November 20, 2007

"Sweep of Land"

I usually start my largest paintings with a monotoned under painting to set the composition. This one was done with thinned yellow ocher oil paint. I love the way this stage is so fluid. I can wipe away with a rag any part I don't like. I can lift or lower the horizon line, shift the trees, add another ridge. This is the step when I set the values and major design elements. I find with these large paintings it's very important to set these elements before beginning with the actual painting. Then when I'm fully immersed in the frenzy of painting, up close to this large canvas, I don't need to be concerned that the skyline didn't go in where I wanted, or that the trees got too tall. I can still change any part as I go if I feel the need. And I still take breaks and step across the studio to analyze the progress, but having the major elements already organized is immensely helpful.

"Sweep of Land" 36" x 48", oil on canvas, Lydia Johnston

And I love the glow this under painting imparts. I usually use a warm color, yellow ocher being a favorite. I have had fun experimenting with cadmium orange, cadmium red, hansa yellow light and others. Once I tried delft blue as my under painting for a large sea/sky scape, and then spent a lot of time layering on many additional coats of paint to counter the overpowering blue tone. Ultimately I worked it out, and it is this experimenting that adds to my excitement with painting, to always be exploring and learning something new.

This painting can now be seen at the Orvis Flagship Store in Manchester, Vermont. The Nancy Price Gallery, where my work is represented, has begun an art program at Orvis, rotating her artists' work through this large store. I just hung this in their furniture area, over a sofa. It looks stunning. It is always exciting to see the paintings in a setting, rather than just in my studio.

November 08, 2007

"Finding Flow"

"Pair of Swallows" 30" x 40", oil on canvas, Lydia Johnston

I've been so busy working on new paintings, I haven't taken the time to write a new post. Recently I have been reading a book called "Finding Flow" by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. It seems to describe perfectly the way I feel when I am in the midst of working on a new painting. The author describes "Flow" as "being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."

Often when I start working on a new painting, I don't have a clear sense of where I am going. Sometimes I work from reference photos I have taken, but often I just rely on my memories of different places I have seen.

I begin with the barest sketch to set the compositional design, and then I decide on the color range I want to play with. Once I start painting, the piece takes on a life of its own. As one part goes in, it dictates what the next part should be. There is a delicate balance, a back and forth, of which I need to be keenly aware of.

It is very exciting when it isn't all worked out ahead of time. I love it when I am in the midst of painting, caught up in the flow of creativity. It is exhilarating.