JUNE 2019

 

Land, Water & Sky

by Neal Philpott

FURTHER UPSTREAM 38" x 54" / Oil

FURTHER UPSTREAM 38" x 54" / Oil

This June Gallery 903 features the artist Neal Philpott. Through his close study of nature Neal captures the beauty of the Pacific Northwest in vibrant palettes of oil paint.

SHOW STATEMENT

The ever-changing beauty of the Northwest fascinates me. Views ranging from the simple to the sweeping are just outside my door. I love how a passing slant of light can enliven an everyday scene, transforming it into something uplifting for a brief moment. It challenges me to attempt to capture it in the unruly material of oil paint.

The scenes I’m most often inspired to paint are landscape scenes in my rural neighborhood, water in all its vagaries, and grand vistas with remarkable skies. Although I’ve lived and painted here for more than30 years, I never run out of incredible views to paint.

Originally from Michigan, I studied painting at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit. I have lived in theNorthwest since 1988 and currently paint full-time from my studio in Oregon City, Oregon.

COLLECTION

William’s Creek, oil on canvas, 66×100

William’s Creek, oil on canvas, 66×100

William’s Creek is a tributary to the Umpqua River in southern Oregon. This painting is from an image taken in the early light of day that somehow snuck through the trees to light up this clear pool in the woods.

My initial reaction to the scene was to want to sit there and just take it in. It was so beautiful and peaceful and really quite wonderful to behold. I really liked the effect the super-clear water had on the color of the stones and boulders. Of course, this is what also made it a real challenge to paint. This intimate view of a clear mountain stream demanded its large size.

Initially, I had chosen to paint a vertical piece from the left side, but after many months of debate I elected to do the whole scene. I arrived at 66×100 because I wanted it big to evoke in a viewer a similar response to mine. I put it on two canvases to facilitate moving it around.

The two 50×66 canvases were constructed with special attention being paid to where I folded the raw canvas over the corners to achieve the tightest possible fit between them. I also constructed a wall mount to facilitate painting.

Each step of my process became a lot more demanding due to the extreme size. I had long since forgotten what I learned from a painting completed earlier in my career that was 120×240. I persevered regardless and became enmeshed in the project for 6 weeks!

Hiking Out, oil on canvas, 32×66

Hiking Out, oil on canvas, 32×66

This is a view from the Washington side of the Columbia River looking east down the gorge from Hamilton Mountain. I was inspired to paint this because I liked how much distance could be seen and the elevation or vantage point from where I stood.

This view made for an interesting painting challenge too. All the color values were in the middle for the top two-thirds of the piece. All the darkest darks were in the foreground. I like this. It makes the viewer (me) want jump over the darks to get to the ‘back.’ There are three distinct bands to this piece, giving it a nice overall design.

I used phthalocyanine and ultramarine blues, manganese violet, raw umber and white for the majority of my mixtures. I worked hard at keeping the values balanced so that the banding worked.

The foreground forest is an example of controlled chaos. This is another time that I was after a certain look as opposed to trying to render every tree. The chaos was controlled by concise color mixing and application. I used Gamblin’s Indian Yellow to warm up the foreground greens to make them seem to be in the reflected light of a bright, yet cloudy day!

Further Upstream, oil on canvas, 38×54

Further Upstream, oil on canvas, 38×54

My inspiration for tackling such a complex view was purely to see if I could do it. I really enjoyed digging into the minutiae of all the details this view had to offer and simplifying them in oil paint.

The tube greens were from Winsor & Newton and Gamblin: sap green, viridian and permanent green light. I used those in combination with ultramarine and thalo blue mixed with various yellows to get the rest. The tricky part was keeping the color temperature on check because that was the way to differentiate between the different areas.

This oil painting is another one with lots of edges that needed attention. I enjoyed the differences each area had to offer. The water in the foreground is a good example of soft and hard edges coming together to make the whole scene. I showed considerable restraint in not putting in too many white reflections but rather putting in just the right amount for it to read as water.

Big Tree, oil on canvas, 36×66

Big Tree, oil on canvas, 36×66

I love trees, and the large oaks of the Pacific Northwest offer a great painting challenge. Big Tree is like a giant octopus with its many trunks, branches and twigs. I elected to reduce the number of small twigs to better reveal the multitude of trunks going off in dozens of directions. I think that using some artistic license helps to get across the grandness of this particular tree.

I painted the entire sky background first, letting it over lap the edges of the trunks and establish the negative space; my paint mixtures contain phthalocyanine blue, ultramarine blue and manganese violet in addition to white.

Next, I established the entire tree starting with the darkest areas first. These oil paint mixtures used most of the earth colors, and I leaned heavily on Utrecht’s Van Dyke brown. This particular color reads as a warm black and was the perfect choice to convey the heft and girth of these large branches.

I then worked through all the light colors and enjoyed glazing them to achieve varying levels of illumination afforded by the low angle of the winter sun.

There are great views to be had all over the Pacific Northwest. I’m fortunate to have this view portrayed in Basin Spring near my studio.

I referenced a lot of images before I selected this one to paint. Why? Partly because of the clouds, but primarily I was after a certain shade of blue for the sky that had a little red in it as opposed to cyan. I used manganese violet for the red, but also used cadmium red deep to get just a slight tinge of purpleness to the sky.

Spring colors, especially the light greens, are very intense. There are few occasions to use paint this bright and I found one. The light areas around the foreground trees have mixtures that are almost pure color out of the tube. Very rare for me! Gamblin’s oil color cadmium chartreuse, knocked down with a touch of raw umber and some nickel titanite yellow, fit the bill for this area.

Like many landscape artists, I start with what’s in back working to what’s in front. This is usually from top to bottom and from sky to foreground. The sky was one challenge, but the bigger one was how to portray all that information without rendering every tiny detail and ultimately killing my desire to paint it.

I relied on my process of premixing all the colors of a certain area, applying them with my palette knife and then manipulating them with both the knife and other brushes. This approach helps to keep it loose and abstract.

Hiking Out, oil on canvas, 32×66

Hiking Out, oil on canvas, 32×66

This is a view from the Washington side of the Columbia River looking east down the gorge from Hamilton Mountain. I was inspired to paint this because I liked how much distance could be seen and the elevation or vantage point from where I stood.

This view made for an interesting painting challenge too. All the color values were in the middle for the top two-thirds of the piece. All the darkest darks were in the foreground. I like this. It makes the viewer (me) want jump over the darks to get to the ‘back.’ There are three distinct bands to this piece, giving it a nice overall design.

I used phthalocyanine and ultramarine blues, manganese violet, raw umber and white for the majority of my mixtures. I worked hard at keeping the values balanced so that the banding worked.

The foreground forest is an example of controlled chaos. This is another time that I was after a certain look as opposed to trying to render every tree. The chaos was controlled by concise color mixing and application. I used Gamblin’s Indian Yellow to warm up the foreground greens to make them seem to be in the reflected light of a bright, yet cloudy day!

Solid Gold, oil on canvas, 20×40

Solid Gold, oil on canvas, 20×40

The inspiration for Solid Gold came from my gut reaction to seeing this huge golden hill jutting up from the Columbia River on the Washington State side. This side gets intense sun and consequently dries out first in the spring. The grass had long since died and the sun had washed all the color out of it. The intense ‘whiteness’ of the dried grass read as gold. The conifers seemed like they were plunked down in a random way across this hill. They reminded me of black chess pieces because there was so little differentiation in the value within each tree.

The painting challenge was mixing all the light colors and having them read as grass. I like Daniel Smith quinacridone gold for these mixtures because it seems more believable and less chalky than yellow ocher or cadmium yellows. I modified this essential mixture with raw umber and the occasional touch of blue or black to keep the chroma in check.

After I block in the initial colors, I usually glaze them to add some nuance to the tones of my paintings. This is especially true when the range of values is narrow, as in the case of Solid Gold.

Overall this was a fun piece to paint because it seemed ‘happy’ to me. It seems to promise fine weather with the intense blue sky. The cool respite of the shadows beckon during the hottest time of day, and the gold grass seems to invite inspection to confirm its goldenness.

Land and Water, oil on canvas, 20×40

Land and Water, oil on canvas, 20×40

The Columbia River offers many beautiful vistas for an artist, which makes selecting one a challenge. I selected this view because I was intrigued by the rail tunnels cutting through the basalt and the fact that I could see through them completely. The tunnels were like black holes that framed mini-landscapes when you looked through them.

The painting challenge was to depict the depth of the landscape using value, chroma and color. To do this, I had to pay particular attention to color mixing. The left side has the foothill mountains fading into the distance. I’ve found that mixtures for the forested areas are the most believable when manganese violet (which reads red) and raw umber were added to the essential blue and green mixtures. During this mixing stage on the palette, I added white or a dark to control value while constantly comparing it to the other colors.

The color of the water had many of the same oil paint mixtures. I adjusted the colors with white, and I feel I was especially successful with this group of blues in depicting the color and flow of the water.

The land part was interesting to paint because of the extreme value contrasts between the shadow areas under the trees and along the canyons. The painting challenge beyond the color mixing was to control the edges where the dark and light areas meet.

All in a Row, oil on canvas, 38×54

All in a Row, oil on canvas, 38×54

I tried to keep the shadowed area to the left thin and somewhat transparent. Mixtures were heaviest with phthalocyanine blue modified with ultramarine and manganese violet. Sometimes I used magenta as well.

The leafy trees in the middle ground were of several species, so I wanted to emphasize their differences by mixing separate green palettes for each tree. Highlights were used to portray the shiny and waxy look of these riverine trees. I think this was a transition area for the light coming through, where the light still reflected the blue of morning on the back trees and reached full warmth on the center tree. Beneath the trees were several rocks all in a row, which gives this painting its title.

The challenge here was not to overpaint the details in the shadow areas, but rather suggest nooks and crannies with the flip of the brush. Highlights were cadmium lemon and white layered over each other until I got the brightness I wanted. It seems the whites lose their punch when they dry, so I over-compensated for that as I went along.

The oil paint mixtures for the water were mixed on the palette and applied with the knife. I worked with the same blues I mentioned earlier, but I changed the proportions of my mixtures to achieve the look I was after. The coarser paint application lent itself well to making a convincing portrayal of the water.

The forefront had long wavy river grass. I did not over-detail this area because it was mostly in shadow. I mixed all the separate greens on the palette and applied them with a palette knife and further manipulated the oil paint with different brushes.

Descending Trail, oil on canvas, 26×40

Descending Trail, oil on canvas, 26×40

The inspiration for this oil painting was its direction. There’s always a sense of relief after having reached your destination and finally hiking down. Some may see this painting as a hike up, but the small glimpse you get at the right edge tells the tale. You’re looking down at the tops of the trees.

Since much of the scene has the same value, the painting challenge was to make the different surfaces read right. I accomplished this by adding things in and taking other things out so that the pictured elements helped define the scene. This is also the time I use glazes to unify an area’s color temperature. In this painting some of the foliage got blue glazes while others received yellow glazes. This helped define the plant species as well.