Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Roll With The Hay

I am a lover of history.  I have always felt I was born at least one hundred years too late.  I have such an affinity for the late nineteenth century that I can almost feel the scratchy wool clothes, or the smell of the streets covered in mud and horse dung.  The parlor I am in as I write this is furnished with antique Victorian parlor furniture, and an old parlor stove.  The light is an electrified gas lamp.  It's my favorite room in this 170 year old house.  (Quite incongruous to be in here typing on a NetBook lap-top computer...)  Anyway, when I stumbled upon this picture of a farmer and his load of hay, it felt like a memory to me.

What a beautiful photo!  Two white Percherons proudly pulling a big wagon load of hay up a dirt lane on a sultry summer morning.  In this day of casualness run amok, can you imagine donning a vest and tie to work in a hot field all day around scratchy hay and smelly horses?  This farmer didn't dress up to get his photo taken, that was the way it was done in his day.  So when I saw this I instantly decided to try my hand at bringing this scene to life via paint.  I did the sketch at the top of the page to warm up, then using a pencil on a 16X16 inch gessoed masonite board, I drew the scene.

You can see I basically copied the photo, but with a few changes.  I pushed the wagon back a little to give more of an impression that they are approaching the viewer.  I also removed the overhanging tree.  The horse on the right is leaning in a little, giving the team a bit more motion.  In drawing this on the panel, I tried to make this as much like a black and white photo as I could.  Then came the paint.

This was done with a burnt sienna and burnt umber wash.  I merely wiped the paint off to keep the highlights.
I really went to town over the next couple of days.

The white horses reflect the light like snow, so I used a purple cast to the shadows.  I tried hard to really depict a hot, hazy summer morning.  I say morning, because the hay would have been cut a day or two in advance, then left to dry in the field.  With some help, this wagon could have been loaded within an hour.  By hand with pitch forks of course.  In my mind, it was the first week of July, between 9 and 10am.  The sun is not yet directly overhead to blanch out all the color.  The distant hills are beginning to turn blue from the haze, and the clouds are starting to melt into the steel-blue sky.  I lost some of those colors in these photos, but that was what I was shooting for.

Click On Image For a Close-Up

I've mentioned I usually take a week to complete a painting.  This was the finished picture at the end of day six.  Note that instead of the overhanging tree, I opted to indicate it's existence by putting some shadows across the road in the foreground.  I like to have something up close for the viewer to step beyond to get into the scene.  (I stole that from Norman Rockwell!)  There is some glare in the upper right hand corner that I wish I had noticed when I was taking the photo.  Beyond that, the colors in this shot are pretty good, but there is always a loss of nuance in any photo of a painting.  I had a tough time naming this.  Full Load Of Hay is what I named it by default.  I thoroughly enjoyed stepping back in time.  Like I said, to me it was portraying a memory of something I've never seen, if you get what I mean.  And I didn't even have to smell the dung!


Susan Roux said...

Wow Kevin! You really surpassed yourself on this one. I love it. The added shadow in the foreground is perfect and those horses... Can you hear me coughing from the dust they're kicking up?

Just goes to prove, we should be painting our passion...

martinealison said...

Hi Kevin,
When i was a little girl, the neighbors of my grandfather had a percheron. Its name was Papillon. It was funny because, its gait was far from light like a butterfly!
I like the work you done with this photo. Beautiful painting.

Kevin Mizner said...

Thank you, Susan. I'm always on the lookout for old photos so I can do pieces like this. Actually, River Drivers from a couple of blogs ago was from an old photo too.

Kevin Mizner said...

Hi Martine-Alison, yes they are beautiful horses. Life may have been tough a hundred years ago, but it sure was pretty-- Too bad we don't have that beauty around much today.

Virginia Floyd said...

Wonderful painting, and I really love your commentary. Keep it up!

Kevin Mizner said...

Thank you, Virginia, and welcome to the blog!

Patty Meglio said...

Nice work, Kevin. You did a great job with the colors.

Kevin Mizner said...

Thank you. Patty!