Last Thursday, I got up very early to drive my friend Eva-Maria, her daughter, dog, cat, and worldly goods sufficient for six weeks in a new home in Germany to SeaTac. She’s moving back to Germany after more than 20 years in the US. Eva-Maria and her daughter Alexandra, who I met as a cheery six-year old, were exhausted from packing. What a relief for them to finally get on the plane!
On the way home, I stopped In Olympia to visit a friend, and then drove back to Portland just in time for my pastel painting class. I was happy to learn that Marla would demonstrate for us that night – I was much too tired to be enthusiastic about painting that night myself.
Marla had selected an image from Tryon Creek Park. She likes a small image, and will draw that image into a thumbnail of volumes and values – a starting point. The white frame leaning against the easel is used to mark a larger paper down to a specific size.
The image depicted a path through trees just leafing out in early spring. The steps in painting trees have not been clear to me. Trees that are just a suggestion in the distance – no problem. These trees are a grove – trunks catching the light, leaning together. Marla speaks about how much she likes the angles of the trunks, rhythm, motion….. Foliage is dappled in the light, and the foreground is full of broken color. Marla starts with a sheet of pastel paper prepped with a green under painting.
With a few swift gestures, Marla establishes the structure of the painting, and indicates where the deepest values will be seen. Tree trunks are suggested. A violet gray roadway will be blocked into the lower left corner.
Marla adds some subtle greens, and begins to apply color above the horizon line where the sky will begin. The extra paper to the side gives a place to check colors. The tree trunks are visible through the veil of later color. Marla has told us that she prefers to work within a square shape.
A few minutes later, a pale blue is worked between the tree forms to make sky. Warm color is added to the path through the trees. The forest floor begins to be created, with wisps of color.
A few more minutes, and the painting is completed. It’s lovely.
There are painters in our class, and they ask Marla to talk about how this painting could be done with acrylic paints. She rustles around her studio and produces a large – maybe 32″ square underpainted canvas – and sets it on the easel. She opens the jars of acrylic paints on the glass-topped shop cart on her left, and is mixing paint before we know it. She has just one brush, pedigree more Home Depot than Windsor & Newton, and starts to work without hesitation.
The same image is painted with acrylics in about half an hour. My classmates and I are happy just to watch. There’s a little conversation, some about painting; we talk about the guy on OPB who painted “happy little trees.”
Marla says, “It’s not finished” and begins to clean her only brush. It’s time to go home…. I think about painting all the way home, and decide to buy an easel.