Like much of my artwork, this Huntsville painting has a story.
It started with a wedding invitation. I hadn’t expected it, as I hadn’t seen the groom since he was a toddler. And, the wedding was in Alabama, a state I’ve rarely visited.
I had not seen the area where the wedding would take place, but — as a wedding gift — I felt inspired to paint a landscape showing where the couple would exchange vows.
At that point, I wasn’t sure I was actually going to the wedding. When I’m not painting, I’m writing books & articles. This month (October) is my very busiest month with new book releases and lots of media interviews. Also, the drive was going to be long, but not quite long enough to justify flying.
But, I usually enjoy weddings. In addition, years ago I’d made a promise to my mother about someone I was certain to see at the wedding. It was time to honor that promise.
So, with help from my brother, who lives in Alabama, I gathered visual references. Then, I found the perfect canvas. It’s 36″ x 36″ and a nice, deep gallery wrap. (That means the canvas wraps around the edges. No frame is needed. In fact, it shouldn’t be framed.)
Finally, I was ready to sketch.
The first sketch (at right) was grandiose and impractical. Flowers, trees, interlocking gold rings, a Christian cross in the center, and the outdoor building where they were marrying… Oh, it was fun, but I was trying to do too much with the concept.
The basics…? I knew that I wanted certain colors, including lots of shades of green (for the outdoor setting), and pink & blue flowers. I wanted to include the wedding pavilion. Visually, a circular flow would suggest wedding bands, the circle of life, eternity, and so on.
But, as I studied reference photos, I saw even more flaws in my original idea. Photos showed there was no way the sun could be visible behind the wedding pavilion. (Another building was in back of it.)
Unwilling to abandon my initial idea, I sketched the design (in pencil) on the canvas.
Almost immediately, the wedding rings and cross looked odd. Not like wedding rings. And, in general, the mish-mash seemed a little too “cutesy.”
So, I went back to the drawing board. Literally.
The second sketch (at left) was more successful.
I envisioned the wedding pavilion against a pale blue sky. The foreground would be green and blue, with a Monet vibe.
I wanted bold, Matisse-y flowers, connected with two concentric, gold rings. The latter would be in metallic gold paint, possibly with glittery highlights.
Happy, I ordered the imported paints & brushes I’d need.
While I waited for them to arrive by mail, I started the underpainting. (An underpainting rarely shows through, but it can make the colors “pop” more.)
From my mother (also an artist), I’d learned to study the handwritten notes of my favorite artists. So, based on Monet’s notes, the first layer was cadmium red.
That’s it on the right. I roughed-in the roof of the wedding site and left it white. Then, I underpainted the sky and greenest areas, the concentric circles, plus some central design elements.
So far, so good.
When the paints arrived, I sketched-in the general colors and themes: the sky and grassy area, the building, the rings, and some big white splotches where the flowers would go. I also painted the wrap (the sides of the stretched canvas) to match. It looked good.
I wish I’d photographed the steps that followed, but… I didn’t. The paints arrived late, and I was working day & night to complete the painting on time.
This was about two weeks’ work, and yes, I have enough art experience to work quickly, especially when I’m in “woman on a mission” mode.
I propped the Huntsville painting where I could see it when I was in the kitchen. I moved it so I could study it while eating meals. I turned it so I could glance at it while catching up on news, etc., on the TV.
I kept painting & tweaking, and painting & tweaking.
I didn’t sleep much. That’s because, as the deadline approached, it was better to complete the painting and have peace of mind, than to toss & turn, fretting over this.
Finally, I visited a couple of art supply stores to find the perfect gold (and glitter accents) for the wedding rings.
But, when I painted those rings, they looked weird. Sort of like a bulls-eye design. Sort of like a time tunnel, or how Hitchcock had represented hypnosis or a dream state.
Nope. That wasn’t going to work. So, I painted over all the gold & glitter, and worked on the flowers while I thought about it. (That stage is at left.)
After suggesting the flower colors, I added loose, swinging flower stems to create the circular flow I had in mind. They’re fun.
That’s when I saw a balance issue. My attention was drawn to the dark, literal greenery in the upper left corner. The effect was jarring against the whimsical style of the flowers.
So, I repainted the greenery.
Note: Yes, the floral design does fill more of the left than the right. That’s a deliberate choice.
In illustration and in painting, the eye tends to go from left to right. If you want a happy, uplifting mode, keep the right side as open as possible. Nothing should make the eye come to a halt. The right side of the canvas should suggest cheerful, forward energy.
(By contrast, if you want to represent something sinister, put lots of big, blocking images on the right side of the artwork. If they’re powerful enough, you might even see a physical reaction when someone looks at the piece.)
At this point, I was starting to like my Huntsville painting again. That was a relief. In my experience, any art that doesn’t go through the “oh dear heaven, this is ugly” phase during the process… it’ll hit that point at the end.
It’s better to go through the rough part around the middle of the process. (It’s like that with my writing too. Many writers describe the “awful swampy middle” of their stories. You either persist or you give up; that can be the difference between a successful writer/artist and one that never seems to finish anything.)
And, from that point forward, everything came together.
On Thursday night (before starting our journey on Friday), I thought the painting was completed. I loved it! Of course, I photographed it to show my oldest daughter. (That’s the photo, on the right.)
In that smaller size — and with a fresh way of looking at the finished work — the horizon was completely wrong. Comparing the left, right, and inside the wedding building… it didn’t line up at all.
So, after a late-dinner break, I returned to the canvas and repainted portions of it. Now I really liked it.
And, I knew it was almost complete.
At that point, I added a small red dot in “Chinese red” (my mother’s term for a bright, rich red-orange hue). That was one of my mother’s signature elements in many of her paintings. She felt that the energy of a red dot attracted the eye on a subtle level, and — correctly placed — it could balance any painting.
Since this is a family gift, it seemed important to include that nod to my mother. Without her love and encouragement, I might not have become an artist.
We hand-delivered it (after a 14+ hour drive) to the happy couple — Chris & Shannon — in Huntsville, Alabama. I’m proud of this painting, and feel that my mother had some input, at least as an inspiration.
And, I think she’d be proud of this, and happy for the newlyweds.