The next oil painting

I primed a large canvas and took it to a new woodland that I haven’t painted a big canvas in yet! This space is wilder than the woodlands I have painted in before, the trees are denser and not as tall or mature. I started the painting at around 3.15pm and finished at 4.30pm. It slowly got darker and darker as I painted, with the sky getting a darker and darker grey. When I first put my things down the trees were wild yellows and oranges, but by the time I had finished, the colours were far cooler and more muted.
It was a very still day, with the sense of impending rain (that never came) and the onset of darkness.

It is the first time I have painted a large canvas in oils since June! So the process felt like returning to something so familiar and yet a little alien.

I changed something about my painting process this time round: I took the sculpture that I would be added into the painting at the end, with me into the woods. And used the sculpture as a prop to imagine the shape as large as the trees above. Before I began painting I used the sculpture to decide where it would sit in the landscape and in the painting. This was very helpful! And felt like my multi-medium process was going full circle.
I used a wide angle lens to photograph the structure as I imagined it; as tall as the trees:

These two images work very successfully! Other than the leaf on the left image, it really has the illusion of being a large structure! This was a useful thing to do before starting the painting. I had a clear idea of where the structure would sit in the landscape before I began.

This image didn’t work as well. Partly because the trees in the background are blurry. It would be better to use a wide angle camera where I have control over the aperture (instead of my phone camera).

This was the position of the structure in the above images, but from afar.

Part 1
Part 2

It’s so useful recording my process because it reveals how I paint, when a lot of what I do is subconscious.

I showed some people the video, and one person (who is also a painter) pointed out that I work in layers of one colour which reveals how I keep the colours on the canvas clean. She said oh you lay down one colour wherever it is needed, then change brushes and repeat?
It’s interesting because I have never thought much about that (or can’t remember ever thinking about that) but it’s true! And crucial to how I work outside.

The painting process

Priming the canvas with blue acyrlic + gesso, dried before going outside.
The implications
There weren’t enough of these blues in the landscape to warrant the bottom of the canvas being this colour.
This is the first time ever(!!) that I have done one of these paintings in autumn. So I need to adjust my background colour to suite! An off white/grey or warm colour would be better. Blue fitted for spring and summer, but it won’t do for autumn! At least not on the day I was painting. Perhaps I need to do some background colour tests in my sketchbook in acrylics.

I had no Liquin, a medium I have used in the past to speed up the drying time of layers, and reduce the drag of marks put down. It is especially used near the end of a painting when there is a lot of paint on the canvas already and I don’t want top layers of colours mixing with anything underneath.
I just completely forgot I normally use it until halfway through painting!
The implications:
– I put down thicker layers of paint at the end than I have previously done. I couldn’t rely on Liquin to keep layers from mixing, so I was applying lots of paint (rip my bank account) and thickly, to add layers of pure colour.
– The finished painting has so much texture. From where I was putting down paint that hadn’t been thinned at all.
– The paint layers mixed more than usual. Looking back to my previous large oil painting, the colour definition in that work is better than here. The layers of colour have mixed less and so there is more depth in layers of paint.
In this most recent painting, I applied paint without any medium quite soon onto the canvas, so I felt I was battling with the paint in the second half of the painting process. If I had had Liquin, I could have thinned the earlier layers a little or thinned the top layers a little, or both! So that the paint wouldn’t drag as much.

I ran out of Lemon Yellow half way through!
The implications:
There were so many autumnal colours in the leaves, which needed lemon yellow to make them pop! Running out of this meant the autumnal leaf colours are more muted than I would have liked.
It is not super detrimental to the finished painting. I captured the warmer colours in the landscape with Cadmium Yellow. And when I was done with the painting, the light had faded so much that some of the bright lemon yellow colours were no longer present in the landscape anyway. But still. It would have made a difference to have.
This is purely down to me not checking if I needed any new materials before painting. I’ll know better next time.

I applied colour from dull to bright.

The finished plein air painting

What works

The colours feel autumnal. You can tell it’s a different season to the last paintings I have done! Which is exciting.

Using smaller brush marks to finish the top of the canvas. Even without the structure lines added the top of the canvas where the brush marks are smaller does feel like looking into the distance. YAY!
I made the decision when I was painting for the big brushstrokes to go underneath the structure – so really far away, and the smaller ones to mark the distance. So far it works.
It’s going to be interesting to see how adding the structure works.

The size and general method as per! I love painting outside, I love doing these works and refining them. They bring surprises and the result is so cheerful and takes me somewhere.

What doesn’t work

The texture of the paint is a little distracting? It reminds the viewer of how the mark was made, and gives the mark lots of energy and immediacy – as if the final paint marks had just been put down. Is this immediacy a good thing? It might distract from the viewer finding the depth in the piece. Because the viewer is reminded that the canvas is a flat surface when what I am trying to create is DEPTH.

The layer beneath the ‘top’ layer. The layer of paint applied before it started to get really thick doesn’t have enough depth! I think I am a bit out of practice at doing these paintings and it shows.
THE PROBLEM was that applied too thick paint too fast. I should have blocked in thinner paint for longer. This would have given the painting more depth and less confusion.
It’s going to be interesting when I paint in the structure lines, working all of that out.

Applying colour from dull to light removes depth at the ‘back’ of the painting. Because what creates depth is contrast, I now realise.
Contrast in:
texture – thickness, direction of mark
colour – bright or dull
tone – light or dark
In this painting the marks at the back have no textural variation (because they all need to be thinned down), no colour variation (because I made them all dull), and no tonal variation (that was wrong of me).
I don’t think the colours at the back of the painting need to be all dull. Although it makes sense for most of them to be.
In my next painting I will make sure the marks at the back (and in the whole painting tbh) have more tonal variety, which will create depth when nothing else can.

What next

Add the structure lines in. Using a photograph of the structure and a projector.

I have learnt that the next painting I do I will:
– make sure I have all the colours I want!
– have picked a different background colour
– use Liquin when needed so I am battling with paint less
– thin the paint down for longer in the painting process, either with turps or Liquin, so I am battling with the paint less in the second half

The main way I can learn from these is by painting more of them!

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