a night in Spout Cave

I have been wanting to try this for a while now, having seen the banner on Keith’s blog.  Last night I went to look and found he had put the whole painting on which I found breath-taking.  Sorry about the oohs and aaahs Keith but it was inspiring.

Here is my first wash:


And here is how it looks now:


This is showing promise and I may fiddle a bit more to work out how I will do the next version.  I am sure I can get further with the first wash.  The colours made such lekker patterns in the paper.

It is good to see it here – man this looks dramatic – though not quite what I am aiming for.  The dark at the top is supposed to be a cliff face with patches of snow and there are rocks in front of the cave with a snow-bank in the foreground.  There are grassy plants sticking out of the snow which I could do better.  But the glow works hey?  I have used a warm yellow and purple (from the other side of the colour wheel and Windsor blue with a green shade which should be opposite the warmer yellow and I added some cadmium red to the blue to create darks.  I am going to read a bit more of Jeanne Dobie on darks and glow.

OK – here is how it looks now – I think this is pretty much it for this version.  I have put in some hikers and more darks.  I had a look at Keith’s flowers and I see he is not scared to pour on the darks.


Any input on how I could do it better would be appreciated here.  The snow-slope in the foreground is irredemable I think – or at least I don’t have the energy to fiddle with it any longer – that clump of grass is rather pathetic – the rest is OK for me:L


10 thoughts on “a night in Spout Cave

  1. No ideas unless you want to define the rocks more and darken certain areas to cause the opening to be even brighter. Maybe Keith can share with us how many layers he may use to build up his darks. You are using heavier paper so it may take more to achieve his strength of darks. Don’tknow. I like it, though. Are you feeling more challenged, in studio, now?

    • Thanks Leslie – yes this is a good project. The big painting is also a challenge even if it is because everything takes so long – no 10 minute sketches.
      As I look at it now there are some changes I would like to make. I think the glow works. It is strange though that it seems to be easier to appreciate this looking at the photos than looking at the actual painting. Do you get that? I would like to break up the lower band of rock. It is actually a tumble of rocks down the gully with a band of rock below the entrance to the cave. I also want to darken the area on the right, under the rock wall. And sort out the snow and the plants (mmm – yuck) – I would like to create a sense of rock face above the cave but am not sure how I will do that.
      I realised last night as I worked on my other painting that creating darks requires LOTS of colour. I don’t use black, prefering to mix darks from Alizarin Crimson with Winsor Green or Ultramarine.
      The painting is 15 x 22 inches so it is not that much area to cover.
      I am hoping to have some time to work today.

      • I try to paint a scene differently than I see the photo. I try to record the best of what I get from a scene. Sometimes I crop it for a better composition. I re-evaluate throughout. So, when I appreciate the photo more than the painting I know that I’m not done. My photos are never a work of art as I am a poor photographer. I use them purely as reference and try to whap a painting with something of myself. Does that make sense to explain it that way? I love the diagonals that are created in this in the foreground leading the eye to the light. The band at the top leads my eye back down to the light.

      • Hi Leslie – Aha nice insights – yes – I like the process you describe about using photos. I guess if I did more thorough value sketches I could work some of the process into the planning. As it happens I did two little colour sketches but that was more to test the colours to see if they produced a glow. My comment about photos was too vague. What I find is that I can appreciate my paintings more when I see the photos of the paintings on the blog. I wonder if that is like seeing something new.
        I am replanning the painting with more of a bridge between the snow bank and the cave – it seems cut off. I like what you said about the diagonals and will keep that movement in.
        Thank you for your input – this is such a great learning experience here. You have a real coaching nature to your input.


      • In one of the books I read the artist looked at his paintings through a lens or something to get new perspective. We are so lucky with digital – it costs nothing – once you are set up – to photograph and view a piece differently. I hope you get a chance to paint this weekend.

  2. Hi Stephen – you’ve got some good contrasts going on there, although I have to say it lacks some definition; it’s hard to figure out what’s going on without your verbal description. When one paints a subject as organic as this, close observation is vital. I can get away with murder painting buildings; however badly I do it, it will still look like a building.

    You use the phrase “fiddling about” which is quite telling. I know when I start fiddling about it invariably means I have lost direction and I’m waiting for something magical to just appear on the paper. It never does.

    Hope I’m not being too hard on you; I can see your work is progressing so stick at it! As I speak, I have a painting on the board scheduled for the bin. For every success, I seem to have at least 2 failures, but I don’t (often) let it get me down as it’s all part of the learning process. Watercolour painting is high-risk; there’s no going back once the paint is on the paper. This has the tendency to make amateur watercolourists very tentative, which is the very opposite of what we should be, and full marks to you for going for it!

    OK – a word on glowing colours. For my darks I use the most intense colours in my palette – Winsor Blue (red or green shade), Winsor Red and Quinacridone Gold. These pigments are very intense but will also produce a good glow if you allow the paper to shine through. These are the 3 colours I used to paint the banner painting, along with all the flower paintings too!

    A good rule of thumb is to use colours which look light in the pans for the light/mid tones in the painting, and the colours which look dark in the pans for the mid/dark tones. Simple! For example, you mention using Cad Red in your darks. This pigment is slightly opaque, i.e. contains white, and will only produce a slightly muddy dark.

    It’s all a very delicate balancing act in the end, and the tones do need to be carefully planned so that they relate to each other. Keep the darkest darks for certain select areas, but once you’ve made the decision, don’t be afraid to give it maximum intensity! Loads of pigment, not too much water.

    Brush strokes should be as emphatic as possible (no fiddling!); a stroke which is wrong, but emphatically wrong, will always look better than a tentative fiddle….

    Good luck in your endeavours!


    • Hi Keith
      This is such great feedback. Thank you so much for giving me the benefit of your experience. And I am not at all phased by a good ‘crit’. I realise we all take a risk when we offer constructive criticism so I appreciate you putting it out there. I read on your last posting about the number of failures you experience and I find this heartening as I also have to dump a lot of what I do. I will read and reflect on what you have said. The whole cave scene is just not sitting right and you have given me some great leads.
      There is also a balance required between careful strokes and a gung-ho approach hey?
      So I will load up on the intensity and give this another go.

      Thanks hey

      Have a great weekend and I hope you get some good painting done.


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