I have a painting in mind and it involves an old cottonwood tree growing next to a dirt road in the Big Empty. The painting is from a photograph I took last year in a moment when I saw a painting happening in front of me.
Trees, however, individual trees, are not easy to paint. I did OK on this painting, though. It’s tiny, 7 x 5.
The tree I’m hoping to paint doesn’t look much different from this one, but as it will not be in snow, the demarcation between branches won’t be as easy and THAT, for me, is the big challenge. The other challenge is that I imagine this painting as a very large painting. Maybe THE painting for the big canvas — 4 ft x 6 ft — that’s been languishing in my “studio” for the past two years, but probably not. Such a large painting will take a lot of paint and I don’t think oil paint manufacture and sales is on the list of necessary businesses. Canvas takes more paint than panel, too.
This is the photo, but I cropped it wrong and shortened the road between the viewer and the tree, so when I paint it I’m planning to put the figure a ways down the road so she doesn’t look like she just got out of my car to take a photo of a tree. One of the things that bothers me about the concept, though, is it might be too Andrew Wyeth. I don’t see the Big Empty in the same way Wyeth seems to have seen his world. His painting reflect it (to me) as kind of a bleak place filled with intimate neutral-toned relics of human life. His paintings of nature convey — to me — a troubled relationship between man and nature.
This is an awesome tree, but…
To me many of his paintings say, “Ethan Frome.” Shudder. It’s not that I don’t SEE that in the numerous dilapidated farms in my valley, the numerous log cabins, the frame and adobe buildings where someone tried to make their stand and find their dreams. The thing is there’s no way to know what happened (unless it’s obvious that there was a fire). As sad as a ruined cabin appears, it’s entirely possible that the people who built it and lived there were very happy.
So, in my painting, I want to capture the isolation of the Big Empty, but also my friend’s (and my) feeling when we saw that amazing tree. There was nothing bleak or sad about it.