Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reaching.... Stretching... Winning

Winter has arrived... and with it the new changes in the Oro-Medonte landscape. Skiing, skidooing and four wheeling ratchet into high gear with the local residents and tourists. Snow is money ...and rives the economy in this hilly part of Ontario. The three major ski resorts draw thousands of ardent winter worshippers into this beautiful region.It is truly a Winter Wonderland... in every respect!

Occasionally the Universe offers an opportunity... one that questions and challenges your artistic limits and interests. "The Hallyburton Air Show"...a 4x8 foot monster is such a commission. My "cartaker"... yes, that's spelled correctly, my local friend and car mechanic/garage owner asked me to produce this large very action piece for his Skidoo racer son Travis to hang in his bedroom.

At first, I was a bit reluctant to accept the commission... due to the real fact that I don't personally like skidoos or four wheeled vehicles.They are noisy and chew up the environment when used without conscience and often are driven without regard for safety or the property of others. However, I decided not to let my own personal biases get in the way of an opportunity to stretch my Self artistically. Besides... it was monetarily to my advantage as well!

I was given two DVD discs loaded with over 200 race images from which I could create my own composition. After several hours of viewing and reviewing possibilities, I narrowed the action down to four images that I was able to "stitch" together visually into a composition which incorporated a real landscape and a group of racers.

The next big task was to create a panel taking into account the large size and the stability required for the work. I decided to use a 4x8 foot clear birch panel and mounted it to a 1x3 inch clear pine frame/support, using a power nailer and glue to fasten the panel to the frame. I then filled the nail holes and sanded them smooth. The frame had vertical stretcher braces at the one and two third distances to insure that it wouldn't warp.

I then applied three coats of gesso on the top side....sides and back of the panel to seal it. The client wished to have a "Skidoo" yellow border around the piece in lieu of framing. I carefully masked a 4 inch wide border and painted three coats of yellow paint. When this dried, I removed the tape and then retaped the border perimeter from the outside... leaving the white area for the picture area. I applied a randomly brushed coat of acrylic burnt sienna to act as a ground , or undercoat.The panel was ready for the under drawing.

Since I had no experience whatsoever in rendering skidoos... or race action.. I wisely decided to use willow charcoal sticks to "play with" the drawing... knowing that I could easily erase and change... feeling my way through this difficult part of the compositional lay in process. I started by establishing the basic landscape framework and then moved to the central figure (Travis) in the right foreground. I then gradually worked my way back through the pack to the background.When I was satisfied that the drawing was correct, I "fixed"it with fixative spray... and I was ready to apply paint.

I began laying in the foundation for shadows, or darks in both the snow and the fir tree line in the background. I introduced and established the direction of the sun in the upper right sky area.I then concentrated on building up the values and differences in the snow colour in the fore... middle and background areas. I moved into the wooded area behind Travis to isolate his shape so that it showed the proper emphasis.

It was at this point that I decided to launch into refining Travis' had to be dead on in structure and detail to satisfy the authenticity and integrity of the whole this one prominent spot.Any failure here... would be glaring...and reduce the overall reality that any snowmobile aficionado would be searching for and expecting. It took a great amount of painting...repainting and adjusting light and shadow on the figure, his clothing and helmet... and the actual details of the machine.

The final [part of the painting process was directed towards developing the other minor race figures... again being careful with the positioning and colour values in the shadows. I added other details such as a marshal... pylons and snow
"splatter" around the moving parts of Travis' machine to add a feeling of more movement.I achieved this by thinning my white with turps... and applying the splatter with a toothbrush... Not too much... just enough to give the idea.

I went over the entire area of the painting in one final evening of "pushing n' pulling" values and adding highlights for a more dramatic effect. When the painting process was complete... I carefully removed the light touch painter's masking tape to real the nice hard edge between the image and the yellow border area. I did this before the drying was complete... just to make sure that the paint didn't adhere the tape to the panel.

Overall... I was genuinely pleased with the final product...and the clients were elated. They could even identify each of the other riders in the distant part of the image. I feel that I achieved a dynamic quality in the design.. and that in Travis... in particular... I caught the energy... excitement and the action of a frozen moment in the race.

The lesson here? Never back away from a challenge offered... because of personal biases. Put them where they belong... back on the shelf... and step confidently into the Light!

Good Painting to all!


  1. Hi Bruce,

    & I thought it was cold here in the UK!!.....I think I need some warmer clothes. It looks like a beautiful part of the world & must provide a great insperation for you!

    I really like your descriptions of process, its always good to see how fellow artists work!

  2. Hi Ed!.... Thank "You" for stopping by and commenting!Yes... one does need warm clothing around these parts in the winter... but being "out there" really makes the cold go away! "I" never tire of being outside on location ... or living in this beautiful part of Canada.

    Glad that you enjoy the process descriptions! Sharing.... that is what blogging is all about!

    Good Painting!

  3. o yes
    you are right on my street here bruce
    fast machines and nature
    you did a great job capturing the speed and excitement plus the beautiful snow...
    love your plein air set up below,just perfect!

  4. Hi there Rob!... Thanks for visiting! Fast machines are a rarity in my work.. but when a commission arises... one must rise to the occasion! HA HA!!

    Once into the piece ... I did truly enjoy it though, I must admit. I really know these lads well.. and understand that the passion they have for their sport and action... fuels my own for painting... at break neck speed... en plein air. Do what works for you is the message I guess!

    You are that rare bird that does both well Rob... landscape and action... whatever! HA HA!!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,