French Kissed Sunset

From time to time I like to share my process and latest paintings here.  This one was especially fun.  “French Kissed Sunset” started out as a photograph taken by a friend and collector at his place in France. It was a gorgeous sunset and I asked Peter if I could use his photograph for a painting.  He agreed and then we discussed his favorite artist–JMW Turner.  After the conversation, I knew exactly which Turner painting Peter had in his mind. The challenge was made and accepted!  Could I paint something that would remind Peter of a Turner painting? Our styles are so different–so very different.

I love challenges that make me think. As many of you know, I usually start my paintings with a gray scale or value study before I lay down the paint. My concern with this painting was that the gray value study was that I would not be able to get the painting as bright as I wanted it in the final stages. So I decided to start with a series of glazes to set the value and tone of the painting. Here’s the result.

While I was playing with the glazes, I was breaking down the basic color that I wanted in each area.  I changed up my palette–I used Michael Harding Brunt Umber, Amethyst, French Ultramarine Blue.  I didn’t grab my Michael Hardings Cadmium Yellow because it was buried on my table and I did the glazing for my class.  I used instead Gamblin’s Cadmium Yellow. After having used Michael Harding paints for so long and their reputation for high pigment content, I was really disappointed with how dingy the yellow was in this first and second pass.

While I worked, I had in mind values and how I wanted the land to lay, placement of trees and all that good stuff. The sky and its reflection in the water were the star, so as I worked, I was also thinking composition. Here’s a black and white of the first pass glazing:

Not bad, but I wanted that water and sky to sing.

The second session I decided that I would use brushes and lay on a thin layer of paint. As I anxiously waited for my Michael Harding Cadmium Yellow to arrive, I ended up using the Gamblin Cadmium Yellow again.  I thought maybe the medium I used to glaze with might have interacted with the Gamblin paint and dulled it. Here’s the result of the second process side by side with the black and white photo to check values.


I definitely did not like that Gamblin Cadmium Yellow.  It was not doing what I wanted. I looked at the black and white, and even the lightest value was too dark.  I over-played the trees too, but I wasn’t worried about that as I was going to paint them over again anyway. I was still playing with composition and placements too.

So, the last stage was my palette knife and laying on some thick paint. My Michael Harding Cadmium Yellow arrived, and I changed up my palette a little too.  My palette consisted of Michael Harding French Ultramarine, Brunt Umber, Alizarin Crimson–which I mixed to make the “black,” Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red, Amethyst (which I also mixed with the Brunt Umber to use in the dark land mass), and Lapis Lazuli.  Well–that Yellow Cadmium of Michael’s made all the difference as far as I’m concerned!

Here’s the final painting–and you can tell I wanted an O-shaped composition, keeping the eye of the viewer in that O of reflection and sky.

The blue on the right is the Lapis, making it a warm blue.  The Amethyst is the purple next to it. While certainly not a Turner, there was some inspiration taken from Turner’s work.

The happiest of all endings:  Peter, my friend and collector, loved it! It will be shipped to hang in his home in France where they can compare the sunset de jour to my painting every day!

How cool is that?!!

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