August 12, 2017

Hay 2
Hay bales in Paso Robles (oil on birch panel, 1 of 2)

When I decided to feature this piece for today’s post there were several topics that were rolling around in my brain. I do a lot of landscapes, especially those that show symmetric rows of vegetables, grape plants, trees and sometimes rows of golden hay bales in a field. Such rows of food are a very common site here in California. When driving along 101 and/or 5 you can see citrus, avocados, strawberries, onions and flowers, to name just a few items that are grown in California. As I have said before, I’m not really sure I like people, so I rarely paint them in. I like the idea that people can eat and drink what we grow here, but not sure I want them in the picture. Along 101 there are interesting murals of growers holding the fruit and/or veg that have been planted and harvested in the nearby field. I’ve seen paintings of “larger than life” farm workers carrying produce and I think I remember seeing the painting of someone’s dog next to the crop that was grown in that area. Maybe this is how I can tolerate seeing people in a California landscape. First, you see something colorful on a sign from far away. Then you get closer and closer and you can make out interesting details of what the people are wearing, or someone’s hands or face. Maybe someone has done a great job rendering an old truck. And before you know it you wiz past and then they are gone. The whole viewing probably takes no more than 2 or 3 minutes. Works for me.

But I guess what really came to mind has more to do with the colors I chose and how they were applied for this particular effect rather than the actual subject matter. When working with oils I often first apply non-colors on the board, or canvas, outlining broad details I want to have in the finished product. Then I add the real colors I want on top of that. The hard part of painting this way is you need to let the first layer of oil paint dry before adding the colors that go on top. That can take days. I guess this is an old technique and not done very often anymore, but I like the overall “glowing” effect it creates. The 17th century Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer, frequently underpainted his work with what he called “dead” colors and I have always admired his paintings. Of course he is famous for painting people in his studio and was known to take a long time for each piece (not my favorite subject matter to hang around with for long periods of time). Maybe you have seen “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” Pretty special. Not sure what other painters use the technique. I don’t think Van Gogh did much underpainting, especially as his technique became more experimental.

As for the specifics of the under colors of the skies in my landscapes I usually first put down some kind of red hue. Then I mix my lovely blue, green and white pigments, and scrub that over the red. The brush strokes I create doing that adds a really nice texture when painting on a birch panel like this one. The effect is very different when scrubbing on canvas, as you see more or less of the canvas’s woven texture depending on how hard you scrub. When underpainting trees and/or hills I first layer in umber or dark violet. Then I add my beautiful greens, yellows and dark blues to create the finished foliage, hills, and sometimes I add a house, a couple cows or a two hundred sheep. I think it’s tricky to layer or mix pigment for human skin color. Maybe that’s why I don’t include them in my work very often. Nah, that’s not it, they just mess up my landscape and they usually detract from the compositions I create.

Note about this art: I can’t find the photo I used for this piece. I moved on the 11th and packed my photos in a box. I think I did this more than 10 years ago and will look it up when I get settled and update this post. This piece is part of a diptych, without a hinge holding the two pieces together. The companion piece is of a lovely oak with more bales of hay. (Come to think of it I should have put a hinge between these two pieces, then I wouldn’t have to try to figure out how to hang them evenly next to each other on the wall. And I will most certainly have to try and figure that out when I hang them in my new place.)

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