Many people often ask how I develop studio works from plein air studies. This post will illustrate a recent example.
Almost 3 years ago, I did a plein air study of the beautiful Rawah Peaks above Laramie River Valley not far from my home in Northern Colorado.
The peaks were spectacular with a bit of autumn snow on the highest peaks. The aspens were ablaze in shades of yellow and gold. The ridges of pine added a nice contrast as the scene receeded for miles.
But, having been too caught up in the vastness of the scene, I didn't think through the composition of the plein air study very well. I was too literal in replicating exactly what I saw. But the end result was a boring forground with the aspen groves bisected by a large field of sagebrush and yellow grass. And the distant mountains were too distant to reflect the majesty I felt while there. Also, the peaks were centered from right to left in the painting (boring). Simply put, I captured the colors and values, but missed capturing the mood of the scene. It fell apart with the composition.
Recently, I was digging through my old plein air studies in search of something to inspire a studio work. This study spoke to me. I saw the possibilities. I saw where it had failed originally. A few thumbnails later in my handy dandy sketchbook, and I knew how to proceed.
Compare the two images:
Study for "Autumn in the Rockies", 10 x 12
"Autumn in the Rockies", 16 x 20
This reveals how I often use my plein air studies. I seldom simply replicate the scene in a larger format. Rather, I develop the bigger ideas I want to express and rework the elements of the composition to best express those ideas. I zoomed in on the mountain peaks to make them more dominant and majestic. I didn't care if the mountains weren't true to reality. I modified them. I also created more interesting patterns in the aspen and pine covered hillside in the forground, eliminating much of the open sagebrush area. Again, this wasn't true to reality, but further up the valley, the hillside does look like this. Thus, I captured the feel or spirit of the area, which was much more important than capturing an exact likeness.
The resulting painting is much more about the rugged wildness and solitude of the Rockies. It is about the deep canyons and valleys, the forested hillsides, the majestic peaks. Subtley, you can feel the voluminous heaves of ridges covered in pine as they ascend to the baren, rocky peaks.
The painting reveals pristine glory among God's creations.
Incidently, I didn't refer to any photographic reference. I used only my plein air field study, imagination, years of experience, and memory to develop the final painting.
Click here to view larger image.
Click here to request information about the painting.
This painting is available through Keating Fine Art in Aspen, Colorado.