A Tale of Two Paintings

It’s always interesting when I paint the same subject twice, especially over a short period of time. I usually do this for a few different reasons. Sometimes I really like the first painting, and want one to keep and one to offer for sale (this is rare). Sometimes a really like the composition of a scene but want to paint it in a different season. Most often, I don’t like something in the first version so I try again, and the result is usually two paintings, each with pluses and minuses as is the case with this example. Maybe eventually I’ll do it again hoping for third time lucky.

I feel doing the same subject multiple times puts me in good company. Many great artists have painted multiple versions of the same scene. Scroll through this list of Monet’s works and look at how many repeats there are. There are actually 17 different versions of his famed Houses of Parliament! I’m sure he intended some of them to be studies for an eventual serious painting, but others he clearly painted a second time because he wanted to do something differently. In the end, 100+ years later they are all Monets and they are all considered masterpieces. That will never be the case with me, but I think it’s an interesting observation.

Usually I paint from my own reference photos, but in this case I did not. I follow a Facebook group called Exploring Virginia, where people post photos they take of the beautiful state I’m lucky enough to live in. Every now and then I see a photo that I find very inspirational and I ask permission to use it. The good news is that Virginians are nice people and the answer is almost always yes. Here is the photo reference for this painting, credit Mark Calhoun. Thank you Mark for being so generous with your work!

I love the sky, the silhouettes, and the mist rising behind the tree line. I cropped off some of the sky to achieve something closer to a 2:1 aspect ratio that I like for many of my landscapes. It’s a really tough subject, and I didn’t really do it justice, but the paintings stand alone.

Version 1:

I masked out the barn and the house with painters’ tape and I started with multiple layers of wet-in-wet for the sky. For the mountains I glazed a deep purple hue and then dropped water into the lower part to create the mist. The tree details were done using a nib pen loaded with watercolor pigment. The pink highlights were added. The house and the barn done in multiple layers as was the foreground, to eventually achieve the shadow value I wanted.

There were several challenges (aka learning opportunities) from this first attempt. First, I did not stretch the paper. I don’t usually stretch, but the extreme wet-in-wet for the sky resulted in buckling that caused some unevenness. The clouds ended up with harder edges than I would like. I reworked them later, but wasn’t able to achieve the softness that I wanted.

There were also some things I really liked. I liked the mist and the silhouettes of the trees. I also really like the barn with a slight reflection of the setting sun on the roof.

Version 2:

I used basically the same approach as above, but I stretched the paper and this helped the sky be more even. I spent a lot more time working the clouds when they were still wet and got more softness than in the previous version. I masked out the moon, which I didn’t even notice when I did the first version. I had some challenges making it fit in when I put on the finishing touches. I ended up reworking that cloud to partially obscure the moon and I liked the result.

Several things I think were better in Version 1. The colors in the sky are bolder. I feel that the barn in the second version is too small. To a critical eye, it is too small in comparison to the house, since the barn is a lot farther forward. I think I get away with it because of the distance between them. The mist in the first version is lighter and that contrast helps the overall composition. I compressed the vertical aspect a little in the second version and as a result, the mountains lost some of their height. I think this compromised the mist and the height of the trees.

In summary, I don’t hate either, but there are things I would do differently if I did it again. I’ll give it a break for now, but we may see a third version at some point in the future.

Stay safe and be well!

Social Distancing

With the COVID-19 pandemic I am not working, so in theory I’m painting more. I am sitting in my studio a lot, but don’t feel like I’m accomplishing that much. That said, I recently did a painting of an abandoned cabin, from a photograph I took last fall. This cabin was in a small town called Tyro, situated on Route 56, not too far from where we live. It was early fall. The leaves on the tops of the mountains were changing, as were some at lower elevations.

I spent a lot of time on this painting compared to most. I had fun with the tree line, especially capturing the dark shadows under the umbrella of foliage. I masked out the cabin so I could do it last and I spent a good deal of time doing the detail. The finer details in this painting were done using a nib pen loaded with watercolor, a technique I’ve been using a lot since Steve Mitchell from the Mind of Watercolor introduced it to me a month or so ago.

Funny, but my husband is really bothered by the logs not being straight on the front face of the cabin. That is exactly how they were in the photograph (see below). If anything, I was frustrated that I was unable to make the cabin look rundown enough. Still, I’m happy enough with the result.

Everyone, please practice social distancing and stay well.