Wild, Wild, West, 48x30
It always helps if I have actually painted on location and done a few plein air sketches before I start a work in the studio from a photo. That is the case here. This image is from a trip to Cheyenne, Wyoming two years ago. The photo is fine, but I remember so much more about this scene because I painted there all day.
I remember standing there in the flowing wild flowers on crisp gray day and thinking how beautiful the colors were. That happens a lot. Colors in nature look so much more colorful on a gray day. The sun is not washing out the color. This is proof positive that painting subjects with strong light patterns is not the ONLY way to go! It also tells me that if I use grays in my painting, the passages of color will appear more vibrant. Two lessons in one.
Because I wanted to add more distance to the piece, I worked to develop a thumbnail sketch using several images until I discovered that painting in a vertical format would be best. That is certainly not what first comes to mind when we think large, vast, landscape now is it?
After the thumbnail sketch is made, I lightly sketch the same design onto a stained canvas. Because there was so much lavender in the field, I stained the canvas in pale violet. Next, I added calligraphic style brush work with very thin paint. The color, in this case, was what you might describe as burnt sienna although I mixed the color myself using orange plus a little more red and violet.
I need to double check to be certain that the design matches my original thumbnail, is true to the intent of my idea, and that no divisions of space are exactly equal. Two of the spaces on the lower right are very close to the same size, so I will adjust those a bit as I move along. By sketching this in, I have placed my darkest accents first! This is key. Make them a bit larger than you need so that you can carve the lighter masses around them and only leave tiny bits showing.
Moving to fill with large masses, I start with the mid-darks (oddly enough, those are in the background... not what you might have expected) and paint in the distant hillside.
Continuing to build the big masses here, but because the canvas is a little larger, I do this a bit less deliberately than you might think. Here you see what appears to be drippy, sketchy, stuff. But really, I'm just getting it covered with the something close to the local color.
I need to block in the mass for the sky. You can do one of two things here... fill it with one single color and then model it with a second; or go ahead and mix two colors that are the same value (side by side on your palette to double check the value relationship) and paint a gradation of color into the mass.
Now I'll do the same with the remaining mass on the ground plane. On my palette, side by side, I mixed two different colors of green that are in the same value range. NOTE: I would like to explain the reason I put the sky in BEFORE I painted in this land mass. I wanted to double check that I had left the correct number of steps in value between the top, lighted surface of the ground and the sky. Many times I paint the sky mass last.
Here I have starting painting my greens, alternating and mixing a little on the canvas as I go. Just like with the sky, I am skipping a step that, if you are just beginning, you should be extraordinarily careful about doing. That is, if you have a tendency to make your masses too contrasty (they feel jumpy and busy), fill in the entire shape with one color of green and then go back and model with the second. With some practice, you will be able to do it this way instead.
See how the ground plane is starting to develop? The darker mass in front is still mostly serving as the darkest parts of the grass and wild flowers. Watch now what happens when I apply the top grasses and foremost wildflowers.
The last of the foreground is painted in with the beautiful lavender that was growing there. The original stain of lavender also shows through in many places. I carve AROUND those large patches of yellow primrose and make them a little smaller... more individual looking as they come forward.
The final piece (see the first image at top) is taken under corrected-lighting conditions. The images from the demonstration were taken as I painted on my easel.
Watch the entire painting develop in this video.