“Morning Light on Half Dome”, 22×28,oil on canvas
Awhile back, a couple from the bay area, Van and Kathy, visited Yosemite and saw one of my paintings hanging in the Yosemite Renaissance show at the Yosemite Museum. The painting, titled “Misty Sentinel” can be seen here. They liked my work, so made an appointment to come by the studio and look at more paintings. They ended up purchasing 3 paintings, and mentioned they might want me to do a commission.
Van had hiked and camped all over parts of the Yosemite back country, from Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley, including a trek to the top of Half Dome. What he wanted was a morning view from Glacier Point, Yosemite as a reminder of his trekking.
Below is a diary of our journey together to create a painting. At each step of the way, I would email a photo to them so they could give their input as we progressed.
We started out by trading a number of photos to nail down the location, perspective and view he wanted.
I sent him this composite of several photos I took quite a few years ago of Glacier Point. You can see Nevada Falls in the middle right. Van wanted a view which showed both Vernal and Nevada Falls.
Van then sent this view closer to what he wanted, which showed both Vernal and Nevada Falls.
Van and Kathy cut out some cardboard to see what size painting they wanted, and put it up on the wall it will hang. We decided on a 22×28 canvas.
To get the view correct, I first did a pencil sketch and emailed it to them. He wanted to show a little bit more of the cliffs on the left and right, so I erased that part, and redrew just the sides resulting in this sketch. Since I had to push in from the sides, the scene is not exactly correct to perspective. I also wanted to bring forward the falls on the right, so made them a little more pronounced than what you might see in real life.
We were in the process of selling our home so my studio was crammed full of storage boxes and no room to paint.
So, I set my portable easel on the side of the house by the trash cans to do a small color study.
Van was very discerning on what he wanted, which was a view at around 10:00am, so I did a rough color sketch to see if I got the right mood and general colors correct.
The next step was to transfer the sketch to the full size canvas. I usually do this freehand, and don’t use grid marks, but in this case used a grid to ensure all elements, especially Half Dome were in perspective according to the approved original pencil sketch.
In the meantime, our house sold and we didn’t have to keep it quite so ‘staged’ for potential buyers. It was the start of the rainy season, so our solarium sun room became a temporary studio.
Next is a color block-in with one color, a purplish hue from a mixture of Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Red. The underlying purple will give the entire painting a warm undertone.
My palette consisted of the following: Cobalt Blue, Thalo Blue (just for pure sky), Ultramarine Blue, Quinacridone Red, Cadmium Red Deep, Sap Green, Transparent Red Iron Oxide, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Orange, Hanson Yellow Light, Quick Dry White.
The next step is a continuation of the block-in putting in a little more neutral grays and refining the drawing. The gray is a varying mixture of Cobalt/Cad Red Deep.
Van wanted lenticular clouds, so those were sketched in.
I now start to refine from the sky down to the distant mountains, and start putting more color in the valley to the right.
Detail of the ‘Little Yosemite Valley” area at this stage.
I now turn my attention to Half Dome, the star of the show, and start to detail it continuing to use the Cobalt/Cad Red gray and the purple mixed with various amounts of white to detail the cliff. I also begin to add Yellow Ochre, and Hansen Yellow Light for the trees both in sunlight and shadow.
Also, Van wanted more lenticular clouds over the distant peak, so put those in. I also start placing some morning fog and other wisps of clouds here and there.
The foreground is next, where I place the trees, and continue to work all over the canvas adjusting accordingly.
Continuing the foreground and adjusting.
Several times during this stage, I let it dry, and then put a coat of Liquin over the background mountains to isolate the layer and thinly paint in more atmosphere in the distance.
Detailing the foreground and adjusting.
At this stage, I made an appointment with the the collectors to deliver the painting, and for the next several days made minor adjustments prior to delivery.
The night before delivery of the finished piece, something still bugged me about it, and my wife suggested more green and brighten up the foreground. I also didn’t like the straight line. on Half Dome’s shoulder, so broke that up to make it more like a ragged cliff. This was done the morning before the delivery, so it was still a little wet.
Here is the piece as I delivered it to the collectors. Please note throughout this diary, the painting was photographed in various lighting, and although I tried to correct it in Photoshop, sometimes it just was a little different.
Upon arrival at the collectors home, Van asked for a few changes, as it is really hard to judge a painting by online photos.
I touched up the sky a bit, and also downplayed the foreground taking out some of the highlights so the eye would tend to go to the distant peaks and valleys.
Here is another picture of the piece in their home. Since it wasn’t framed yet, we propped it up on a few open drawers
Doing commissions can sometimes be a hit and miss, trial and error process until both the artist and collector are satisfied. When the collectors first saw the piece in real life, they said it did not look quite like the pictures I had been texting and emailing online, even though I tried to send as accurate photo of the painting I could. After touching it up a bit at delivery time, though, it seemed they were pleased, at least I hope so!!