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.
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.
Here is the final image. I placed the train into the composite and added texture to each component as the model was simply to clean. It needed to look like it had seen some miles. I desaturated the cars as they were very red and looked very plastic which is what you would expect from a scale display model. Steam was built in PS using custom brushes and a Wacom Tablet. The light at the front of the locomotive adds to the realism and nicely plays off the dark rock face above the trestle. I decided that the perspective that the model was shot at didn’t quite match the build to that point and a better fix was, other than chopping a bunch of the mountain away, was to simply create a tunnel. As you can see, the cliff has had extensive relighting and colouring from the original source material. This helped achieve the overall mood I was looking for.
A lot of work which paid off buy winning a place in Applied Arts Photography Annual.
It started with an idea and an initial pencil sketch (which went missing) of a train chugging up a mountain side about to go over a trestle bridge. I thought it would be a great exercise to combine traditional photography of practical elements and 3D in a composite that would push my comfort zone as it were. So after visualizing what I wanted it to look like, I created a very rough model and landscape/terrain in my 3D software to see where the best realistic lighting would be (image below). I didn’t want the train to be in full sun because I wanted the lights and steam to be visible. So I placed the “sun” peeking over the other side of the valley so it’s shadow would cast just above the train.
Gathering the Elements
Next was gathering the elements to make the landscape that the train would be running up. Several trips out to shoot various cliffs, trees, and skies to add to the library and ultimately to the final image.
The train was a scale model I rented from a local model train shop. I shot it in studio in several sections since the Depth of Field was unable to hold through the length of the model. I took each image into PS to create one seamless train in perfect focus from front to back.
The next element to create was the trestle in 3D and using the virtual camera, find the correct camera angle to match the position of the train and to blend it into the created mountainside. The rendered trestle looked like this…
And then what it looked like dropped into the evolving composite…
Next up (tomorrow) will be the final touches. Add the train and all the effects such as steam etc. Finesse other compositional elements and fine tune.
So I took the plunge last night and pulled out my paints and brushes and underpainting and started to lay in the first color pass. Like I said I haven’t painted in 28 years and I was a bit surprised at how natural it felt. I was really nervous to start. Yo Yo Ma played over the stereo (thought a little classical music would help) as I laid out the paint on the pallet. The trees were first, then the sky, then the mountains. and finally the foreground elements. It’s not even close to being done as you can tell but I like the general feel of it.I just wanted to get some color down to see how it would come together. Lighter clouds in the notch of the mountain, define the trees more and richly develop the foreground. I think I’ll bring the mountain down a bit so it’s peak cuts behind the tree rather than ride over it. The apprehension I was feeling has dropped away and I am excited to start the second round of this… my first painting in a very long time.
Helpful articles to improve your own nature and landscape photography explorations. You will also see stunning landscape and nature photographs created by award winning landscape and nature photographer Melissa Fague.
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.