Sunday, May 17, 2009

Red Trim

I fully intended to add another post long before now. What can I say--IT"S SPRING! The flowers are blooming, there are berries coming on, and fruit developing on the trees--all outside my studio window. Add the occasional chipmunk, and you can see why it's been tough to stay focused on painting!
I've been working on another vertical painting--same tall skinny format--but this time I'm exploring the minimal light and abundant shade in this early morning scene. I began with the Golden Section again, placing the shapes to their best advantage--stretching, shrinking, and omitting as needed. The first image shows a reference photo, the compositional sketch, and the initial blocking in on a textured panel, primed with Pyrrole Orange paint. What struck me about this scene was the strong (although small) pattern of sunlight on the silos, roof, and some trees. The vantage point, in deep shade, also creates an interesting feeling of confinement--before opening up into the courtyard. These are the elements that will drive the painting. Although mostly structures, I'm trying to confine even the landscaping and vegetation to solid shapes.

The main challenge with this subject was fine-tuning the value relationships. Since there isn't all that much distance from the foreground slate pathway, to the top of the silos, a sound relationship of values is critical to making the lighting situation work.

Using the Golden Section as a way to organize the major shapes, helped create a composition that was pleasing to me. I thought that was going to be the hard part! Constantly checking and double-checking the values proved to be a much more difficult process--keeping the color as lively as possible without undermining the value patterns. With so much going on in the scene, it was critical that everything feel like it was part of the same lighting--the same quiet place.
Red Trim. 24 x 12". Pastel on panel.

As a side note, I was sent a sample of a new fixative recently, and was asked for some feedback. So I was testing the product on this painting. It worked great!--and I'm normally not a fan of fixative. Non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and no apparent changes to my color layers--I think it's a winner. It's SpectraFix from

Until next time...


  1. Very effective use of values, definitely. I'm just curious about your color choice of the barn. What is your rationale for choosing a green?

  2. I used green because it was green. Obviously it's an odd color to use, and I could have easily changed it. But the more I considered how it linked to the foreground, I decided to keep it. There's also a very subtle but effective use of violets layered over both warm and neutral greens on the barn--it works well to push the barn back without unlinking with the foreground. This subtle feature doesn't come through with this low-res image. Using green here also provided the opportunity to use the color in a very different context. I don't think I've ever done a green structure before--greens are always vegetation. So keeping it here gave me a lot of ideas about layering greens that I'd never get doing plants. Hope that's helpful.

  3. Thanks... I knew there had to be a valid reason - and presto! You are the master of color temperature. I'll keep the layering trick in mind.

  4. Susan,
    Cherrie and I agree: "Red Trim" is gorgeous!! The subtlety of highlights, especially along the top edge of the closest building, directs viewers into-- and through--the painting. Your photo reference and sketchbook deliberations are most enlightening!!! Keep on, enjoy spring (we plant the garden today, having waited out late frosts, with this AM temp at 38 degrees), and safe journey.

  5. Your blog is wonderful! Thank you for sharing your creative process with us, I'm humbled. And waiting with bated breath for your next entry.