What are your first thoughts and emotions upon seeing this painting?
Jot them down.
Then read on.
I’m curious to see how first impressions are altered – if at all – by knowing the background.
“Luna Moth“ is the portrait of a delicate little moth found while hiking at my local Seneca Creek State Park. I’m not even sure how I noticed her small, delicate, pale green-blue body on the grass as we walked thru the park, but she caught my eye.
Perhaps my eye is always out for birds, beasts and butterflies like her who are literally in my path just waiting to be painted?!! And so I picked her up and gently cradled her gossamer wings in my palm, trying not to crush them for the rest of the walk or let her drift out the window on our drive home.
A few reference photos later, I decided to depict her in a straight-on “pose” and treat her broken parts with as much loving attention as her intact ones.
As you can see from the progress photos (starting with the first ones at the bottom), I’d initially thought I should try to paint her in her original, living, pale green color rather than her current after-death pale teal-blue color. I started with the green, but found that though it was beautiful, the color just wasn’t strong enough to convey her bold grace and elegance. So turquoise blue took over (technically cerulean blue if you’re keeping track of paint colors).
Around the same time I also dramatically adjusted the shadow colors to more effectively match and emphasize her cooler wings. And increased the background color gradient to dramatize the light and shadow around her, thus drawing our attention to her even more.
Just like the backdrop onstage in a play, the background of a painting sets the scene. But we are not meant to notice it, in and of itself. It’s more like a supporting character enhancing the drama being acted out by the main characters.
Even though this background is extremely simple, little touches like that (that you visually and instinctively register but don’t even realize it) make a big difference! Now that you see it here and are consciously aware of it, I bet you’ll notice it in other works of art too.
When you do, let me know in a blog comment below!
Meanwhile, as you can see in the progress photos, my current process includes sketching my subject in pencil on canvas, then blocking in the background and subject with a palette knife in large, quick strokes.
And finally, refining the details with a brush. Many brushes actually!
And I have to set myself a time limit or else I’d be tinkering with each painting forever. Keeping the energy fresh, loose and fast rather than exactly photo-realistic is turning out to be an essential part of my work.
In fact, I prefer to paint standing up, it just gives me and thus the painting a far greater sense of freedom and movement.
Meanwhile, back to your initial impressions jotted down. Have they changed in any way after having read the backstory of her creation?
If so, how?
Let me know that – and anything else you’re moved to share in a blog comment below!!
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