The Setting Sun – Working From Photo References

December 30, 2013 in Landscape by joanvienot

Oil painting of the Gulf of Mexico at Sunset, with oranges reflected on the emerald green sea
Oil painting of the Gulf of Mexico shoreline, with people silhouetted against the purple and peach-colored sunset
Oil painting of sea oats silhouetted against burnt-orange clouds over the Gulf of Mexico at sunset

Painting a sunset, during a sunset, would be very difficult because the light changes so fast.  But the subject begs to be captured on canvas.  Since the weather was chilly this weekend, and it was warm and cozy inside my studio, I decided to take a few stabs at it using photographs I have on my camera phone.  Photo references are not ideal for making a painting, because the camera does not catch everything the eye can see, and the camera certainly does not capture the sound of the waves, the warmth of the evening sun, the changing patterns of the waves, and the shifting latticework of shadows and light.  So I rely mostly on my sensory memories of the experience, some going right to the core of my own being, reflecting whatever might have been challenging me that day, whether work-issues, relationships, or even the existential questions of existence itself.

I have painted many a sky using watercolor, where the happy accidents often end up being exactly the right shape, color, and mood.  Oil painting is so much more deliberate, that I found myself questioning whatever made me think I could be a painter.  Plein air painting has allowed me to develop a much looser, impressionistic style, so I expected more immediate success with my sunset skies.  It took more time than I thought it would.  I can see that I need to practice more, if the sky is to be the subject and the focus of the painting.

The most elementary and powerful form of defining shapes is through silhouette, which sunsets encourage.  My first attempt does not have any foreground shapes other than the beach itself, and I think the next two are much more interesting because of the silhouettes of the figures in the middle ground of the second one and the sea oats in the last one.