More Painting Backwards
October 20, 2011
In early July this year I created a watercolor of a view along the Damse Vaart nearby Bruges, just in front of where the steamboat, the Lamme Goedzak, docks. I really liked the composition created by the canal stretching out into the distance, as well as the light of the evening as it progressed. By remaining in one location for a few hours, just painting, just watching, I could let the scene tell me precisely which light to try and capture. The sun was slowly setting in the west (here in midsummer, it doesn’t completely descend until almost 11:00 p.m.), so although the composition in terms of land, trees and water did not change, the light on them certainly did. I snapped a few photographs of the different transitions as I made my choice.
Back in the studio I transposed the composition to a panel and quickly sketched in the main elements, suggesting the central movements and thrusts as I felt them, the textures and the chiaroscuro. I used india ink for the stronger value details and silver point for the lighter, softer ones. (sorry, no photo of this stage available) The next time the weather was good, I went back out to do an underpainting using egg tempera (in the field). Egg tempera is not a technique that easily lends itself to field work but I wanted to experiment. I worked with a limited palette and preground my colors into a paste using distilled water. Since I knew the last levels of painting would probably be in the studio, I wanted as much authenticity-of-place as possible. I decided to use the landscape color convention of stong yellows in the foreground, greens in the middle and blues for the background. Values were kept fairly light, with everything suggested yet still fairly coarse. (no photo available)
Two months later, after a rainy August, one month’s holiday and tons of other stuff inbetween, I had the chance to do the first oil glaze. I mixed up a blob of burnt umber tube oil-color with retouch varnish (1 damar to 2 turps). I painted it on, letting it absorb into the panel for about a minute and then wiped it back off. It left a thin veil of warm brown over the whole image. With another small brush dipped in turpentine, I began wiping the brown tint back off from the pre-painted highlighted areas. In my heart and mind I knew exactly where they were, while the watercolor and the (black and white) photograph served as reference points. Within fifteen minutes the process was complete, the highlights jumped out, the shadows pushed back - still filled with nice descriptive details - the whole vibrating with life. I might just call it done…