I do think it is important that regardless of an approach that a painting is plausible or maybe it becomes plausible with time as we begin to experience the work as the artist did in its creation. This means if there is a recognizable hill in a painting that has a recognizable road then it is reasonable to expect that it would be drivable.
Hence came about the resolution to a recent painting problem when I was working on EARLY SPRING MUIR BEACH OVERLOOK CALIFORNIA. I had about 20 reference images and I printed four before I started working.
I was nervous about my intuition for this painting. The landscape is hardly known to me. Though I stood there for a long time trying soak in all the information I could. Though I had my photography sketch type images, I still wasn’t really sure if I understood or if I knew this place in my bones. I had not witnessed year after year of subtle seasonal changes. But also I question my ability because the California landscape does not have the cool clear blues of its northern sisters. The haze and atmosphere are warm and rich – almost buttery, even in early spring. There is a constant taste of chalk with a hint of salt on the air in this drought-ridden geography. I must learn a new palette, possibly even a new approach. I do not know this landscape even as my rain forest hair registers a more waif-like wisp on the sea breeze. I want to know it though. I listen and peer as if learning a foreign language. I am hypersensitive a I prepare to paint All my sensory recorders on high alert. What I can not discern, I must guess. I am doubtful of my ability to read the body language of this landscape with my brush where words and understanding fail me. But I must try. I painted the ground a week ago and this morning I start.
After a few quick lines to help guide me through the composition I start blocking the painting in. I knew there was a strong underlying difference between sky and sea. They were not the same family of blue though a slight reflective element on the sea connected them on the surface. So I started there.
For future reference there is a dirt road on the first hill above the beach. At this point, it is not so bad for being accurate. So far so good. I finish blocking in the landscape. That blob of white is just a reminder to put in a sea stack later on. But look what happened to the road. In my mind’s eye I wanted the road to go to the beach. I am not aware of my mistake and continue on with this lively work which is already breathing on its own.
Several hours later, I am disappointed and frustrated but I must leave it to rest. I am physically tired from a full day of painting and unable to comprehend what needs to be done. Here is where the painting rested until after dinner.
I sat and looked at it while my husband said over and over “it was fine – just leave it alone.”
But something was very wrong. Something was bugging me. I sat on the stair steps and gave the painting that was resting on the windowsill across the room my full attention. Finally, I saw the problem. There were no switchbacks on the bottom of the hill. It was not navigable. I leaped up, scramble the stairs to the loft and my reference images. Sure enough I had moved the road! It need to go farther up the side of the hill as it didn’t lead to the beach at this point at all. With a few quick brushstrokes everything is made right in the wet paint. I can then see other work that needed to be done but I wait until the next morning.
After waiting for daylight, I turned my loose brushstrokes onto the canvas with clarity. The rocks on the foreground hill picked up their natural brightness above the trees. However the cottages remain missing by design.
I added highlights to the sea and scaled back the far hills where San Francisco sits unnoticed in the distance.
It is a private view for the viewer alone to savour. The road denotes a connection to civilization that does not intrude on the landscape. I feel I have been true to place and true in using all of lessons of those painters who have gone before me. At the same time, I have registered something of my own unique vision. This is not a small task to accomplish and one I may question both for its relevance and its success on another day. But for today, let’s enjoy the view shall we!
EARLY SPRING MUIR BEACH OVERLOOK CALIFORNIA 18 x 24 inch oil on wood with 1.5 inch cradle.
The work needs to dry and then have its final photograph but I am fairly confident that the painting is finished.
And do feel free to take a drive along that dirt road. I am sure you will find it quite satisfactory.
When was the last time you couldn’t see something that was right in front of you?
© 2015 Terrill Welch, All rights reserved.
Liberal usage granted with written permission. See “About” for details.
Creative Potager – Visit with painter and photographer Terrill Welch
From Mayne Island, British Columbia, Canada
For gallery and purchase information about Terrill’s photographs and paintings go to http://terrillwelchartist.com
8 thoughts on “If a painter decides to paint a recognizable hill with a road then it best be drivable”
All that and more for a road to the beach… Truly amazing process!
Thanks Jeff. I had to laugh at myself once I figured out what I had done. It was a good chunk of work but we made it!
Terrill — You know that THIS type of post (blow-by-blow description) is my very favorite! It offers us readers the opportunity to step inside your head and heart for a moment and experience the wheres and whyfores through your artist eyes 🙂
I know Laurie that these are your favourite post of mine and I do try and do them as often as I can. But painting often gets in the way of recording the process. But happy to accommodate when I can. All the best of today to you my friend!
What a beautiful entry this is. I have already fallen in love with the first paragraph. I could spend hours only thinking about this. Honestly, it’s the third time I read your entire entry and I believe, tonight*, I got the point. I suppose that the one or other will say “it’s a normal sentence; she only wants to say that if we paint then it should look acceptable, recognisable”. No, this isn’t what you wrote. This road means something in your picture, and it drives your picture.
I had to save two of your pictures otherwise I wouldn’t have had a chance to see the differences in that way as I can do it when I go for and back, for and back. I spent seriously 10 minutes going for and back between the “4-muir-beach-…_04_26-031” and the “early-spring-…_04_27-057”. I will have a look again over the weekend (and of course delete your pictures from my desktop).
* I’m in the UK if your server tells you something different.
Hello Ben, Yes you show as in the UK and no worries about having the imaged downloaded. I give permission for personal use of the my photographs. What an honour to have you spend such a dedicated amount of time reviewing my process. You are right of course – this road means something and is important to the the intent and result of the painting. Enjoy your exploration! And maybe if I had been clearer in my righting it wouldn’t have taken three reads 😉
I can’t exactly remember if you visited some national galleries during your staying in Europe last year. You know that some of the famous paintings are owned by museums and shown once in a life time to the public. You will always find a crowd of people in front of these paintings. If you asked each of the visitors why they have come, most of them would probably have to say, “I’m here because everybody told me it’s important and so I thought, I have to see it”. If you asked them what they got from looking at this painting, they will eventually describe the technique that was used to paint it.
There are very rare occasions that I can discover more in a text and I need to be ready for this. That’s why I’m grateful when I can read a text three and more times. 🙂
I did go to museums when we were in Europe Ben and I know exactly what you mean. I am still researching some of the artists and reading about the particular paintings that I saw during our travels. Fortunately, I took good notes of name of artists and titles such of works I wanted to know more about. There are some I missed or that I can’t find any more information on but for the most part it was a good strategy.