Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Step-by-step Sedona Plein Air Painting

Hello again. My fiance and I were recently in Sedona looking at wedding venues, and I was able to sneak away for just long enough to do a painting. I took progress photos, and I'll include some commentary about how I painted it.

This painting is on a 9x12 linen panel, which I made. I also created a tutorial blog post about how to make them, which you can find here.

Before we begin, here is my palette: Titanium white, cadmium yellow light, cadmium orange, cadmium red light, alizarin crimson, dioxazine violet, ultramarine blue, viridian hue (Holbein brand)

Here's my view of Cathedral Rock from the side. I was set up on a ledge behind a parking garage. Notice the great view of a dumpster. 

There were lots of clouds, and a monsoon storm was coming in from the east (left side of the photo). I want to contrast the dark blue clouds against the warm orange light from the late afternoon sun. 

First, I began by blocking in the general dark shapes. Since these rocks are edge-lit, most of them will be in shadow. For the rocks I'm using a base mixture of ultramarine blue and cadmium red light. I'll add touches of crimson or violet where I want it to be warmer, and touches of viridian where I want it to be cooler. 

I found it's important to save your darkest accents for later. Begin with a shadow block-in that's a little bit lighter than you think you need. Those dark accents later will make up for it. If you make it too dark to begin with, your shadows will really look dark. 

The base mixture for the green area is mostly ultramarine blue and cadmium orange. This makes a very grey mixture. I'll add some cadmium yellow when I want it a bit warmer, and some viridian hue when I want it a bit cooler. 

Greens are tricky to begin with, and especially in Sedona. The red of the rocks makes greys look green by comparison, so it can be very easy to overdo it. My approach for greens is to start with a much lower chroma green than you need, and to add "punches" of more vibrant green later. 

Now for some lighter, more opaque paint. For the sunlit rock faces, I'm using a mixture of mostly cadmium orange, cadmium red light, and white. I'll add the compliments as needed to neutralize (ultramarine and viridian). I generally avoid earth tones such as burnt sienna, and prefer to mix my own neutrals. The great thing about having a very chromatic palette is that a direct complement is always at hand. 

There is a lot of desert sage in Sedona, which has a chalky blue tint. If you squint when looking at the tree line, you can make out the abstract shapes. I scrubbed in some of these shapes at the bottom. Make them bigger than you think they need to be, because you can always put trees over them later. 

I also took a pale blue-violet and painted some horizontal marks in the shadowed area. A lot of the rocks here have lighter-colored bands. I like to exaggerate these a little bit, which helps give the rocks more structure. 

I'm hopping all over the painting at this point. Rather than work one area to completion at a time, I like to finish the entire painting all at once. I keep 4 or 5 brushes in my left hand at a time, each dedicated to a different color. 

At this stage I'm building up the thickness of most areas, going back with generous amounts of thick paint. I mix with my brushes on my palette, which forces me to only mix small amounts of color at a time. After one or two brushstrokes I have to grab paint again, and each time I mix a color it is slightly different than the previous. I feel that this adds more variety to the painting. 

Working back and forth with a pale grey-blue and a light yellow-peach, I added some texture to the foreground. The sage and rock debris form some great abstract patterns and textures near the base of the mountains. I like to add some stray trees here and there too, though I try to simplify things by keeping most of the trees in "clusters". 

A highlight was added to the light-colored bands, adding in a touch of cadmium yellow to the mix. I'm trying to use more yellow and orange in the highlight mixtures than in the shadow mixtures, which will give the light a much warmer appearance. 

I didn't like the highlight that I started in the bottom right corner, so I decided to cover it up with a shadow. The tree clusters are getting some thicker paint. I'm using more blue in the shadowed areas, and more orange and a touch of yellow in the light areas. I'm still avoiding really bright greens at this stage. 

"It's much easier to brighten up a dull green than to dull down a bright green"

More accents are coming in at this stage. Up until this point i'm using mostly larger, flat brushes, #4's and #6's. I'm using a couple #2's now to place these accents. The accents I'm using are mostly value-related accents (very dark or very light marks) or chroma-related accents (very bright or very grey marks).

Saving the sky for last (since that changes the quickest). I wanted to contrast the orange/red rocks with a dark, cool sky, so I "moved" a couple of the clouds to make that happen. 

A few more final accents and the painting is all done. Thanks for reading! 

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