Artists often speak of the “ugly stages” of a painting. For me, my paintings often go into that ugly stage and never escape from it. At any rate, my current “conceptual landscape” project has definitely reached that point. It’s horrible.
I added a rusty orange color for leaves and ended up with a more jarring contrast than I’d expected. It’s partly due to my painting techniques, I think. After stepping back and looking at the monster I’d created, I went back to my blue-green mix and did a bit of tweaking. It didn’t improve the painting much.
Stage 5 – Before and after “tweaking”
I was very discouraged when I first looked at the painting in this stage of the process. I felt I’d ruined it. Many of the highlights on the trunk have all but disappeared, and I found the colors very garish… at first. Once my eyes adjusted to the hues a bit, I decided that maybe it would be all right. Maybe if I kept working on it, following my initial concept, I would somehow come up with a painting I liked.
The next step in the process was laying in a little pathway. I know that pathways should lead in to the scene, not take the viewer’s eye right out to the edge, but I’m never quite sure how to apply that knowledge. I looked at my forest scene, determined a point where it felt right to have a pathway, and then brought it around a bit to the left. I liked the pathway, even though I struggled to make it. I’m working with a small palette knife since I need practice on that technique. Next, I added yellow for sunlight to make what I hoped would be a dappled effect. It wasn’t entirely successful.
Stage 6 – The pathway and sunlight on the pathway
At this point I’ve come to realize that what I really dislike in the painting is the tree on the left, so I’ve done a little tweaking. It still looks awful, but that’s part of the learning experience, right? At least my eyes are getting accustomed to the odd color combinations; I’m almost starting to like the colors now.
One of my weakest areas has always been the foreground of my landscapes. Over time, I’ve learned how to create a bit of depth and distance in my paintings, but foreground elements have always given me trouble.
Here, I’ve added a few little bushes along the pathway, and maybe I got a bit carried away. I also used the palette knife to create a bit of rocky ground. I was trying for a marbled effect using black, white, and yellow. I didn’t get quite the effect I wanted, but I did feel more comfortable with the knife, so maybe that’s a bit of progress.
Overall, I’m liking what I see as a somewhat rough quality about the painting. It’s definitely not one of the soft, misty landscapes I love to paint, but I’m beginning to feel a sort of energy about this scene. Other than the awful tree on the left, I might actually like this painting a lot.
Stage 8 – Calling it finished for now
I struggled through this last part of the painting as I tried to create a grassy foreground. I wasn’t happy with the color I chose at first — green — so I played with it a bit. My original intention was to pick up a bit of the color in the sky, using that as a way of grounding the scene, It just looked wrong to me, though, so I grabbed the leafy/bushy color still on my palette and used that.
You’ll notice, too, that I absolutely could not stand looking at that hideous tree at the left, so I gave it new foliage in a totally different hue. Better? No. It now stands out like a sore thumb.
While I’m calling it finished today, I don’t think I’m really quite finished with it. I was getting a bit frustrated, was worried about making a lot of mud in the foreground, so I thought it would be prudent to put the brushes down and walk away.
My plan is to see what I can do to fix the problem tree, but that will wait until the paint is dry, my mood is better, and I’ve had more time to think about how I can correct what’s wrong.
I’m not sure I’m too happy with the foreground, either, so if anyone wants to suggest changes, please do!
All in all, though, it’s been a fun project. It’s given me a chance to paint the sort of landscape I would not normally do. I’ve enjoyed my conceptual landscape project, and I’m looking forward to playing with more color combinations, practicing more with my palette knife, and further developing a style that is uniquely my own.