The Painting of A Quiet Moment
Here it is, the long awaited sketch for the piece entitled "A Quiet Moment." I love the title because it conveys exactly what I'm after when I'm out looking for something to paint.
Stepping into a bigger perspective just long enough to get a sense of contrast is what I seek out for my subject matter. Most of us have had a moment, usually in our youth, while looking up at the sky. For a brief glimpse, the enormity of the universe, the vastness of time, and the relative insignificance of our personal lives comes into view. In varying degrees, each of my paintings is an attempt to capture some semblance of that perspective.
This piece is about the unique point of view found Upcountry. The principal element found there is the most intangible: the silence.
I will be doing something I have never done before with this painting. I'll be documenting the progress of the painting in photos here on this website as I proceed. What is strange about this for me is that I usually don't allow my commissioned works to be seen until after they are complete. But I like the novelty of it enough to want to give it a try.
I will begin painting "A Quiet Moment" in July. It takes many months to complete a painting this size. I plan to be finished by November. The first photographs documenting the painting process will most likely appear within the first few weeks of July.
The Painting of A Quiet Moment - Dedication & Sketching
This piece, A Quiet Moment, is dedicated to my father, artist James Peter Cost, who passed away on the 11th of June, 2002 at the age of 79. He is always in my thoughts, especially while I paint. He was the person who gave me the eyes to see the world with artistic passion and understanding. He gave me the skill to express myself this way. His art, his endless enthusiasm, and his work ethic have burned the way ahead for me so clearly that I am never lost, even though he is no longer here.
1. Stretching The Canvas
I suspect that young artists reading this will appreciate as much detail as I can provide, so I am including the preliminary steps involved.
The first thing I do is put together a set of heavy duty stretcher bars and stretch my canvas myself. I use a portrait weave grade, the smoother the better.
2. Sketching On Paper
Next is a three step sketching and transfer process. It seems elaborate but it is worth it.
First I cover the stretched 30 x 40 canvas with a fresh sheet of paper and tape it in place. I then re-sketch my thumbnail sized sketch to scale on this paper.
I then work out all perspective issues, final value decisions, and anything that needs further study right there on the 30 x 40 sketch paper.
There are several good reasons for doing it this way...
- The notion here is that every strong painting is built on a strong drawing. My father used to say "Plan your work and work your plan." This is the way he taught me to do it. I leave very little, if any, of the compositional decisions to work out on the canvas. All perspective issues, value issues, anything I can think of that needs more study gets handled before I move ahead because I don't want anything to wrestle with once I get to the canvas.
- It allows me the luxury of having both my original thumbnail sketch as well as an original sketch at full scale to refer to at any time I need to. If I have sketched directly on my canvas, it is possible to lose the drawing under the paint. When I start adding the color, I will be covering all the lines on my canvas. The values of the colors can throw you off if you have no scale sketch to refer to. I hang the scale sketch directly next to the canvas for reference.
3. Graphite Paper
Next I remove the paper from the canvas and insert a large sheet of graphite-coated paper in between the scaled sketch and the canvas with the graphite facing the canvas.
4. Transfer to Canvas
I close it back up and completely redraw all the essential lines. With the graphite paper in between, the scaled sketch transfers on to my canvas with great accuracy as I redraw it. I use a hard pencil. Now all that's left to do is paint it.
The Painting of A Quiet Moment - First Paint
5. Applying the First Touches of Color
The painting process usually begins at the point furthest away, the sky.
In this case, my sketch called for a different starting place. Intuition begins to play a bigger and bigger role as the painting's process proceeds. Although I rarely start with the center of interest, my intuition told me to start there. The first color that touched the canvas was the West Maui Mountains. Then came Lanai.
I knew that as I laid my sky, which would come later, over the mountains and Lanai, it would give them a better feel of reality. In an actual sky, the white-blue particulates in the atmosphere set the mountains and the island off in the distance, just like a translucent film of paint. It makes perfect sense to paint it that way.
The under-paint for the trees came next. If the sky was to obscure them a little with the upcoming sky color, I could easily see them through the translucent color and repaint them, whereas I might not be able to see the sketch lines through the sky if I left them unpainted. The same goes for the house.
I'll be able to work in the valley floor later. For now, I have a lot to work with before biting off any more of the composition.
I'm very happy with the way it has started. In fact, I love paintings at this stage. They have a vignette feel that is very appealing to me.
The Painting of A Quiet Moment - Achieving Flow
6. Surrendering to the Flow
I put in the sky and have begun to flow. I've been concentrating on the center of interest. The process at this point defies explanation. I have let my brush take over. I might work on any area that draws my attention. It becomes nonlinear and a bit of a mystery even to me, the guy with the brush in hand. There is a reservoir from which one draws, that feels less from me than through me. I referred to this earlier as intuitive. The remainder of the painting is all about staying in touch with that. It is not unlike the process most people enter when speaking on the phone and doodling with a pencil. In this case the doodling is all important.
The foreground under-painting is always enjoyable. I loosely block in the various darks and lights on the two-dimensional canvas surface and gradually transform it into one that appears to be three-dimensional.
The blocking goes very quickly and is critical to the detail segment of the painting. If I can create a feeling of depth and interest in the blocking, the rest of the work is better served. I keep the value of the color at a point just darker than it needs to be. The next layer is a middle value which is laid in with much more care. Even the lighter passages in this second layer are painted in just a bit darker than what my brightest highlights will be, so that they have a background to sit upon.
The detailing and sculpting of grass on a hill in a particular light source takes an enormous amount of focus and time. Linear composition has to be kept in mind while the natural fall of the hill is allowed to take shape. Add to that the complication of light running across it and you have a balancing act that is very delicate. I want to lead the eye to the center of interest without it being too forced, all the while, letting the viewer believe that I had little hand in it. The most natural looking landscapes actually require the greatest attention. To make it look easy is an act of much care, deliberation and intuition. In John Singer Sargent's greatest works, his gestural brush strokes literally had years of deliberation beneath them. The painting process becomes very similar to getting into a warm bath. You sink into it and stay a while.
The Painting of A Quiet Moment - Attending to the Details
9. Close Up Details
The upper layers of brush strokes on the painting are done for the purpose of refining and tightening the resolution of detail. It's a matter of pouring over the work with small detail brushes, applying highlights and refinements everywhere and glazing in darker contrasts where needed.
The one thing a computer screen doesn't really do very well is show detail. Close up shots help, so this final installment is a series of detailed crops of various areas around the painting.
The Painting of A Quiet Moment - Final Steps
It has been interesting documenting the progress of A Quiet Moment here on the web. I hope it has been as interesting to those who have been following along. Painting is usually a solitary occupation, and having you look over my shoulder has added a unique dimension to the process. With so many watching I thought that I might feel reticence, yet every stroke that came off my brush flowed out more easily than any painting in recent memory. The reticence turned into a feeling of support. Thank you to those of you who wrote me. I want you to know how much I appreciated it.
My father, James Peter Cost, was no small part of this painting. He died on a Tuesday in June as I was just beginning A Quiet Moment. His death injected a sense of meaning into my work as never before. He gave me life as an artist. He was my biggest influence and inspiration to me with his love of art. He has been indispensable throughout my career. Art was his passion. He was always deeply involved in the process of his art and inspired my love for the process. Anyone who spent time with him couldn't help but be involved in the process with him. We have always been very connected artistically. This painting was no exception. He is the touchstone for me. His influence is everywhere in this painting.
Very early in our lives, my sisters and I were swept into his world of painting trips and sketching tours. We were handed brushes and given access to colors and canvas. We were even allowed to paint directly on his canvas. He made us feel courageous about paint. He made us feel like artists.
There was no "aha" for me, as many people describe their route into art. There was no moment when I realized art would be my path. I've always been on it. I was taught early on that this way of seeing the world was the only way the world could literally be seen: lit by light and etched by shadow, set in perspective, colored by the environment. Translating the three-dimensional world into a two dimensional canvas was only a matter of becoming acquainted with a series of secrets. My father understood, modeled, and taught the value of process, because art is nothing but a process.
I look back now on those days with great reverence for the gift my father gave us. To almost unconsciously give children a future in art will be no small part of his legacy. In a very real sense, this painting was a quiet moment with my father. I've been painting Maui for thirty years now and never has a painting meant so much to me, both emotionally and symbolically. This painting also represents many of the elements of my life as an artist and as a resident of the island.
I have been living here and painting as Maui has grown from a sleepy outer island into the resort destination that it is today. All the while Kula has remained relatively rural, gazing over the busy valley isle from the mountainside perspective, removed, but not isolated from the rest of the island.
When I first came to Maui, there was only one gallery on the island. Today there are too many to count. This is a great thing, that such a place as this, with all its natural beauty would become a home for so many creative people. There are few things in life more fulfilling than spending time creating. It is a renewable resource. It has within itself the components of avocation and vocation which I deem as essential for a complete life. The art community is thriving here largely because of the way this island and the island's visitors have sustained us. I am eternally grateful to everyone who has taken notice of what I've been doing. That aloha has been an essential element in my ability to do this. Without it, these paintings might not have existed.
From the most central part of my being as an artist and a resident of this beautiful island we all love, me ke aloha pumehana to everyone. You have no idea how much you have touched our lives.
The Hawaiian translation of the title 'A Quiet Moment' is Ka Wa Malie. Those words are hidden somewhere in the grass.
— Curtis Wilson Cost
A Quiet Moment - Original Oil Painting - 2002