Sunsets still fascinate me, especially the subtle or not so subtle gradations of color and their (often) reflection in the water. But I’m moving beyond sunsets to try using the same medium and techniques on abstracted landscapes at other times of the day and often without water. The colors are different but moving from one color to another, where to add a hard edge (or not), what to include (or not) continue to challenge me.
I started painting this with the gold on the bottom. It was going to be called “Fields of Gold.” However, once I realized it worked much better with the gold on top, I decided to just call it Gold. I wanted to escape my typical colors and go with the complementary colors of yellow and purple. So what started as an exercise ended up as a real painting. Sometimes you have to abandon your own judgements and let the painting tell you what works.
Remembering some of the vast landscapes I saw years ago in Iceland and a little over a year ago in New Zealand, I wanted to capture the wind sweeping over the plain. The details don’t matter. The feeling of it does.
I wanted to do a landscape with mostly blues: ultramarine, cerulean and a little ultramarine violet. Better than gray.
Painting on raw canvas really allows me to convey the atmosphere that can happen after a storm. You don’t have to worry about foreground, middle ground, background … it’s all misty. The colors blend into each other with just a hint of what’s there behind the veil.
It’s the mystery of it all that fascinates me.
I’m fixated on sunsets lately. Some are more repesentational; some are more abstract. Some are over the Hudson River; some are over the ocean. Some are on raw canvas; some are on watercolor paper. Some look like watercolor, even though I’m painting with acrylic (fluid acrylic). But they all have to do with sunsets and the always changing colors.
All three of the following paintings of very different sunsets were painted in much the same way. I wet the whole paper with water and then lay in the colors, starting with the lightest and finishing with the darkest. Once that dries, I repeat (again and again) the process, intensifying and darkening selected colors. When I am satisfied with the colors, I look to see if the painting needs any hard edges or accents. Throughout the process, there are an almost infinite number of decisions to be made, many completely unconsciously. (See my final paragraph below.)
So in no particular order …
I was a total bystander, simply waiting and watching as the sunset evolved. There was nothing for me to do … just appreciate the beauty.
This painting is a synthesis of my view of the sunsets over the Palisades and the Hudson River and a caribbean sunset, seen from a beach in Costa Rica.
Abstracting a sunset is not as simple as it might seem. What not to include (boats, birds, people, specific details of the waves, etc.) is at least as important as what to include. Getting the color gradations in the sky and the water is not easy either. And finding the right balance between hard and soft edges is another not so obvious decision. Every sunset I paint includes these and other equally difficult choices. I love it.
I see beautiful sunsets almost every night outside my living room window and they are often spectacular. So I’ve been painting them, sometimes on raw canvas, sometimes on watercolor paper. Sometimes they really look like sunsets, sometimes they are more abstract. Sometimes they are garish, sometimes muted. So I’m searching for the perfect sunset, though I often think I’ve found it every evening outside my window.
In no particular order, some of my recent sunsets:
The cars on the Palisades Highway can be seen intermittently through the trees, and the little bridge over Spuyten Duyvil at night looks like two lines of light.
By now, I’ve lost track of how many sunsets I’ve painted. But they all bring back the wonder at how beautiful our world can be.
This is based on a very small watercolor sketch I did on a plane years ago. Don’t remember if we were coming or going or where, but do remember the feeling of awe.
Perhaps this should be titled Trying to capture the perfect sunset. I often think I’m seeing the perfect sunset, but painting it is something else.
I don’t like making excuses (they’re usually so lame), but I had hernia surgery three weeks ago and I’m just not bouncing back the way I thought I would. Okay, as someone pointed out to me recently, I’m no spring chicken, but I still thought I’d be way ahead of where I am today. I’m doin’ what I can, but it’s not what I expected.
I’ve mostly been staying home working in my studio (in between naps, snacks, etc.) and 2 hours here 2 hours there, stuff happens. But I’m constantly tired … even though I haven’t done much of anything.
But let’s talk about the stuff that does happen (2 hours here, 2 hours there). I have a couple of finished acrylic paintings on paper and a couple more in the works.
The paintings that are finished:
This is the kind of sunset I often see at night from my dining room table: pink orange and blue over the Palisades and the Hudson River with the little Spuyten Duyvil bridge making the connection between Manhattan and the Bronx. Almost no matter what the weather, it’s beautiful.
Sundown 12×9 $600
I look at this and I think: it’s a little garish. But then again, sometimes the sunsets ARE a little garish. So rather than tone it down, I leave it very colorful the way it is (garish).
What can I say, it’s what I see. I’m doin’ what I can.
Acrylic paint on raw canvas behaves differently than it does on watercolor paper, even though in both cases the acrylic paint is watered down so it looks like watercolor. The advantage of acrylic paint over watercolor is that once it dries, it’s permanent … can’t be changed or lifted as it can with watercolor. The disadvantage is that once it dries, it’s permanent … mistake or not, intentional or not. Even though the finished painting can look like watercolor, acrylic isn’t watercolor.
And watered down acrylic paint on raw canvas isn’t the same as watered down acrylic paint on watercolor paper. Unlike with watercolor paper, Acrylic Flow Release must be added to the water or the paint won’t sink into the raw canvas; it just beads up on top. Getting a hard edge is much harder on raw canvas; Matte Medium must be used with tape otherwise the paint just seeps under the tape in weird ways. You can use masking fluid with raw canvas to get a hard edge, but the masking fluid can be incredibly hard to get off the raw canvas (unlike watercolor paper).
So you can see why the last few months have been a trial and error learning experience for me. Ronnie Landfield and some of the class members have been very helpful, but until you actually do it yourself, you haven’t really learned it.
In no particular order, here are some of my recent acrylic on raw canvas paintings:
This was my very first acrylic painting on raw canvas and I simply got lucky. Everything worked the way I intended.
Even though some things in this painting of my view of the sunset over the Hudson River and the Palisades didn’t turn out exactly the way I intended, I like the end result. We call them “happy accidents.”
This is still very abstracted even though the clouds do look like clouds. I took out the bridge, blurred the Palisades and included the navigation lights and their reflection. You never know what should be included until you try it. Miraculously, the masking fluid for the tips of the clouds and the navigation lights and reflections was easy to lift up. I can’t explain it.
This is a larger variation on my earlier Day’s End painting. While I was busy fixing what hadn’t worked as intended in the earlier painting, the masking fluid for the Palisades Parkway and the little bridge was unbelievably hard to lift off the raw canvas in this painting. Go figure.
As I said, it’s been a learning experience.
It’s been five years since I visited Iceland, but I keep creating paintings that are based on that trip. With no conscious desire to do so and no matter what the medium, I nonetheless find paintings emerging from my Iceland memories. Right after my 2012 trip, my paintings were all in watercolor; now I’m painting with acrylic. I remember thinking how beautiful but alien parts of the country were. Well, Iceland continues to inspire.
Two recent paintings, both acrylic on canvas created in my home studio, are perfect examples.
Lava Flow started as a painting about water. But when I didn’t like it and took a pallette knife to it, Iceland emerged. I can’t explain it any better than that.
Fire and Ice took almost no time or conscious effort. I put the colors down, didn’t like the result and, as with Lava Flow, started fixing it with a pallette knife. Again, memories of Iceland surfaced.
When I first came back from Iceland and started painting, I remember thinking how my abstract paintings were really awfully representational (parts of Iceland were that strange). These two aren’t representational, but they do really remind me strongly of Iceland. I think Iceland will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life.
Lately, I’ve been producing three very different kinds of paintings. They don’t look like they are painted by the same person. I’ve talked before about being a little schizophrenic because I was producing two different kinds of paintings. Well, now it’s three. So is it schizophrenia … or artistic license?
First are the sorta traditional paintings produced on watercolor paper in Frank O’Cain’s class at the Art Students League. I’ve been taking classes with Frank for many years and have posted this painting based on the water in Lake Ashi in Japan before. I love the feeling of depth and the fact that without my telling you the source, you might not know what it was about.
Next are different, more atmospheric paintings on raw canvas produced in Ronnie Landfield’s class at the Art Students League. I’ve just started taking this class to learn the technique so this is the first one I’ve finished. But more are in the works. I love the atmospheric effect.
And finally, very different acrylic paintings on gessoed canvas in my studio at home, this one a stylized view of Mt. Fuji based on a recent trip to Japan.
My paintings serve as a reminder of where I have been and what I have seen, a visual memoir of my past experiences. Although painted in three very different styles, they are all part of me. Doesn’t feel schizophrenic.
So I’m going with artistic license.