Imagination and Reality – Anasazi Scene

Anasazi painting - near completionLast summer, I suddenly had a clear vision of a painting that I knew I was supposed to create for an online friend in Colorado.  The vision was partly realistic and partly a fantasy mix.

(Now and then, I get an idea for art that seems — from the start — to be intended for a particular person.  I know how odd that sounds, but it’s part of the intuitive process of being an artist.)

The nearly-completed painting is at left.

It’s an unusual work for me, but it’s rapidly approaching the picture in my head… the one I started with with.

The process began by collecting photos and making thumbnail sketches to put the ideas together.

Since I have never seen the Anasazi dwellings in America’s Southwest, I needed to do considerable research online and at the public library.  I was amazed at how few photos matched the images I was looking for.

However, looking for reference photos when the picture is clear in my mind… well, it’s like shopping for clothes when I have a very definite (fantasy) mental picture of what I want.

In other words, the process can be frustrating.

In this case, since I knew that the picture in my mind wasn’t actually going to match the real Anasazi landscape… well, I wasn’t sure where I was going with the work.

I guess the closest description might be the process artists use when painting science fiction illustrations.  Though we often use real, Earth-based images as points of reference, the finished work strikes out in a new direction.

Artist's journal references for an Anasazi-related paintingAt right: A page from my artist’s journal, collecting reference photos.

I knew that I wanted sky, trees, and a plateau.  Beneath that, I wanted some vivid, flame-like textured strokes.  The upper left photo from my journal was my reference for them. (That’s a picture by Stephen Trainor.)

Beneath that, I wanted the Anasazi dwellings, half-sheltered beneath an overhang.

Finally, I wanted a smooth rock face and some colors referencing the scene at the top.

All in all, I get the idea that it’s supposed to look a little like a Hollow Earth scene.

Here’s the painting process, and I continue to work with a tonal, acrylic underpainting.

The first photo shows the initial tonal notes in midnight blue and white.

After that layer dried, I started painting with oil paints.  The sky and plateau area were first, with some tonal corrections in the shadows lower in the painting.

Note: As I’m looking at this photo of the partially-completed work, I think I may re-introduce more blue into the shadows.  I’d grey’d them with ochre (a yellowy, muddy brown) and I think I prefer the blue… but I’m not sure yet.

After the upper landscape looked good, I was ready to work on the cliff-side colors, shown in the next photo.

At this point, it’s time to put the canvas aside and look at it, fresh, in a week or so.

I’m not sure what will happen with it, next, but I’m pleased with the results so far.

The original is an 18″ x 24″ oil painting on canvas.  This isn’t a commissioned work (I don’t work on commission), but it’s one that has been a fairly clear creative vision for a very definite recipient.  I’m painting it intuitively because that seems like the right thing to do.

For me, this isn’t a unique process, but it is fairly unusual.

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