Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Revisiting Santa Helena Canyon 24 Years Later

#003 Morning in Santa Helena Canyon - 12"x16" watercolor (1990)

#150 Morning in Santa Helena Canyon - 12"x16" oil on canvas panel (2014)
24 years ago I painted a watercolor I titled "Morning in Santa Helena Canyon." Last week I decided to revisit this exact same subject thinking that it would be interesting to see the two paintings side-by-side. Might be fun to see how the years have changed my approach to values and color, not to mention using oil vs watercolor.

After many years of painting I've learned a few basics about color. One being the rule of thumb that warm colors come forward and cool colors recede. So one of the challenges of this particular subject (and one I probably didn't consider in 1990) is dealing with the cast shadows from adjacent canyon walls which appear cooler than the color of the walls in the background which are catching some warm reflected light from various angles. 

My goal was to trick the eye into figuring out that those distant walls really are behind the ones in my center of interest in spite of that pesky rule of thumb. 

We've all seen those optical illusions where things can appear completely different depending on the viewer. The one that comes to mind is the ink blot vase... or is it two profiles facing each other? In a sense, this was the issue here. Which canyon wall is in front of the other in the viewer's eye? 

Looking at this newest painting (#150) you can actually force your eye to see either. But if I was successful, the viewer would be naturally drawn to seeing the cooler walls as closer in spite of their cooler temperature. I'll leave that up to the viewers to decide.

The main thing I got out of this experiment is discovering that it is very beneficial to revisit old subjects years later, if nothing else, to see how you have progressed... or not.

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