How the muse works …(sometimes)

On Saturday I realised that I was supposed to hand in a painting to the Art Society of Tasmania’s March member exhibition the VERY NEXT DAY. The theme is “From my Studio” and I’d been putting off deciding on my entry because I don’t really have much of a view from my little studio room. Both windows look out onto the side path which has a large concrete retaining wall a few feet away. I painted it with a mural years ago but it’s a bit faded now so the view is not so inspiring.I’d been wrestling with the idea of not taking the theme literally but instead thinking of it as a prompt.

“From my studio” I :

  • imagine dreamworlds of abstract patterns and shapes
  • reach into my memory and paint from images past
  • travel to far countries via my photo records
  • dip into my sketchbooks and reinvent a scene

but somehow this time I did want to represent something literally seen from my studio. It’s been niggling away at me and I just couldn’t make up my mind so on Saturday when I was tidying up my photos on my laptop I came across some great sky photos – they were taken outside my studio and I can see that sky through my window! 

Smoke filled sky from outside my studio window

It wasn’t enough on it’s own even though I liked the pattern of the trees against the sky so I gave it some more thought as I sanded back an old frame I’d just bought home from the recycling centre. I decided to use the frame dimensions as the painting dimensions and to do it in pastel. So there I had the bones of an idea, the format, the medium and size worked out and now I needed to flesh it out a bit more.

The format was a bit unusual ( 2:1 ) and it presented a few challenges. First I needed to crop my sky photo to fit whilst keeping the feel that had attracted me in the first place.

Cropped to fit the 2:1 format

  I felt the foreground would need something of real interest in it to make the painting work  and that a few diagonals would help to lead the viewer up into that wonderful sky. It must be interesting , be able to connect the strip of grass in the foreground with the trees in the middle and distance , fit in a narrow space and importantly , it must thematically connect as an idea with the sky- not a lot to ask right! One of my students had used a reference photo of mine with an old fence post during Friday’s pastel class and I’ve used that post before so I pulled out the photo and used it to block in a post on the bottom left which would stop the down hill run out of the corner as the eye followed the diagonal line of the sloping paddock ( we live on a fairly steep 5 acres). 

I did a little value study to see if the shapes would work and decided to add in a little extra grass in the foreground.

Value thumbnail

Having kept the viewer in the painting I really wanted to reward them for staying with me! There are a lot of birds around our place and they’re a constant joy so a bird seemed a good idea. I have a collection of reference photos I’ve taken  but none of them seemed right. The Black Cockatoos were big enough, I had photos of them in flight but they seemed too dark . The parrots were too small and too bright. Then I hit on the idea of a wedge tailed eagle , wings outstretched , landing on the post. I did a trial sketch of the eagle, thought it looked right and started on the painting. 

Wedge Tail Eagle sketch

My first go at the eagle wasn’t a success! It looked the right size in my sketch but when I blocked it in with charcoal I could see it was too small. There was no real connection between the grass and the trees..so out it came! 

This eagle is too small!

 In my final version I removed some of the trees behind the eagle so I could highlight it against the golds of the sky, the tail connects to the grass, the head to the sky and the wings lead up into the trees and onto the sky. I feel I’ve set up a good dynamic ,flow and counterpoint using the diagonals of the post, paddock, legs, wings and treelines. The old post stops the viewer from leaving via the bottom left corner. Although the eagle is fairly dark against the trees there is enough light and contrast from the white feathers and the golden glow of the back feathers so that he is easily seen. Looking at it now I can see that perhaps I’ve split it too neatly in half with the light and dark values but that’s a lesson learned for next time!

The Eagle’s landing

And that’s how I was able to come up with a concept to fit the brief, paint it, frame it and deliver on time. From the initial idea to the finished framed painting took me 6 hours and I’d been procrastinating for weeks! Sometimes it happens when it happens!

4 thoughts on “How the muse works …(sometimes)”

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