Night Watcher

Night Watcher – oil on canvas, 40 x 30 in.

On with my Watchers series. This is Night Watcher, a piece I’ve been meaning for a very long time to do.

It was an oppressively grey late afternoon when I went for a photo shoot in a large old cemetery in Manchester, New Hampshire. We’d driven by it many times since we’d moved to Manchester, and I had always meant to go back with a camera. The place was FULL of 19th-century statuary and elaborate gravestones – obviously it had been a resting place for the wealthier dead. The day I finally went back was a bad one for me – I’d gotten a flu shot the day before, and had woken crushingly depressed yet restless. I had to do something, get out of the house, and for some reason the cemetery seemed appropriate. The light was diffuse, so there were very few clear shadows, yet it was bright enough and low enough to make the figures into mostly silhouettes. At best I’m only a point-and-shoot photographer, and the digital camera I used was not all that good – the year was 2005, and I didn’t even know how to eliminate the timestamp on the images. I also didn’t know just what I was going to do with these images. But it was a satisfying task, and I found out the next day that the flu shot that year had caused depression and anxiety in many people.

I’ve tried a few times to use this particular image in artwork – I still have a couple of attempts in colored pencil, and one in graphite pencil – but until I gave the landscape and figure a night sky, it hadn’t really worked.

Here’s how the painting went together:

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First of a series? Small pastels

The Flood
The Flood: 10.7×8.3 in., pastels over ink underpainting on fibered buff paper

Last week I grew completely frustrated with the largish (16×20″-ish) pastel piece I was working on. I’d started it three times, experimenting with different underpaintings and tints. I had some wonderful source photos of last year’s flood in the Greater Binghamton region, and a request for art concerning the Susquehanna River, but I just couldn’t seem to make the piece come alive or please me. So I switched to a smaller format — a favorite 8.5×11″ buff fibered paper I use for a lot of different things — did a violet-toned ink underpainting, and worked loosely over that. And I’m very happy with it! The smaller size kept me from overworking the detail with the blunt pastel sticks, and the violet underpainting turned out to be a fine foil for the yellowish water, green foliage, and blue-grey sky (which became a light violet).

Rushing to get it to the Vestal Public Library in time for the small river-themed group show there, I took time for neither step-by-step photos nor even a good photo of the finished piece; I matted and framed it, jumped in the car, and delivered it. Today I finally got myself across the river to the library, and photographed it.

I’m thinking I’ll do a series of small pastels on the 2011 flood.

(Be sure to check out my pastels course, running June-July)