Monday, January 26, 2009

Something Completely Different - PART I

The last two demos that I posted here were of aspen trees, so I thought it would be nice to mix things up a bit and post some in-progress shots of something different than my usual subject matter. I've been working on a commission of a scene from Monhegan Island, Maine, and since it's got some elements in it that are new to me, I thought it would be fun to talk through some of it here.

First of all, when I do commissions I typically insist on using my own on-location studies, sketches, and photographs. Rarely do I agree to do a commission from a collector's photos, unless I see them ahead of time and know I can work from them, and also know that the collector will allow me to call the shots artistically. I've worked with this particular client before, and know that he's willing to let me make the decisions that I need to make to paint a good painting. In this case, he sent me a CD with around 500 images from the island, and essentially let me go through the images and come up with a painting based on what I thought would be the most fun to paint.

After looking through the photos, I was drawn to a grouping of pictures of a sailboat and lobster boat in the late afternoon. The light in the photos wasn't optimal (skies too light, rocks and buildings too dark), but I loved the way the evening light was hitting the boats and water and knew I could make something of it with some tweaking.

I haven't actually been to Monhegan Island before, but I've spent some time in Maine, and a lot of time in Nova Scotia, so the landscape wasn't completely foreign to me. I remember spending an evening down by one of the bays in Nova Scotia with fading light and fog rolling in, and these pictures reminded me of that kind of evening. As I painted this, I kept that memory in my head, and exaggerated the colors in the landscape to set a similar mood. The photos were used to compose the image, but I relied more on memory and feeling when it came to making decisions about color and lighting.

So, the first thing I did was sketch out the general composition with charcoal. I haven't painted buildings in a long time, and I'm not sure I've ever painted boats, so I just wanted to indicate the size of everything before starting in with the paint. I wanted to move the horizon line up, move the buildings over a bit, and give the boats a bit more space, so the sketch allowed me to work out some of those issues.

Once the sketch was done, I started in on the sky. Since I wasn't copying the photo, I felt that the best way to set the mood for the piece was to get the sky painted in the color and value I wanted, and use that as a measure for everything else. From this point on, I was constantly asking myself if what I was painting was lighter or darker, or warmer or cooler than the sky. These decisions are important, because I didn't have a field study and the photo wasn't good enough to allow me to copy color and value.

I'm not following my sketch exactly at this point. If you look closely at where the sky is painted around the main building, you can see that I've chosen to move it to the right and decrease the amount of space between the two buildings. I felt like it was a bit distracting to have a big space there.

Once the sky was done and some of my darkest dark blocked in, I started to paint the dock and the buildings in the background. I was finishing as I went, putting on each brushstroke with the intent to leave it as it was. The dock and the buildings are old and weathered, so I had to make a conscious effort to make them look that way (lines aren't straight, posts are uneven, nothing is too smooth).

Once the buildings were finished, I moved on to the rocks and grass in the foreground. This part was a bit challenging because I kept wanting to paint the rocks like "Colorado" rocks. I had to remember that the rocks along the coast are a different color and shape than what I'm used to. Also, since the reference photo was very dark in this area, I had to pay attention and really compare my values and color temperature with the parts of the painting that were already complete.

I think I'll leave it there for now since this post is getting long. I'll post the rest tomorrow!


  1. I get excited when some one paints my home state. I've been to Monhegan and this is a sun rise photo, and you're doing fantastic realism. Most people would paint the Monhegan Inn or from the M I or from the light house or Black Head or Boats in front of Manana Island, so you switched it up. This months "Art collector" mag p34 shows Lipking and buds heading towards your gray shack. That's kinda cool timing.

  2. Well, looking good so far Stacey. But I have to say that I did a doubletake when I first saw this one. :) I wasn't expecting to see a lobster boat from Colorado!

    Hmmm, now can I do the Rockies? ;)

  3. Stacey:
    I love watching this painting come together - and you are right about the rocks in Maine - you are doing a great job on them. I live in Maine and your painting is really capturing the essence of the waterfront.
    The Figurative Realm of Mary Bullock

  4. Hey Stacey,

    The painting's looking good. I look forward to seeing it as you finish it. You're doing a nice job of getting a warm light and bringing some color into a grey photo. The sky color is really rich. I can't wait to see more of these progress photos.

  5. Hehe... I love how all these comments are from the folks who call (or used to call) Maine home! At least y'all haven't told me I'm way off track here!!

    Mark - yeah, I saw those photos and immediately recognized my shack. There were also a couple paintings in that show that look like they might be this same red lobster boat...

    Brian - I'd love to see you paint the Rockies!

    Mary - thanks so much. I'm glad that the locals seem to think this is looking okay =)

    Colin - yeah, I hate posting reference photos because I feel like everyone's comparing the painting to the photo, but I wanted to show that painting from photos shouldn't be about copying. I really had to improvise on the color here, even though the drawing was representational. I can only do that because I paint from life. And I'm not an expert at it by any means.