First of all, if you don’t follow the title, you can read part one here — that will get you up to speed on this particular post. Because of new opportunities on the horizon,  I am rushing to complete many projects I have had on the back burner.

And my motivation for writing this ‘Part II’ is that many of my friends and colleagues have asked me how I completed ‘Dawn in Leonardville’ in such a timely fashion. Looking back, I am amazed that I was able to do it at all, and as quickly as I did. It was the biggest piece I have done to date, and I did it while I worked full-time.

I’ll just say this — setting a deadline with a financial boost for completion by that date helped a great deal. Also, FEAR of not hitting that deadline is a GREAT motivator as well.

This commission and the completion of another piece of mine has led to me landing a Solo Show this coming April, here in Chicago’s Wicker Park. With that ‘Plug’ for myself being said, I am going to be super busy in the next 8 weeks preparing for the Sunday, April 17 opening at People Tapas and Lounge, 7-10pm — if any of my loyal readers are in Chicago or want to plan to come up, any and all are welcome. I am planning on having a few new pieces up and pesky unfinished pieces completed for the show, including ‘King of Procrastination,’ which I have been tweaking for the past 12 years. In finishing it, I might implode into a wormhole vortex… maybe it would be a good idea do finish that later.

So Let me explain my approach to starting ‘Dawn in Leonardville,’ which was the title I thought of about one fourth of the way thru completing the piece. In part I, I mentioned that I convinced my Patrons who commissioned the piece that for shipping purposes and a variety of other reasons, executing the painting divided into 6 two-foot square canvases was the best approach. In my mind this was a logical, inexpensive and smart way to achieve their goal of an atmospheric art piece, the large size they desired, for what turns out to be a combination formal dining room and library.

So I did a number of things to prepare the canvases… first I sketched out how I wanted the cows to be positioned in the piece. When I did this, the cow’s face on the left fell right in the gap where 4 corners of canvases met – I didn’t want that to happen. So I moooved ( sorry, can’t help myself ) him over a bit further – it took some time to get him positioned just right, but it was the right call to nudge him over. Then I coated the canvases with 3 layers of gesso… and I did a little trick in applying – I applied it smooth and uniform everywhere, but on the cows, I used a rough, dabbing motion to emulate the cows fur and hide, where applicable.

I have been drawing and painting all my life. Still, when I paint I have all kinds of ‘How to’ and reference material at my disposal to help me avoid pitfalls and cul-de-sacs that might bog me down. . And, in the majority of my previous works, I only applied colors as I need them to the canvas, in the sections I was working on at the time.

That being said, I wanted to try something new I read about in some of my reference books. And since the ‘Time’ of this painting was at dawn, I wanted the whole painting to have an overall warmness to it. So I started by coating all six canvases with the color Raw Sienna. Other artists – if you’ve never done this, or are scared to try it, I highly endorse this technique — it not only helped me later in applying color, but it totally got me ‘into the groove’ in regards to warming up my brush stroke technique.

Next I mixed Burnt Sienna, Alizarin Crimson and a touch of Prussian Blue, just sketched in the outlines and darkest areas of the composition, just to help me visualize it on the canvases. When painting in Oil, you lay in your dark colors first and work towards putting in your highlights last. This is the opposite of Watercolor, where you lay down the lightest colors first and the dark areas last. Oil is an extremely forgiving medium — much more so than watercolor. If you screw up in Oil, you can just take a rag and wipe away what you don’t like. It can be painful if you’ve spent hours working over an area of your painting – but still, it’s better than starting over from scratch, like so many watercolor compositions that can go awry with one misplaced brush stroke.

Also, as I was laying in the initial darks, I realized that it would be a good idea to re-hang the canvases with a uniform gap of about one inch between all the canvases, and paint ‘around the corners’ helping visually tie the canvases together. I was bummed at first, because I thought this would be extremely difficult and making it much more work, but as I moved forward, just eyeballing and lining up the visuals — it really made a tremendous difference in making this piece dynamic. Plus, having a studio where I could move around the piece, step back and just look at it, was vital to say the least.

Using Prussian Blue for the dark and Cerulean Blue for the part closest to the Sun in the ‘East’, I blocked in the sky next. Just general color to block in where it went. After I did this, I let the piece dry during the work week before starting on the next phase.

The next weekend or three I came in and laid out my general palate. Then I just attacked the canvases. In explaining how I approached the challenge of the sky, I wanted to make it look like the Sun was to the East, if the viewer of the piece is looking ‘South’. So I wanted it to almost look like night on left side, and ‘dawnish’ green-sky daytime on the right side, behind the barn in the upper right side of the composition. I had to mix my own greenish sky color there, and it was not easy.

The main colors I used were Viridian Green with touches of Titanium White. Honestly, I spent more time on the sky than on any other part of the composition… for me it is always a challenge, and I make it that way… I always try to push myself to tackle difficult problems as an artist.

I went in and embellished the darkest areas of my 3 cow pals in the foreground, as well as the 3 that recede into the back of the ‘Pen’. Here I had to be careful – the depth of field was very tricky, and I always had to pay attention to where and what I was applying paint, and how far away I wanted things in the painting to be.

In retrospect, one challenge I probably do differently would be the stone facade of the barn. I had a technique in my mind I wanted to try – but I put the light color down first, because I wanted to apply the oil paint with a palate knife instead of a brush. I ended up doing it backwards, ( lights first and then dark accents ) and it took probably twice as long as it had to. I’m still very pleased with how the barn wall turned out. The stone on the barn was extremely rustic, worn and patchwork – repaired, not a uniform, textured wall… it is probably 100+ years old. I wanted to capture that feeling with the application of rough, messy, textured paint, consisting of my favorite color, Naples Yellow, with bits and pieces of semi-dry paint from all colors of the topey-reddish spectrum. 

 

Working from the ‘Back’ of the composition, the horizon line, to the front, I started working in the textures that added depth of field, vegetation – the fence and treeline, clouds, feeder dome in the center of the composition, etc. etc. The biggest thought I kept in my mind was this, ‘Any decision I make as a painter is the right decision.’ This thought really again helped me ‘Get into the Zone’ where it was almost effortless. Listening to classical music while I painted helped as well — it sounds ‘Stereo Typical’, but tapping into that Organized Structure of Thought™ is one of the strongest motivators of pumping out Art, at least in my experience. Hence the phrase ‘Frame of Mind’ – it evokes that artistic Mind Set.

See how our language enables us to ‘Sculp’ our thoughts? I just thought I’d point that out.

At this point I was getting tired of blocking in the vast green in the foreground of the piece. I finally allowed myself to work in the face of the Left Cow… That’s how I set it up in my mind – I kept that as a ‘reward’, so to speak, so that I would work on getting the background done up to the point of where the cows are standing. Working in the cows faces is where I really took advantage of the blocked-in Background color Raw Sienna – l let that color ‘Frame’ the cow fur in their faces and ears, which you can plainly see. It also gave it a wispy ‘Fuzziness’ that I was trying to achieve.

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So now I’ve pulled the background forward, which was a ton of work. When I got tired of working one part of the piece, I would switch to another part of the work. Next I worked the dimensional aspects of the cows and their fur, and blocking in all the details of that as well. On the Big cow in the foreground, the sunlight on the right side of the cow makes for the most blazing part of the color of the piece —because that rising sun is just peaking over the horizon, lighting the side of the cow even before it’s high enough to cast shadows… it’s that ‘Magic 5 Minutes’ of the ‘Magic Hour’ that directors and film makers focus so much on when they film, when the light is just right, at its most beautiful.

This stage – texture and details. This was the easiest, funnest part to paint – but also the hardest part to concentrate on. Not only to focus, but just being pulled in so many directions by the composition itself…

‘should I finish this part and move on to that?’

‘I need to tweak the sky again!’

‘Man this grass is taking forever.’

‘I still don’t like that fricking barn wall!’

Those kind of questions and problems were tough to fight thru, making me lose focus. And remember, I am painting ‘around the corner’ on every canvas… so not only the front surfaces, but the sides, tops and bottoms as well, even those that are ‘out of the normal viewing area.’

Another thing you probably can’t see but I’ll try to tell you very quickly about – I’ve always thinned my oil paints with Linseed Oil, which helps the paint dry a bit quicker and helps stretch and thin the paint. I’ve never used any other additive except a random varnish or two, but for this I picked up a tip from a fellow artist who works with me over at my collective, the Greenleaf Art Center where I studio.

I wanted to make the snouts and eyeballs glint and look realistic, which means they need to maintain some semblance of ‘wetness and shine’ texture. He turned me on to this stuff called ‘Galkyd’ – I can’t remember what its called, but it sounds like that – and it smells completely weird, unlike oil paint and linseed oil, which smells really good, IMO. Needless to say it did the trick – the cows eyes and snouts looked so natural, fleshy and moist, and dried relatively quickly.

After I was satisfied that the grass and walls were done, mixing a variety of greens, with some Prussian Blue thrown in for the shadows, I could now paint what goes on top of them, the fences and gates. This was very satisfying to paint in, because it popped the main cows forward while pushing the other 3 cows, which to my eye seemed to just float around in the composition, back where they belonged, in proportion of the depth of field. I had kept asking myself, What can I do to make them look like they’re not floating? It was so bizarre to me, but painting in the fence lines and gate solved the problem.

The last week I worked on this, still allowing for time for the paint to dry before I shipped it, was to put all the highlights I could put as possible on the fence posts, the hay on the left-hand side of the ground, the gate, the feeder building, cloud tops, etc. The last thing I did was to sign the piece, only after I have completely exhausted all the other aspects of the Composition.

So this is the final piece, hung on the wall at my Patron’s room – if you remember from Part I, the color they chose for their room is completely tied into this piece, as an accent color. For me, IMO, art never has to ‘Go With’ or match the room it hangs in or with the other art that might be adjacent to it.

Also, the above pic really shows off the painting ‘Around the Corner’ technique… looking in the gaps between the canvases, the paint visually ‘stitches together’ the composition when viewed from an angle – to me, this quality really is the big draw in making this piece so dynamic and vibrant. I am very pleased with the way ‘Dawn in Leonardville’ turned out — More than pleased, truthfully!

Finally, the two images above show the concept in digital format before paint was applied to Canvas, and then the finished piece hung in place. Having the ability to first show the concept before work is even commenced really does have its advantages, and helps your potential Clients and Patrons see in their own Minds’ eyes and with their own eyes the potential of what the creative process can bring into this particular physical realm.

For my upcoming show I am working on the digital aspects of my own paintings before I complete them – hopefully it will help me be as successful in completing them as the research I did for my Patrons for this painting. This project was very rewarding and has helped build my momentum as an emerging artist… plus has helped me land not only a faithful Patron but great friends as well – I am presently concepting our second of three other works. So please feel free to leave any questions, comments, opinions – Looking forward to your feedback!

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