Sunday, May 18, 2014

When the Rains Came - The Creative Process

When the Rains Came
3' x 2' Watercolor on artists canvas
My painting of Canyon de Chelly is in a time of more water. And if the Anasazi abandoned the pueblos and cliff dwellings in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona because of drought then once there was more water. Geological evidence says that the Colorado Plateau was far more wet. Water ran through the slot canyons and down the cliff faces leaving behind evidence of its passage. Even now a torrential rain storm miles away on the mesa tops can fill the gorges and slots and canyons with water.

I was thumbing through some old books of sepia paintings of the American West and say one of White House Ruins with two men sitting on a promontory cut off from the ruin by a vast river of water. My paintings of my beloved Colorado Plateau have always included water even when it was not there. It is a wish it will return. So the photograph was a perfect jumping off point for me and this painting. And I returned with this painting to watercolor. Okay, there is a few pens used but so did the Chinese with their watercolors.

Main color blocks poured in
This is a large canvas to do solely with watercolor. But I did not want to use oil sticks as I have been doing lately primarily because of the detail of the two women and they sheep, and the pueblo in the cliff.

Color blocks defined
And rather than just a wide river (there is the remains of a big river still) I wanted to show water on the cliffs. Surely the peoples who inhabited these grand dwellings did not haul it all up from the canyon floor via foot holds cut in the rock face? The cliffs must seep when there are heavy rains. I know it runs off the slick rock of the canyon walls. No doubt these were taken advantage of with pottery to catch the water.

Color layers and a small cascade of water from the top left

I do begin a painting with a source of inspiration (that sepia photograph) and a sketch to define my direction. I have only rarely used a color sketch and then when I sketched on site with watercolor pencils and pens.  I find with a especially a large and complex painting it takes over control at a certain point. The progress photo above was that point. And so more water running down the cliff face had to be added.

Getting close

And if somewhere up top it is raining there must be clouds. And vegetation had to be added to the hill where the women herd their sheep. It needed to be darker so it did not distract from the clouds or the sheep or the ruins. Finding that balance took some time. Lately I have been filling in the foregrounds with oil stick bushes. I returned to my use of salt and granulation medium.

If sand paintings done by the native peoples in the southwest can be prayers for heeling. Can a painting with water be a prayer for its return to our parched land?

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