“Moonlight Spartina” emerges

26 September 2010

Once the values are established, I can both see and feel the painting. The underpainting provides the bones of the composition, and, if the painting has good bone structure, then adding layers of color is like dressing the perfect model. The sky, with the hazy full moon, is the dominant element of the painting, and, while I work on all areas of the painting in any given stage, the sky comes to completion first. To give the sky some depth I include a raft of clouds. Cloaked in a warmer gray, the clouds are edge-lit by the moonlight, and they also provide a sense of movement to the sky.

The sky comes to completion

When the sky is realized, I begin to pull the landscape beneath it into color and resolution. The background trees are soft-edged, and the marsh grasses reflect back some of the moon’s light. I work toward the foreground, adding more texture to the grasses, and more of their local warm brown color. The middle ground trees, temporarily swallowed by the painting of the sky, are redefined. The big pine, standing alone on the right, is treated to greater detail to give it a character of its own. (Every tree is, indeed, a unique living being, and I love to paint them as individuals.) As I work my way toward the foreground, I delineate some of the grass stalks, making them tall enough to give the feeling of myself being almost at water’s level, down into the landscape.

"Moonlight Spartina" completed

As a nocturne, the hues in this painting are subdued, and lean toward the cool side of color temperature. The moon, and the foreground spartina grasses, provide the warmer notes to balance the composition. The moon, of course, has pride of place; it is Earth’s dance partner as well as the choreographer of the tides on our living world, tides that make the saltmarsh the wonderfully and elementally wild place that it is.

Moon Dance

5 September 2010

Translating ideas and emotions into art is a slow dance with brushes and paint. The choreography, however, is seldom a beautiful thing in itself. The first steps can appear quite clumsy and crude. A pristine white canvas is brushed over with broad washes of a warm burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and a burnt sienna/ultramarine blue mixture I call my “basic dark”. For a nocturne, this is not a quick process, since the temptation is to go too dark and too cool, and I must be deliberate in preserving some warm, medium, and light values. In a sense, I am letting my eyes adjust to the nocturnal marsh that I am creating as I create it.

Moonlight Spartina: establishing values with broad washes

The full moon is the center of interest, and the brightest part of the composition. I give it an underpainting of white, much as a portrait painter would do for the face of her subject. The moon is balanced by the dark pine tree, reaching up into the sky on the right side of the composition. The curl of water through the marsh grasses leads me into the landscape from the foreground.

Moonlight Spartina: refining values

Values are refined, especially the bright moon

At this stage, the painting does not look like anything one would put into a frame and hang on the wall. It is, however, ready for the more refined dance moves that involve color and texture- – where the magic begins.

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