Anatomy of “Catoctin Mountain Farm” From Plein Air Study to Studio

I stopped at the lovely Catoctin Mountain Orchard in Frederick and was taken by the view of the farm. It was a very cold and windy November day, so I decided to set up in my truck. Luckily I could view the scene very easily. I think I am getting a bit spoiled working inside my truck. I have my radio tuned to lovely classical music, cup of warm coffee and the best doughnut from the Orchard made with homeade apple cider in their own kitchen and to top it off with a juicy Stayman apple. Because space is at a premium I am working on a very tiny canvas. Working this small is a little challenging for me.

Beginning of the painting using a turpentine wash with a few earth colors.

I noticed right away that I was dividing the canvas in half. The upper half was clearly the focus. So I decided to mask off the bottom right away to change the format to a more extended rectangle. Can’t find my masking tape so I am forced to use the dreaded blue tape. I don’t like using blue tape because I think the strong blue color is distracting. I also realize that I have forgotten to bring my tube of white paint. All I have is this little bit left on my palette. So I have also decided not to go for full color stick with a tonal painting or “grisaille”. Working in a few tones of gray is helpful sometimes especially if you want to concentrate on drawing and creating an interesting compostion.

I like this decision very much and anticipate doing a quick “grisaille” instead of a full color painting . My goal is to work out a pleasing composition and to get the drawing completed before coming back to work in color.
This is as far as I got on the first day about 1 1/2 hrs.of working time. Decided not to take it any further .

Back in the studio, where I had plenty of white paint, I decided to continue to develop the drawing and value study of the composition using 5 values. Darker Dark, Dark, Medium, Light, lightest light. My simple mixture is a combination of ultramarine blue, burnt umber and white

Tonal Study completed

I knew that I wanted to work on a larger canvas so before I added color to the plein air study I used it to replicate a larger scaled studio landscape. This process is very helpful especially when working on a complicated subject. Working from your own drawing or tonal painting is very different from working from a photograph. You are gathering information from decisions you have made, not the camera.

So now I begin to transfer the study onto the larger canvas. I am using the same format and placement of forms as in the plein air study. I like working this way sometimes as it gives me a strong “scaffolding” to work off of once I begin to paint in color. I think at the heart of my work I am a “tonalist”. I really rely on value to make a statement moreso than color. Even though I love color I really feel more satisfied if the composition is hinged on some kind of dramatic light and dark situation.

Back on location. the color application is proceeding effortlessly since all the decisions of composition, drawing and value have been decided on in the grisaille.
Almost finished

Upon returning a few days later I found a different light altogether. There was a distinctly colder feel and I welcomed the little bit of color in the sky casting a pinkish glow on the landscape. I decided to access a little more space at the bottom and reworked the foreground fields adding a large cast shadow in the right corner which helps to break up the space. The easel painting is very different from the plein air study and takes on a life of its own. It is finished.

“Catoctin Mountain Farm” oil on linen board (10×20)

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