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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Evolution of a Painting

Last month I did a plein air painting on the South Branch of the Raritan River. I liked how it turned out but felt compelled to try a couple of different versions of that scene and I ended up with 4 different paintings. I find this is a good exercise to do once in a while - taking the same scene and painting it again with a different attitude. You've already got the composition worked out, so you can concentrate on trying different techniques and see where it takes you.

First is the original painting that I did on location:

"April on the South Branch"
8x10 oil on panel

In this second version, I tried a much looser approach. I used a very minimal palette and mixed most of the colors right on the canvas as opposed to premixing them on my palette. This is a fun way to paint! Just scrape down if the paint buildup starts getting to thick:

"April on the South Branch II"
8x10 oil on canvas

Third, I wanted to try painting 100% with palette knives. I didn't use a brush at all, not even for the initial sketching and blocking in. This sure saves time on cleanup since it takes just a few seconds to wipe the knives clean. But I ended up with too many hard edges in the painting. I do like this version but I think my more successful works of late use a balance of brushwork and knife-work, each being used for what it's best suited. Or, maybe I just need more practice with the knife:

"April on the South Branch III"
8x10 oil on canvas

The fourth and final(?) version is a larger painting - 24x30 inches. I used the palette knife in the rocky areas on both banks of the river but decided the rest was better done with brushes. And I stuck with the limited palette again:

"April on the South Branch IV"
24x30 oil on canvas

Which got me thinking... in my plein air painting, I haven't done anything larger than 11x14 in a long time. Doing smaller paintings on location is usually easier for a number of reasons, but I really should try something larger. Probably not as big as 24x30, but... stay tuned...

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