Returning to Oil: Bigger, Darker

by Brenda W. Clough

 One of the things that I am prone to (I remember now!) is green. Somehow everything I paint in oil is very, very green. I don’t even like green! Other people can paint landscapes that are not mostly green, so why can’t I? Have a look at this Matisse, for example. The actual view must have a great deal of green in it, since this is France and France is a green and fertile country. You’d never know it from the colors the artist chose! This is not a characteristic of my muse, like McCaffrey and telepathy or Keith Richards and bluesy riffs. My problem is an artistic error. I have to push past the tyranny of what I see, to paint what ought to be there.

 Clearly if I had pursued painting for the past several decades I would’ve gotten this problem by the neck. Well, I’m attacking it now. Here is the original photograph (green, yes, but not that much green!) and below it is the next hack at painting it. This is on a larger 12 x 18 canvas board, much better in terms of roominess. Also it is less pastel — the first hack at the image was far too pale. (Where did I get the idea that white has to be mixed into everything? It would be better to mix -black- into everything.) Have I caught the quality of the water, still and reflective? I have not. The sky was better in the smaller work. Perhaps I should resort completely to applying the paint with the knife? I’ve always been more comfortable with the knife. I have the sense that my skills are not working together, the gears grinding, the strings not in tune. Again, if I had put the time into it I would have worked all these kinks out. The root of the problem may actually be that there are not enough hours in the day…



About Brenda Clough

Brenda W. Clough spent much of her childhood overseas, courtesy of the U.S. government. Her first fantasy novel, The Crystal Crown, was published by DAW in 1984. She has also written The Dragon of Mishbil (1985), The Realm Beneath (1986), and The Name of the Sun (1988). Her children’s novel, An Impossumble Summer (1992), is set in her own house in Virginia, where she lives in a cottage at the edge of a forest. Her novel How Like a God, available from BVC, was published by Tor Books in 1997, and a sequel, Doors of Death and Life, was published in May 2000. Her latest novels from Book View Cafe include Revise the World (2009) and Speak to Our Desires. Her novel A Most Dangerous Woman is being serialized by Serial Box. Her novel The River Twice is newly available from BVC.


Returning to Oil: Bigger, Darker — 8 Comments

  1. The Matisse is probably based on an autumn view; the green and fertile French country has lots of deciduous trees and bushes, grasses and plants that go yellow, orange or red in autumn.

    On the other hand, your original photo looks mostly green to me, with only the blue and white sky standing out at a distance. Including the beige of the bridge, that’s only about 1/4th, less than 1/3rd, not-green (at least to my eyes, from a little distance); so it’s not strange that your efforts to paint it would also look rather green. After all, you liked the look of the sun-struck beige against the darker green surroundings, and with that very picture-perfect sky over it, enough to inspire you to paint in oils again.

    • This. The photograph IS green, even the water is green, and so should the painting be. (This iteration is warmer than the original, which I feel doesn’t work). On the other hand, the photo has *a lot* of space devoted to dark and undifferentiated shadows; I like the painting, with its different textures/colours much better in that respect.

  2. Sorry about that — I was under the delusion it was Tuesday, and I still had time to insert it! Nor can I figure out how to make the insert bigger — I am working from my Ipad, which is persnickety.

  3. Sure you have a lot of green in your painting, but you’ve also emphasised some warm earth tones by way of contrast. Also, I reckon your composition is pretty good.

    I used to do a lot of plein air painting. Being Irish (and living in Ireland) there was a surfeit of greeness, which was a big problem: I think it’s a problem for landscape painters generally. My suggestion is to (a) prime the canvas in a colour that’s broadly complementary to your prevailing colour scheme – ie, a sort of salmon pink, as doing so can throw up some nice contrasts if you leave sections exposed & (b) only apply green sparingly. I once came across a photograph online of a plein air painter at work, and the difference between the painting and the subject – the way in which he toned down or ignored the greens – was striking. I’d recommend you check him out. He’s called David Lussier, has a great colour sense and really knows how to handle a brush.

    I never used black: just the three primaries and a ‘mixing white’. Supposedly the impressionists never used black, either.