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A Desert Scene

I have a set of pictures in Picasa that I think would make for nice paintings.  I keep looking over them and thinking whether I’m ready to do each one.  Some are too hard, others don’t quite feel right just now, and still others will never make it onto a canvas because they just aren’t that good.

As Dore and I drove back from Ojai, however, one of the pictures just seemed to click for me, and I knew that I wanted to try painting it.

Desert Abandon

Desert Abandon

The picture is of an old house way out in the Mojave desert somewhere along California State Highway 395.  It’s a dilapidated old structure, with scrub brush growing right up to the door and piles of discarded chunks of plywood and two-by-fours littering what might elsewhere be called the yard.

I snapped the photo from the back of a moving bus after a long ski weekend.  The lighting was the low sunlight of late afternoon, and the horizon held the giant, broody clouds that you get over the desert: huge and dark, but with little chance of dropping any moisture.  It struck me as just the sort of scene I would imagine for a story of desolation.

Sadly, the picture came out about as well as you would expect for being shot at sixty plus miles an hour — blurry and a bit off kilter.  But that’s one thing I like about painting.  I get to fix some of the little mistakes and gloss over things like blurry scrub brush.

My big challenge for this painting was to get  the colors just right.  Just looking at the image I knew that accurate colors would be key to capturing the feeling of the desert.  Fortunately I’ve been focusing a lot on color mixing lately, so things weren’t all that bad.  I’m really happy that I was able to strike a good balance between muting my palette without getting too gray and murky.  I also used a couple of little techniques that I’ve read about recently to make the clouds a bit more realistic.  I think they helped a lot, and I’m going to try to keep improving on that work.

As I’ve been doing for the last few paintings, I’ve been keeping a timer with me to try to keep focused and moving forward.  I’m making a point of stopping every thirty minutes to (1) step back and objectively review the painting, and (2) snap a photo so I can do “time-lapse” changes.  I think it’s really interesting to look back and see what changes I made.  I notice a lot of little things that I wouldn’t normally expect.  If you’d like to check it out, I’d recommend looking on my Picasa album, since you can click back and forth through the pictures to see the transition.

So anyway, that’s what I did on Sunday afternoon.  Pretty neat.

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