Posts Tagged ‘landscape’

A Surfeit of Riches

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Last time I wrote about creating a focal point within an unexceptional landscape scene. But the opposite problem can also pose a problem: There’s just too much to narrow down.

120704 Fire Wall

How often do we long to paint the indescribable, awe-inspiring scene before us? And that’s the very problem: In all its glory, magnificence, or abundance, it is indescribable. Where do we begin? How can we effectively describe any without describing all? And all is too much!

As the artist, I have both the responsibility and the privilege to decide what aspects about it I want to describe. (Fortunately, I don’t have to describe it all in a single painting! I can make a list, either mental or written, of everything about it that I would like to focus on. Then I choose one for this painting. The other aspects can be addressed in separate paintings.) What is it about the scene that particularly appeals to me?

If, for instance, I am overlooking the Grand Canyon… Its scope is monumental. Every butte and arroyo is worth a painting in itself. The light is continuously changing, throwing gold and red angled light across the textured walls and casting deepening shadows into the ravines and crevasses. What about the changeable skies that can boil up with stacking clouds? What of the plants clinging tenaciously in the tortured soil? What of the structures built along the rim to accommodate the purposes of humanity? What of the wildlife that unexpectedly appears from unfathomable places? What of …?

But I must select only one element of only one of the possibilities to focus this painting on.

That doesn’t mean that the painting cannot incorporate the entire sweep of the canyon’s expanse or include more than one aspect in my list. But I mustn’t treat it all equally. If the purpose (the “What” I discussed in the August 15 blog) is to depict the light, I could use the expansive landscape to present the fascinating light patterns that fall against the canyon walls. But I should also feature the light on one specific section of the canyon—perhaps a single butte or wall. The rest may echo that statement, lines may guide the eye toward that focal area, and more muted colorations may call attention to that highly saturated portion. In other words, everything in the balance of the painting should draw attention to how the light affects that focal area.

If I try to paint an unfocused image, I become as overwhelmed as the scene itself makes me feel; the more focused the composition is, the stronger and more effective the painting becomes.

Cruising Alaska, Part 2 (Landscapes)

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Besides the wildlife, of which I wrote in Part 1, our trip to Alaska this past August provided me with plenty of material for landscape painting, as well.

My husband insists that the mountains of Alaska put the Rockies to shame. It was difficult for me to judge their heights except by their sharply delineated bands of color. As you can see in “Kenai Lily Pond” (#100905), bare and ice-glazed rock capped the peaks, while a misty green of mosses and lichens veiled the steep, unyielding slopes below; shrubs provided a belt of richer greens undergirding that, and only at the base lay the deep, dark band of forest. We were fortunate to see the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula on a rare, clear day. Clouds often hang heavy and low, hiding much of the glory of the high ridges and snow-encrusted hollows, and the gleaming glaciers flowing inexorably onward through the valleys they themselves carve out as they move on their course to the sea.

Undercut by the salt-laden ocean water, some of the glaciers, which may move as much as seven feet a day, calve frequently. The calves, or broken chunks, large or small, spewed water high and sent waves out for a considerable distance when they cracked and tumbled off the sheer surface of the glacier’s face. The freshly fractured surface glowed a brilliant turquoise blue, typical of the densely compressed interior, which, in a matter of days would fade, like the rest, to the pervading white of ice that had been exposed far longer to the atmosphere. The glaciers’ upper surface, I was surprised to discover, is not smooth but is creviced and eroded into hoodoos by the sun’s heat, by rain, and by unforgiving winds.

Yet not all the landscape seemed so severe. Rocky streams, fed by rain and melting snow, coursed down the mountainsides and cascaded into grand waterfalls. Lakes, reflecting their rim of grasses and moss and evergreens, as well as the overshadowing mountainsides, lay still and serene in the valleys. Lily pads clustered, like pubescent sunbathers waving urgently to friends but jealous of their prime basking positions and one another’s company, and zealous to absorb the sun’s scant attention through summer’s short season. Tall grasses rippled, wildflowers blossomed and faded, undisturbed by human cultivation. Dense rainforests near the ocean’s edge dripped with mosses and lichen and fungi of various forms. Second- and third-growth forest sprouted bowlegged roots to span older, decaying stumps, drawing nourishment not only from the soft, rich soil but from the remains of trees that had fallen long before.

Normally little affected by tidal action around my home in southwest Florida, I was fascinated to see, at these northern latitudes, how radically the ebbing tide changed the contours of the shoreline, revealing islands and tidepools that disappeared again as the hours swept past and the endless pendulum of come-and-go, ebb-and-flow reversed.