Years ago I attended a workshop in Florence, Italy, to learn more about Renaissance Art. We were fortunate to have private lectures and personal tours of the museums by a notable Art History Professor, as well as day trips to the countryside. During this time we were focused on making traditional gesso panels, learning about egg tempera, and painting in some historically jaw-dropping locations.
This photo is of the upper terrace area of Villa Gherardini, where Leonardo reportedly started the Mona Lisa. I, however, am busy working on a humble plein air watercolor sketch of an urn with flowers. The Villa is still privately owned and in some disrepair, so our day long stay was restricted to the gardens.
In the many photos and sketches I brought home, there was one of the thinning evergreen branches in a centuries old garden maze that was located one terrace down from the garden in the image above. The branches seemed completely inappropriate for a landscape painting, but when I found the photo recently I decided I would challenge my usual assumptions about composition and color.
I approached this subject as if it were a portrait or a still life, and I wanted to convey the soft green light of the enclosed maze. The color palette is limited to Viridian, Amazonite,Yellow Ochre Light, Cobalt Blue,Transparent Oxide Red, Alizarin, and Titanium White. The canvas is a textured linen on panel which was at times helpful and at other times problematic. I may still work on this painting, studying the light falling on some evergreens in my yard to see where I may have missed with the values. If necessary I will sand down areas of thicker paint and repaint until I am satisfied.
The more I study artists in an attempt to understand their approach, I realize how important it is to develop my personal idea of expression. I evaluate from a distance for the overall success of the design, but it's equally important that the the up-close surface texture be pleasing. Trying to understand how other artists approach and solve similar problems has become an important learning aspect for me now.
When I first began painting I believed my work should look a certain way. To some extent, I think there is still pressure on an artist to work loosely within current trends. But it is equally important to move away from the expected and often repeated. This is the challenge now, to find my own interpretation of the landscape and to execute it in a successful way.