Archive for May, 2013

Southern Comfort, part 2 – Painting the Composition

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Last time I evaluated a photograph to adapt the subject for painting. Once my preliminary evaluation was complete, I began by developing the composition for the painting. Sketching out the revised composition, I moved the focal point at the rabatment of the rectangle (extrapolating a square from one end, based on the length of the short edge of the rectangle). I also took the opportunity to relocate the overhanging branch.

Applying a few initial light washes to establish placement, I then sketched in areas of lowest values.


A series of glazes followed, to build up layers of color, indicating the shadowed and sun-enfiltered foliage and the dappled verge and roadway.


During my ongoing evaluation of the developing painting, I realized that the overall appearance remained too cool. I used various combinations of yellows, browns, and reds to warm the foliage and beards of Spanish moss in the middle ground, as well as the middle ground verges. Incorporating judicious touches of violet, I increased the value contrast around the moss beards to allow them to appear more strongly backlit. Although it’s not readily apparent to the viewer, I also created a red “thread” throughout the composition and pumped up the saturation in the foreground.

Most of the rhythms—the tree trunks, moss beards, cannonballs—seemed to be working in harmony. The main branch of the overhanging limb running counterpoint to the angle of the main drive helped to balance the composition. But I felt that the upper right arm of that branch distracted from the “melody,” so I desaturated and softened it to reduce its prominence, while emphasizing the lower limbs that echoed the line of the circle drive.


The finished painting was obviously not intended to replicate the photograph, but I feel it succeeds in my goal of evoking the sense of history and atmosphere suggested by the photo.

Southern Comfort, part 1 – Planning the Composition

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

A friend showed me a photograph she had taken recently, explaining that she hoped to paint it someday but didn’t know how to approach it. I agreed that it was a lovely scene, evocative of the Old South. The more I considered the image, the more I wanted to paint it myself, not because it was perfect but because it offered some challenges I wanted to figure out how to address. She encouraged me to undertake it.


(Photo copyright 2012 by Laura Emmick, used by permission.)

Some of the problems I immediately identified included an almost symmetrical composition, an elongated aspect ratio (very different from those of standard painting grounds), an uncompelling focal point, a limited and low-saturation color scheme, and limited pattern definition.

I began my preliminary work by considering the overall composition. Cropping the image and moving the focal area off center, taking advantage of a “golden section,” and including the adjoining field and fence at the left, evoked in me a sense of expansiveness and gentility. The overhanging branch (which almost paralleled the lines of the road edge) would be retained but moved farther to the left to help balance the curves of the road underneath it.

I decided, also, to replace the car and figure in the focal area with a horse and rider, thereby enhancing the sense of history and gentility while providing an opportunity to introduce some contrasting colors to play off the muted greens surrounding it. Variations of the contrasting colors could be repeated in the trunks and foliage of the trees to provide color threads throughout the painting, serving to enliven and unify the color harmony.

Finally, I wanted to enhance the sense of depth, so decided to warm the foreground and reduce the warmth and saturation as the road and field recede into the distance.

These decisions gave me a starting point for my painting. Follow along next time when I pick up my brushes and begin the actual work.