This scene is from the summer days when I’d pass by a field of cows in Columbus, TX on my way home. It started with that initial glance of the lazy cows trying to find shade under a sparsely branched cedar. I shot a quick photo as I passed by. Months later, I was flying to Marblehead to visit my brother and his family and flipped through the photos on my phone looking to sketch on the flight. Seeing this photo, I was able to zoom in cropping the rest of it, focusing in on the heart of what I saw in that glance. Months later, I was flipping through my sketch book and thought I’d post it to my Instagram account (@teveman) and after watching a DVD of John Poon teaching his method, figured I’d give it a go. I did the small value sketch last night to both work out the composition more and find some good brush strokes. This morning, I woke up and it went quickly! I thought it’d be fun to mix up my palette a bit and colors I don’t normally use that leaned towards the warm size. As I went, I saw the need to make the cows tan, rather than white to really stand out against the green surrounding and remembered the cows I’d seen around my home. I took a risk, but it seemed to work out well. I thought the cows might need more detail, but then stopped. It’s usually better to have bold, defining strokes than a bunch of strokes searching for a way to say what one careful stroke can do. Fun study! The enjoyment really is in the process of the painting.
I highly recommend John Poon’s Landscapes DVD. He has great organizational skills and presents how to use a busy scene, clarify the focus and work through a four step process. He also works in acrylics, but it’s equally good for oils as well.
The scene: is of a pasture in Harker Heights, TX in the springtime with a herd of cattle and a tree line in the distance. The sky was cloudy only letting in a few seconds of sunlight, highlighting the cows. I had to be fast and try to memorize what it looked like.
The experience: I’d just had a chat with a good artist friend about the “less is more” theme in painting. A good composition, meaning the right design and technical aspects, can hold a painting together so that it just looks right, even without the details. If you are on Instagram, look up @jeremyduncan and you’ll see much better examples of this concept. In the process of building a painting, this simplified version of the scene is the foundation to build on, exactly like the framework of a house. If the foundation of the painting is bad, no amount of detail is going to improve it or translate the emotional sense of the scene. In fact, details on top of a poor foundation will look overworked and leave the viewer confused, asking, “What is this about?” or “What am supposed to feel?”. On the other hand, well placed detail on top of a solid foundation will leave a clear sense of what it feels like to actually be there.
I’m really looking forward to doing many more, similar “less is more” sketches!
This is another painting for the Fulshear Art Walk on April 26th. A few weekend ago, I went down the do some ranch work with my uncle. As I drove out there in the morning, a scene of a huge oak in the background and the cattle in the foreground came into view. I knew it was a good scene for a painting and slammed on the brakes before I lost the right angle or the cows moved. I backed up a bit (it was a little like when adjusting a painting on a wall “no, no… a little to the left. Now to the right. Shmidgen back…”. Eventually the cows had just the right back-lighting and I got the shot. Phew. And this is why artists are really bad drivers on country roads.
Here’s the reference pic:
As you can see, I did quite a bit of alteration changing angles of the land to get rid of too many horizontals and added oaks to the background to give some balance and depth. There is typically Broomweed out there, which is bright, yellow-ochre in the morning light and it just felt right for this painting, so I added it in. Ranchers hate it, so if a guy with leathery skin, boots and a cowboy hat asks if that’s broomweed at the Art Walk…”What? Broomweed? Why I’d never…”.
Well, it now Friday, sunny and I’m getting out of here for some plein air! Hopefully I’ll see some bluebonnets, big oaks and red blankets for some studies. That’s pure Texas.
While taking a country drive in Wiemar, TX last week along High Hill Rd with Mom and Gracie (grandma), we passed by this view. I took a pic and jotted down mental notes of color and values. Update: If you’re looking for this spot, I now think this was near High Hill Cemetery, but on Seidel Rd. on the bend in the road nearby (thanks Richard!). It’s would be a great spot to plein air paint, so I hope you go find it!
Normally, a painter has a hard time finding good colors in winter (and a drought) when the grass isn’t plush and green. What a lesson for me. I dismissed the “norms” and forced myself to look at the scene for what it does have, and was amazed. Brilliant tans and yellow in the grasses, contrasting the green of the live oaks and complimenting the blues of the distance. How could I have been missing this?? And who doesn’t like and old crusty barn? This isn’t “en plein air” since it was painted back in a warm house after dropping off grandma, but who cares. It felt great to brush on those bold tans and greens!! I added some cows to give perspective of distance and show of how huge the live oaks are.