I recently completed a rather ambitious project where I painted a large composition in 3 sections (triptych). I don’t do very many commissions and there can be significant challenges with this process as artists who have done more than a couple will attest to. I decided it would be an interesting and rewarding challenge and I liked working with the people involved. I posted images of this on my Facebook page. I will go into some detail here describing the process of putting it together.
It started out as a casual conversation with a couple at a show I was having in Whistler. They expressed interest in commissioning me to create a large feature painting for their living room. I agreed to meet them at their house the next day to discuss it. We examined the space and talked about some possibilities regarding the size and potential theme. I left with the agreement that they would choose some of my paintings that featured the kinds of things they might like to have in the painting. They are familiar with my work and already own a couple of my paintings.
Here are a couple of paintings they showed me that feature some of the elements that they were attracted to:
I started working on a composition that included some poplar trees in the foreground and some strong shadows that would pull the viewers attention into the painting. Here is a photograph I took recently that I used for reference and inspiration:
I made several sketches and measurements to help me figure out the best scale and size for the painting. I decided that 3 canvases were best suited for the painting in the space it would hang. Each canvas is 66”x33”, so each individual one is twice as tall as it is wide, and overall the composition ends up being 1/3 longer than it is tall; perfect proportions.
I first do the drawing in pencil to establish the position and proportions of the elements in the design, then I used an india ink pen to do a precise contour drawing. This is important because I paint in layers and I need to know where the negative space is, which defines where the different layers and colors will be placed. I use the structural lines created by the shadows to bring the viewers eye into the scene diagonally from both sides, converging on the focal point which is at the top left in between the first and second panels. I am using the tall vertical lines created by the poplar trees to break up the strong horizontal movement formed by the landscape behind. A winter snow scene is ideal for the chosen color palette and the strong contrast needed for the shadows.
Burnt Orange is the first layer of color (Imprimatura). Its purpose is to create a dramatic warm undertone. I added a slow drying medium to the glaze and used rubber spatulas to carve out the shapes of the poplar trees and branches. I prefer to use the white of the ground as the base white for these deciduous trees – it increases the luminous effect. I also painted in the opaque and semi-opaque blue tints for the fir trees and the distant hills.
Next, I applied a yellow glaze over the entire painting and then I blocked in all the mid tone colors, leaving the orange underpainting showing in the knots of the poplar trees and the dogwood bushes in the background. The yellow glaze turned the blue fir trees green too of course. The sun shining thru the clouds behind the top of the fir tree on the left side (focal point) creates a dominant diagonal shape bringing the viewers attention back down towards the right. The idea was to create a scene that would also draw the viewer’s attention into the distance with the receding planes, the structural lines created by the shadows and the clouds reinforce this.
In this stage I applied more glazes: Yellow, blue, green and earth red, as well as more bold opaques and a warm blue veil over the poplar trees.
In the last sitting I used black contours and shadows to boost the contrast and add more detail. I also spent time adding in more opaque colors and bright highlights (see the first image of the painting above). Below is a picture of the triptych in the setting for which it was created.