As I have been working through the transparent colour foundation layers, Robert Frost’s “Stopping in Woods” has been resonating in my brain. Why, I do not know, because his woods bear precious little resemblance to mine.
Frost’s narrator has stopped on a snowy evening to admire a beautiful woodlot. In clear contrast, the image I am developing is a light-filled morning in October above The Credit River. While many of the deeply coloured sugar maple leaves have fallen and are scattered on the forest floor, the beeches, who boast what horticulturists call “persistent foliage,” are stubbornly hanging onto their clear yellow leaves. The contrasting autumnal note is provided by the grey-green hemlocks making their last bid for precious light before our hemisphere tilts away from the sun. So what I have is a scene more light than dark, more colourful than shadowed. But I want the same thing from a passer-by: the urge to pause and to drink in the loveliness of the forest.
Autumn scenes are notoriously difficult to paint because they tempt you to throw every high-intensity colour at the canvas. "Go big or go home" tends to produce a garish painting that is too exhausting to live with over the years. So with a slightly subdued palette I am choosing to play the long game - hoping to capture this autumn day through subtlety rather than high-key drama.
With that in mind, I concentrated the blue layer, though omnipresent on the canvas, in the tree trunks and the purples of the path. It was important that the trunks are not be pure black (the natural outcome of burnt umber glazed with ultramarine blue); overly intense trunks would have overwhelmed the delicacy of the leafiness. So, quite limited blues. The leaves and the trunks had to play nicely together. Next, with the arrival of yellows, the beeches threw their hats into the ring and the fallen maple leaves acquired deeper tones. Here and there green leaves appeared. The trunks' complex contours began to emerge. A light glaze of alizarin crimson completed the complex colour foundation. Nothing more to do for a day or two while the primary glazes dry.
Soon, the final glazes! I hope that Frost’s narrator will already be feeling the urge to linger: the woods may not be “dark and deep” but I think they hold the promise of loveliness nonetheless.