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Aug 08, 2020
WHERE THE MOUNTAINS TOUCH THE SKY 24" x 36" oil on Gessobord © Lindy Cook Severns 2019 a view of the Davis Mountains in Far West Texas
How, you ask, do I paint cactus thorns? One blessed thorn at a time. (Ouch! oops...That one got me.)
How do strokes of color on canvas become a painting? One dab of color at a time.
How do I know exactly what color to use? I don't.
I make bold, intuitive color choices that speak for themselves. If I don't like what a color has to say to my painting, I wipe it off or cover it with a different color. It is, after all, only dabs of paint stroked onto canvas. But when used effectively, those dabs of paint connect into an emotional message. "Where the Mountains Touch the Sky" resonates of freedom, unencumbered happiness, soulful introspection. Serenity. Connectedness. They don't make tubes of paint labeled with any of those feelings. That's on me, and on you, the viewer. I brought the color. I do hope you embrace the view!
Here's a behind-the-easel glimpse of how it happened for this painting. This is "Where Mountains Touch the Sky" in its underwear. (Shhh.... It's kind of shy right now.)
My underpainting and sketch: I draw in the general shapes with pastel pencil, then thinly paint in the sky background and deepest shadows. Kind of a mind map. Loose, but accurate to the terrain. Some artists do a very detailed drawing first, but I go for energy, then definition. I'm impatient and it shows. This works for me, but if you're an artist, do whatever it takes to get your concept onto canvas as a map. There is no right or wrong way to paint!
Then I start adding the base colors and patterns of light and dark.
Big wild strokes of energy give a painting more life than teensy careful ones. It's only paint on canvas, not life and death in the jungle. I don't have to watch my step too closely. Stroke by stroke, I add shapes and color that gradually build into fine detail.
It's much like doing a puzzle, where you mentally fit the pieces before clicking them together. Sometimes the piece doesn't fit and you must paint over it. An oil painting is fine with that. Oils are so touch-feely. They love all the attention.
Now the main shapes are blocked in with color.
Still unfinished, my painting is dressed and ready to add the finery. Shoes, jewelry... Cracks in the volcanic rock. Flower heads above the tall grass. Cactus thorns. Lots of cactus thorns... Cholla have clusters of fine spines swirling across their branches diagonally all the way around. This makes them appear all shimmery and backlit, but don't touch!
It's time to tweak color and detail to draw you into the painting's landscape, so you can travel there. It's sort of like creating trails through the mountains and into the sky, then through the clouds and back to earth.
When designing a landscape painting, it's generally considered more interesting to look up at something than to look down from it. Think of the Eiffel Tower: Say "Eiffel" and You promptly imagine the tower rising into the sky, but how many images of the City of Lights sprawling below come immediately to mind first?
So the rule is, paint the landmark rising into the sky. But here's the exception: I once was a pilot. I loved soaring over snow-capped peaks, looking down on patchworked fields and Lego-block cities. Now I love standing on a windswept mountain, the land spreading below me in a series of peaks and folds that fade into myriad micro-worlds. Worlds within worlds within worlds. I love reaching out and touching a cloud. I love the view from on high, and this is my home mountain. So, I broke the rule.
Detail of Mountains in Where Mts Touch the Sky oil painting Lindy Cook Severns
"Where Mountains Touch the Sky" is an expansive view across the Davis Mountains. My vantage point was a flat, craggy overlook about 6800 feet above sea level. We hadn't reached the peak yet, but from that height, mountains and clouds indiscriminately flow back and forth into one another. Wind whips the golden seed heads of tall, green-clumped grasses. (Where does the green stop and the brown begin on an autumn stem of grass? When do you stop being young and start being old? If you're living each moment, should that even matter?) All that breaks this rhythm of peaks and clouds is a cholla cactus, a thorny signpost in this kingdom-on-high, a realm where traffic lights and hurried humans are unimaginable.
Everything flows into everything else in smooth transitions, woven strands of color, light and shadow. Dots of summer roll gently into strokes of autumn. Wispy cirrus wrap tendrils of vapor into solid banks of cumulus. Blue melts into violet, violet into rust, rust into gold. Each thing maintains its identity yet doesn't force change as it touches something quite different from itself.
It's as the world should be, don't you think?
On this mountain, on this fine September day, it was. And IS, whenever you enter this painting. Enjoy the view.
Prints, cards and the original (as of August 2020) Where the Mountains Touch the Sky are available on my website ~ Lindy
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