Work In Progress: Suwannee River, Update 2

Work In Progress: Suwanee River, Update 2

If we are just going to copy a photo or scene our task is simplified to a great degree. But many times the photo of the scene doesn’t do justice to what lies before us. Not only is there a vista that the eyes can take in but there is a feeling, an emotion that is elicited from the experience. The mind’s eye may amplify certain aspects of the scene that support a feeling elicited, or ignore other aspects that interfere with that feeling. Our mind’s eye idealizes the scene before us – romanticizes it. We can visualize other things in the scene or consciously alter aspects, such as time of day or year, or the placement of the sun that can heighten the feeling. As we gaze upon the landscape we make judgments about what is important and what is not in conveying the feeling and emotions. It should be our undertaking as artists to portray the scene before us not as it actually appears in its infinite detail, but as it affects us emotionally – to simplify it, to emphasize those parts that are important to the message.

That’s not an easy task – for me. I’ve been focused over the past seven years on painting scenes just as I see them. I started off by reproducing scenes as I saw them – with all their detail. Then I learned to improve the compositions by adding and removing, moving things around, creating focal points and centers of interest, but I still retained a great amount of detail. I thought attention to detail would improve my paintings. The more I read and the more I watched other great artists, the more I began to question that idea. Increasing detail in my paintings didn’t result in increasing satisfaction or a feeling of improvement. I began to realize that increasing detail wasn’t the answer. Rather, it was reducing detail, simplifying, and rather than portraying what I see, portraying what I feel.

I have come to equate time spent to complete a painting with quality. The more time spent (mostly on detailed drawing), the better the quality. Not true! The time that should be spent on the painting shouldn’t be on attention to detail but in what needs to be included to convey the idea and emotion I feel being enveloped by a scene and it’s affect on me. It is emotion that is important, not accuracy.

Now, for some thoughts on how to portray this landscape scene along the Suannee River.

  1. What does this scene mean to me? What am I feeling that I want to convey to viewers?

I’m standing in the shade, looking out into a warm, sunny morning on a peaceful, slow moving river. Overhead, the canopy of bald cypress and oaks, and a gentle breeze cools me. Beyond the shade, out in the open, the sun is still low in the sky, but it is warming the trees on the far bank of the river, resulting in a play of contrasting lights and darks.


  1. Should there be dramatic contrasts of lights and darks?
  2. Should the trees be backlighted or should the sun be coming from the side?
  3. The color of the sky, as well as the reflection in the water is light near the trees and darkens with height. The sky can be warmed with a very light peach in the lighter areas.
  4. A center of interest or focus? A lone bird or two in the distance? A kayaker?
  5. Time is late morning. The sun is still low in the sky and warming the tops of the trees on the far bank.
  6. Clouds?
  7. Keep the linear, horizontal line of white reflection from the sky. Maybe add a few minor streaks here and there below it. It makes a nice focus. It could also be used as an arrow leading the eye to a center of interest.
  8. Where do I concentrate detail? What is important to convey the message and what only complicates and blurs the message? Thought needs to go into what is important to tell the story. What is necessary to support the message and what is not necessary? How much detail is necessary to convey my idea and when does it become distracting. I don’t want an abstraction but I also don’t want too much detail.
  9. The converging diagonals of the tree line, the white reflection and the upward pointing cypress knees help to present the center of interest.
  10. Use an underpainting of warm colors to emphasize the warmth of the light and to make the greens more interesting.
  11. Do I add complementary colors to the underpainting?
  12. Use cool blues in the shadows. Where the shadows become lighter as they approach the sunlit areas should I add warmer blues (purples) to the mix?
  13. Add mid tone purples to the sky as an undertone?

IMG_2322 WIP Suwannee River Update 1

Now, I’ll work up some color sketches based on these thoughts and see what I can come up with.

Work In Progress: Suwannee River, Update 1

Last September my wife and I, looking to get away from the house for a few hours, after the loss of our dear, long time companion, Peaches, took a drive up to Suwanee River State Park. The park is located in northwest Florida, in the Big Bend Area, in Hamilton County. The park is associated with a lot of Florida’s history. Andrew Jackson led troops through the area in 1818 looking for Indian strongholds. In 1863 Confederate forces constructed earthworks along the river to protect a railroad bridge near what was once the town of Columbus to guard against Union troops marching from Jacksonville. The Confederate army prevailed during that encounter, turning back Union soldiers in the Battle of Olustee in 1864. Columbus is gone now but a cemetery still remains nearby.

My wife and I walked along the banks of the river and picnicked there in the early afternoon. I found some good vantage points to take pictures. Those pictures have been stored away on my computer since then, but I recently looked back through them and found a few promising shots. One stood out. It was a view of the river, past some baldcypress trees, their bases swollen from a long association with the water of the river bank. It is a peaceful scene, looking out from the shadows of overhead tree canopy into the sunlit river as it slowly meanders out to the Gulf of Mexico. I think it will make a good painting.

IMG_2322 WIP Suwannee River Update 1


My first step was to work out some value sketches and see if I could improve the composition a bit. The darks of the bald cypress trees, the foliage mass in the upper left and the cypress knees at the bottom formed a natural frame for a center of interest in the area to the left of the cypress trees – the light area of the sky and its reflection in the river. The lights of the sky and water, plus the mid tones of the background trees seemed to balance the darks nicely.

Although I liked the idea of the bald cypress trees, I wasn’t happy with the amount of space between the two trees. I felt the trees needed to be closer together or one needed to be eliminated – or more trees needed to be added. Also, some changes needed to be made to the cypress knees at the bottom. The rightmost cypress knee in particular seemed out of place and demanded too much attention.

In my first value sketch (Sketch 1) I eliminated one of the bald cypress trees. That seemed to help some, but it still left me a little dissatisfied.  I also removed the cypress knee furthest to the right at the bottom. That helped also.

IMG_2319 WIP Suwannee River Update 1


Then, something else struck me. The picture seemed divided nearly in half by the horizontal line of the river bank. My feeling was that the river bank had to be moved either up or down.

I then tried another, similar composition (Sketch 2) but raised the river bank up higher, to almost two thirds of the way up. I also added two cypress trees back in to the composition, and grouped them closer together, but with unequal distances between them. Having a grouping of trees increased the mass of darks on the right, and I felt it looked better than having just one tree. Having only one tree seemed distracting to me. The larger dark mass felt better. The higher river bank also seemed to be an improvement.

IMG_2320 WIP Suwannee River Update 1


I did a third sketch, this time moving the line of the river bank downward to about a third of the way from the bottom. I liked that also.

IMG_2321WIP Suwannee River Update 1

The question now was – river bank higher or lower?  At this point I’m leaning toward the higher river bank but I’m going to have to think on it.

IMG_2320 WIP Suwannee River Update 1         IMG_2321WIP Suwannee River Update 1


A last consideration in the composition is adding a focal point or center of interest. I need to add something to draw the eye to. Kayak or birds – or something else? In addition to these questions, there are other considerations that will affect how this painting looks in the end. I’ll discuss them in the next installment.

Work In Progress: Hydrangea, Update 6

Work In Progress: Hydrangea, Update 6

            Final Touches

Here is the completed painting. I completed the background on the left side. Also added some violet to some of the petals. PP 138 was used. This pastel was a little intense, so I had to use a very light touch and blend it in with white or a light blue to keep the color subtle.

I think I accomplished what I set out to with this painting. I wanted to use detail selectively and make use of edges to focus attention on the center of interest. The center of interest, the focal point, was in the area of the lower mass of flowers. Most of the detail was centered there. Detail decreased outward from that focal point. The flower masses across the top were the least important and contained the least detail. Secondary areas of interest were to the upper left and upper right of the main center. Together they formed a roughly triangular area. The leaves surrounding the center of interest also have less detail. When completed, they, at first, competed with the flowers for attention. However, after adding in the diffuse, soft, out of focus, background I believe their importance diminished some. The dark shadows surrounding the lower flower mass also helped to focus attention on the flowers. The leaves almost provide a partial frame for the flowers.

I tried to include some lost edges in this composition also. They are evident mostly in the handling of the leaves – edges are lost in the shadows. I also lost some edges of flowers on the far outside left and right, and also here and there within the floral mass itself.

IMG_2313 WIP Hydrangea Update 6


I really like pastel and, moving forward, I think pastel will become an important medium for me.

Work In Progress: Hydrangea, Update 5

Work In Progress: Hydrangea Update 5

            Refining the Shapes

In this pass I brought more clarity to the shapes, making them look more three dimensional. First, I went back over the flowers. I concentrated detail in the lower mass of flowers. Moving away from this center of interest, I gradually decreased the detail until, in the outer masses at the top and to the right, detail was the least. There was also the least amount of variety in tone and contrast on the perimeter. Most of the tonal range  and contrast is centered in the bottom mass of flowers. The blues used in the center of interest were CO 390 prussian blue, CO 405 ultramarine blue, CO 450 cyan blue, CO 440 sky blue, CO 435 ultramarine blue light, PP 143 cobalt blue and PP 140 light ultramarine. The darker colors were used more in the center of interest. I used some CO 100 titanium white for the flower centers, some highlights on petal edges and near the centers of the flowers.

The leaves came next. I had initially blocked them in but did little additional work on them. The deepest shadows were a mix of CO 390 prussian blue and PP 174 chrome green opaque. The lighter areas were a mix of PP 174 and PP 168 earth green yellowish. In the sunlit portions of the leaves I added CO 106 light chrome yellow. After initially filling in the area of the leaf, I used PP 106 to draw in the veins, then I added texture to the leaves with a combination of the three Pitt Pastels.

I decided to add some background to the mass of flowers, but wanted to keep it diffuse. Here I used CO 440 sky blue, CO 450 cyan blue, CO 435 ultramarine blue light, PP168 earth green yellowish and PP174 chrome green opaque. I stroked in the colors and smudged them with my finger. Adding the background also had the effect of diminishing the importance of the leaves. I felt they were beginning to compete with the flowers for attention. Now they seemed to blend more into the background, especially in areas where I purposely lost some edges.

IMG_2312a WIP Hydrangea Updaet 5

            Next, I’ll complete the background and add the final touches to the painting.