Friday, December 7, 2012

"River Magic" Progression

River Magic, pastel, 12x16
River Magic was painted in the studio after a lackluster attempt at a plein air painting in oil of this same scene. Looking back at the plein air version, I guess it wasn't so bad, but I just moved very slowly on it and didn't get very far. I think eventually I lost sight of what I wanted to do with the painting.

Back in the studio I looked over some photos I took of the scene. I also tried something with the photos that I hadn't done in awhile. I went into Photoshop and increased the color saturation...not a lot, but just enough to have some additional color information to work with in the painting. Since it was somewhat of a backlit scene, the light was pretty flat in most areas except for the thin highlights on the trees and in a few spotty places on the water. I needed to find a way to create interest in the water and background trees without the use of very much value contrast. When I don't have value contrast to work with, I often make use of color contrast to create interest.

original photo

Increasing the saturation in Photoshop basically exaggerates
what little bit of color is already present.

my plein air version (oil)

The dramatic highlights on the trees were what originally caught my eye when painting this on location, so I still wanted to be sure to capture that in my next attempt. I think I did manage to get some of that down in the plein air version.

Since I decided that color was going to play a key role in my pastel version, I started with a more colorful underpainting rather than my usual monochromatic value structure.

A few demo shots of the beginning stages...

initial layers using Nupastels
alcohol wash
getting the background going

I have many failed plein air paintings, but I consider each and every one very valuable time spent. Each one represents more time studying the landscape and learning its nuances. For this particular one, I wanted to try the studio version very soon after the plein air attempt so that much of the scene would still be fresh in my memory. It really was a very beautiful, magical spot along the Chattahoochee River on the day I painted there, and that's what I wanted to capture with the dramatic backlighting and subtle color contrasts. It's a nearby location for me, so hopefully I'll be back to paint there many more times!


  1. I like all your paintings Barbara but this really stands out to me. Congratulations on turning a "failed" plein attempt around in the studio. This is why the camera will never replace the artist.

  2. Hello Barbara...I've been receiving your blog information for sometime now and i just want to tell you how helpful i am finding them! this one particularly! i'm a very beginner landscape pastel painter, and feel like a huge sponge right thanks for all the work you put forward, it is very inspirational and helpful.
    Cheers, Linda Wright

  3. Thanks, David and Linda! I really appreciate your nice feedback. Always glad to hear if the information I post is helpful! I enjoy sharing it.:-)