Mary F. Kish: Painting a Portrait

Mary F. Kish Portrait by Ann Litrel

Mary F. Kish – Kish Center for Ceramics & Pottery

 oil on canvas, 16” x 20”

Painting a Portrait from a Photo

Most of my portraits start with an in-person session with the subject. I get to become acquainted with him or her, we share stories, and I can photograph, sketch, and take notes.

However, a few portraits have been based on photographs only – paintings commissioned in memory of a loved one. This is the process I will share with you here.

Mary F. Kish died several years before I was asked to paint her. Her husband commemorated her life by making a donation to complete an arts center for clay artists at Woodstock Arts – to be known as the Mary F. Kish Center for Ceramics & Pottery.

And, as it turned out, Mary’s husband also wanted to remember her life with a portrait.

Learning About the Subject

Mary’s husband and I spoke for a while. I asked to know more about Mary, and what he remembered as special about her. This is just some of what I learned:

Mary was a creative spirit – a person who explored multiple forms of art over her life, from painting and drawing to pottery and ceramics. (Later, I would see some of her work – the lovely curves of her pots lining the shelves of the room, the delicate drawings and art framed about the house they had shared.)

Just as important, Mary’s husband spoke about her warmth. It was interesting, he said, that even though she was a fairly quiet person, other people really warmed up to her and would often tell me later how much they enjoyed talking with her. He said, She had a way of bringing people out.

Choosing the Pose

Mary’s husband shared a Google folder of photos that (I believe) was created at or around the time of her death. He remarked that Mary did not like having her photo taken, so he was amazed that he had been able to gather this many at all. He asked if I could suggest a few choices.

Images of Mary and her life flashed across the computer, moving into my imagination in a way I was not really prepared for.  I felt as though I was witnessing the trajectory of her life, in a kind of fast-forward time capsule. Here she was a young schoolgirl with braids and warm brown eyes, here a vivid laughing young woman, then bride beside an older woman (a grandmother?), a tender new mother cradling a baby, then baiting a hook for the young boy beside her, then the proud mom of an Eagle Scout. Finally, toward the end of her life, a cancer patient – face pale, hair gone, wearing hat, shawls, surrounded by loving family.

I found three pictures I liked – all a bit blurry – but we agreed on an image of Mary as a smiling young woman, the original of which her husband kept framed on his dresser.

old photo of smiling young woman with long dark hairGetting To Know the Subject

It was time to do the preparatory sketches, to dreaming of the orms in which the portrait might materialize – the color palette, the arrangement of lights and darks, how to handle the background…

I went to Mary’s photos in the Google folder. In my mind’s eye, I let my fingers trace the contours of her face over many different photos, trying to familiarize myself with its shape and expressions from all angles – the strong forehead, the wide cheekbones and jawline. She had a straight nose, beautiful dark eyebrows arched over dark eyes that tilted slightly downward when she smiled. Her smile creased into long laugh lines suggestive of dimples without actually having them.

I did a rough black and white sketch, concentrating not on finish but on understanding the forms of her face – the line of the chin, the pads of her cheeks, the inward scoop of her eyes beside the nose.

rough sketch of woman for portrait

What to Express – Gesture and Lost Edges

I very much liked the photo  – the most important part of it seemed to me to be the gesture of her raised shoulder – almost a protective defense, as though to say to the unseen photographer, “Oh, you got me!” There was warmth in the smile, but also vulnerability.

The photo didn’t have much detail , and I didn’t want to make anything up. So I kept the portrait soft and expressionistic, “losing” many of the edges so that the viewer was led to focus on just a few features of the subject – the dark downward sweep of her hair over the face and shoulder, the left side of her face (her right) the focus area.

Here you can see some of the rough thumbnails to try out some color palettes. I love the thumbnail stage – this stage allows me to attempt multiple approaches without committing to lots of time or paint. Right at the beginning I came to the decision to let the right side of her hair melt into a shadowed background so the focus could largely be on the opposite side of her face.

color thumbnail sketches

Putting On the Paint

I started the painting with a warm gray wash to cut back the white of the canvas. I left the little drips and splashes for visual interest. The hair, the face and the features I blocked in roughly, gradually refining the features to make them more accurate. The palette I limited to four colors – magenta and Indian red, yellow ochre, and viridian green, with a white.

In the manner of “alla prima” portraits (Richard Schmid being an ever-present inspiration) I allowed a good part of the canvas to remain negative space. Unlike the original photo, the lights of the background allowed her sweater to emerge almost imperceptibly with all the contrast at the shrug of her shoulder. The light then works upward into her neck and then her face, completing a path around and through the portrait.

The last little bits I painted were the brightest white edge of her shoulder, and the delicate strands of hair.

Knowing when to stop is often one of the biggest challenges in a painting. Tweaking and fussing the details until the subject is flat is the temptation I fight. I stopped in this portrait when it seemed to me that she suddenly seemed to emerge from the canvas. Done.

Ossabaw Island – Georgia’s Gifts From the Sea

Painting of Moonlight over Ossabaw Island by Ann LitrelI grip the thin handrail of the boat as it crests another wave. We’re entering “Hell Gate,” a narrow sea passage on the way from Savannah to our destination. At the wheel, the captain seems unconcerned that six middle aged women are perched on the edges of his bouncing boat.

We’re headed for one of Georgia’s wildest places – Ossabaw Island.

This is “Turtle Weekend,” a trip organized by Ossabaw Island Foundation, which stewards Ossabaw in partnership with Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources. It’s a chance for us to learn about Georgia’s sea turtles – and perhaps see a turtle nest hatching.

Naturalist John “Crawfish” Crawford sits in the front of the boat, wasting no time in launching our education. His gray, curly-haired head seems overflowing with a lifetime of lore about Georgia’s salt marsh, and the ways of her birds and wild creatures. In a tumble of words, he spills the treasure of his knowledge as we travel through the waves.

Ossabaw sparkles bright green on the horizon. The sky arches high overhead. I am unprepared for the shore’s utter wildness: this could be the New World a half millennia ago. Welcoming us ashore is Elizabeth, the Executive Director, who takes us to our accommodations. The century-old Club House is tucked into the trees, built long before the island was designated a State Heritage Preserve in 1978.

After dinner Crawfish gathers us around a table in the common room for our orientation. Amid an array of turtle skulls, a Green Turtle shell, and a preserved turtle hatchling in a jar, he relates the ecology of the island and the history of ongoing sea turtle conservation and research. Two solitary research residents have lived here all summer, monitoring the turtle nests, counting hatchlings as they emerge. Twenty years of national conservation programs appear to be successful: a decade ago, Georgia’s annual count of sea turtle nests numbered 1005. This year, the count is 3956. But Crawfish cautions us: Hurricane Dorian wreaked havoc this summer.  Many eggs were drowned in the rising storm waters. He wants us to be prepared for the nest we will see tomorrow.

The next morning I grab a mug of coffee to watch the sunrise over the marsh. The full moon is setting, faintly illuminating the ghostly forms of tall birds fishing in the water…  wood storks and white egrets.

Promptly after breakfast, a jeep appears to take us to our destination for the day – South Beach, to see a turtle nest, a hatching – or whatever we may find.

The Beach is a graveyard of trees, their twisted forms looming out of the sand like the bones of huge skeletons. We meet the researchers, Brianna and Caleigh, at the nest site they have marked for today’s excavation. It’s been 65 days since the mother Loggerhead turtle laboriously dragged herself out of the sea to lay her eggs, leaving her trail in the sand. Caleigh begins to dig. This is the reason we are here – to see the hatchlings.

But as feared, it is not to be. Caleigh brings the eggs out of the hole one by one – round, the size of ping pong balls. They have all been drowned.  She breaks open one of the soft, permeable eggs to show us the unborn turtle with his tiny flippers.

Brianna reminds us of the good news, that more turtle nests were laid this year in Georgia than ever before. Many hatchlings are already safely in the ocean. More will hatch, no doubt.

On the return ride to the Clubhouse, we are a quiet group. The ruined nest, though expected, has dampened our spirits. Halfway back to the Club House we pass a bare, leafless tree marking the edge of the marsh. Amid the branches we catch a glimpse of movement – bright pink, flashing  –

There, strutting and bowing on the branches are strange birds – rare Roseate Spoonbills! Prehistoric, with platypus like beaks and bright red eyes – looking for all the world like the distant dinosaur cousins that they are. They cavort like pink-plumed clowns, dipping and flapping their wings.

Roseate Spoonbill at Ossabaw ISland - painting by Ann LitrelWe watch for long minutes, this unearthly gift from a wild place.

Not what we expected. But beautiful and rare just the same.

This year, as you wind up this season of gift-giving, consider seeking out the gifts from Georgia you may not know you have.

 

Explore the Bucket List of Georgia’s Gifts:

“35 Natural Wonders of Georgia To See Before You Die.”

Leave the Leaves for a Pollinator-Friendly Backyard

Yard Signs available HERE

 

Sometimes I wonder if bagging leaves started as a practical joke on us homeowners. As an artist and a gardener, I can tell you that getting rid of leaves is one of those suburban traditions that just doesn’t make sense.

Leaves are great natural mulch.

From a gardener’s perspective, leaves are healthy. They are Nature’s great compost, perfectly designed to enrich the roots of trees, shrubs, and flowers. They have nutrients in them that the trees draw up from deep in the soil. WHY would we throw them out?

From an artist’s perspective, leaves are no problem. They’re brown, just like mulch. They look great in your beds, around your shrubs. If your leaves look “too big,” just run the edges of your beds over a few times with a mower or put them in a shredder before you blow them into your shrubbery beds.

The entire trick to mulching with leaves is this: edges. If you can’t part with the look of neat beds, purchase a few bags of brown mulch. Mound the mulch along the edges of the beds. Six inches in, let it thin out. Take a few handfuls and scatter it into the bed so the mulch blends into the natural shredded leaves.

Take it from an artist – the human eye is mysteriously attracted to neat edges, and for some reason will ignore all kinds of messiness – if only the edges are neat.

Save money on mulch. Save money on fertilizer. Leave the leaves.

Leaves are a haven for pollinators.

 Leaves make a healthier landscape. They hold moisture. Among the leaves are the cocoons of hundreds of butterflies and moths who are natural pollinators. Along with the leaves in our beds are dry stems and pieces of wood that shelter small pollinating bees over the winter. The nutrients and microbes of leaf litter sustain thousands of insects and the small animals who eat them – snails, fireflies, lizards, birds, turtles, salamanders…

They all depend on the nutrients of leaf litter for the foundation of their food chain.

Community trends favor healthier landscaping.

Over the past few years, savvy communities and neighborhoods have been easing away from the sterile look of chemical- and maintenance-dependent turf. These neighborhoods have developed standards which allow more natural designs of native grass and wildflower landscaping. Pollinators thrive. Dragonflies flourish and control mosquitos.

The healthiest and most stress-free fall yard you’ve ever enjoyed might be yours with this one simple idea –

Leave the Leaves.

 

Help educate your community!
This infographic is available to share with your community, group or in your publication.

Yard Signs available HERE

For other inquiries, please Contact me

 

Easy and Healthy: Beating Mosquitoes and Ticks

Infographic Shows How Spraying for Mosquitoes Kills Insects Baby Birds NeedMy family is outside in the summer. A LOT.

My husband and sons are the BBQ Guys. They never met a meat group they didn’t like. I’m the Gardener, spring and summer.

The four of us share the yard with hawks, foxes, and 17 resident turtles (to date). Along with them are hundreds of small colorful songbirds, lizards and frogs, who depend on the plentiful insects and caterpillars for food. Over the past twenty years I’ve planted our small yard with layers of native shrubs and flowers which feed and shelter this wildlife.

The health of these animals depends on the presence of insects.

Safe and Effective Solutions for Enjoying Your Yard

Many chemical bug sprays that are ‘safe’ for people (non-fatal in small doses) are lethal to insects – not just the pesky ones, but to butterflies and pollinator bees as well. Our pets, too, are suffering from our chemical use. A mountain of research documents accumulated toxin loads in our dogs and cats at levels much higher than ours.

Most of us recognize that our chemical-dependent pest solutions should be phased out, not increased.

But we want to be comfortable.

For mosquito and tick season, I don’t spray my yard. I’ve found two healthy options that are not just effective for people, but safe for our birds and butterflies – and for the long-term health of the community.

Picardin Bug Repellent for Mosquitoes and Ticks

Picardin is a pepper-like ingredient with all the benefits of DEET and none of the downsides. It’s long-lasting and effective, without the heavy chemical smell or toxicity warnings. I’ve been using “Sawyer Insect Repellent,” which comes in a large lotion dispenser. It has been incredibly effective. The consumer advocate group Environmental Working Group lists insect repellents with Picardin as effective for 8-10 hours against not just mosquitoes but also ticks.

Pedestal Fan to Eliminate Flying Bugs

If you’ve ever been on a beach without a breeze, you know that the biting flies can come out in swarms. Guess what? A tall pedestal fan blowing on your grill or outside table works the same way as an ocean breeze – it drives the insects away. Consumer Reports found that just one pedestal fan (for as little as $20-50) can keep an outdoor space mosquito-free.

During bug season, it’s not hard to pick something healthy – you just have to look.

We can continue to build a healthy community – and not get mosquito bites for our trouble!!

 

For more information, go to

Environmental Working Group www.ewg.org

“Pollinator-Friendly Yards” on Facebook

 

Help educate your community!
This infographic is available to share with your community, group or in your publication.  Please Contact me

Chattooga River – Unexpected Adventure

We strap on our helmets and sign the waivers. Two pages of fine print list the ways in which we can be hurt, crippled or drowned while whitewater rafting on the world class rapids of the Chattooga River.

Three friends, Amy, Celeste, and Yasmin, have joined me for this adventure. We’re here because the Chattooga made the bucket list of 35 Georgia Natural Wonders I’m painting on a three-year project. The manager of the rafting outfitter has been kind enough to arrange one of his best guides for us. He’ll pull us aside for photos at the river’s most scenic spots.

We line up for the “Safety Talk.” Our guide, Brandon, appears to be approximately the age of my youngest son. He instructs us how to float – feet first – if we fall out of the raft. That way, he explains,  we won’t smash our heads on a rock.

I wonder if the others are thinking what I am: “WHY did I think this was a good idea?”

“With all the rains we’ve had,” Brandon continues, “we’re in for a treat. The water is very high in Section III, and we’ll see some world class rapids and beautiful waterfalls. It ends with an amazing run, Bull Sluice. We won’t know if we can take it until we get closer. Normally we only take more experienced rafters.”

The girls and I look at each other and raise our eyebrows.

“It’s cloudy today,” says Brandon, “but I think this is when the river is at its best, when it’s all gray and misty like this morning. Then you can see why the Chattooga is special – why it’s called a temperate rainforest.”

We climb into the raft. Brandon pushes off and jumps in. The waters are turbulent, swollen with recent rains, and we are swept away on its powerful current.

Designated a “National Wild and Scenic River,” the Chattooga is protected from human development for miles and miles.

For the next six hours we are transported into untouched wilderness. Giant rocks loom out of the water, evoking fallen monuments, or the remains of ancient civilizations. Birds cry unseen from trees that line the river like a wall of green. Turning one bend, we are surprised by a high waterfall tumbling down the right bank, its lacy fingers running down to the river. Everywhere around us, the voice of the river, wild and tumultuous, follows us on our journey.

Periodically, the peace is broken by runs of rapids. These moments are exciting, tense. “Get down,” Brandon says, and we slide to the bottom of the raft. This minimizes the chances of flipping. If we fall out, we know to keep our feet from dangling down as we swim. The chance of getting a foot entrapped in a rock and being submerged by the current is real.

As we approach Bull Sluice, Brandon steers our raft to shore and confers with other guides gathered there with their groups.

“We won’t be taking Bull Sluice today, “ he announces. “It’s too wild. But we can watch a more advanced group take it.”

I am both relieved and strangely disappointed.

We climb out of the raft and scramble to the highest rock to watch the more experienced rafters take Bull Sluice. The river explodes in white spray, crashing into a narrow gap between large rocks, thrusting the boat like a toy into the churning waters below.

The rainclouds open up. We are soaked and exhilarated, filled with wonder at Chattooga’s power and the beauty of this wild rainforest.  And watching the explosion that is Bull Sluice, we agree that we are already feeling the loss of this wild and beautiful place –

And we vow to come back, to meet Bull Sluice another day.

 

Resources:

Rafting the Chattooga – WildwaterRafting.com

Full list of 35 Georgia Natural Wonders 

 

Three Pears, or Homage to “Six Persimmons”

Watercolor painting of Three Pears
“Three Pears”, homage to the Chinese Painting “Six Persimmons”

 

Asian art is a constant inspiration to me, so when my friend Debbie brought a bag of pears for me from her tree, I immediately thought of the work “Six Persimmons” when I decided to paint the fruit.

 

“Six Persimmons” is a work painted in 13th century China, by a monk named Muqi Fachang (or Mu Ch’i Fa-Ch’ang). The simplicity and perfection of this particular painting has always fascinated me. It is composed of no elements but six fruits – two dark, two gray, two ghostly white. All perfectly balanced on a mottled background and painted in only blue-black ink. Six Persimmons by Chinese monk

 

To compose my 21st century painting, I chose three pears and lined them up on the table. As I painted, I immersed myself in Looking – paying attention to each fruit and its utterly unique shape, its subtle reflections, the curves of its stem and leaves, the tiny flecked spots on its golden skin. Yes, an ordinary pear. But each fruit unique.

 

The paintings, Chinese and American, are very different – my watercolor infused with 21st century optics of color and perspective, the 13th century painting with a tradition of simple ink strokes.

 

Yet the meditative impulse is common to them both. The always difficult exercise of rejecting the urgent – whether the laundry, the business phone call, the overdue errand. Honestly, my own struggle, year after year.

 

Being fully present.

 

Seeing Each Thing for Itself.

 

I can only smile and know that I am a part of this timeless pursuit of artists through the centuries.

 

 

“Three Pears, or Homage to Six Persimmons”

Triptych, custom framed in dark grain wood. Overall dimensions 24″ w x 13″h

$729. 

Contact me for purchase.

The Art of Letting Go – A Nature Journaling Retreat

October 25-27, 2019

Do you remember when you were a child, when there was no schedule – when wonder, curiosity, exploring and making things came easily?

Nature Journaling is about opening yourself to the natural world – and finding the wonder you had a child. It’s about slowing down and re-connecting with the small things you haven’t really SEEN since you were small. The moss under your feet. The songs of the birds above you. It’s about asking questions, and being curious again, like we were when we were young.

When you nature journal, you’ll renew the skills of observation, curiosity and creativity you were born with –

Join me on a Pilgrimage Retreat to one Georgia’s 35 Natural Wonders and let’s explore together!

Tallulah Gorge at sunriseTallulah Falls, a Georgia Natural Wonder 

Stunning Tallulah Falls &

Clayton, Georgia in the Blue Ridge Mountains

I invite you to come with me and experience this beautiful part of Georgia in the height of its fall glory.

We’ll adventure on trails and along waterways, and I’ll guide you through a few quiet sessions of introductory journaling – no artistic talent needed! (I’ll show you how to make your journal “shine” with a few quick tricks so you can bring home a beautiful memento of your trip you will treasure.)

Above all, it’s a chance to re-connect with nature, restore your soul, and maybe learn a few things too!

The Retreat

Each day will include an moderate hike outside one destination each day – Tallulah Falls and one of the surrounding nature destinations, such as Warwoman Dell or Dicks Creek Falls. We’ll take time to savor and enjoy, and along the way, I’ll point out the native plants and geologic features. We’ll “tune in” to the songs of nearby birds and insects, and the rhythm of nature’s fall activities . And we’ll be immersed in the amazing colors, sights, sounds and scents of northeast Georgia in October.

Each day you will experience a guided journaling session – practices for listening, waking up your senses, drawing and recording your thoughts in a number of approaches to unlock your innate perceptions.

We’ll return to our home base each afternoon for a period of quiet and free time, for reflection on what we’ve seen, a glass of wine together or a cup of tea and rest before dinner.

Accommodations

We have reserved a lovely vacation home in the Chattooga River Wilderness for our retreat. Surrounded by quiet fields and trees, it offers a fire pit, and a long front porch for drinking morning coffee and watching the mist lift off the fields across the lane.

The home has 2 Private Rooms, each with a queen bed, and one Shared Room with 3 beds.

Meals

Breakfast is included each morning, as well as a hiker’s lunch for the walk. (Dinner is pay your own, in one of the several lovely restaurants in this college town set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. )

Nature Journal Drawing of Joe Pye Weed and BeesGuided Walks

I’ll bring field guides and phone apps to help you learn to identify the native plants, animals and geology of the surroundings. I have a Master Naturalist Certification, which means I know enough to bring references for questions I can’t answer!

Transportation

For participants attending both nights, transportation (my van) is available for the drive to and from our Retreat home.

Supplies

I’ll provide drawing supplies for our Nature Journal sessions. At the end, you’ll have a bound Nature Journal of your memories to bring home. (Alternatively, you can order your own supplies – contact me for the list.)

Reserve by September 4 for Early Bird pricing

3 Days, 2 Nights Retreat

– Private Room     $290. ($320 after September 4)

– Shared Room     $190. ($210 after September 4)

2 days, 1 night Retreat

– Private Room     $210. ($230 after September 4)

– Shared Room     $165. ($180 after September 4)

Last day to reserve your spot September 30.  Limited Number of spots available!   

 

50% Deposit required with registration, remainder due by September 30. We hope you won’t have to cancel, but refunds are available until October 10. Contact me and I’ll get your credit card information (or check)

Call or text  678-640-8217

Or Email Ann@annlitrel.com

I look forward to journaling together!!

Ann

 

Altamaha Adventure: Kayaking On Georgia’s Little Amazon

Great Egret On the Altamaha River, painting by Ann Litrel

 

Alligators and six foot long sturgeon reputedly swim in the depths of the murky river under our boat. My friend Ginger sits behind me, steering the kayak while I periodically break to click a quick photo. We are deep in south Georgia, navigating the wildest unbroken stretch of river east of the Mississippi: the Altamaha, which flows freely for 137 miles with no dam to break its course to the sea.

The river is known as Georgia’s “Little Amazon.”

We’re here on a weekend stewardship trip with the Georgia Conservancy, joined by 70 fellow paddlers from all over the Southeast. Our bright boats and life vests form a colorful parade gliding atop the water. On either side of us the wide fingers of the Altamaha reach far inland, spreading quietly between the trunks of cypress and tupelo.

The silence is eerie. Small drips and splashes follow our paddles through the water – but there is no motor noise anywhere to be heard.

So far, so good. I briefly recall the warning in bold print on our registration form: “Intermediate Paddlers only.” I blithely ignored it.

It’s been two days since Ginger and I pulled into the Altamaha River Campground, tossing together a two person tent that appeared designed for a single small child with a pillow.  A night in the tent produced dents in my back and frozen fingers at dawn, but multiple pots of coffee and hot eggs resuscitated all of us, and by 9 a.m. we were fortified for the all-day paddle from camp to sea.

The river surged with spring rains and a slow tidal breath from the sea. But the miles of wild banks were peaceful, and even as we drew near the small town of Darien, our take-out point, no signs of humans marred the landscape. Swamp trees gave way to rustling marsh grasses. Bald eagles soared high in the blue, alighting from time to time in the few lonely trees standing in the marsh.

The wilderness made its imprint on us in silence and ancient wildness.

Today, our second day, is another gift. We have ventured into the deep swamp creeks surrounding the campground – the “best part of the weekend,” say returning paddlers. With each stroke we penetrate further into the prehistoric forest. Trunks of trees loom large in our path. Ginger and I suddenly notice water inside our kayak, sloshing over our seats. Maybe a slow leak. We look up. The spaces between the trees have narrowed.

Perhaps an intermediate paddler would know what to do.

One of the guides paddles up behind us. “This is where is gets a little tough for a tandem kayak, “ he says laconically. “Y’all have much experience?”

No.

Experience would be handy right about now – say, when you’re paddling a leaky 18 foot kayak into a thicket of trees and you need to execute a sudden 90 degree turn to avoid crashing into a snag of fallen logs.

We weren’t the only ones having problems. Kayaks running into kayaks. Canoes stuck between trees. One boat taking on water and getting close to capsizing. Within three minutes, our group was a floating traffic jam. Forget about enjoying the wilderness. Ginger and I wanted only to get out of the swamp without swimming with the gators.

As it turned out, we finally did get untangled, and after a couple more hours made it back to base camp. As a matter of fact, we became “intermediate” paddlers.

Lying in the tent that night, we heard the barred owl call. The stars shone like maybe they have since the beginning of the world. And at dawn we watched a great white egret hunt along the shoreline in the mist.

Worth a couple of cold nights and wet bottoms.

Kayaking the Altamaha River with the Georgia Conservancy

 

Resources for Georgia Nature Excursions:

The Georgia Conservancy 

The Nature Conservancy

 

Design Moment: How To Simplify a Scene for Painting

This complicated scene from Cortona, Italy, demanded that I take a step back to understand and simplify. For me, this means analyzing through sketching!

Typically I go through this process when I need to simplify a subject with a lot of detail. Below is the photo reference for this work, a snapshot taken on a morning walk to the square.

Piazza and Building facades in Cortona Ital;y

Reference photo of town square in Cortona, Italy

1. Light and Dark

The first step was to see this scene in terms of Light and Dark. In my sketchbook, I used a black pen to draw the image in the simplest forms of black and white. This helps identify the big, important shapes and how the image will “read” from a distance.

In the sketch, you can see how I ignored all the little windows and incorporated them into the large dark mass of the buildings, so they diminish in importance. This puts more emphasis on the wonderfully quirky roofline in the upper part of the painting. In the lower half of the sketch, the main focal point is now clear. Positioned like a fulcrum on which the entire scene balances, the slender figure of the woman is silhouetted against the wide sunlit square.

In the sketch, you can also see I made the decision to darken the blue on the left side of the sky. This created a larger dark shape so that there would be unequal amounts of Light and Dark in this work. As a rule of thumb, you want a piece of art to be primarily either light or dark. An equal balance of light and dark creates “tension” and a lack of focus in the composition.

2. Warm and Cool

The next step was to dissect this scene in terms of Color – Warm and Cool. The sketch helped me decide to position the warmest colors toward the center of the composition. The large blue shape of the upper left sky connects to the blue of the street shadow at the bottom right with a few blue accents woven into the center of the work.

You can see I hedged a bit on the cool tones on the light clouds, above right, and the sunlit section of the street, below left. I ended up pushing both of those into a warm gray instead of a cool one as shown on the sketch. Many artists gravitate toward primarily warm or cool tones. (I find I usually swing warm – honestly, it’s just personal preference.)

3. Lines and Edges

Finally I explored the Lines and Edges in the scene. In the sketch, I found that all the jagged lines connected and led downward to the central figure. Having decided that she would be the focal point, I could see that I needed to make the sharpest “edges” in the painting lead the eye  to her.

In the final work, you can see that the sharpest edges drawn are those that outline the sunlight on the woman’s figure, the greenery behind her, and the two levels of roofline directly above her head. Because the shapes in the painting are many and intricate, these sharp lines attract the eye and help center and stabilize the composition.

Read more in Design Moment Part 2: How To Build a Complex Scene In Layers

 

Spring Paintings from Cherokee County Georgia

Spring means I’ll be road tripping around Georgia to paint our state in all her spring colors! The astounding color of red maples and oak trees in bud seems to me as brilliant as any foliage in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall.

Below is a series of pastels from past spring road trips. This spring, I have trips planned from south to north, from the Altamaha River – Georgia’s “Little Amazon” – to the wilds of Rabun Mountain in the north at peak wildflower season. Stay tuned – As always, I’ll be posting work in progress on my studio Facebook page.

Let me know your favorite wild Georgia spots – I love to hear discoveries!

 

Ann Litrel painting of the Etowah River, Georgia, showing riverside rocks and trees budding

Spring on the banks of the Etowah River

 

Ann Litrel painting of horse pasture in spring, Cherokee County Georgia

Sunlight dazzles on the pasture and red-roofed barn in this roadside scene in Cherokee County

 

Ann Litrel painting of the Blue Ridge Mountains and spring color in Cherokee County, Georgia

The Blue Ridge Mountains as spring color explodes in the trees, red maples and golden oaks in bud