There is a viewpoint overlooking Elhwa Valley along Route 101 on Olympic Peninsula. I’ve passed that viewpoint many times on the way to the Olympic coast. I’ve stopped some of those times appreciating the vast expanse of the valley, and the mountain peaks, sometimes bear, other times covered in snow, and the fog sitting in the valley or clouds clinging to the mountains or leisurely travelling from one mountain to another. No matter the season there are always clouds there, and the view is never the same.
I have not been able to take a good photo of it for a quite simple reason. The viewpoint was likely done long ago. Since then, a fresh growth of young trees has obstructed the view.
Technology came to the rescue. The last time I went there I took a drone to fly over those annoying trees and get a clear picture of the valley. After that I spent time looking at the view, trying to memorize as much as I could the colors and the feeling of the place.
There are a couple challenges in painting using a photograph as a reference. First, photographs miss a lot of information that a human eye and mind can capture. I have not yet succeeded in painting from a photograph of a place I’ve never been to. It was not the challenge in this case.
The other challenge is that there are too many details in a photograph. I quickly get lost in the details and lose focus on larger shapes.
Recently, I’ve heard an interesting suggestion from another artist to paint upside down, it confuses the mind and instead of seeing trees, mountains, and rivers, it sees triangles, lines, and other shapes. And it helped.
The first layer of this painting was done upside down. It was very confusing and made no sense. But it was easy to follow: big triangle here, smaller triangle over there and a curvy line in between.
Then I turned it the right side up. My mind started putting things together. It did not happen immediately. A picture of a valley was appearing in front of me, almost like magic.
Then there was a fun part to this painting. I needed to blend the edges between the brush strokes to soften the sky. The easiest way was to use fingers for that. And so I did.
To avoid messing up the values and temperatures I used different fingers in different places. At the end I had a palette of 4 sky colors on my fingers from darker and cooler to lighter and warmer. The child in me said “let’s play”, and I started adding details in the sky using my finger palette.
Fingerpainting is not only for kids, adults can do it too.