Painting #16

This painting and the next were a bit of a struggle for me – both were based on source material which I felt were good, but the paintings were less than rewarding to me.

I was on my way to the office one morning and as I passed over the Horotui bridge near Hamilton I saw this beautiful warm streak of morning sun amidst the very blue clouds and reflection in the river. I stopped, walked back on the bridge, and took a photo. I painted #16 a day or so later:

Blue Waikato
# 16: Blue Waikato, Oil on Panel 32 x 30 cm (26 Mar 2016)

I am not too happy with this, and I am sad to say the painting does not do the photo justice! Initially I thought that the cause was just too much blueness – I know paintings with lot of blue are notoriously difficult to pull off. But I know that is a cop-out: obviously something else is missing – maybe just my current lack of skill!

Below is the source photo I used. In my painting I removed the new bridge that sits in the centre of the photo, and I warmed up the sky as much as I could without it becoming too yellow. But that blue just sucked it all out.


This theme, of something missing when working from a photo, was also mentioned in this post by Aletha Kushan. My next painting (next post) – was based on a photo taken nearly 10 years back,  and for me has that same lack of an emotional element (almost no blue this time!).

Somehow I feel the problem for me does not lie in the use of a photo (alone). I have made paintings that I like based on photos. There is something very subtle, maybe an attitude while working, I don’t know. I keep on chewing at this sense of what was missing when I made this painting: the sense of open space, transition in light, warm autumn colour that somehow speaks to me deeply. Perhaps these were just not there that day on my way to work.

On to number 17 and beyond. As the Kamikaze pilot wrote: “We continue flying in tight formation. Visibility is very poor”.

4 thoughts on “Painting #16

  1. You sound like someone who paints from emotion or who looks particularly for the emotional response and emotional content of a scene. But the problems with a painting, when there are problems, are always going to be material. If your painting is not communicating the full sense of the atmosphere and moment, I am guessing (just guessing mind you) that since you feel that blue has overwhelmed the image, then, as you indicated, it needs more warm colors. However, low-light presents a whole special set of difficulties in representation.

    This is a favorite topic of mine so I’ll try not to get carried away … short answer — on mornings when you have time, return to that location, or even just go to a similar place, in similar light and make a particular mental note of the warms. The camera cuts out so much of the color effect that your eye can see in low light. So the missing elements are ones you’ll have to figure out from direct observation.

    And you cannot actually recreate in the painting the exact colors for the same reason the camera can’t, but what effects you choose can evoke the sensation that you get in the place. Figuring out what color choices to use, what to exaggerate, what to suppress for the sake of getting a facsimile experience — those are wonderful things. Searching out the solutions can be a great experiment.

    The painting as it appears here (on my computer screen) looks really lovely. I understand that it’s not all of what you want — totally understand — so you now have in your possession a wonderful visual problem to solve. Certain landscape painters may have solutions that can help. I saw a Mondrian once, an early painting made before the abstractions, portraying a lake in twilight and it was just magical — seemed like a receptacle for emotion.

    I cross a bridge on my trips to North Carolina that’s like your image. Times when I’ve driven by there in the morning, it’s enchanting. I often thought of stopping and taking a photo but it’s in an isolated spot and I was always in a hurry trying to rack up the miles to get to my destination. Anyway, you know the problem is with the warms so that’s what you need to look for when you revisit. And some of the warms are probably various grays. Think of colors that make gray — additions of the complementaries in varying proportions.

    I used to have one of my paintings hanging over my bed. And one morning I happened to wake before dawn and still laying in bed observed my painting just because it was there and noticed that it was monochrome. Since I painted it, I knew what colors were in it but I couldn’t see them. Then lying there as more light gradually came into the room I observed the colors “turn on.” It was really amazing. I can’t recall what order they arrived in, but I got to experience the way that cells in the eye respond to the amount and frequency of light. So some colors in the morning are going to be very partial and since you can’t recreate that, you have to seem to create it. You have to evoke and invent. Experiment. This is a super wonderful problem to have.


    1. Many thanks for your thoughtful comment. Wow! I did not know long comments like that would work. There is much food for thought in your comment, and your phrase “a receptacle for emotion” is a keeper. Technically speaking, I think you hit the nail on the head – as per my own post, the lack of warm colours is what needs to be worked on. I will do that. And yet – this is hard to convey – I feel that it may be a case of “the eye of the beholder”, or in my case “the attitude of the creator”.

      I think it goes partly back to your post about the use of photos. I am just speculating here – if the photo is a very literal one with lots of detail, it takes an experienced painter to go right to the essence and not focus on details. Being at #16, I obviously lack that experience! When I work from my imagination, I go right past that hurdle and – if my attitude is somewhat humble and receptive – then something is given – it feels like it comes out of the canvas somehow – and that gives me joy.

      Your ending line “This is a super wonderful problem to have.” is great, it touches on the reason I started this old blog – to write down what I learned from “the dark” (being perfectionism/depression/anxiety/etc.) and how my life changed when I started taking Rilke’s advice to heart: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue”.

      Many thanks again for your interest and feedback.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad you found something in my comment that connects — in any case, I couldn’t help myself because– low light, my special favorite topic. And again another incredibly beautiful Rilke quote. That quote a keeper for me. So glad I wrote the comment because it won me the quote!

        Liked by 1 person

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