) With the basis in place that forms the working relationships of the painting, I'm in a position to give some finishing attention. Checking out edges, mostly soft and lost, while reserving a few hard ones for the focal area. Popping in a few bright color sparks there, too. A bit of bold, fat paint is fun, and then some calligraphy to give scale and suggest a little detail.
As I was considering how successfully I had achieved my goals to improve my "OT", I saw I had created more feeling of deep space in this one, and I couldn't resist dropping in a few brushstrokes to suggest an old farm house and windmill back agains the hills. Done!
Try it yourself. I think you'll find it's a fun way to apply what you've learned since you painted the "OT" and build more confidence for your future efforts.
AROUND THE BEND
©Jimmy Longacre 2014
9x12 oil on canvas panel
subjective realist landscape paintings
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