Saturday, November 16, 2013

Techniques to Explore... and Further Develop Structure

When attempting to discuss the importance of the term structure in reference to the process of painting, it perhaps might help to compare it to creating architecture. In my mind, both begin with an underlying well-conceived plan or "vision."... In architecture, the visioning involves hours of creative thought, discussion and readjusting ... often by a joint team of planners to create a finished rendering to scale of the eventual structure to be built. When the finalized version is decided upon, there is little room left for deviation from the finalized plan/ blueprint through to completion.

In commencing a landscape painting, the process should begin as well with a considered period of creatively searching for a unique subject. That subject can then be passed through one's own creative sieve and an interior vision... or foundation can be created which takes it beyond the ordinary... perhaps even beyond the reality of what lies before one. Totally taking ownership of this personal vision carries forward the excitement and energy from that first moment of discovery and sustains it to the end.

In commencing a painting outdoors, I  usually begin my creative searching by considering  multiple positions at the site from which to paint. I rarely discover that "perfect composition" immediately... either from the car in passing... or in walking directly "into the picture mode." I find that visually playing with an intended subject teases and heightens my imagination and my creative energy. I mark several  potential spots on the ground where I feel strongest creative potential. I then play back and forth between these sites.... "imagineering" on site at that particular spot... until I find the one that most excites me to set up and begin painting.

1.  Developing Structure Using Blocks of Colour

In the preceding post focusing on structure, I was drawn to the interplay between opposing horizontals and verticals. I attempted to express and develop this interest in terms of using interlocking colour blocks rather than lines to lay in my foundation work. additionally... I began my painting process by choosing an unusual 12x12 inch square format which immediately shifted me away from old and predictable habits and outcomes. This forced me to view the initial compositional structure from an entirely new and challenging perspective.

I began my foundation work and searching by first introducing stainy turpentine washes to create my colour block pattern/ map which basically consisted of seven interlocking  pieces of colour. Regretfully, I didn't record this stage to be used in my post so I have constructed this small colour thumbnail to better illustrate that primary stage for you.

I gave no initial attention to correct values or line. Those were addressed slowly after initial lay in was reached and completed by pushing and pulling values and hues... as quickly and economically as was was possible... given that the late evening light was rapidly diminishing.

I added a few details with my rigger during the final ten minutes to add details like sky holes... sharp edges and brightness wherever needed all around the entire picture plane.  I felt that the end result was both painterly and rich in colour. These two strategies enhanced my original interest in the interplay of the horizontals and verticals and certainly made my day enjoyable and fruitful.

"Autumn Softwoods and Shadows" - oil on cradle board wooden panel 12x12 inches

2.  Building Structure Through Painting in Short, Flat Planes of Colour

I decided to return to Ivy Lea Provincial Park... now deserted and quiet in search of a suitable woodland motif. In the past, I have often pulled myself out of a lethargic attitude towards pure landscape painting by seeking out interesting... almost still life in Nature patterns and shapes within woodland settings. I find the combination of unusual terrain... shapely moss-coloured rocks with water and trees provides me stimulating relief from a too lengthy horizontal and rectangular world view. This new world is a virtual jigsaw puzzle to be pieced together and painted. This space usually offers dramatic lighting and shadow on the objects and planes previously mentioned.

This Park ... lying only five minutes away is a "honey hole" for me when I need a quick start or a strong need to be totally alone. One does not have to look long or hard to find subjects. They can literally be easily found looking in any direction. It is to "Me"... what Walden Woods was for Thoreau. I am deeply blessed!

Here is my Tuesday afternoon painting "campsite" that  I stumbled upon and decided to translate into a sketch. I was attracted to the unique shapes and positions of these massive granite "erratics"... huge boulders laid to rest on this sharp incline during the tail end of the last great glacial age. How many sunsets had they witnessed before they and I met today? I wonder!

Can you see the elements that I mentioned clearly in this photo? Despite the appeal of the natural composition, I had reservations about the right hand pine's value in the painting. I felt that it rather cut off the edge of the second erratic directly behind it. So, I "imagineered" it out of the composition and as well... added and subtracted shapes on the forest floor at will. I decided to roughly lay in contour drawings of strongest lines and shapes because there was such a complex interplay of these elements to deal with on my 10x12 inch canvas. I would have liked a bigger canvas to work on right from the start... but had trucked in this smaller format in my back pack to reduce carry in... so.... "beggars can't be choosers" became the rule for the day. Make it work!

Someone had carried down a picnic table from a campsite high above this site down to the water's edge, Beside the table, they had constructed a fire circle of small granite chunks. This set up added greatly to my comfort and to the ease of reaching my equipment and having a sit down to ponder the work as it proceeded. Here is my start.... intended ony as a kind of shorthand framework on which to hang my many brushstrokes... consisting of short flat planes of thin colour during lay in. I was more interested in having the strokes mimic the way planes fell... trying to capture their individual directions and variances in colour.

Just shapes n' lines... nothin' much!

Building structure everywhere simultaneously... stroke by short stroke.

Close up view of the interlaced strokes of "broken colour"... each stroke with its own colour and direction

Lay in stage on the way to completion... FLAT! FLAT! FLAT!.... Now .... turn on the lights!

Thank goodness... the light's back! Go for the gusto... or it'll be gone again... for good!

The basics are there... but where's the punch? Step up!.... Play!... RISK!!!
"Say what you mean and mean what you say" time!

"Let there be Light..." it pushes an ordinary painting to a higher level

"Autumn Angelus" - oil on canvas 10x12 inches.

At this point ... the sketch whispered done. I sat quietly... watching and listening at the picnic table as the day light gradually failed. I felt reverence and "Oneness" that  many who toil on the land and understand it must . The word "angelus"... evening prayer sprung into my mind. I said my words of thanks to Him for the blessings of this day and my life... packed up my gear and trudged tired, but contentedly back to my van.

Having structure (ritual) in one's daily life surely contributes to one's Joy and Happiness. Structure also contributes to the success of evocative paintings.

Don't you think?....

Good painting... to ALL!


  1. I sure do a lot of mental planning, but I always fall down on execution. Your work always ends beautifully, Bruce!

  2. Good morning Sherry!... I believe that you do mentally plan... that is obvious in your wonderfully lyrical writing style. However... it all comes down to execution in the final analysis. "Doing and believing" are the game changers... and that must come from within each of us.

    A thought that crossed my desk this morning... while doing some mental planning. A lovely thought which inspired me.Perhaps you might think about this too and gain inspiration.

    "Just when a caterpillar who thought her world was over... she became a butterfly."


    Never too late to change... and fly Sherry!

    Good Painting... and Flying!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Great article, really appreciate the insight into your working process the "color blocks" is one I will have to start reminding myself of. Beautiful work.

  4. Hi there Jim!... Good to have you drop by and comment on the post!

    I much admire your own fine art... so your comments are much appreciated! Sharing process is an important part of making art I feel. Pass it forward to help others find their own way and apply some new ideas!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  5. This is such an interesting post Bruce. I like reading about structure and color arrangements within a painting composition. We do have to rearrange nature sometimes and the same goes for the way we use color too. Both your paintings are lovely and it is special to see their beginnings and how they became complete!

  6. Hi there Caroline!... Thank you for visiting and for leaving supportive comments!

    Glad that you found the post interesting and provoked you to relate part of it to your own thinking and artistic process!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  7. Hi Bruce, I enjoyed this "walk through" of your painting process. It was nice to see the light increasing with each stage until the final glowing result.

    Happy painting,

  8. Good Morning Keith!... Thanks for "walking through"... and commenting that a painting builds, rather than explodes into reality. It does so first through establishing a solid platform ... or structure and then , as you have noted... through gradual stages to its final conclusion. One forgets that when one sets out... and gets impatient that the lights aren't coming on as quickly as we'd like! HA HA! Glad you enjoyed the post!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,