The setup for the painting. I begin the picture using the small set of hard pastels shown, switching to a larger and softer pastel set after establishing the basic elements. I’m always careful to make sure the painting is level with the horizon whenever I set up.
The ground (painting surface) for this piece is Strathmore rag board, 22 x 30”, treated with three coats of acrylic gesso containing finely crushed pumice. An additional three coats of gesso, minus the pumice, was applied to the back of the board to create equal tension. This was allowed to dry well, and an oil and turpentine wash was then applied, using the warm burnt orange tone shown in this illustration. After drying, a final coat of thinned shellac with additional ground pumice was added for extra tooth and protection from the inevitable moisture drops that may result from working near the ocean. This shellac coat also allows for a certain amount of wiping out of unsatisfactory passages. This board was then attached to a specially prepared mahogany plywood panel to fully support it in transporting to the location and while being on the easel.
The initial lay-in for this painting was done with hard pastel crayons, blocking in masses with dark pastel, allowing plenty of underpainting to show through. The main concern was the division of space and placement of the largest masses; trees, sky, sea, and sand. I work this placement out in small pencil notes in advance. I also begin to ask a lot of questions of myself, chiefly to establish in my mind what the mood and intention of the painting will be. What am I trying to say? What can I add or eliminate to make this clearer? This is an important point in the development of the picture, and deserves a lot of one’s attention. It becomes very easy to lose the initial concept of the work as nature changes before you, and you wrestle with the technical problems of the picture.
The second evening out, and I’ve got the blocking in accomplished, plus some work from memory in the studio. I’ve grown to see the benefits of working away from the subject from memory. The persistent observation of nature, alone, can sometimes squelch some of the poetic and expressive qualities that bring the painting alive for the viewer, and I enjoy freely re-designing the elements of the painting to suit my Intentions, but only after considering such changes in terms of what my goal for the painting is.
Though the sunlight and color aren’t with me this afternoon, I find overcast moments very valuable for working out shapes. I’ve now switched to my soft pastel set, which allows a wider selection of colors and richer application. I would like to mention that I do as little manual “blending” as possible throughout the development of the painting, preferring to get subtle transitions of tone by application of separate sticks of color as much as possible. There will be time for selective blending later.
At this point, I’m well on my way, but am having strong doubts about the prominent cloud shapes. They don’t have the feel that I hoped for, and are interfering with the mood I am after. After some consideration, I’ve decided to remove them.
Back in my studio, I get a soft terry cloth towel and dust off the areas I wish to change. Because I want more of the ground showing through in the clouds than before, I also use a couple of cotton cosmetic rounds, very slightly moistened with water, to pat off some of the deeper buildup.
Finally, a small vacuum serves to pick up the pastel dust from the painting and easel, and I briefly use a hair dryer to remove any moisture that may remain on the surface.
My re-designed sky is much more in keeping with the shapes that express the feeling of transcendence that I’m after. Though I’m still not completely enamored with what I have, it’s time to bring up other areas of the picture and tie things together. I bring some of the newer color from the sky into the foreground water, where some of my favorite work remains to be done, and have decided that some areas of the scumbled-in foreground will remain in their rough state in the finished painting.
One of the goals of this painting is to represent a variety of pastel textures, and to attempt to treat each basic element (sky, sea, sand, etc.) in an interesting surface treatment, appropriate to its character.
I try and keep this in mind, though it can get lost in the battle of capturing the constantly changing elements.
I’m almost home now…through the process of creating this piece, I’ve discarded a lot, and focused my thinking on the big relationships,
and the transcendent mood that underlies the picture.
For the finishing touches, I’ve decided to add some small figures. I’d like to add a word about my reasoning for this.
Over time, I’ve learned that for many viewers, a landscape or shore scene without the human element seems foreign and lonely. Being that we are communal beings, it stands to reason that some people, perhaps many, have trouble stepping into a painting without companionship. The idea that others populate the world of the painting is somehow welcoming, and I do not begrudge my participants this small help. Besides, it offers me a great opportunity for flecks of pure color, to indicate scale , and create compositional magnetism (the ability to attract the eye).
The finished painting.
For once, the title came quickly. “The Windswept Cathedral,” a title which holds the key to much that I have hoped to express.
The frame is one that I’ve crafted myself. Especially with work in pastel, I am concerned with the safety of the work and the structural soundness of the frame, which is a 1.5″ molding I created using Poplar.
I include here images of the joining of the frame, and the backside protection. This method of wiring is good for pieces where a large sheet of glass was needed, in this case single strength picture glass measuring 38″ x 31″. The matting I selected is a single white rag matboard, beveled, with a four-inch face.