Nygren Land Preserve – Rockford, IL – Evolution of a Painting.

Posted on September 7, 2010 in Blog Post, Plein Air Painting

The next competition I’m putting work into is the event being held in Rockford, IL, at the Natural Land Institute. The subject matter has to be of the Nygren Wetland Preserve in Rockton, IL. This preserve has several different habitats, ranging from Savanna to Prarie to Wetland to Bottomland Forest over a span of 721 acres. There is a single trail that circles this area, including a long stretch that is actually a reclaimed railroad. The event allows you to start a piece there and finish it from your studio, working from photos. We need to turn in two paintings by this Friday. This is one of the reference photos I’ve chosen to work from.

I’m working larger for this piece, since I’ll have more time to spend on it, this painting is oil on panel at 14″ x 20″ – a size that I happened to have one frame for. I’m in the process of fabricating another frame for the second piece. This stage shows my block in, just trying to find the layout and place my areas of contrast. I’m working from my netbook sitting on a desk next to me. The netbook screen is much smaller, but that’s keeping me from getting too detail-oriented, which is a good thing in the studio, where noodling can become habitual. I apologize for the hotspot in these images, I took them hastily to track my progress. I have a canvas backdrop behind my easel, blinded windows behind me offering south and west light (far from ideal), and I’m painting under two 100 lumens eco-bulbs balanced for daylight. This image is about an hour and a half into the piece.

After working on this later the same evening, I decided I wanted to check the layout against the frame, to see what would be cropped, and make sure I wasn’t missing anything. At this point I’ve developed the trail, which will be a focal point, added color notes into the clouds, worked in some color highlights into the field to the right and started developing the values in the main tree. I also added some more distant clouds. This image is after another 3 hours of painting.

At this point you can see that I’ve further developed the trail, trying to add believable mass to the ground planes. I started to shape the field of tall grass to the right, added branches and leaves to the tree in the foreground, and started dropping in color notes and highlights in the foreground on the left to indicate the wild flowers there. I’ve added holes in the main tree for the sky, developed the area in shadow, working to find the right temperature and value to pull the eye there. This is after another three hours of painting. I also simplified the background, the far clouds were somewhat distracting. At this point I’m still undecided as to how to handle the foreground. There’s a lot of detail in the tall grass, and trying to paint it all is a swift boat to madness. I call it a night and determine to look at it with fresh eyes in the morning.

This is the latest stage, after a late night of painting. After seeing the painting in the morning, under sunlight through the blinds, I decided that I needed to push the color more, it just wasn’t singing without a direct spotlight (one of the hazards of painting under strong lights). Another three hours of painting here, and I’m almost done with it. At this point, everything is working well together, the temperatures and values are closer to what I intended, and I managed to resolve the foreground with some knife work. I’ll put this aside for a day or so while I start the second piece tomorrow.


It looks like I’ll only have enough time to finish one piece for this event. With the deadline landing on the same weekend as a trip to MN for an Inosanto Seminar, plus aa number of side jobs that have to get done asap, there’s just not enough time. Here is the final piece, properly photographed. Fingers crossed, we’ll see if the judges like it.