Hitachi Digger – painting progress

Hitachi (variation 1, shape), acrylic, 16 x 20 inches

Every little change becomes an artistic decision.

The Hitachi digger has been up on my wall in all its garish glory, an intense cerulean sky, a cadmium red light digger cut with some cad yellow. It’s eye-popping.  It’s an under-painting.  It’s too hard on the eyes with the simultaneous contrast operating at full force, But where to go next with it? What did I want to do with this one when I set out? After several months, I’m still stuck, looking at this rather blatant drawing in colour, not knowing what to do.

Every change in colour shifts the balance, creates new values of weight.

When the gallery dealer came, he had some wry comment about it, then praised the one in greys for its subtleties. Has this influenced my decision to add some grey? And if some grey, then how shall I mix that grey?

I pulled out my painting supplies that had been hidden under the studio table and set up to work in acrylics again. Everything had been put away for the Christmas festivities.

I’ve accumulated some supplies from garage sales and demos at economical cost. The tubes need to be used up; so I started with a Stevenson’s Burnt Sienna and some Manganese Blue but the mixture turns out looking too green a grey. Greys are the hardest to mix because they are so affected by the colour you put them beside.  I had a lump of left-over white from my palette the last time I painted which I kept in a tiny jam jar with a skim of water for just this kind of mixing.
If you put a neutral grey beside some red paint, it will take on a green cast; and if you put a neutral  grey beside blue paint, it will take on a yellow cast to it; so the mixing has to take this into account. It alway takes on the  cast of the  colour opposite from  it on the colour wheel. It may look perfect on the palette, but you place it beside something else and the colour shifts!

Armed with this grey mixture, and lots of it – one doesn’t want to run out mid way and have to remix some paint; it would be impossible to match –  I painted in some of the digger parts in dark grey trying to maintain the fine red lines that were the first definitions on this image of the location of the various parts of the machine.

Here it is with the first grey put in.  It has become heavier at the bottom with the grey and not the ochre. It was insubstantial, floating in the air before, and now it is grounded.

I had to chastise myself as I started to make this painting more and more realistic. I struggled against my own nature when I force myself to abandon the detail and search for the major shapes. I was tempted to use all four colours and then realized that I was tripping down the realism path again. The only purpose of the yellow undercoat is to warm the painting from below.  In the end, I used the three major colours and ended up with this.

Then I went over to Mrs. Stepford’s for a second opinion.  She’s a real treat because she can put words to my paintings that I never thought of and then my paintings sound so brainy, somehow. It’s gratifying and I learn something about myself and my painting and visual thought habits

We discussed the ambiguity of the sky colour and the lack of a definite ground or horizon line. We discussed the weight of the dark colour massing at the bottom and whether or not it adversely affected the overall imagery. I went home to struggle with it a bit more.

Paintings are difficult beasts. Especially pre-meditated ones. Everything has to work together at the the same time

One of my wandering thoughts was “why do I say that I want to do fresher looking paintings, more direct and then keep on tidying up everything until it no longer looks free but belaboured”.  What is the fine line between free and sloppy? What is the defining criteria between child-like and childish? How far can one push it before realism becomes interpretation? Or becomes abstraction? I was plowing through the borders of these things without any answers.

I was remembering one of the very elegantly painted works of Kai Althoff whom I wrote about quite some time back. One of the paintings had this simplicity of shape, but his paint was impeccably even and his lines were equally wide throughout. It seemed almost as if it had been printed, but it wasn’t. It was hand done, but so perfect. Mine’s not perfect. The lines are varying in width and sometimes thickly, sometimes thinly painted. They vary from deep cadmium red to cadmium yellow. Could I just leave it like that?

My shape colours are not flat and even. I’ve allowed the underpainting to show through. I like that because it gives a bit of texture and the paint sometimes glows with the undercolour peeking through. And yes, I can do that. To leave it thus is an artistic decision.

And this is where I have left it. I’ll sit with this version now and see in a week or two if I can live with the work as it is, to date.

Next, I start with this underpainting and second draft of a visual idea.

It’s about metamorphosis. I found that the digger looked quite like a heron with a long red beak and the cables much like river grasses. At this stage, the colours are too flat, too transparent, too much like first draft. There’s no refinement.

I worked at building up the reds, giving the breast of the bird a better shape through modeling it in different tones of red and yellow and this grey which is left over from the previous painting.

I think it’s important to carry over colours or use a limited palette. It ties a group of paintings together.

There is an unfortunate shape  of red behind the Red Crested Digger. It was originally from the cab shape of the digger. Now I want to obliterate it. In doing so, I lose all traces of warmth coming from the underpainting, and the cerulean blue mix that I use to overpaint is a shift from the previous cerulean and titanium white. The whole sky has to be repainted, otherwise the patch will stick out like a sore thumb, but it’s a good trade-off for the overall compositions of the painting. I’m pleased with that change.

And now, the series is beginning to come clear to me. In each painting I am exploring not only the visual reality of the digger but the abstract qualities that drew me to it. And from that, there are new ideas coming to me. This one is about metamorphosis and in graffiti like letters, I spell out that clue in the foreground while the Hitachi graffiti graces the cerulean sky. These markings provide balance. In the final version, below, I have added  red into letters of the grey foreground.  It helps pull the eye into the remainder of the picture and brings more warmth into the image.

It has already given me an idea, even more abstact for the next stage – not on this painting. It’s done. I’m ready to start a new one!


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6 Responses to “Hitachi Digger – painting progress”

  1. kseverny Says:

    its interesting to see how this peice developed

  2. lesliepaints Says:

    Thanks for the detailed explanation. Grays? I usually try to find them from the colors of my palette and they usually seem o’kay, but that may be watercolor. I know nothing about acrylic. Interesting metamorphosis. Glad to see you painting again, K. 🙂

  3. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Hi Kseverny, thanks for dropping by.
    I was looking at some of your food compositions. Can I come for dinner?

    It’s not so different, watercolour from acrylic, except in acrylic you are using white, not transparency to control the intensity of the hue. In practicality, there is a whole huge difference in mixing colours which takes some time to get used to.
    Watercolours usually seem so much more luminous and light., kind of like seeing colour through a stain glass window as compared to seeing it painted flat on a wall. Opaque versus transparency.
    The pigments are the same, usually, but the binder is different. In watercolour the binder is gum arabic. It’s so little in the whole mix of colour that you are usually looking at almost pure pigment. Acrylic,on the on the other hand has an acrylic glue to bind the pigment together and make it stick on whatever surface you are using.
    I’m finding it quite odd to work with because I find the colours change when they dry and one has to take that into account when painting because wet, it’s one thing, and dry, it’s another.

  4. suburbanlife Says:

    Kay – that manganese blue sure packs a punch! Love it. Also the first painting- the positive and negative shapes oscillate back and forth – that’s how successful that discord is. In the versions following the positive shapes take centre stage – you have suppressed the negative space by altering the blues. in the final version, the bird/beast/digger is what draws the eye, the blue being a more reticent hue. I like the fresh way you handled this one – good combination of control and release. G

  5. Stephen Says:

    Hey K

    I love your choice of subject – these machines remind me of dinosaurs. When I worked at an open pit mine I used to love watching the work in the pit.
    I love the shimmer of the reds on the blues which seems to be balanced by the more neutral browns – neat!

    It is wonderful to see your art flowing again.


  6. lookingforbeauty Says:

    Hi Stephen,
    Thanks for the comment.
    Boys especially are asked to notice these machines when they are little, but really they are visually fascinating for all. With the power that they pack, they can sculpt a landscape in a few hours to change it from something flat to something hilled; or to dig a giant hole, or build a form for an overpass or a new road.
    What I especially love about orange and yellow machinery is how it contrasts with our predominantly blue and green landscape – the opposites work together for interesting compositions.
    I’ve noticed that the intensity of the orange versus blue changes depending on the weather condition. That may seem quite ordinary, but when you know about colour, it’s fascinating to see how both change in agreement with each other.
    I’m having fun with this stuff.

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