Behind the painting: “The Doorway”
Posted on: Aug 19, 2020
“The Doorway” depicts the rear entrance to a structure built years ago by my late father-in-law, John. It houses a large wood furnace, a carport, and several storage spaces. When I moved to the property, he installed a stairway just inside this door, leading up to a lumber loft that we converted into a painting studio for me. It is a joy to walk through this doorway every morning to begin the workday, and I was grateful for the occasion to reflect on John’s craftsmanship and our friendship while painting this piece. Even the frame is significant in this respect; I built it using strips of molding that he designed and milled with me for making picture frames. John passed away within days of me completing the painting, making this time of reflection all the more poignant.
I originally planned to make this a smaller plein air painting and leave it at that. In my usual portrait painting practice, I have to rely so heavily on photographic reference that I relish every opportunity to paint from life, especially when my subject is only a few steps outside my studio. So on a sunny day in June, at a time of year when I find this scene to be particularly picturesque, I brought my painting gear outside and set to work. Under a bright white umbrella, with my wife and mother-in-law working nearby in the garden, it all felt rather idyllic!
However, I immediately struggled with the scale of the painting, and after 20 minutes of trying to cram my planned composition onto a 9x12” panel, I gave up and started over using a larger 12x16” panel. The painting flowed smoothly from there, although I had to race to cover the larger panel and still bring the painting to a satisfactory level of finish before the light faded.
Late in the afternoon, I brought the painting into my studio to assess my work. I was happy with how it turned out, but my initial struggles still left me wondering if the image would benefit from an even larger canvas. A few days earlier, I had also taken a number of photographs of the scene to help determine the time of day I wanted to depict, and upon reviewing these photos, I was attracted to one with a steeper perspective than my plein air painting, which I thought would make for a more compelling composition. Calculating that I would just have enough time before my current exhibition opened, I decided to begin again in my studio on an 18x24” canvas, using my plein air painting as a study and the photograph for additional reference.
The image above shows how I arranged my references in the studio (from left to right: a full size black and white print of the photograph, my painted plein air study “Studio Door Study,” the full-sized painting, a vertical monitor with my reference photo in full color, which I can move around and zoom in and out of as necessary). At the time this image was taken, I had completed an underpainting in raw umber and was working my way through the first layer of color. (My studio paintings progress much more slowly than my plein air paintings; this one is made up of about 3 layers of color overtop of the underpainting.) If you look closely, you can also see that I had not yet included flowers in the empty planter – a suggestion my mother-in-law kindly made along the way.
In the end, I completed “The Doorway” just in time for my exhibition “Impressions of Nature”“. I’m grateful to say that the painting lived up to my original hopes for it, and I am especially grateful to have it stand as a tribute to a dear friendship and a marker of this special time of transition.