Kraken – A Journey

Here I go again my people!  Another new piece, lots of exploration and new things and mistakes and magic.

Back in early July the girls and I took a three day trip to one of the smaller state parks in Indiana.  It was lush and beautiful and we were almost completely alone there and … well it was marvelous.  During that time I didn’t do too much drawing but I did throw this together one evening while listening to the frogs.

I ultimately didn’t (and don’t) love the little egg plant in the middle, but the way the trees came together in various places and the notion of a background peeping through that structure really stuck with me.  

Shortly thereafter I decided I wanted to do another large piece, something with layers of color placed with a palette knife and my fingers and the wild abandon that comes from owning gloves and using them to paint, so there’s no mess to fret over.

As first layers go, this one is tops.  I do enjoy putting together a really dark first layer, with lots of texture and peaks, letting it try and they doing a second, thinner and lighter, layer that lets the peaks pop through.  Oil paints are often times pretty darned translucent so I did leverage some zinc white in this second layer to ensure some level of opacity.

And that’s just the ticket.  I’ve been pleased with this one with every move thus far.  I wish I could tell you exactly what colors I used here, but I was working with abandon and left the documentarian to the side for a bit.  The yellows and particularly the green areas in the top right please me to know end.  Somehow it just all works.  If I had more coffee in me maybe I could tell you why, but alas.

This is where the staring began.  I knew I loved the canvas as is … truly, it might stand up as a finished piece all on it’s own at this point, but I wanted more.  I felt like it wanted some magic and a pop of white but I just wasn’t sure… and then, after all the staring, I remembered the picture I’d drawn on vacation.

Using Photoshop, I mocked it up.   I removed the egg, trimmed the background out and they added the remaining trees as a layer on top of a photo of the background … and the plan was clear.

Well, almost clear, I did ultimately stretch things  a bit to remove the box of background at the bottom, but the concept was solid.

I used chalk to get the basic lines in place and then leveraged Zinc White and Burnt Umber to rough the branches in.

Now, I’m going to be the first to admit that as a ‘rough in’ this looks phenomenal.  To expedite the shading and such I actually placed lines of Burnt Umber where I knew the shadows would sit and then came back through with Zinc White and filled it all in, blending as I went.  This has been a solid approach for me historically, placing the shadow first and blending as I go, but it just worked like gangbusters this time.

At this point, hells bells, it seems about half done, almost like it finished itself while I wasn’t watching.  But wait!  There’s more.

I’ve not done too much work with glazing but have wanted to.  Glazing is when you thin transparent paints with oil and add them thin layer by thin layer.  Light is able to move through the paint and reflect off the opaque background but then is filtered back through these subtle layers of color.  It really adds a lot of depth and richness to a piece.  So Imma glaze!

The changes at this point may seem subtle.  I wanted to increase the contrast with some darkness along the bottom, so I thinned up some Diozazine Purple with linseed oil (pic below so maybe you can get an idea of how the thinned paint looks on the palette) and applied very thinly.  Lots of brushing and fanning the color out with this one.

Just yesterday I went back in with some Phthalo Blue to increase the depth of the dark areas and this all pleases me so much.  I’m tempted to leave the rest of the background alone, but first, before making any decisions, I’m going to sit and stare at it some more.  The trees want refining, but not too much, the background wants some warm glow reinforced in the top center left, but not too much … the green on the right is something I just don’t want to mess up as I think it’s about perfect…. but the staring will help.

UPDATE – 09/11/2021

Oh it wanted sunshine! But it really didn’t want such a heavy concentration! I was flummoxed and convinced I’d ruined it. Then I remembered my turpenoid! I dipped a flat brush in – just barely and proceeded to do vertical stripes of turpenoid over the canvas. Immediately the paint thinned and began to more in a translucent fashion up and down the canvas.

OMG this is just brilliant. I was so very pleased and have sat with it for about a week now – really unsure where to go next. I have a scene here I don’t want to ruin but I also found it seriously lacking.

This morning I pulled up photoshop and played around with different figures and scenes to see what I wanted to do. Then I remembered “The Kraken” from a million years ago so dug up and old photo of the preliminary sketch.

And here we go! I just finished getting a sketch of the image in zing white. I am both daunted and curious. This may be an absolute failure but it feels ambitious and challenging.

Ok y’all! I made a plan!!!

This is one of the few times I’ve sorted out the full palette for a figure ahead of time. Often, it’s a ‘seat of my pants’ situation. But I knew what I wanted and I thought I knew how to get it done.

This red was EXACTLY what I’d pictured. Oh the high of this!!! A mental image perfectly executed first go. Now for the tentacles … and for blue.

Now, blue is troublesome, difficult, aggressive and complicated. It rarely does what I want and never does easily.

I’ve made some missteps here. I can see them – BUT, as a first go at blue I’m pleased. Now I let it all dry and go back in for detailing and glazing and pulling it together. I need to mull how I will harmonize that blue with the sunlight and the background. Pulling that yellow into the tentacle highlights may be the key. It’s a bit too powerful – but also, this all pleases me. I feel like I’ve got some mojo back that has left me for a few weeks. Feels good.

UPDATE – 09/27/2021

It’s all about small changes now that I have the base vision down.

Shading work here mostly. I strengthened the shade lines on the trees and added some to the tentacles. The bottom is tricky as it’s so dark.

Even more shading at the bottom and now it’s even darker! But I feel better about where I will want the highlights to live. This may be one I need to take very dark and then highlight to get the effect I’m looking for. The detail and shading on the mouth makes me super happy.

I also had a brief run in with famous people!

He did not make me famous but oh I did squeal!

Next up is a little more depth at the bottom and then highlights for everyone!

—UPDATE 10/03/2021

Hours of highlight work today, the changes are subtle BUT I think inspire a big difference in the way the painting is experienced.

The highlights in the branches help to pull the eye up instead of getting stuck in the depths of the tentacles. I was hoping that would be the impact so you can imagine my delight!

The yellow highlights on the lips also is pleasing to me, helps to more solidly place the figure in the space, creating some reference to the background.

I did also mix the use of burnt and raw umber which I have never done before. I felt the trees were too warm toward the bottom so added in some raw umber to cool it up. It’s close to what I was hoping for but still isn’t quite right.

I’m not quite sure where to go next. I may need to set this one aside and look at it for a bit off the easel.

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