Monday, February 17, 2014

High Mesa Dawn

High Mesa Dawn
Mixed Media on artists canvas
28 x 28/40 x 40 on the diagonal
by J. Binford-Bell

I began this composition style with small paintings of New Mexico Missions largely because it allowed the best display of church towers, and a smaller canvas could take up more space on a wall. I sold them often in groups of four which could be arrange in a diamond shape on a wall. In the last year I have begun to enlarge the canvases I use in this manner and expand on the subject matter. I have done two paintings now inspired by Acoma Pueblo and both have been on the diagonal. High Mesa Dawn is by far my largest to date.

First the sky

No sense in spending hours and hours on the heart of the painting and then ruin it by trying to fill in a sky. I think of my skies as an integral part of the painting. They set the mood and to a large degree determine the palette of the balance of the painting. Since I have begun pouring my skies I always think of this part of the process almost magical. Never quite sure what I will come up with.

Then laying in the blocks of color beneath

Then adding in the sunlight
The sky determined where the light of the rising sun was coming from and so all colors have to be laid in with the direction of the light firmly in mind. Watercolor traditionally is lighter colors first and then turning darker. But watercolor canvas has changed that some because the colors can be lifted from it. And it is far more forgiving of layering colors than paper. With the complex buildings of the pueblo I first laid in base colors for the shadows, then added the sunlight on the walls facing the sun. And lastly I laid over some of the warmer yellows and oranges over the early blocks of shadow.

Filling in around the central buildings
I admit to going in a different order on this painting. Usually I do the skies and then the foregrounds. And lastly work on the subject or center of the canvas. As you can see from the progress photo above the foreground was left for last. I think this approach (artists do not always know why they do something) was because wanting to create depth in this painting. I worked from back to front. I also found I changed the sketch in the foreground to give more a sense of height of the mesa.

Foreground floated

I love working rock and canyon walls with a floating technique. This can require more masking to protect the areas you do not want the color to float too. But I will apply water to an area of rock and then drop in various colors of liquid watercolor and in this case a granulation medium which creates a visual texture to the rocks. You can stir with a brush or push the colors this way or that but no painting.

Canvas covered and details beginning to be added

There are chickens on the mesa and sheep down by the canyon floor pens. Ladders are casting shadows, and deeper shadows are added to the passages off the mesa. I am still at this point working largely in watercolor and some inks for detail. Next step is the use of oil sticks to the clouds and sky and to the canyon walls. I did not want to totally cover up the great textures achieved with the floating of mesa walls but I wanted them darker to accent the sun on the pueblo.

Finished painting with ravens and signature
I reposted the the finished painting here at the bottom so you can see how it has changed from the one just above. I did manage to darken my foreground with the oil sticks, and pick up the clouds in the poured sky. I also deepened the shadows, and added more details with pen and ink.

Lastly I add the ravens or crows. There are two flights of ravens in this painting. That was inspired by my visit to Acoma where you can look over the edge and watch the ravens rise from between the mesa walls and soar above you. All my daytime paintings have ravens. They have become a signature of mine. And since the death of a very dear friend there has always been somewhere in the sky one raven that is all alone.

Sky City or Acoma Pueblo is not at this time of drought this rich in water. The adding of water to my paintings of the desert and canyons is a wish or prayer for its return.

I poured the sky on February 4th and finished it twelve days later. Working on High Pueblo Dawn was a spiritual journey in many ways. But that is true of most of the paintings I have done since I quit art fairs and took the one year sabbatical from painting.

1 comment:

I appreciate all kind comments on my art and poetry.