Riverside Dwell

My wife was always upset at me for having sold "A Rivenside View".  So it was about time for a revisit.  As this was an interesting development, I leave the details to another page which I'll put together shortly.  Just to say that it was intentionally under-planned.  As such there was a fair bit of luck in how it was going to turn out.

A Rivenside View

Me being me, I have no intention of recreating the original.  However, I will take away from it the use of blues and yellows with plenty of mist and water.  So how to update the painting?  The original was more open than I wanted, so to force the issue a bit and to emphasise the valley, I'm switching to portrait.  I also want to add in elements from "A Mountain Stream" to give a better far distance.

A Mountain Stream

Both original paintings were done in acrylics, but I am switching to oils for this one.  The canvas is quite long and thin - I like high aspect ratios.  This allows some experimentation with different scales.  I like the diffuse lighting in both paintings so I will keep that.  I want a bridge as the main foreground feature, and a waterfall somewhere, and of course some buildings.  That's my wish list.  I was a bit stumped for a while as to how to juggle everything so that it fitted.  However, a bit of thought this morning and I decided to push the waterfall backwards behind the bridge, giving a large drop under the bridge to a pooled lake separating the waterfall from the front of the painting.  The rest falls into place quite easily.  I also decided to be free with the colour selection, bending towards the colour treatment used in "A Mountain Stream" rather than "A Rivenside View".  This means building the colour up before any detail goes in.

As this is oils, I cannot use the wild freedom of the original "A Rivenside View" as you need to start out thin.  So I start out with some rough guides to work where everything is going to go.


I've put the bridge at a bit of an angle to add some interesting perspective.  I have also combined the arch with the foot of the mountainside to produce an interesting ellipse.  Why not?  The waterfall is bang central and should take much of the focus.  I've offset the bridge to the left to give room on the right for some near detail.  Note that any detail given such as roofs, is inspirational only - I'm going to lose all but the most crude of lines.  These lines are guides only.

You might have noticed that I've drawn using blue, to be precise ultramarine.  I could say that this is to allow the marks to stand out as long as possible, but the simple truth is that I dislike ultramarine.  I therefore don't use it much.  I therefore have quite a lot of it left in the tube.  I therefore use it in preference to other colours simply so that it gets used.


I started out blocking in some of the dark tones to enforce the tonal range.  The result is OK, but this is not capturing the colours the way "A Mountain Stream" did.  It's dull.


So I threw a load of colours at it.  There is a developing sense of depth, but still some thinking to do before it hangs together properly.  There is a school of thought that an oil painting should begin by just putting down the correct tonal range.  In other words: black, white and shades of grey.  This ensures that the tones are stretched properly before the rest of the painting becomes dependent on them.  The eye can distinguish far finer tonal variations than colour variations, so get the tones right first.  This approach makes sure that you have thought and acted on the tonal range before confusing the painting with the detail.  However, I like to throw things around as early as possible.  As soon as anything gets close to where it needs to be, the tendency to experiment and push the boundaries, evaporates.  Ultimately, the colours I've just thrown at the canvas are not the final word and will get revised.  Knowing that lets me throw those colours.


I worked quite a lot of the shadows, using ultramarine for the darkest of them.  So in the waterfall there is a change from cobalt blue at the top to ultramarine at the bottom.  I wouldn't have done that if I were trying to make the colour true.  However, I'm happily exaggerating the colours for this painting and ultramarine is such a ridiculous colour it can pull the painting in strange places.  I've also done some work on the lake to work in some light and reflection.  This seems to be going in a useful direction.  What is not yet right is my first attempt at the buildings.  I need to think on this for a bit.

We had our first on-line art club demo on Tuesday, so a bit of a gap between painting.  Having sat and thought, and hated my first attempt at buildings even more... I decided that the painting needed a bit of a shake up.  The first building looks blocky.  I decided want I really wanted was to emphasise the vertical lines and to forget about actually drawing buildings.


So I painted a load of verticals that had the right distribution to be interesting.  I then converted them into a rough set of walls and archways, putting in some basic roofs.  I marked out some stairs, because I like stairs.  They also help to add depth.  Note that the steps are likely to move a bit - they are currently too big, but that doesn't matter as these simple lines are only occupying space at the moment.  The roofs on the far side of the bridge were merging a bit so I reworked them.  I've added a load of different colours into the walls and roofs to get some play of the light involved.  I also integrated the stairs with the rock a bit.  This is improved, but I'm not sure whether I'm going to go with this yet.

Looking back on it, those buildings seriously are not yet working.  The lighting is wrong for a start.  As a result they look painted-over rather than integral with the landscape.  I need to darken the nearest of the buildings so that they drift into shadow.  Also those red roofs were only ever an ambition: they don't work.  The colour has to be muted and they fail to add depth.  The bigger problem is a lack of shape.  The buildings are very bitty and overlay each other in a rigid order.

Worst than all this: my good lady wife has used the K-word.  This is not good.


The first thing I did was to work so more cobalt blue into the mid ground to drop it back a bit.  The waterfall now blends better with its surroundings.  Next I darkened the nearer buildings and eliminated one of the roofs, replacing it with a balcony.  Most of the buildings at the top right I reworked into a single town-hall like structure to give it more shape.  I also grabbed a motif from one of the roofs on the left hand side and used it elsewhere to make the buildings a little more interesting.

I'm feeling better about the buildings now, but still more work to be done before starting on the detail.  The buildings on the left lack structure.  However, I think that the other buildings will start to work once the detail goes in.



I decided to give the buildings on the left a common frontage.  It now has a church-like quality.  However, the perspective is slightly out, so I will need to adjust again.  Despite that, progress is sufficient to start on some detail.  Simply for a change in activity, I switched to the water.  Given the presence of the waterfall and the foreground constriction, the water was always going to be turbulent.  I suggest opening the image in another window to get some of the detail.  I got a lucky splodge at the bottom of the waterfall, left hand side, from a bit of viridian.  It looked like a rock behind the water.  Not to let a bit of luck go wanting, I reinforced it and repeated it a couple of times.

The bottom of the falls could do with a bit of darkening.  I also worked some of the rocks a bit, but this is very much work in progress.  Looking back at the previous snapshot, I've lost some tonal range in the rocks left of the falls.  I'll put that back in.  Keeping a record is useful in evaluating what works, and I have often reverted something as a result.  It's is not always easy to remember what the painting looked like before recent changes.


Apart from adjusting the building on the left to improve perspective, it's now down to details proper.  I started on the bridge.  The first of the series of three above draws in the brickwork.  This looks artificial at this point: there is no way of easily painting fine enough lines, and it looks like lines on top of flat colour.  This is fine: these are more guides than finished product.  So in the second triplet, I have gone back over each brick with a variety of colours to break up the flatness and to reduce the line strength.  This looks fiddly, but in reality it doesn't take long.  I will be revisiting these bricks later to sharpen the edges.  I have added detail to the roofs and the foreground rocks.  I've also worked the stairs a bit, although more work to be done yet.

Next, it's about time I got back to the far distance.  I want a bit more blue (as in cobalt) and I want to build detail.  Because it is the far distance, I do not want to add anything recognisable that might detract from the many focus (the waterfall).  I will therefore be adding textures, not real trees and rocks.  This will be taken so far as the background stops being noticeable.


Lots of work done putting those details in.  Firstly, the far distance.  I took advantage of using a body paint, and kept pushing paint around to steadily build up the stream bed and the surrounding crags.  This was different to the approach I took for "A Mountain Steam" where I added dabs of paint, and only over-painted briefly to correct the worst excesses.  The result is not quite the same, but does its job.  My wife has an epiphany and realised that too much detail in the far distance would imbalance the painting.  Quite right.  Talking of detail, I attacked the buildings.  I used Gothic arches as I thought it would be a bit more interesting than an unadorned curve.  It also helps the break the verticals up and to give a better sense of scale.  I added some more foam at the bottom (lightest light and all that).

There's always the question of how much detail to put in.  This painting is quite detailed, although much of that is in textures rather than explicitly planned structure.  It is a painting not a photograph, and nobody is going to mistake it for one.  Simple paintings sell well, so why paint like this?  In truth 80% of time spent on this painting was getting everything in the right place.  The detail did not take long.  You principally pick out the outlines and ignore the rest, therefore detail the outlines and leave the rest contentless.  Good simple paintings are simple in composition.  I think leaving the detail out just leaves a painting looking unfinished.  There again, you only need to add full detail for the subject of the painting.

I have now pretty much run out of things to do on this painting.  The next job is to leave for a bit to let time distance my thoughts.  Then I will give it another look to see what works or doesn't.  Overall I'm happy with the way it has turned out.  It's not quite what I set out to do, but that's normal.  The best bit is that my wife no longer references Kinkade - always a risk when overdoing the colour.  It's a good stab.  When I'm finished proper, I've still got the edges to paint (it's a raised canvas) and I'll take a final photo with a bit more care to get an authentic copy.  Meanwhile I'll start something new.

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