Studio Painting: “Countryside Bluebonnets”

This will be a quick post, but wanted to share the most recent work done in the studio. If it looks slightly familiar, it’s because it is from a couple of past plein air studies and a bit of inspiration from a Clyde Aspevig painting all smacked together. Nice when that works out! I added some thick paint in areas of the foreground bluebonnets and let the detail fade away as it went to the background. Hopefully this will feel inviting, like stepping into the scene. I had an email from someone asking to buy artwork in the range this would sell at. Crossing my fingers!

I’m at a paintout near Ennis, TX with the Outdoor Painter Society,  texting this in my tent. Hope to meet some great artists tomorrow!


Plein Air: Springtime at Pergatory Creek Natural Area

Springtime at Pergatory Creek Natural Area (San Marcos, TX), 6 x 6.5", acrylic on paper
Springtime at Pergatory Creek Natural Area (San Marcos, TX), 6 x 6.5″, acrylic on paper

Last week I took only a pencil and paper to plein air sketch and re-learn to see the world in values (not colors). It really helped today. There was a very brief moment of sun around 3:30 and despite barely being able to put on my socks from a hurt back, I eventually found a comfortable postion in my truck and headed to Pergatory Creek Natural Area in San Marcos, TX. Hobbling from Dante’s Trail up to Nimrod Trail (all the trails are named after Dante’s Inferno series), I was amazed at how many college women were out jogging. I tried to straighten up and look manly, but then I sneezed wrenching my back and almost hit the ground. I gave up the manliness and hobbled to a spot that looked like it would be a good drawing. It had great contrast in values and, hey, it’s bluebonnet season. All painters know not to pass it up.

Quick 10 min sketch to see if it could be a good painting.
Quick 10 min sketch to see if it could be a good painting.

It had a nice design to it, so I re-drew it very quickly onto the acrylic paper and brushed Matte Media over it to seal the dry paper and sketch.  I also discovered that doing a pre-sketch helped to decide what format is best (rectangle in portrait, landscape, or more square).  That can make a big difference in the “feel” of the final painting.

Quick sketch onto the acrylic paper.
Quick sketch onto the acrylic paper.

With a solid sketch, and studying the scene, I was focused. I didn’t paint while saying,”How am I going to paint this?”, but just followed my own notes. My 6:00, it was done and that was a very good thing. Storm clouds rolled in blocking the sun and all the prancing college women darted down the trail to get back to the parking lot.  I kept a steady hobble pace and was glad the clouds of impending doom didn’t burst into a downpour.

The result under a thick blanket of clouds. If you look at the previous picture, you can see what it looked like before.
The result under a thick blanket of clouds. If you look at the previous picture, you can see what it looked like before.

Fun day! We’re studying values in the Virtual Art Academy online. No doubt now that it’s helping! I recommend it if you’re looking for a serious and structured way to learn.

Artist Chat: Titanium White, Ultramarine blue, Cad yellow hue, Orange, pthalo green, alizarin crimson red and yellow ochre. The pthalo green and alizarin crimson red make a very dark green-gray, which really made the light paddles of the cactus stand out. The yellow ochre, ultramarine and yellow made for the highlights in the cedars branches behind the cactus. I kept the cedar branches somewhat abstract because it was only supporting the main figures, which were the cactus and bluebonnets. It was tempting to make the grass much greener, but by muting it with some orange, it make the bluebonnet color pop a bit more. Oh, bluebonnets are actually a bit more purple than ultramarine, but I decided to keep it simple and just use mixes of ultramarine and white for the flowers.

Studio: “Springtime in the Hill Country”

30x40" Spring Time in the Hill Country. This is an imaginative scene of a clear water stream typical of the Hill Country.
30×40″ Springtime in the Hill Country. This is an imaginative scene of a clear water stream typical of the Hill Country.

I wanted to have a painting I could donate to the Arts Fulshear Art Walk that would have a good chance of selling, so I went for a Hill Country scene in the March – April time frame. This is when the live oaks are “shedding” and get that golden tinge, the bluebonnets go crazy and fields are marked with a mixture of golden and green grasses. However, the main focus that drives the scene, appropriately, is that fresh, clear spring water that runs over the limestone winding through the foreground past the oak and bluebonnets, twisting into the background.  I’ve seen the clear, shallow streams hundreds of times and it never gets old.

In trying to design this painting, I had great artists to learn from such as David Forks, Larry Dyke, Dalhart Windberg and others. In fact, in viewing their paintings the theme was to typical, I wondered if my work would become “clique” and just another one. So, I personalized it. I gathered up a few recent plein air works, sketched a rough design and went to it.

rough sketch for design
rough sketch for design
Here’s a few plein air works that contributed to the painting. (There were others as well) The one on the left is at Miller Springs, in the middle was the Balcone’s Escarpment in Nolanville, TX and the bluebonnet scene was on the top of that escarpment.  A true mash-up.

Taking on such a detailed painting, I had to think simple. With a paper towel and acrylic paint, I wiped on a lose sketch after the design (above). The tree was a cotton ball, the foreground was a green smear ect. Simple. Over four days, I’d paint, stand back, go away, come back and then paint like crazy. At one point, I realized I needed more information for a background, and took off on my bike to do the plein air sketch about three miles away of the Balcone’s Escarpment, (the pic above) then immediately returned to paint it in using the color sketch.  I’m sure from an outside view, it’d look like I have no direction or schedule, but every part of it is necessary.  It’s a true journey of the mind on canvas where you have a set start, then find the rest of the painting along the way.

I hope this will find a home at the Art Walk and through the money raised, help a few others to find some joy in their own art journey!

Update: I decided to add a “work in progress” series of photos because it may bring in some helpful tips/comments.  So here’s my thoughts as I worked through the painting:

This is the initial value design sketch to the point where the creek and tree meet as the center of interest
Onto the 30×40, blocking in loosely trying to keep the values in the design and cooler temps as the background recedes.
I didn’t have info from a good background, so I went to get color notes en plein air.
I added in the color notes, but made sure the lower the contrast to keep the center of interest on the foreground. Everything need to subordinate to the center of interest.
Thought about adding a barn, but it lead the eye off as a distraction. Maybe I could have muted the color, but I’d rather eliminate anything unnecessary.
Big changes: The slope of the hill bugged me. I needed the tree to seem farther, and it was difficult to do with that slope. I added a temporary cow under the tree to keep my mind in perspective of how far the tree is when adding other elements. Another key change was extending the creek back. This also seemed to push back the tree and had better linear perspective. I filled in the water with a gradient warming as it got closer. I was curious if increasing the contrast of the background cliff would add to the painting, so I just tried it to see.
The cliff was a little to strong, so I started to push it back with cool colors. I intensified the colors of the foreground to push the background back even further. Also, I added a small bit of slope back to the foreground hill; a good compromise. I also darkened the closest foreground to push the eye up towards the tree and down the creek. I went outside to look at the colors of the creeks, and it was a darker yellow. This enhanced the contrast of the banks to water. I began to detail the tree.
I started really adding the bluebonnets to the bank and detailed the water to have underwater structure (the water is really clear). The tree was further detailed, but I began to see it’s blocking the background a bit.
Looking at picture of the hill country, I realized there’s always some wispy golden grass in there that contrasts with the green. The tree got a hair cut and I lightened up the shadow of the distant trees to make it clear the big tree is closer. I also decided to brighten the sky up to a “Austin” sky. Lastly, I subdued the cliff a bit.
I put the highlights on the main tree and went over the whole painting to add in anything that would support the center of interest. I added a thin line into the background, extending the creek back even farther, really connecting the background with the foreground. To the right of the main tree, I added in small scrubby tree/bushes to add some realism (but not too much).