From the Back of the Dune

Along the Blue Margins, my new exhibit at Arden Gallery, is now on view and continues through the month of June 2012. 

TM8251 Back of the Dune 22×22 oil on panel

Some paintings take a long time to materialize. Back of the Dune is such a painting. It is based on photographs from a visit to the Cape Cod National Seashore, which I photographed a few years ago. The photos of scrub growth  in a burst of flowery June excess haunted and perplexed me. I tried painting the scrub growth a few times, but always ended up sanding down the panels. The direct approach seemed too planned – the results seemed forced, not full of the chaos of life that so appealed to me.

Painting techniques: Wait a year, try again. This time I started indirectly by rolling a layer of gray-green tone toward the middle, then pressing crumpled plastic wrap and paper towels into the wet paint to create a textural pattern. I also used a rubber-tipped scraping tool to draw lines into the wet paint, then smudged them. I let the panel dry overnight, then blocked in the horizon and applied a blue-gray tone to the distant water, glazed some color onto the scrub, and painted in the sky.

Another couple days of drying time were followed by further development of the mass of vegetation using more glazes, refinement of the sky and development of the water. Later, the scrub growth was refined using a flexible, soft nylon filbert brush and more opaque colors, then more glazing.

TM8251 Back of the Dune – Detail

One problem was how to integrate the growth and sand at the bottom of the painting. Using semi-transparent grays (warm and cool) I slowly worked thin layers of paint from the bottom up toward the stalks and leaves, then worked lighter, warmer tones in to create a sense of weak sun hitting this area. Blue glazes created shadows in the vegetation and enhanced the sense of depth. Further working of semi-transparent grays up from the dune floor and into some of the spaces between stalks “grounded” the scrub. Details of grass in the foreground were picked out using opaque, warm greenish yellows, and highlights of sharp white in the flowering bushes provided more contrast. A few touches of Venetian red mixed with white and dioxazine violet provided the beach roses, and offered a complementary color to all the greens. See detail of vegetation below. The process of starting with a  “chaos” of textures and pulling the image from that textural field seemed to come closer to depicting the truth of the place. It is a technique I will try to refine in the future.

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