Artist in Residence
Although I've made many paintings depicting indoor scenes, I am at heart a landscape painter. Nature, landscapes, the great outdoors are my main source of inspiration—the place my feet take me or my mind goes when I’m ready to paint but not sure what subject to choose. I also find that, compared to human or animal forms, landscape forms are much more easily changed to suit my own emotional or expressive needs. No one complains, for instance, if I alter the size or shape of a cloud. So sketching a landscape is a perfect way for me to start out when I have a feeling, but no clear idea, in mind. If I like what I’ve sketched, the next step is likely to be imagining the landscape populated with people and/or animals.
One of the paintings I’m working on now started out that way, but with a difference—fourteen years passed between the first and second stages. In 1993 I made a small landscape called Green Light, about 22 x 30 inches. It showed a specific spot in my own woods, in springtime, with an effect of green light filtering down through the new leaves.
I’d always liked this painting. But it had never occurred to me that it needed figures until recently when I was rearranging my storage area and pulled out Green Light to hang near our kitchen table. I immediately imagined people and animals there, in the woods, quietly coexisting, as when the lion lies down with the lamb in the Peaceable Kingdom. (The paintings by the American primitive Edward Hicks are old favorites of mine.)
As usual, the first step was to quickly set down my ideas about color and composition, using crayon and watercolor in my sketchbook.
The drawing, about 7 x 11 inches, came together easily because I had the color harmony already worked out in the 1993 oil painting. If you compare the two, you’ll see that I immediately changed the treatment of the “green light” in the background from a bold angular pattern to a soft shimmer. I put the deer in the foreground to emphasize the idea that this is their world. Translation of the watercolor sketch into a small oil painting on canvas (16 x 24 inches) went smoothly with no surprises, except that the image became suddenly clearer and began to evoke a deeper space.
When I drew the composition onto the large canvas (49 x 73 inches) for the Paine exhibition, the only significant change I made was in putting some of the saplings farther into the foreground.
The next photo shows the canvas after I had painted in the largest color areas, before beginning on any of the smaller trees or linear details.
When the canvas was covered once, then the real work began. (Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo at this stage.) Then I began to see clearly how the color and composition needed changing. The detail of part of the painting shows how I was in the process of enlarging and connecting together some of the green areas.
In the last photo, the painting is nearly finished, although I’m sure there are a few more changes yet to come.If you look closely you may be able to see some chalk lines, on the reclining figure and elsewhere, recording my ideas for possible improvements. The image is more dreamlike than most of my other paintings. I’m guessing that means it will be harder to pin down the moment when it is finished.