A Labor of Love…?
This waterfall has been two years in the making (started in 2019 and finished 2022). Was it a labor of love? Or something else?
In 2019, I went on a safari trip to South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana and came back incredibly impressed with Victoria Falls and enamored of waterfalls in general. Based on some of my many pictures, I started painting. At first, two small paintings, which were okay but more representational than I wanted. I thought of them as practice … getting the kinks out.
With them behind me, I was ready for a bigger waterfall. My biggest canvas (at the time) was 30×20. Vertical, it seemed perfect for a waterfall. Ahh, hubris! My first attempt was fortunately lost(I didn’t take a picture and barely remember what it looked like). My second attempt (painted on top of the first) went from the rack at the Art Students League to my easel at home during the Pandemic, where it languished, untouched, for about a year. I had no idea what to do with it. It was okay. It even looked like a waterfall … just not the one I wanted.
When the League reopened, it returned along with my hope that I’d figure something out. Two months later, I decided the solution was to paint the underlying rocks first and then the falling water on top. So I painted the rocks.
The middle of June, I added the water.
But everything was vertical (look at a real waterfall…it’s not just vertical). It needed a diagonal somewhere.
Fast forward to early July (I’m skipping a few steps) …
Skipping a few more steps and putting the finishing touches on at home, et voila! The final version, or The Nth Waterfall.
So it was definitely a labor of love. Though in the middle there was a lot of frustration and certainly a lot of temptation to gesso over it and start fresh. But the waterfall in my mind just wouldn’t give up.
Sunrise = Sunset
Have you ever noticed that sunrises and sunsets look alike? Sometimes you only see sunsets (as I do), or sometimes you only see sunrises (as a friend of a friend who lives in Brooklyn does). But when you look at the photos we take, you can’t tell which is which. (Ditto for the paintings I create based on those photos.) It all depends on which way your windows face. Mine face west, his face east. Sunrise = sunset. They look the same.
And here are some examples. If you don’t look at the titles, would you know which was which?
There are more, but I rest my case. Sunrise = Sunset.
I liked it afterall
It took me a little longer than I thought, but I did finally continue the painting I mentioned in my last blog post. You know, the one that was talking to me. And I decided that I liked it afterall. I didn’t want to “fix” it.
So I intensified the trees a little but left their jagged edges and focused on the path and the shadows. It was painstaking work to keep some edges smooth and have some just be a little soft (jagged), but redoing the whole painting was no longer an option. I made the sky a little more of that soft green…
So I think it’s done … at least for now. Who knows? Maybe the next time I look at it, it will talk to me again.
It’s talking to me …
Any artist worth her salt will say the painting “talks” to her. No beginning artist really understands. “Talks?” But it’s true and I have a current example. It’s talking to me …
I have a photo taken in Antigua which I love. I’ve wanted to paint it for years: the shadows on the path, the light shining through the trees … It’s a very complex landscape so I decided to do a sketch to try and avoid some of the pitfalls. Here’s the cropped and greatly simplified sketch.
Without thinking about it too much (my first mistake), I sketched it very lightly on a 18×14 piece of raw canvas taped down to a larger piece of foamcore. Using fluid acrylic only slightly thinned with water, I started to paint the land next to the path and noticed that getting hard edges was going to be difficult. Well, duh. The painting was already starting to “talk” to me.
But I was committed, so I started on the trees with fluid acrylic thinned with a lot more water, since I wanted it to be fairly light to start. I would make it darker with additional layers of paint. By now the painting is fairly “screaming” at me.
What should have been nice smooth edges simply weren’t. Taking a deep breath, I decided to “listen.” I stopped and let it dry.
Background: I paint on raw canvas with thinned fluid acrylic because I like the soft- (in some cases non-) edges, the atmospheric effect. And because I wanted that effect for the leafy part of the trees, I ignored the difficulty I was going to have with the branches and tree trunks, the ground and path, and the shadows.
So this isn’t a made-for-tv story with a happy ending … at least not yet. I confess I kinda like this jagged edges effect and I certainly right now have no idea how I’m going to make this work. I could continue as is with all the edges being jagged, and see how that turns out. Or I can try to “fix” the edges, but that involves matte medium and a lot of work. It’s going to take a lot of thought (what I should have done at the beginning, since I know how unforgiving raw canvas is and how hard it is to correct mistakes).
So I’ll think about it over the weekend and then decide. It certainly would have been better/easier if I’d “listened” to the painting at the beginning.
Why should waterfalls be so hard?
I’ve been fascinated by water for years: water flowing around rocks in a stream, waves and ocean currents, foamy water alongside a boat … and ever since my trip to Victoria Falls in Africa in 2019 … waterfalls. But none of my waterfall paintings are satisfying to me. The effects I want continue to elude me. Why should waterfalls be so hard?
I started with a fairly representational painting of Victoria Falls in 2020:
Next came a bigger painting of Victoria Falls, more abstract, just focusing on the movement of the water itself. Fortunately or unfortunately, I never took a picture of it and it has undergone several iterations since then. It’s still not finished.
Then I decided to test some different techniques in smaller paintings, just to see what might work. In one, I put the rocks down first using a palette knife and molding paste, then added the “water.”
That didn’t quite do it. It wasn’t clear if it were snow or water.
So I tried again, and this time it looks more like Victoria Falls, more powerful, but still not abstracted enough, still not what I wanted.
So I decided to try to really paint a more abstracted waterfall, more like the beautiful ones I saw in Iceland. Having used most of my creativity for the painting itself, I simply called it Falling Water.
This is much better, but still no cigar.
And, of course, the 3rd (but not final) version of my 2020 waterfall painting is still sitting on the rack at the Art Students League waiting for me to finish it. One of these days (months? years?) I’ll know how to do that.
In the meantime, I don’t have the answer to my original question: Why should waterfalls be so hard? (shrug) They just are.
It’s been a struggle
This painting has had many iterations. I’ve thought it was finished twice before. It started as a reaction to the devastating forest fires in California and slowly morphed into a view of Mt. Etna, first on the left side of the painting, and then on the right. You could say it’s been a struggle.
First, the California fires …
True, it was mostly about the smoke and the red glow in the sky, but it needed a focus.
Next, Mt. Etna on the left …
That was better, but I still didn’t like the divisions in the sky.
So… finally …
Now, instead of just emphasizing the fiery sky, I beefed up the mountain on the right, pushed it back with the smoke and emphasized the fading light with the title.
It took two months start to final finish. What a struggle!
Shows you what I know …
Back in November, I thought I’d finally finished a fiery painting prompted by the California wildfires and a recent visit to Sicily: Afterglow. There were hours and hours of painting reds, and blues, and Payne’s Gray. And then I finally added many more layers of gray and white to make the mist. I liked it. I thought it worked. It hadn’t turned out as I originally intended, but that’s often the case. I thought it was done. Shows you what I know!
Here’s the original painting.
I took a picture of it and posted it on my website. But every time I looked at it, something was bothering me. I couldn’t figure out what it was. Plus I was really tired of working on it. So I shrugged and put it away. And started working on the next painting: Misty Morning.
Whenever I come back from a vacation trip I always return with hundreds (thousands?) of photographs and lots of ideas for new paintings. My recent trip to Sicily was no exception and the slopes of Mt. Etna were inspirational. Misty Morning was started. I liked the colors in an earlier Mt. Etna painting (Before the Rain) so I decided to repeat them (sorta). The slopes of Mt. Etna were a purplish black with patches of drying yellow oxide grasses showing through. In Misty Morning, the black and yellow oxide were more evenly balanced and hard edged. And therein lay the problem: it didn’t look like something in nature; it looked like a graphic poster, too stylized. I tried softening some of the edges, but I couldn’t seem to make a dent in the overall effect. (Have I mentioned recently that watered down acrylic on raw canvas is very unforgiving?)
The only solution I could think of was to intensify the mist to soften most of the edges. (BTW, I’ve spent many hours studying the mist that often partly obscures the Palisades Cliffs outside my window in the morning.) And, many many layers of watered down titanium white later, it worked.
Now that’s what one of Etna’s slopes looked like on a misty morning. Success!
But that success made me go back and rethink my previous painting, Afterglow. And I suddenly knew what I had to do: make the smoke more prominent, more like the mist in Misty Morning.
Easier said than done, of course. But many layers of thinned titanium white later, the smoke in Afterglow pulls it all together. Whew.
And I had thought it looked finished before. … Actually, I’m not sure it’s finished now. Shows you what I know.
I’m not a scientist …
Lord knows, I’m not a scientist … anything but. But when I wasn’t sure how to paint the image I had in my mind, I knew it was time for an experiment. I’d been painting with watered down acrylic on raw canvas to achieve a misty, atmospheric effect. I knew that was what I wanted for this image, but for some reason was uncertain of how it was going to work. So I decided to experiment and try it on a smaller piece of raw canvas…
As I’ve done many times, I tore off a sheet of canvas from a canvas pad. One side is gessoed and the other is raw; I simply paint on the back, or raw, side. When I taped it down to the foamcore board, I had to check to make sure I was taping the gessoed side down. And then when I put down the first water wash, it wasn’t acting like raw canvas … but I shrugged it off.
Since the image in my mind was almost monochromatic shades of gray, I decided to mix my own gray from Ultramarine Blue, Naphthol Red and Cad Yellow. Tested on paper, it looked good. I could make it lighter or darker by adding water (or not).
My first few strokes of gray on the wet canvas told me this would be a whole new experiment. Obviously, this wasn’t raw canvas. The paint was simply swimming around too much, like watercolor on Yupo. Clearly the manufacturer had gessoed both side of the canvas. To make matters worse, as I watched, the gray paint started to separate into its component colors. Was that because of the smooth gessoed surface? Was it the water? No clue.
I also had no clue what to do with what I had done so far. So I let it dry. Well, nothing ventured nothing gained, I picked it up the next day and tried to continue the painting. When I painted on top of the initial strokes, the paint didn’t swim around so much … and also didn’t separate so much.
Watercolor on Yupo years ago yielded some wonderful effects; this I wasn’t liking so much. About to write it off as a failed experiment, I had to reconsider when two artists whose opinions I value, said the painting “worked.”
Bottom line: It’s never going to be my favorite painting. And, though it was an experiment, I’m not sure what I learned, other than to avoid putting water-thinned acrylic on gessoed canvas. Oh, and to double check the surface itself. The self-mixed gray? I may try it again, next time on raw canvas, to see what happens.
Waste Not Want Not
This is a “waste not want not” story with a vengeance. Not only am I sporadically trying to use up the gessoed canvases I bought long ago before I became enamored with raw canvas, but I actually grabbed a canvas that an unknown artist at the Art Students League had thrown out (it sat next to the garbage bin for hours). Somehow I just couldn’t let it go to waste.
At home, I gessoed over the other artist’s work (it was pretty bad, so I understood why it had been tossed) and decided to paint something so it wouldn’t go to waste (and also so I wouldn’t have yet another white gessoed canvas with nothing on it to look at).
So the “gift” canvas painting turned into a memory of white water rafting down a fast moving river with a lot of big rocks. Fun. Scary, Exhilarating. I miss that carefree adrenalin rush.
I was on a roll, so I decided to tackle another gessoed canvas, one of my own raw canvas paintings I had hated and decided to gesso over so it didn’t get wasted. This time, I was reminiscing about my recent California trip to see my new grandson over Thanksgiving and the summers I spent on Fire Island. (There really is a connection: the balmy California weather made me think of summer on Fire Island, and the weather reports from New York of snowfall added snow to the beach scene.)
In both paintings, I use tube acrylic and fluid acrylic with a bristle brush to convey the wind. What started as an experiment at the beginning of the Pandemic is now almost my usual approach to painting, at least when I am home, working on gessoed canvas. It always takes me a little time to shift gears from working with watered down acrylic paint on raw canvas (at the Art Students League) to painting with a bristle brush on gessoed canvas (at home).
It’s never where I want it
My first week back at the Art Students League and although I returned with a locker’s full of supplies, I still managed to forget a key paint color (or two). Now, back at home getting ready for a two week vacation to Sicily (getting Covid tests, deciding what to pack, packing, throwing out stuff I’d forgotten I had), I was getting twitchy because I wasn’t painting. All my stuff was at the League. Somehow, it’s never where I want it.
Except of course, for the tubes of paint and palette knives I’d left at home. Oh, and among the things I’d forgotten I had were some 4×6 and 5×7 blank cards left over from a long ago printer. Well, waste not want not. I decided to use what I had.
Three little minis later …
By now you’re starting to figure out what tubes of paint I had left at home …
Maybe waste not want not isn’t such a bad idea. And who says everything always has to be where you want it?