Sunday, October 30, 2011

"Just Leaving", 48x60, oil on board by Maryanne Jacobsen, great blue heron, Florida beach paintings, large paintings, beach path, impasto, alla prima,

SOLD"Just Leaving", 48x60, oil on board by Maryanne Jacobsen (Note: You can click on the image if you wish to see it better.)

This painting of a great blue heron on a Florida Beach was a recent commission that I rec'd from an agent, which had been requested by a large luxury hotel chain that I had worked with in the past. With a very short deadline requirement, I knew that I had to do something out of the ordinary in order to speed up the drying time of oil paint. So I decided to use Gamblin's Fast matte alkyd white and mix the white with all the other colors on my palette in order to get the painting to dry quickly. I don't really like the tacky consistency of the fast matte paint, but it does work really well for plein air paint-outs and if you are traveling and need the painting to dry quickly. So I decided it was the best route to take, as long as I remembered to mix all my colors with the whites! (Guess what, I didn't.)

Unfortunately, right after I rec'd a verbal approval from the company to proceed with the commission, I hurt my back pretty badly. In retrospect I think I should have realized that my back was more important than the commission, but being the conscientious individual that I am, I loaded up on Advil and tried to think positive thoughts as I climbed up and down on a footstool and tried to paint the top portion of the painting. Next I was afraid to adjust the easel when I needed to paint the lower part of the painting, since the board was quite heavy, so I sat on the footstool instead while I painted the lower third.

I must say that I have absolutely no idea how people sit while they paint! To me it is next to impossible. So with the restrictions that my back was imposing on me, and the bubble gum consistency of the fast matte paint to deal with, I was not a happy camper. In addition, I could not mix color the way that I normally do. Technically I knew that I need to keep my paint vibrant and pure in the foreground and then add white gradually, in order to make the landscape recede as I go into the background. But this rule could not apply now, since I needed to mix everything with white! It was a pure nightmare- painting this!

In the end, the painting came out just fine, but I'll never do a painting this large again. I am an alla prima artist, and there is simply no way to get a painting this size done in one session! Period. I struggled for the better part of a week which meant that the painting could not possibly dry in time for the required deadline! I learned a lot of valuable lessons from this experience, and I think that is a good thing. Here is the process that I used to complete the painting- the largest that i have ever done, by the way.

First I sketched out the composition and basic values on a sketch pad, making sure that I used the same ratio required in the finished painting- in this case 8 inches by 10 inches.

Then I primed the board, using three coats of gesso followed by a light sanding and then a coating of premium acrylic house paint on both sides of the board. The reason that I painted the back side of the board was because I knew a board this large would tend to warp if there was nothing to balance the weight on the front side. Although it will still warp, that can be controlled somewhat in the final framing. Next I applied a very thin glaze of Permanent rose and Indian yellow to the board, let it dry and then sketched out the design with a pastel pencil.

Knowing I needed to work from the back forward, I added the sky and the bird, working hard to keep the paint layer thin, but still vibrant. Using a thin glaze of ultramarine blue, I also added the shadow mass to the would-be foliage.

Next I added the water , which in this case happens to be the Gulf of Mexico. Since I was somewhat limited in terms of impasto, I had to be very careful in my creation of waves, which was pretty stifling to my palette knife style! I discovered a few days later that there were some areas of the water in which I had forgotten to add the fast matte white. Bummer. It wouldn't dry!

Then I worked on the foliage, which was very challenging with all the restrictions that I had.

I waited until the painting had been dry a few days and then I went back in and added the things that it needed- depth of color and some additional natural growth to the foliage.

In the end, I am glad I attempted this in spite of all the difficulties. We always learn from new experiences, and working this big, with a fast-drying white, really showed me that different sizes and different types of paint require different techniques that can be quite challenging!


Roxanne Steed said...

I agree- these super big ones are SO difficult (esp. for us alla prima painters). But this looks great!! Thanks for sharing the details, now I know I wasn't imagining the difficulties on the last large one I tackled!

Katherine Thomas said...

Thank you so much for sharing all the details of the process! I hope you do this often, I found it so informative and useful. And the painting is gorgeous! I hope your back feels better soon.

Susan Roux said...

Very interesting to see your process. For some reason I always imagined you began with lots of color. Who would have known it all came in the end? Sit to paint? I can't either. I'm a painter on the move.

Hope your back gets better soon.