On the way into the village, I came across today's view which seemed unobstructed by the influences described above and it caused me to reflect upon how life might have run back in the Victorian era on the river. It must have fairly bustled with summer activity, due to the fact that it is strategically located amidst a very large cluster of nearby islands... most remain "peopled" every summer. At one point, the general store located mid village provided gasoline and supplies to all... and in my memory... it was nigh unto impossible to dock there on a weekend ... the traffic was so constant. Now... that store is a private residence... and not at all the centre of village life. It sits looking rather rejected and uncared for - all of the vitality long disappeared.
My painting subject is a fine example of the type of early cottage architecture which can be found anywhere along the banks of the river... and on either side as well. All were wooden frame construction... many painted white... and many richly embellished by distinct Victorian fret work, or "gingerbread" eaves and porch details. They celebrate the rich and much preferred High Victorian stylism which swept across Canadian cities, towns and villages at the turn of the 20th Century. The warm, rich glow of this forest green clad two-and-one-half storey cottage sitting quietly ... bathed in the failing afternoon sun and juxtaposed against the cooler back drop of the icy river offered the only inspiration necessary to cause me to immediately set up my easel.
Below is a full frontal view of the cottage grouping... with my intended subject sandwiched comfortably in the middle of the three in the foreground. Another view... for another day... when the river opens up. Lovely reflections... but note the squat and unsettling appearance of the cottage in the right of my subject. When I paint the subject... I will eliminate and make a "ghost" of that distraction... to suit my own artistic tastes.
Here below is the view that I stumbled upon from the roadside. I took a few moments to consider what aspects merited inclusion... and what others would be left out. I began by "blocking in", or massing in appropriate broad pieces/shapes of uniform colour... without concern for colour accuracy. I merely wanted to quickly lay in a kind of compositional foundation upon which be laid more accurate colour and detail later on. My primary interest was the contrast created by conflicting horizontal and vertical elements of the composition... all compressed into a very narrow, but expressive vertical format.
The first hour of working was quite comfortable... with the sun on my back. But this all changed in a heart beat when the sun dropped quickly and a much stronger and colder north west wind nullified that earlier heat source. Within minutes, I began to feel the deeper cold, but more alarmingly... I soon found that all of my pigments had tightened to such a state that I could no longer mix them. I use kerosene as my brush cleaner in sub zero conditions. Usually, it acts like an extender... permitting a longer period of easy mixing in the deeper cold... especially for the titanium white. It was failing me on this trip. Here is my trunk set up at curtain time for the day. All of the original warm and light in the scene has disappeared.
I have not... for several years found myself in this predicament. But I soon realized that I was not going to be able to remain on site and finish in the half hour I needed to close. I packed up my gear quickly and headed home. I cannot relate to you how wonderful and restorative that tub full to the brim with HOT water felt... along with the ice cold .05 non-alcoholic beer in hand. Fifteen minutes in that "spa location" completely restored my nearly depleted body core temperature. This has always been my reward ritual upon returning home from a winter plein air outing. I look forward to it as much... almost... as being "out there."
Here is the "raw" plein air effort... as it was photographed later that same evening in the studio. Note the obvious effects of the cold: piled up pigment... unrefined details... areas requiring a steady hand (not possible out there at the close)... values that need further tweaking - a real "unfinished symphony" for certain! Has
promise I think.... but better give it a rest overnight... and further thought and planning.
Just before I left the scene... I noticed how the lower light had cast an interesting shadow on the previously blank and sunlit wall of the cottage. I decided to take one last picture. Interesting!.....HMMMMMMMM!
Here is the finished version with added detail and second considerations. The tug in the middle ground had appeared too cut off and I wanted the tug to actually physically overlap and interact with the cottage. It struck me when I had first looked at this subject that the composition actually "spoke" of the literal grasp that winter and Nature have upon human activity on the St Lawrence. We are quite simply..."winter-locked" for six long months... at the complete whim of the cold... waiting until winter relinquishes his reign. I added the shadow of the nearby spruce.I felt that it further added further interest to an otherwise blank flat wall... a mood of quiet... and the presence of impending darkness and night closing in.
I have titled this sketch "Winter-locked...at Ivy Lea" - oil on toned panel 10x12 inches. It is the product of an initial plein air outing and was drawn to a successful conclusion with another half hour of studio finishing. I think it would be hard to readily discern which of these two sketches in these last two posts was completely painted within the studio. One learns a great deal about the actual process of painting and how to approach either situation using the information gained through outside experiences. Photos alone often reveal only half truths!
In comparing the two paintings... take into account my intentional limited use of the camera as a tool. The first painting employed its use in the actual on location gathering of subjects. Matt Smith described his use of photos in a recent demo which my painting friend Marian Fortunati had attended... as a "conversation" between himself and the subject in the digital image. It provides information which is then translated into his own painting process and stylism. I like to think of the photo as a "marinade" which captures... soaks up and preserves the raw essence of the image for further use and actual "cooking"... back in my studio-kitchen. I dispose totally of the "marinade" when the cooking begins... its function is complete. It has infused its flavour to suit my "taste and palette."
The second use for the camera that I use... is to capture a specific moment or lighting situation that is dramatic... but transient. In the case of the second plein painting foray... it was the dramatic shadow at the conclusion of the session... as the light simply dropped away that caught my eye and my interest. Recording it allowed me the opportunity to consider its use perhaps.... back in the studio where I no longer was rushed by the cold and fading light conditions. Both instances make use of the camera... but neither directs the final outcome in place of my own inner feelings and artistic choices. There is a delicate balance which encourages one to create... rather than merely copy. That is essential for me.
Painting en plein air teaches you to "see"... to feel and to interpret what is in front of you broadly and with a certain bravura. It teaches you to paint quickly and confidently... making decisions quickly and to extrapolate beyond what is physically present. Winter isolates elements in the landscape for you to use... that are lost in all other seasons. Snow and combined contrasting light and shadow interplay together become strong sculptural elements and present new and exciting opportunities. These are my reasons at least... for taking my kit out into winter for extra lessons... and all in a quiet interruption-proof classroom!
Can "school learnin"... get any better?....
Good Painting ...to ALL!!!