On days when the painting goes well, it's easy to recreate my steps. They're obvious and I can tell what I was thinking. On days when the painting goes notso hotso I have no idea what I was thinking or doing. I have to look at my palette, if I haven't thrown it out, and try to figure out what I did. Was that burnt sienna or burnt umber? Which black is that?
Well, the last time I touched this painting, the painting, it did not go well. It went so badly, I broke one of my palette knives -- admittedly the plastic one -- and I only had two at the time. Not one of my good days, no.
So looking at my palette and the photos I dutifully took as I worked, I have to reconstruct what the hell happened. The main problem was this was the day I hit that point I hit in many paintings, where I realize I just asked for way more heartache than I needed to. For example, when I was about a third of the way through painting Blues One Two Three, and I realized two things: One, saxophones have way more detailed crap on them than I ever imagined; and two, if I'd simply swapped the sax around, the other side has a lot less detailed crap and I could have made my life easier. In this case, I'm thinking, all I wanted was to show some dirt and leaves. I didn't need all this stuff! Why am I painting it?
Too late now. I started it, I should finish.
I started off with what I think is Mars Black (Gamblin, of course), Portland Grey Light, and Burnt Umber, with Galkyd SD. This gave me a warm grey which I used to fill in the twigs and rocks. Then I added some more grey to make it lighter and cooler and used that for the lighter parts of the rocks and sticks. This much went fine.
It was only moving on to the leaves that things started to fall apart. I started with, I think, Transparent Earth Orange and some Galkyd SD. This was just too bright, so I made a thin Burnt Sienna and went back into it, putting in leaf veins and shadows and whatnot. I did some blending with a mop brush and began to get cranky -- this just didn't look the way I wanted it to. The leaf veins were too thick, the transparent colors too bright, the burnt sienna mix too blech. I began to get unhappy.
After this things get really unclear. I mixed up a number of reddish browns/brownish reds. There's Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, various greys, some straight Titanium White, some black. It's all over the place.
I started going back and forth, adding in shadows and highlights in various tones, blending them in, and sharpening details. Then adding small highlights, getting cranky, blending more, and so on. The big crinkly leaf in the upper left corner gave me the most trouble, probably because I had no idea what it should really look like. When I sketched it I kind of hoped the details would work themselves out, but this day they just refused to help me.
Also -- and I can't figure out if this is a limitation of my paints or my technique or if I'm just not getting the right mixture of solvent and medium or if it's just that my brushes suck -- I can't seem to get a good solid thin line of paint no matter how hard I try. Everything ends up more sketchy than I want. At last, I surrendered: I'd gone back and forth enough times, I had to accept this is just how it's going to look. Some black to outline the sticks a bit from the background, added some cracks and things to the bark, left the brushes to soak (and probably languish for a week).
Next up: Can I find the right golden brown for the upper layer of leaves? Can I get them to look as realistic as I want? Will I have any hair left by the time I'm done?