Studio Work: Last Light

Acrylic, 20×24″, stretched canvas
This has been a long relationship sort of painting, working on it off and on over the past month. It started out with a few brush marks, noting colors in a sketchpad on the side of the road as the shadows rose to the top of the trees. I think they are either cottonwoods or elms, but the yellows and bronze colors of the leaves hit by the deep orange-pink light of the sun seemed to set them on fire. Just behind the trees the sky was bright with a slight green tint that made the reds, oranges and yellows of the trees pop out even more. In contrast, the area in the shadows seemed to loose all color with slight shades of green gray that brightened towards a blue-gray as it went back in the distance. Although there’s no road, it was needed to lead th eye towards the trees. Giving the soil a muted red gave just enough variety to the grasses without making it shout out for attention. I also remember the other mental notes I took there on the side of the road was the high contrast in the sunlight off the tree trunks that seemed to soften along the edges as they dippped into the shadow. Everything emphasized the explosion of color on the ridgline between shadow and light. 

There might be a few small changes as I set it aside for a while in order to look at it again later with fresh eyes. 

Plein Air in New Braunfels: Cypress Bend Park

Scene from Cypress Bend Park ~9x6, Acrylic on paper
First plein air painting of Cypress Bend Park (9×6, acrylic on paper)

It’s been quite an adjustment these last two months, but I’m now living in New Braunfels, TX (45min south of Austin; 30 min north of San Antonio) and working full time as a welder.  My mentor in the welding company says, “This is the Dark Side, because once you start working here, you don’t get to do anything else” and placed a Darth Vader figure above our tool locker.  I laughed at first… and since then have been working. A lot. Saturdays, some Sundays, holidays, none can escape. Lucky for me, I love to weld. Now that my finances are balancing out (a little bit), the force is with me to take some weekends off. Hopefully, I’ll ease in a routine of plein air painting in between naps and rubbing sore muscles. This area is dead center of plein air heaven.  It’s famous for spring fed rivers surrounding the area making it a haven for tubers, fly fishermen and artists. An hour west, I’m in dry, rocky Hill Country; an hour east and I’m in the thick rolling grasslands near Weimar, TX with the enormous Live Oaks and Grace Ranch.

While I explore the different parks in the area, I found Cypress Bend Park, a favorite spot for fishermen.  Enormous Cypress trees line the sides, some with trunks that would take three adults to get their arms around.  The Comal River is 30-40 feet wide and 2-5 feet deep with crystal clear water.

Here’s the scene I started to sketch wanting to emphasize the trees the park is named after, but keeping the Comal included.

pre-sketch of the scene
pre-sketch of the scene

The sun came out, lit up the central tree and shadows moved shadows moved into the foreground.  I just kept getting better, so I adjusted the painting as I went! Nice when that happens.   It’s so scenic it’s very easy to want to paint every detail, but I kept the background trees and river somewhat obscure and cool keeping the eye on that amazing foreground tree.

Same scene as the sun came out and changed the lighting dramatically.
Same scene as the sun came out and changed the lighting dramatically.

There’s at least two more scenes I spotted from the river bank for future sketches.  Amazing area!

Artist Chat:

Palette – Titanium White, Cobalt Blue, Burnt Sienna, Cad Yellow, Alizarin Crimson.

My main focus was the main Cypress Tree and the rest was secondary, supporting that. This was key in my decisions. I limited the palette to make it easier on me to get color harmony as I worked those browns, greens and grays.  The foreground trees were very dull in color, while the background was full of bright yellows, greens, and full of detail. I muted the greens and yellow adding white and blue to cool it down. Meanwhile, I added a bit of extra warmth to the foreground trees and added sharp edges and contrast to pop it forward. The trees simply consited of working Burnt Sienna and Cobalt blue worked together into different hues, adding white to adjust the value.  Simple is good. I did add some yellow to the Burnt Sienna in warming up the trees a bit at the end.