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Butte

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Montana Skyline

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Montana Skyline, a watercolor by Jenny Armitage

Montana Skyline (11 x 15 watercolor) SOLD

Touring Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, and sliver of Nebraska this summer, I was forcefully reminded of what is so beautiful about the mountain west.  It’s the vast ever changing vistas with little or nothing to clothe them or block the view.  There’s a reason they call it big sky country.

I took the reference photos for this painting from the car window on I90 somewhere east of Butte but west of Bozeman.   But it hardly matters, there isn’t an ugly spot on all of I90 throughout Montana.

It was the light on the peaks that caught me eye.  If anyone can identify name of  the mountain for me, I’d like to know it.

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Montana Road Trip or Playing With Photoshop

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Watercolor Painting of the Decent into Butte, Montana

Montana Road Trip (12 x 18 watercolor) Available

This is the descent to Butte, Montana coming from the east.  Crossing Montana on I90 the views alternated between narrow rocky places and expansive high plains, true big sky country.  I wanted to capture the feeling of the decent from the narrows to the wide open space below.  I took a number of photos through the dashboard trying to get that feeling. This one came the closest:

Reference Photo

As you can see, the four lane interstate dominates the picture.   Also the road looks much flatter than it actually was.   There are other problems too.   The end of the road is almost dead center in the middle of the picture.   Trees hide the expanding vista.  There is nothing about the vista to draw the eye in.

Adobe Photoshop to the rescue.  I don’t have a professional edition,  just Elements 6.  But it’s fine for my purposes.  I began by using the lasso tool to select the right hand cliffs.  I then copied them, flipped them right to left, and wedged them in over the left hand two lanes of interstate.  I selected and copied some of the left hand cliffs and slipped them in behind my newly transformed right hand cliffs.   I used both copying and the clone tool to remove the trees from my opening vista.  I lassoed the right hand cliffs again and stretched them upwards.  I enlarged the canvas and stretched the whole image to the right.  I added a band of sunlight in the vista:

Altered Reference Photo

The result was quick and dirty, but it gave me a good idea where I was going.   And it gave me a workable photo to draw from.  I used the bottom of the concrete barrier still showing in my altered photo to help me plot the new guard rail. The feet of the unaltered cliffs helped me imagine the feet of my new cliffs.

Here’s my working drawing:

Working Sketch

I left out the mountain range on the left as it would detract from the center of interest at the foot of the road. I also pulled the right hand cliffs even further to the right than in my altered photo, thus opening up more of the distant vista.

I did the painting itself quickly beginning with the sky, filling in the road while it dried and then laying in the trees to establish the dark values.  The trees are phthalo blue, french blue, new gamgee, and Winsor purple mixed mostly on the paper.  For the cliffs I used cerulean blue, cobalt blue, and yellow ochre, and purple.  I added more purple and blue to the right hand shadowed side and more burnt sienna to the sunlit side. Rather than using burnt sienna to dull the blues, I used hansa yellow deep.  The sky is phthalo, cobalt blue, burnt sienna, and more purple.  I used the same pigments for the road.  The result is bluer and stormier than the photo, but more like the day itself with was dark and threatened but rarely delivered rain.

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