There weren’t many rocks to sit on let alone have room for an easel. So already I felt hampered. I found a spot after a awhile and managed to wedge my tripod into a shape resembling an octopus after a few shots of tequila. Pretty unstable. Patti set up below which was the best spot because she was a few minutes ahead of me. She also didn’t have to change out of her long underwear which involved heading out into the woods and trying to find a suitable spot where I could take off my boots, pants and sit down without being attacked by a rogue stick.
We didn’t have a lot of time as our ride out was leaving promptly at 4pm. We arrived hot and winded after climbing steps built by Lawrence Grassi shortly after noon and I was set up by one. It only took an hour for me to settle down to work.
The falls themselves were backlit by a very harsh sun and it was difficult to determine the values let alone get them down properly. I was also struggling with the mountain in the back and it took several attempts to get the right shape and proportion. After the big shapes were in place it was then down to adjusting values and colors.
I had most of what I needed by the time we had to start packing up. It was three when we started the hike back down which took a total of 45 minutes.
This is one painting which needed a fair amount of adjusting back in the studio. The mountain needed a lot of work and the values (as I suspected) were not correct. I was about 70% of the way there from the plein air but the entire lower section required a bit more developing. The waterfall itself I worked in stages by painting over what I had roughed in on site. Darks (wet rock) was laid in first and left to dry then I was able to start building over the top of this base with direct strokes and same dry brushing.
I was pleased with the outcome of this one as my original reference photograph was not the best. There was lens flair and I had to use a couple of different images to see all the areas I had included in the composition. There was a good deal of imagination and “artistic license”.
When your in the Elizabeth Parker Hut there is no such thing as privacy or lounging around. You pretty much get up when the group gets up. The group I refer to is the other twenty five some odd soles who start the day off from the two trays of souls that make up the two “beds”.
This was the day we decided to head up to Lake MacArthur which I didn’t do last year and thought it was the best idea considering I had no better ideas in which to indulge in this delicious smorgasbord of nature. I was relying on my more experienced travellers and from what I saw from Odaray the day before I could hardly wait.
It was a 7.5 kilometre round trip with 310 meters of elevation gain through some beautiful scenery. This is really not saying much as it’s all beautiful scenery.
As far as the weather goes? Let’s just say it’s your typical day in the mountains. A bit of everything. Some sun, some rain, and a bit chilly. I set up under a tree to keep as dry as possible. The moss was a nice cushion. I also had a visitor who was trying to find something for lunch.
I probably got in about a half an hour before Patti came by saying she was packing it in and I decided that I would join her. We took a different route out which made it more of a circuit and added something new to look at and take pictures of for possible paintings.
Once back at the hut, the weather was more on the plus side and I thought to myself that I should try to finish the painting under the eaves of Wiwaxy. I used my memory as well as a photo that I took on the phone for reference.
We awoke to a gloomy morning. No rain but the threat hung, looming. Boiling water and steam, the smell of coffee and tea, eggs from a carton. Maple too. No bacon sadly. Stepping outside into the brisk morning air and seeing the hardy adventurers looking forward to the rewards that await the day.
The sun pushed hard through the thick cloud and lit a sliver of the mountain to the north. A welcoming of sorts. An invitation.
We pretty much all decided to go to where the sun laid God’s finger… Odaray. One of the most amazing hikes but not without its price. A steep wildlife corridor with limited group access only. We were in Grizzly habitat.
Sadly, we didn’t see any wildlife at all but the views were mind blowing.
No painting today but a glimpse from high up on this amazing hike where we would be painting tomorrow; McArthur.
When I look at the time stamps on the photographs, I’m amazed that I am seeing Patti and Patricia painting at the edge of Lake O’Hara at 4:00pm. Within 18 minutes I’m set up and ready to paint my second painting of the afternoon. I had been drawn to this spot on last years trip but for whatever reason decided not to set up there. This time was different. I had to acknowledge there was something within me that said “here is where you paint” I didn’t have a whole lot to say about it. I set up.
First off, I knew I didn’t have much time. I felt sunset approaching and I knew I had to get things down quickly. An interesting side note; I decided right off the bat that whatever I got down would be better than getting nothing down at all. It was simply an exercise or practice.
I knew I was drawn to the scene although it wasn’t your typical landscape. Slightly off kilter and subtlety obscure. I liked the bush nestled in the trees at the end of the pond. I liked the contrast. I liked the water, the bush, the trees, the mountain, and the subtle nudge it gave me. It would work.
“You need to listen more” myself whispered to…myself.
Pay attention to the direction I give you.
I listened. I tried with whatever I had, to get this down. This was a local contrast problem. There was no extra light. No sprite to help me out. I had to PUSH what I had. What was important? Obviously the bush was what drew me in. I needed to get that down and the mountain in behind was playing a pretty big role. The water was supporting actress while the trees were somewhat below that. There was a lot of information to get in and I had recently learned how to get rocks down. Paint the bulk of the rocks in the shadow tone and then add the mid, followed by the highlight. So I was able to get them in pretty quick. The rest fell into place easily as they were large masses. Everything was in shadow so much and my original values were not where I wanted them to be. Overall, I was on the dark side and I adjusted them in the studio. It’s still a shadowy piece of work. I think the thing I like the most about it is the fairly loose application of paint and the unusual composition and subject matter. It’s not usually what I paint.
I worked until the cold took over and I packed up and headed for the hut where my Jartini awaited. It was a great day filled with great people. Bliss really. The only thing that would have made it better would have been if Alice and Bill could have been there with us. All in all, I love the mountains, I love the small scenes that sing so loudly, but most of all, I love the friends I paint with.
I have finally begun to work on some paintings from my last trip to Mount Assiniboine and Lake O’Hara.
This is an underpainting of Victoria Falls from a photo that I took while up at the falls. It is my new way of working which involves a very gradual loose application of thinned paint which creates some really nice texture and as I lay on slighter thicker paint with each pass making sure to keep it loose only applying color as a general indication of where the color lies and what general value it has. It’s the scaffolding for whats to come and I’ve found that when it looks pretty good at this phase it has a good chance of succeeding as long I don’t get too tight.
When I was looking at the reference photo I could see hints of water trickling through the foreground rocks and I thought to myself that during runoff those rivulets were probably torrents adding a whole new dimension to the falls. We were up there at the end of September so the runoff was nonexistent.
So I went looking on the internet for images of Victoria Falls hoping that someone had stood and taken a photo in nearly the same spot so I could use it as reference. After typing in the query into Google it spit back a number of images of the falls.
I started to sift my way down through the results seeing the usual imagery and then one image in particular caught my eye. I stared at it, blinked, leaned in closer, blinked again,and then clicked it. It looked eerily similar to the painting I had on the easel. The composition was almost identical, the colors and values were really really close. I sat and thought that this was pretty cool that someone out there saw this in the same way I was seeing it. I looked for a name and possible a website that I could visit to see if the other stuff they had was echoing my own particular style. Well,a website was out of the question as the artists had long passed. It was a painting by one of my painting hero’s J.E.H MacDonald of the Group of Seven fame.
I smiled and thought to myself how amazing it is that nearly a hundred years ago MacDonald slogged up there with his kit and stood near the falls in nearly the identical spot and made a sketch that I would discover while working on my own interpretation. I was planning on taking mine a lot farther but after looking at what MacDonald made I’m wondering how far will be too far.
20-30 MINUTES OF FOCUSED PLAY ON A PAINTING THAT DIDN’T REALLY WORK
After getting back to Calgary and setting out the paintings I managed to produce on my recent trips to Mount Assiniboine and Lake O’Hara, I decided to rework some of them. I know this is a common practice in the Plein Air world but there are some purists who believe that once you pack up and get back in the car, then the painting is considered done. Let me state for the record that I am not a purist… If a painting needs more work (sucks) then it will get more work and may suck less.
These two painting were the first to go back on the easel. The interesting aspect of doing this is I had the choice to pull photos of each but I let the picture in my memory act as reference. I made value and color decisions based on what I thought was needed and where. I massaged pretty much every area adding a little in some areas and a little more in others. I tried to improve each area in isolation but as I progressed, these areas began to talk to their neighbours and a different harmony developed.
These were paintings which didn’t succeed in the original battle and needed more to carry them over the finish line. Whether I succeeded in making the paintings better or not doesn’t really matter; I think it was a great exercise in decision making. Something I can do to many small studies in my studio at the moment. Take a painting that didn’t really work and see if I can spend twenty minutes with it and make it better. What does it need? Play with color, brushwork, or push the hell out of the values. If it doesn’t really work, oh well, it didn’t really work in the first place.
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Damyanti Biswas is an author, blogger, animal-lover, spiritualist. Her work is represented by Ed Wilson from the Johnson & Alcock agency. When not pottering about with her plants or her aquariums, you can find her nose deep in a book, or baking up a storm.