View Full Version : Desert Cliffs WIP

03-10-2011, 09:51 AM
I'm doing this as part of Johannes Vloothuis "Create Stunning Landscapes from Photos" class, semi-officially. Homework was to sketch a value mass thumbnail from one of several reference photos he provided. Among others, I asked if I could paint from the photo once I'd cropped and planned it. He said sure, and then strongly suggested he wanted to see some paintings from the references he posted.

So here's my first painting from one of his references, in stages. I'll start with the homework thumbnail:
Original value mass thumbnail with blobby symmetrical boulder in it.

Vastly improved value mass thumbnail with recreated rock shape in it.

Today I started from that and blocked in the sky mass, the cliffs mass and the foreground shadowed mass with Winsor & Newton half sticks on muted orange Canson Mi-Tientes paper. It's 9" x 12". The sky is more or less done unless I decide to throw in a puff or two of clouds, but I don't think it'll need it. I gradated it a bit from left to right and varied the colors after smudging in the first layer, just got that bit of sky out of the way so I can focus on the rocks in the cliffs and foreground.


Arnold Lowrey's video was inspiring too about technique, but I combined his techniques with some others I've used.

KD Art
03-10-2011, 10:02 AM
I think you're right about the clouds and not perhaps needing them. Look forward to seeing more. Kat

03-10-2011, 02:01 PM
Thanks, Kat!

This is now at the Ugly Stage. I hope it's just a stage. It looks awful. I tried to jazz it up a bit but it's getting downright repulsive. It may have been a mistake trying to do it with only 24 half sticks. In a way this was a dry run for "What if I bring this little half stick set out and don't have all my pastels with me?"

Er, it's not finished. I hope I can salvage it. Right now to me it looks pathetic.


24 Winsor & Newton Half Stick pastels on orange Canson mi-Tientes paper, smooth side.

Actually it looked better seeing it quite small in thumbnail, so maybe this is just an ugly stage and adding further detail will help. Developing those rock shadows some more on the left, they got blurred and rounded out by the number of different colors I layered to get violet. Lesson learned, use violet!

I could probably save it by getting out more pastels but it'd be a real challenge to do it with the limited palette I have.

And hey, if it doesn't work, it was just a piece of paper. Not just a piece of paper but a really cheap piece of paper at that. This is about 20 cents worth of pastel paper and I paid 50 cents each for the pastels on clearance. So seriously, while they're artist grade supplies they did not cost me a fortune. Even if it's something to toss, I learned something with it.

That would be, use the magenta stick rather than the blue stick first. Establish all those shadows loosely in magenta and then start accenting that with blue and restating in magenta. The blue is very strong.

Comments and critique gratefully appreciated! Help! Someone prod this poor thing and tell me how to fix the ugly stage!

Alternately I could bin it and start over - this is only 20 cents of paper and maybe a nickel's worth of clearance pastels. It's not like I couldn't start over, try a different paper color or a different texture. But I might try to fix it, this could just be the Ugly Stage.

So that's also up to critique - should I bin it or plow on and try to save it?

I'm going to repost this stage into the Sketch Thread to get opinions there too, maybe treating this as a preliminary sketch is the way to salvage my dignity. Ah, I meant to do that, just experiment with paper and a limited palette to see what I'd get. Heh.

But any suggestions that might save this as an appealing pastel sketch would be very appreciated! Does it deserve to die?

03-10-2011, 02:42 PM
Plow on my good man...it has great potential

Cheers, Dianna :wink2:

03-10-2011, 02:56 PM
I agree with Dianna, Robert... Keep at it! It's not really all that ugly!

03-10-2011, 03:23 PM
Looks promising to me. Valerie

03-10-2011, 03:32 PM
Robert! Why so negative??? That's not like you. Move on with this please. It does have potential. If the final stage is ugly the redo will be a winner for all your mistakes will already have been made, right?

I'm confident you'll bring it round......and still want to do it again! :wink2:

03-10-2011, 03:39 PM
Purr thank you! I put it up on the wall and it doesn't look so pathetic when my nose isn't right on top of it. I think what I need to do is put away the limited palette of Winsor & Newtons and attack it with my Unisons, where I'm not sacrificing value for hue.

I think my cliff shadows are too dark, some of them are almost as dark as the dark mass in the front. I also need to lay down the land in between it better or establish that you can't see it and give an impression of distance. Lightening and bluing those shadows will push it back into the middle distance.

That's the big thing that's wrong - too much contrast in the middle distance. The foreground is not too contrasty. It's all shadowed, a little more variation in color and it'll be fine. I may not even refine it much other than to get away from a haloing effect of not bringing middle value shadows across it. If they were lighter, there wouldn't be that confusion.

I'll let it sit there and think about it. Also need to slightly darken the most distant plane so it's more distinct from the sky, its highlights are too light. Fault of a limited palette. If I had the big W&N box open that would not be a problem.

Whether I can heft the big WN box today is a good question. Kitten tells me this weather will last a few days though, so tomorrow I'll work on the cat and keep analyzing this.

I will have courage to get past Ugly Stages! They do really look their worst when they are right under my nose. I could also post this down in the Student Critique thread in class too, then I'll get some help.

03-10-2011, 04:05 PM
[/QUOTE]I think what I need to do is put away the limited palette of Winsor & Newtons and attack it with my Unisons, where I'm not sacrificing value for hue.

I think my cliff shadows are too dark, some of them are almost as dark as the dark mass in the front. I also need to lay down the land in between it better or establish that you can't see it and give an impression of distance. Lightening and bluing those shadows will push it back into the middle distance.[/QUOTE]

Robert, it is a keeper. You are analyzing it well, the stuff in the above quote, I agree with. (The other stuff too but didn't want to include it all) A little distance from the piece and some reflection time will give you the insight into taking it pass this stage to a more cohesive unified painting. Well done on the composition.

03-10-2011, 04:09 PM
Wow, thank you! I'm glad. I had such high hopes for this one from the value mass thumbnail - maybe the best one I've done yet. I'll get this to a good painting. It's up at a comfortable distance for me to look at it and think about it without being right at my elbow for constant fiddling.

Next up, finish Pointdexter in my Cat Commissions and then tackle the next layer on this - with softer pastels or the big box of Winsor & Newtons. Unisons are so convenient for values though. Hm. Point in favor of getting the Terry Ludwig Maggie Price set for a finishing set - that might be all I really need for super soft finishing pastels.

Donna T
03-11-2011, 08:55 AM
I think my cliff shadows are too dark, some of them are almost as dark as the dark mass in the front.

Thanks for posting your progress with this Robert. Your so-called ugly stage (it's not!) helped me learn something. I always try to make sure that land masses are separated into distinct areas - foreground through background - but I never thought to think of the shadows in the same way. Your darker cliff shadows are forcing their way into the foreground and you are so observant to know that they must be dealt with. It's so easy to think "a shadow must be dark to read as a shadow" but now I know that shadows have to follow the rules of distance too. Thanks! I'm glad you will be adjusting the large cliff shadow on the left - it kind of looks like a profile to me ... George Washington perhaps? :) Keep up the great work!

John Palmer Fine Art
03-11-2011, 09:53 AM
I have lost count of the number of times I thought a painting was not worth persevering with, then after a few hours away from it I could not only see the problems but how to fix them too. Never give up.

03-11-2011, 10:23 AM
Donna, thanks. Yes, I'll be removing that chunk of Mount Rushmore, change it into a more random and abstract crag and also de-round it. That's the nearest one so it should be a bit brighter than the ones next to it. Yet the shadow seems to push it behind the middle crags. I really need to play with dimension in the next stage and make a lot of artistic decisions.

One is whether there's some flat ground at the base of the crags or not. I could paint this as if they are so steep you can't see the flat area, or go back to the photo and create the flat area with color. Thanks for mentioning George Washington.

John, thanks. Yeah, I'm beginning to think this is just something like the willies I get while writing a novel. Sometimes I'll think "This idea is so stupid, no one else would ever read it, the whole thing is so dumb I could never sell it." Or I'll hate the scene I just did when it's the best one in the book. There's usually no relation to how well it's actually turning out when I get the willies.

03-12-2011, 09:02 AM
Nice color palette - very real to the Southwest! I especially like a aqua sky...

03-13-2011, 09:42 AM
Thank you! I've been down there, both the Southwest and lived for a long time at the same latitude in New Orleans. Skies are so different from the Northern pale violet-cast skies. It makes a difference. It makes the whole world a lot more colorful.