Working on a diptych

28 01 2011

Off and on since Thanksgiving I’ve been working on finishing a diptych—an image on two panels, each of which can stand alone. I paint with oil on canvas. After I finish the painting, I’ll wait a long time—several months—for it to dry, apply a coat of varnish, and put the panels in two frames, most likely of koa.

This style is “impressionistic representationalism.” The viewer is able to recognize the scene, in this case, classic Lanikai Beach on Oahu with the Mokulua islets offshore. The paint edges are soft and approximate rather than hard and exact.

I like to paint images of where you might have been and want to remember, or of places where you’d rather be. This diptych began en plein air on location. Thanks to my hanai relatives Karl and Julie for their hospitality on site.

METHOD.  I started by loosely applying very thinned-out oil paint wash, using two or three tints, to the canvases with a 1.5″ brush, in a random pattern, leaving no white showing. I’m trying to leave  about 5 to 8% of this under painting showing to give the finished work a jeweled look.

While waiting for the wash to dry, I did an ink sketch of the scene, including the shadows, in my small notebook.  I made more than one sketch, experimenting with different compositions. Hand drawing a sketch reinforces the scene in my memory with similar results as taking written notes at a lecture.

I also set up my palette, generally arranging the colors following the color wheel order. Then I was ready to block in the scene on the canvas, using a brush and paint and referring to my ink drawing. I was careful to sight the objects to make sure my proportions were correct.  Yes, I actually stretched out my arm and measured with my thumb or a brush handle!

I mixed the “local” colors (middle tones) on my palette, as well as a dark and a light of the color. I painted analogously. That means, to darken a color I mixed in the next neighboring (on the color wheel) cool color for a shade. To lighten a color, I added a little of the next neighboring (on the color wheel)  warm color before adding white.

As a general example, take the local color red. For a dark red that one would see in the form shadow of, say, a tomato, I would mix in alizarin crimson. For a light red, I would add a little orange to the red before adding a little white. In teaching this technique, my teacher the late Gloria Foss called it the “Tomato Theory.”

Gloria taught that painting analogously was prettier than simply adding black or white, or the complement color to darken.

I love the idea of being able to call on your neighbors to help out instead of going  across the island!

When I finally got paint on canvas, I first put in the local colors that had the lightest values—usually a tint of white, and the darkest values. These were the off-white outrigger canoes and the dark coconut palm fronds. I put the lightest and darkest values in first that let me know all the values in between were relative to those two extremes.

As I painted I held up some paint on my palette knife against the object, like the sky and the ocean, to check that I had the hue and value (lightness or darkness) correct. I learned these last two tips from the late painter Peter Hayward.

I painted all over the canvas at once, by hue, considering both panels at the same time, so that the painting would become a tapestry of color. There are color repeats throughout.

In the end, much of the artwork is about the light. What direction is the light coming from in the painting? In plein air landscape painting, the sun moves constantly. What is the logic of light? That is, what does the light do when it hits a certain form? When it reflects?

Copyright 2011 Rebekah Luke

Related post:



One response

2 02 2011
Winter Tree Diptych | Gallery32

[…] Working on a diptych ( […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: