Jean’s Painting From Life Demo


Sometimes, if you are lucky, the perfect scene will present itself to you, whether you are painting from life or taking a photo for studio use. But most of the time, we're not that lucky and the artist will have to take some liberties with old Mother Nature, and do some manipulations to improve values, colours and composition. Such was the case with the “Outdoor Painting Indoors” demo at Swinton’s in March 2011.

Those in attendance will recall my rather sketchy rendition at the time. It is my usual practice to take my field paintings and bring them up to the level of finished works in my studio. In this case there was a lot to do as I spent only about an hour or so actually painting. Remember the David Thompson Highway running across the right edge and bottom of the photo? I said at the time I would make a path out of it, but I didn't have the time to properly resolve that issue "on site". My solution in the studio was to continue filling in the right and bottom portions with bushes, etc. in order to make the pathway narrow and almost obscure, but still keeping it as a subtle entry into the painting. This is called artistic license!

I was asked why I put in the lightest colours, especially on the yellow bushes, before applying the darks - for an oil painter it does seem a bit backwards, right? But the yellow/oranges remained pure and transparent without any transference of the surrounding colours into them. I don't think I could have gotten that purity otherwise. As you can see in the finished painting, the same colours I used for the bushes at the beginning are still there, with only some minor modifications. As well, the "white spots", which were the unpainted areas in the sketch, were eventually eliminated in the studio. Given more time, these would have been mostly taken care of before leaving the site.

10_finishedNotice that the "pine beetle" red colour of the back-ground (dead) trees has been replaced by a (living) grayed-off green, in order to push them back from the more vibrant front section. I also added a few yellow aspens to bring some of the warmer fall colours and a bit of detail into this otherwise bland area. The foreground spruces were very dark in the photo, which is what often happens with the camera, so I lightened the trees considerably and changed their contours somewhat, especially as they related to the lighter value mountains behind them. The lights and shadows coming across the foreground were enhanced with a lot more colour than what was seen, but I did it anyway just because I felt like it. Which is allowed.

I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that when time is a factor, artists painting from life should select a subject that will be manageable during those brief interludes nature or circumstances provide them. This is especially important if the artist is painting on a large surface. There is no point in attempting the grand masterpiece when we know time is limited. Under these constraints, a subject that is more limited in scope is a far better choice for the artist painting from life rather than for him/her to try to capture the entire big picture with all its complex variations and subject areas. If wrong choices are made, many of us could be unsuccessful. So just pick your size and your subject with care, according to your abilities and the speed of your brush.

Jean Geddes