Studio Painting: “Under the Oak”

"Under the Oak" 18x24" acrylic.  This is a scene at Grace Ranch in the Spring
“Under the Oak” 18×24″ acrylic. This is a scene at Grace Ranch in the Spring

This painting has been in the back of my mind for a long time. I took a reference picture when I first started to plein air paint (2011?) and finally felt as if I could do justice to what I saw. Grace Ranch, a ranch now owned by my uncle, has been in the family for two generations now. There is a huge Live Oak on the low area of the property where a creek runs and longhorns that graze there. The oak’s massive limbs seem to snake their way randomly away from the trunk in what seems to defy gravity.  This year was a good year for rains just before Spring and set the stage for a full beds of bluebonnets.  I wanted to capture the rugged, fresh feel of Grace Ranch in the Spring with the combination of the oak, the longhorns and the bluebonnets,  making the center of interest the longhorns.

Here’s the reference picture:

Reference pic
Reference pic

In my first attempt, I had a really hard time setting the mood for the scene and remembered an article I’d just read describing how the artist does an accurate gray-scale charcoal drawing before starting the painting (and the painting was amazing).  So I used mix of black and white acrylics and attempted this as an under-painting.  I found that rather than thinking about color, I was focused on getting the design right, making sure the main objects stood out, adding objects and altering others to “tell the story” correctly.  It was like having a value map, with full detail, taking the pressure of making too many decisions when trying to find the right colors later.

Here’s the grey-scale under-painting (I painted over the previous attempt):


This is the grey scale underpainting that served as a "value map".
This is the grey scale under-painting that served as a “value map”.

It worked perfectly. Staying within the light/dark values on the map, I set in the colors and could see if they were off right away if the color was too light/dark.  It even kept me in line of staying away from too much detail where it isn’t needed.  In the end, it has the rugged feel with big oaks, dead limbs on the ground, yet a freshness of spring colors in the trees and on the ground. All the while, the center of interest in pointed toward the longhorns grazing in, what must be to them, a piece of heaving itself. (in the scene, they haven’t been butchered… just wanted to clarify).

Artist Chat:

I used Titanium White and Mars Black for the grey scale, then switched to Cobalt blue, Alizarin Crimson, Yellow Ochre, Titanium White, and Bunt Umber. I did use Mars Black sparingly in color mixtures too, but not much.  In the planning, notice the line of bushes point toward the longhorn, as does the line of bluebonnets on the right, and dead limb on the left.  The longhorns are the showcase, and the oak and bluebonnets support them.


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