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.
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.