The Painting of Hanamu Dusk - First Steps
The road along the way to Seabury Hall in Makawao has large Eucalyptus trees along the west side. I have appreciated the beauty of the area for many years and have found much to paint there. One of my pieces, Jacaranda Season, along with several others was painted in the area. When my children began attending Seabury Hall at the Makawao end of Hanamu Road, I was there on an almost daily basis. On many of these occasions, I noticed that at the end of the day, the trees on the west side sent their long shadows across the pasture, creating an interesting dynamic with the house depicted in Jacaranda Season. The dusk brought the lights on in the windows of the house, yet the pasture was still very much in the golden time of the day. It added a richness of color and contrast that was really quite magical.
Twenty years after painting Jacaranda Season, I realized that this subject matter had more to offer in the golden light at the end of the day. I decided to return to the little house and paint it once again, taking full advantage of the shadows from the trees along the west side. Thus began this project.
2. The Preparation
There is one important thing I need do before launching a painting and that is being completely ready. I've been down to Hanamu almost daily in getting ready to paint this work. Premeditating it is essential before committing paint to canvas. Watching the lights come on in the windows as long shadows stream across the pasture has been nothing short of inspiring. It is almost impossible to convey how fortunate I feel to be an artist at moments such as this. In an environment of such beauty, the recreation of composition and color is an incomparable experience. The only way to convey it is through a painting.
One big difference between this piece and Jacaranda Season is the time of day. It's a subtle difference, but critical nevertheless. With that difference in mind, I gave a lot of thought to where I'd apply the first color to the canvas. I decided to begin at the center of interest. The house has lights on in the window. Those lights are going to be the brightest areas in the work. It makes sense to start there because it will immediately establish the values for the rest of the painting. As I progress, I'll constantly be assessing the light elsewhere relative to the windows. When a painting has a subtle dynamic of indoor electric light up against natural light, it's a good idea to begin establishing that relationship as soon as possible because it will dictate much in the painting. Everything hinges on it.
3. The Sketch
Here is a version of my sketch on a white background.
This is basically just the structure of the drawing without any values shaded in.
4. The Under-Painting
This time I begin with a warm under-painting of burnt sienna to give the overall work a warmth that will ultimately show little in the final piece, but which will subtly unify everything.
In addition to the warmth, the sienna establishes a middle value from which to start to build my lights and darks.
5. Building the Lights & Darks
This subject will have a wide light dynamic, and it's good to begin with a middle value as a starting point.
It's like beginning at middle C on the piano. You can go both higher and lower from the central octave.
The Painting of Hanamu Dusk - The Trees
6. Under-Painting the Trees
Moving on to the trees behind the house, I loosely mixed the colors on the palette before applying them to the canvas. I used a palette knife to scrape on the undertones. The loose mix adds variation to the color and gives a quiet vibrancy to the shadows. Subtle varieties of color are everywhere in the landscape, even in the darker passages.
A large clean and dry brush is used to smooth out the scraped color.
Expanding the passage into a large grouping of trees, I paint just enough area to be able to handle reasonably in one session. This under painting prepares the way for a first pass of a lighter mid tone over the top of the darker tones.
7. Painting the Midtones for the Trees
Painting the mid tones directly into the wet under paint gives the mid tones a soft edge. They pick up the darker tones as they are laid in, creating other values in the process.
As shapes emerge, a three dimensionality begins to unfold. The painting takes on a life of its own.
Details begin to suggest themselves and I'm off and running.
The Painting of Hanamu Dusk - The King of Jacarandas
7. Developing the Center of Interest
Back in 1983, I wrote the following about painting Jacaranda Season...
"One of the cardinal rules in art is to never center anything. There are a few exceptions to the rule. It's okay to center religious symbols for instance. I had been by this scene many times and each time I made a mental note to come back and paint it. The Jacarandas had started blooming all over the Upcountry area, but not one tree came to flower like this tree. It seemed to know I was about to render it. It was like it was saying, 'All Jacarandas were made in my image.' So what else could I do? I centered it."
The tree is twenty years older now and has only gained ground as the most revered of all Jacarandas. I know of no other tree that carries its level of grandeur and grace.
The tree has grown so large that it takes up much more compositional space than before. It is even more the center of interest in this work. Yet despite its imposing size, it is an incomparable example of understated elegance.
8. Fleshing Out the Leaves & Flowers
The trunk is asymmetrically balanced and strong. Its branches reach out across its span with a lacy spareness. The lavender flowers and leaves describe its fullness in the available light.
As an essential element to the center of interest, I could sink myself into the rendering of it for months and never tire of engagement with it.
I painted its form in the opening passages to begin this dialog with the light and dark of dusk on Hanamu. I will return to it throughout the course of the painting, refining its presence into the atmosphere of the piece.
The Painting of Hanamu Dusk - The Sky
Over the years, my work has changed. Back in the seventies, my artwork was focused essentially on place. Light is the primary focus of my painting now. If you look at the dates on the paintings, you'll notice a gradual progression along this line. What is interesting to note is that the best of my earlier works already showed hints of this.
When I was considering repainting this incredible subject matter of the jacaranda tree along Hanamu Road, I had in mind using the light that comes at the end of the day. The ambient light colors the shadows. The setting sun transforms all that it directly touches, just as its absence creates another sense of drama. At this point in the painting, everything is saturated. It is better to start with more and tone it down rather than to attempt to enliven dullness. As in sculpture, I'll remove what is not needed.
The Painting of Hanamu Dusk - Sunset on Haleakala
One of the most remarkable things about Upcountry Maui is the sun setting on Haleakala.
As the sun descends, the west exposure of the mountain has hundreds of ravines which are brought out in the magenta light.
It covers the upper regions with a texture and shadow that lasts only a few minutes.
Throughout the area, the landscape becomes painted with rich passages of blue, green and gold.
The sky takes on the most saturated hues of the day and those colors are echoed in the landscape.
The Painting of Hanamu Dusk - Attending to the Details
As I close in on finishing this piece, my focus has become the fine details. This is the most time consuming portion of the process. I have been pouring over the piece in 12 to 15 hour sessions for literally weeks. Late night is quiet and perfectly conducive to the painting process. I'm up until the early hours of the morning with a fine brush bathing everything in the dusk colors.
Every detail must be rendered in the context of the light source of the scene.
Continuity of light brings everything together.
Every element is rendered in the side-lit glow and lengthening shadows.
Fence posts, gates, feed sheds, and watering tubs occupy the paddocks.
Dappled and reflected light gradate into the ambient dusk tones.
The Painting of Hanamu Dusk - Final Steps
I am almost finished. This should be the second to last installment.
"Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."- George Bernard Shaw
Hopefully my torch has grown brighter over the years. I'm happy to announce the completion of Hanamu Dusk. You can see quite a bit of difference between Hanamu Dusk and the original painting Jacaranda Season. As I mentioned earlier in these postings, color and light have become my central theme. The longer I paint, the more I am increasingly aware that the landscape is rich in color which changes by the moment. We're never looking at the same scene twice. The elements are bathed in the color of the atmosphere with infinite variables.
In this sense, subject matter is so overwhelmingly abundant that it becomes more a question of when to paint than what. If you keep an eye out for the way the light is rendering things, everything becomes a possibility. The world becomes the painter's palette, which is a wonderful way to see. Even in the darkest corners, the painter's perspective is there. Hanamu Dusk and Jacaranda Season, if nothing else, are studies in the painter's perspective.
I've been reluctant to end the work on this piece. It is always a little difficult to put down the brushes and say I'm finished. I had a wonderful time playing in the magenta light. When the moment comes to let go, I always stall for time. I have to say sorry and at the same time, thank you to Karen Thompson at my studio office for being sensitive and accommodating towards me all the way through this process. Karen is in charge of getting this piece to you by the holidays, yet she knows my struggle with endings and managed to make it easier for me, especially in these last few weeks. The unwritten sacred artist code states that you can never push fine art. I put her off schedule numerous times. She never waivered from being understanding and gave me all the space I needed.
16. Mahalo to Judy & Vern
I also want to thank my friends, Judy and Vern, for their undying support of me on this project. They have been an essential part of Hanamu from start to finish. It would not be, had it not been for them. When they first mentioned their appreciation for the painting Jacaranda Season, I felt their passion for it and recalled the inspiration I'd had painting the subject matter twenty years earlier. They asked if I would paint it again for them. As I began to politely say no, something inside the enthusiasm of the moment caused me to pause. It was floating in the air between the late afternoon and evening sun, unspoken between the words of that first meeting where Hanamu Dusk was born. In the chemistry of that exchange, I could already see it fully painted, because I had already seen it hundreds of times in that light. But I couldn't explain it or describe it as any more than a feeling, and of knowing the possibilities.
It took a leap of faith on their part to trust in a feeling that I was not very able to convey. They not only trusted me, they extended that trust over the years it took me to put it all together. For that, for sparking Hanamu in the first place, and for holding on to faith in me, I owe them much. It is patrons such as these who make the arts a reality. It is the passion of people such as these which literally gives the arts life. I have gathered up all that I have learned and received from this experience and I give it back to you. Hanamu Dusk is the form it takes.
With a very warm Aloha,
Curtis Wilson Cost
PS. The web postings of the painting process began with my 30 year anniversary painting A Quiet Moment. This marks the second time I've journalized a painting on the web. We have had such a huge response that it's become clear this will be a recurring event. As I was driving to Ulupalakua a few weeks ago, I saw next year's major piece. I'll leave that as a cliff hanger because at this point, it isn't more than a feeling, and of knowing the possibilities.
Hanamu Dusk - Original Oil Painting - 2010
Jacaranda Season - Original Oil Painting - 1983