Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lush Fields of Teton County in Watercolor

Painting a View of the Front Range

Montana has won my heart!  The breathtaking views offered daily are more than an artist could ever capture.  Whether it's a brightly colored sunrise, a gentle frost on the tree branches, or a purple mountain range that seems to go on forever, it's a land of inspiration.  One of my most recently completed artworks was inspired several years ago.  

After watching the annual Independence Day parade in Choteau, Montana, we were driving home.  We topped the hill and then I saw this fantastic sight.  The fields were such a verdant green and in the distance I could see bright yellow flowers, perhaps mustard.  The sky was clear, no haze at all, and just sooo blue!  The mountains in the distance were easily visible.  The well worn tracks along the fence line drew my eye to the mountains.  I was mesmerized and picturing how it could become a painting.  My camera was close at hand and we pulled off onto the side of the road.  

As I've said many times, my husband and children are more than understanding and patient.  They know how much photography means to me.  Over the years, they have become accustomed to a camera being in my hand.  It's very seldom that they hurry me along or distract my focus.  I am indeed blessed.

The photo by itself is not that awe inspiring, I must admit it's just okay.  It's bones are nice though.  The elements of design being used here make it work; it just needs a little tweaking and it will be exactly what I need.  The basic composition is made up of sky, mountains, fields.  The mountains are not cutting through in the center of the frame.  This creates more interest.  Add to that, the horizontal planes are divided unevenly.  The wheel tracks and the fence line both break up the lower plane at eye pleasing angles.  See, I've been working at this long enough, it's planned out pretty well when the photo is taken.

Here's where the tweaking comes in.  It's been years since I've had a copy of Photoshop.  Right now, that's not in my budget and I'm able to get by with Picasa software for now.  My main purpose for Picasa is to organize and save both family photos and art reference photos.  The art reference photos can use a little bit of editing to get them further along to where I'm headed with paint.  Once I've cropped, adjusted saturation, and added filters, I've got a map of details.  Plus it feels like there's a bit of emotion already starting to come from this view.  

The sketch begins with the photograph.  This summer, as my new art adventures began, I decided to try making sketches on tracing paper.  I've briefly explained this before.  There are two advantages that I can think of at this moment.  One, all the erasing and adjusting of lines is done on the sketch paper.  This means the watercolor paper is not roughed up with erasing nor does it have grooves from pencil lines.  Second, the sketch is preserved, to be used again for another painting.  The ease of beginning another painting with basic sketch ready makes adventurous color and technique changes possible.  

I've begun using an acetate grid to assist me in transferring the main elements of the photo to paper in a more effective way.  I'll go into this with more detail in a future post.  For today, I'm just showing what this looks like while I'm working.

So, next step is to transfer the sketch to watercolor paper with graphite paper.  I've mentioned this before but for the sake of your attention span, I'll spare you those details.  If you really want a demo on making graphite paper or transferring a sketch with it, just comment or email me...I'll be glad to, but not sure how much that interests readers.

My next step is to apply scotch tape to the area where the mountain tops meet sky.  I trim the tape along the line of the mountain tops.  Once that's done, there's a thin strip of tape that protects the blue of the sky from spreading into the mountain portion of paper.  The main advantage to this method:  I can work quickly with a larger brush and more paint.  There's less need for a small brush and intricate careful strokes; the paint dries so quickly that I'd end up with hard edges.  The result would mean losing the soft graduation of color.

It's time to begin the glazes of color that form the painting's foundation.  Variations of yellow and gold will give greens a vibrant richness.  These base layers really play a large part in the finished piece.  I know this is hard to comprehend.  It may only make sense in the doing.  

A larger view of the work area shows quite a bit is going on, right?

It may be difficult to see the changes here.  There's been more color layered, one after the previous one dries.  That's the advantage of having more than one painting going at the same time.  It's important for the paint to dry before moving on.  So at this point, I might switch out for another painting.  In twenty minutes, I can come back to work on this one again.

The colors of blues and violets of the mountains take shape as my brush works quickly on wet paper.  I deliberately force myself to not fuss over the details.  Varying the colors, letting them spread at will, there's a lovely feel for the special qualities of watercolor paints.  At times, I felt almost cross-eyed with studying the varying lights and shadows of those rocky peaks.

Building in layers of color for the fence posts, I begin with areas of pale blue gray to bring out the weathered look of the wood.  The vertical posts have more golden orange as their base layers.  The darker grays and browns are added once the first layers are dry.  While the darker colors are still barely damp, I can scrape out lines with a palette knife.  I also paint in fine dark lines with a liner brush and a palette knife.

A closer look shows better detail of the painting at this stage.  Now, I can work another area away from the fence posts in the foreground.  It's time to build more color and then some bold textures in the fields and dirt tracks.

It's needing more saturated color and contrast but I'll have to watch how I handle this.  I'm learning there's a lot that can be done to repair mistakes in watercolor.  The Arches paper in 300 lb. weight makes it much more possible.  A better quality brand of paper and a heavier thickness equals more forgiving when it really matters.  

At this point, the view changes angle and you see me working the wheel tracks in the dirt.  It's my way of changing things up a bit.

I've taken tracing paper and made a shield for controlled spattering of paint.  Spattering with varying sizes of brushes and a toothbrush gives a wider range of spattered dot effect.  It's a gamble and that may seem scary.  Watercolor forces you to embrace the unpredictable because the possible results can be fabulous.  If not, we'll just come up with another plan!  You've got to roll with it.  For the sake of your attention span, again, the next several photos explain themselves pretty well.  If I'm wrong, just ask me your question in a comment below.  I'll be happy to explain more!

Here it is, Lush Fields of Teton County, another original watercolor by Christy Sheeler.  This one has been such a treat, I'm sure I'll  do another variation at some point in the future.  Here are several views I'm sharing with you today...

I will be listing this piece of artwork with the ivory double mat and a protective cellophane sleeve.  It's dimensions are 8" x 10" and it's on Arches 300 lb. cold press watercolor paper with finest artist watercolor pigments.  I am learning about the options available for having prints made.  I've spent a good part of the day researching how to begin with the best quality of image.  Everything takes time, you know how that is?  The Etsy Shop is ChristySheelerArtist.

A dark espresso frame sets it off nicely; I love the contrast from frame to mat to artwork.  The richness of the colors just come together through the whole composition.  My goal was to draw the viewer's eye up through the wheel tracks in the dirt to the line of mountains.

In the next two weeks I'll share two more landscape paintings as they progressed from first sketch to final brushstrokes.  It's been a busy couple of months.  These landscape paintings have taken longer to complete and I'm not sure why.  My art adventure and personal challenge began in June.  I'm trying to turn a never-get-to-it hobby into a weekday-scheduled occupation.  With a family and plenty of other commitments, this has been a trial and error learning process.  I'm so thankful for all the tips and encouragement I've received so far.  You'll never know how valuable a positive word is until you're in the middle of a unpredictable terrain, stepping out into the unknown.  Being an artist means being much of me is poured out on the paper with emotion and passion.

Thanks for coming along and please come back next week!  Oh, well...I'm trying to post more often but it's like predicting the wind.  Who knows what the days will hold but I'll try to surprise you with more frequent updates.  

because she must make art.

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