I sometimes wonder if I'd have become a landscape painter had it not been for winter. When I was a kid growing up along the shore of Lake Ontario just outside of Rochester, NY, we used to get tons of snow. I know as one of my jobs was shoveling our long driveway. Maybe we always dream about our childhoods. I sure do, and often the dreams revolve around my old home in deep winter.
There's often the complaint that winter isn't as colorful as summertime. For the life of me I don't know what people are talking about when they say that, as I've always felt just the opposite. Snow blanketing the landscape turns all these amazing shades of blue, violet, cream yellow, absolute stark white, and a zillion shades of grey. And there is ALWAYS super high contrast of darks and lights.
Above is a Rockwell Kent that's new to me, with what strikes me as an odd combination of a more naturalistic foreground and a sky much more invented and surreal. In fact I almost wonder if it's a painting Kent went back into at a much later time in his career and never quite resolved. But I still love it.
Look at the way he uses the snow- sometimes covering large swatches of the landscape with solid white Other times like in the trees at the left peppering the dark pines with a pattern of snow "dots." Or leaving the snow out altogether like in the row of pines at the right. With snow you have incredible flexibility like that- it allows a playfulness with the form that's unmatched in other sorts of realist painting. It makes me feel more like an abstract painter.
Color-wise, check out the difference between the color of his highlights in the immediate foreground compared to those on the distant headland. Kent knew that as he changed the space, he had to change the color too to build up that feeling of depth.
One of the spiritual ancestors of Rockwell Kent has to be the spookily wonderful 19th century German painter Caspar David Friedrich. Below is the first image I ever saw of a Friedrich painting on my first day in Art History 101 at Oberlin College in Ohio. I flipped out over it.
These days I do most of my work in oil back in the studio based either on plein air vine charcoal drawings, or as below, working from drawings I make directly from my imagination. Here's a 7 x 14" vine charcoal drawing I did as a guide for an oil I'm working up in the studio right now.
And here's one I did just over the last two days that I'm planning to work from in oil. If I hadn't had 35 years of working directly from nature outside I wouldn't be able to make paintings from such simplified drawings. Those years of more perceptual work stuffed a lot of tools into my pocket that I can pull out when needed. For me, a painting is really a child born from drawing. Oil paint's incredible flexibility of course lets you do things with layering and color adjustment I don't think it's possible to do in a drawing medium. But that same ease of flexibility can get you into trouble and lead to mushiness and indistinctness in a canvas. Refocusing on drawing a few key expressive silhouettes is sort of the backbone that holds all the colors and soft, floating edges of oil pigment together. Here's a final Rockwell Kent for you. Look at how masterful his shapes are in the middle distance. And enjoy his wide ranging choices for the colors snow can be.