Summer Greens

One of the toughest problems painters face in the summer months is the challenge of GREEN. Sometimes it seems as if the whole world is a sea of green, as in Paul Simon's song Kodachrome, "Give me the greens of summer; makes me think all the world's a sunny day." An upcoming lesson in my studio will (I hope) help students to tackle the challenges of "too much green" successfully.  Here are the steps in a demo that I've prepared to support the lesson, based on a photo taken of the summer field behind my friend Sandy's house.


For the scattered yellow flowers, I tried a new technique: I crushed a small amount of a vibrant yellow pastel into a dish, dissolved it in a bit of rubbing alcohol, then dipped an old toothbrush in and spattered the field.  Despite a few too-large drops, I was happy with the overall result, and once it dried it was easy to fix the areas I didn't like.  It looks more natural than hand-dotted flowers, I think.


The flock of starlings was inspired both by a flock that flew chattering by my studio as I was working, and my desire to have a balancing diagonal in the opposite direction to the main flow of the eye-path through the painting (essentially bottom left up to the barn in the upper right).  Using a dark gray pastel pencil, I started adding in the universal symbol for " flying bird": tiny v-shapes.  I kept adding, stepping back to check, adding more, smudging a few out...until I had a natural-looking flock.  I signed the piece in the bottom left (unusually for me), in red, to add another note of balance to the red barn, and named it Summer Flock.

Mini Me

In a recent conversation with my pastel students, I learned that one of them particularly loved a painting of mine that is in my own collection. Many artists keep a personal collection of works.  For me, these are the ones that fall into one or more of the following categories: 1) I painted it under the supervision of another artist in a course or workshop, and it is therefore ineligible to be shown in juried shows;

2) it represents a breakthrough in technique or approach for me, and I want to keep a memento of the lesson learned;

3) it is of a scene that has a significance to me (such as the small stream that crosses a corner of a road near my former house--when I reached that spot, I knew I was almost home);

4) I simply love it too much to part with it--or someone in my family does!

Buttercup Meadow (19" x 18.5"), pictured below, represents a breakthrough for me in the painting of various shades of green.  Recalling Richard McKinley's admonition that "purple is green's friend", I underpainted the whole scene in various values of purple, both blue purples and intense red-violets.  The resulting underpainting was pretty bright and a bit scary, but I gulped and started applying the many greens in this scene of spring by a meandering stream.  I was delighted to find that, indeed, the purples provided a great foundation for the various greens, giving them weight and variety. I allowed quite a bit of them to show through the scumbled greens, and in the forground grassy area, they gave the impression of textured foliage and perhaps tiny flowers--exactly the effect I was seeking. I was very pleased with the resulting painting, and when my husband (my best critic and fan) said it was the best work I'd done so far, I knew it was a keeper. Buttercup Meadow, obviously, fits into category 2 above, and it's unlikely I'll ever sell it.

When I heard that my student particularly liked this scene, however, I wondered if I could perhaps approach the scene again, but in a different format.  The result, Spring by the Stream (13" x 13") is the result. The new painting is much smaller than the original, has a slightly different composition, and includes brighter and more flowers in the meadow. However, I painted it in the same way (with a purple underpainting), and I think it is equally successful.  I'm not sure I'd make a habit of this--it's perhaps not a great idea to repeat myself and have many iterations of the same work--but in this instance, with an original work I don't intend to sell, and a person who really wanted one like it, I decided it would be ok to try it out. An interesting experience!