Art theory Blake Gardens Landscape Oil Painting Outdoors/Landscape Painting Places Plein Air

Blake Gardens Revised; Pondering Painting

Blake Gardens Revised, oil on panel 9x12"
Blake Gardens Revised, oil on panel 9x12"

When my sister looked at the original version of this painting (posted here) she told me her eye kept going to the bright area in the upper right. There was a lot that was distracting in that image, and I thought the ground was too dark and the two little patches of flowers on opposite sides of the path were distracting too.  But now maybe I lost some of the sunshine by lightening the ground and darkening that corner?  (see original below)

Blake Gardens Late Afternoon, oil on panel, 9x12"
Blake Gardens (version 1, click to enlarge)

So it was back to the drawing board…er easel. I spent some more time working on it and I think it’s done now. Which do you like better? Or do you think the revised version needs more work and if so what?

Yesterday I was out plein air painting in the funky little town of Port Costa, and because I was painting buildings, spent more time drawing than painting to get the perspective right.  (Which makes me realize I need to add one more point to my How to Oil Paint Plein Air List: # 5. “Get the drawing right!”). Today I tried to (but didn’t quite ) finish it. While I used to often spend a month or more completing a watercolor painting, for some reason I have the idea that an oil painting should be finished more quickly, like in one session.

Perhaps what bothers me is that when I paint plein air I work small, using a 9×12″ panel.  It seems like a waste of time to work such a small painting for days afterward, putting in lots of details (because I like details, darn it, even though plein air oil paintings are supposed to be simplified).

Maybe the trick is to paint the plein air painting as a simplified field study and then if I like it, if it has life and soul and the subject still interests me, grab a bigger canvas and paint big where I can really get into things like reflections in windows and other crunchy details,  instead of continuing to work on the study.

But for now, it’s back to overworking yesterday’s study since I just scraped off the bottom 1/4 of the painting and need to redo it before the paint dries.

11 replies on “Blake Gardens Revised; Pondering Painting”

Here’s my take on it, which may be worth no more than the paper it’s printed on. 🙂
I liked the first version a lot, and still prefer it to the revision. The original has a freshness, shows a vivid impression of the place: the wildness of the things growing there, they haven’t been made uniform and perfect. There’s a rhythm and movement through the whole picture plane. The revision strikes me as being overly symmetrical, like the way we tend to think plants grow–but they really don’t. The big potted plant in particular. Some of the color highlights you added in its foliage are really nice, but the blossoms are too uniform now, IMHO. About the background–I liked that better before too. To mute that bright upper right area in the original, you might consider just cooling it a little, rather than making it the same as the rest of the background. Personally, I felt that area worked well before, helped move the eye around in the original, whereas now it feels more like a backdrop. The two little plants in the foreground added interest, I thought, but if you found them distracting, you could decrease their contrast a little. I liked them, though, and the warmer foreground color.

The small paintings we do plein air alla prima are definitely valuable as studies from which larger paintings can be done. Looking at Camille’s studies and the larger studio paintings she does from them: often the little plein air study is the stronger of the two.


Thanks Kathryn, Your feedback is really helpful. I think that while the painting is now more organized, I kind of miss the crazy chaos of colors and light that bring back the feeling of being there, trying to paint fast. Jana


I’m afraid I have to agree with Kathryn…I like the first version best…fresher, and less overworked. And the brightness in the upper corner indicates the direction of the sunshine…like when you look up inadvertently and you see the sun so bright coming through the trees it almost blinds you. You could add that back in and help the painting. The little white flowers on the border of the path helped to break that line marching across the painting. Put them back in too.


Thanks Ginny. You’re so right about the blinding sunlight coming through the trees. My first reaction when my sister told me her eye kept going there was to say I wasn’t going to work on it anymore but then I thought, well, she’s an interior designer and has a really good eye for design and spatial relations, I should listen to her. But I think the painting went from being a summer painting full of intense light and heat to not being that at all. I may just go back up there and make another painting instead of continuing to overwork this one. Jana


I vote for the second version. I love either, but my first reaction to the first was: too much dark/light division, too much warm/cool clashing. Also, the narrow horizontal strip of sun seemed to halve the picture. I thought, “the flowers have circled the wagons, their leader is the bush, and the forest is attacking. Now, I did enjoy that chaotic impression, I did. But things were broken up–it was hard to formulate a whole. Now, though, with the straight-line look replaced with sweeping curls, and the lightening in the upper right corner, I get the feel of that it is all flowing together, and the finest effect, the white petals sailing into the forest, now stands out beautifully. This is really a rare piece of work, and deserves any amount of attention.


Ah, Chloe, I can always count on you for some wonderfully poetic words of encouragement. Thank you for taking the time to look and to write about what you saw. Your kind words mean a lot to me. Jana


Both are very nice paintings, but I think I like the second one just a little better. I think the reason it doesn’t appear as bright to you is a result of a couple things. One, you don’t have a nice, bright highlights on the top blossoms of the potted rose as you did in the original painting, and it seems that you made the line dividing the background from the middleground much more straight, whereas in the first version it was more uneven and natural appearing. Everything looks too perfect, and nature is not perfect in appearance.

If you add some of those highlights back in the potted flowers, especially those three at the very top, and change the middleground flowers so they are uneven across the darker background trees I think it will help considerably. You could also add just a touch of lights on some of the tree branches–but not the whole amount of foliage.

Good luck, –Merle


Thanks Merle, That’s really helpful advice. I think those ideas might be easier to implement without a major overhaul. You’re right that I seem to have gone from the chaos of nature to a perfectly groomed little world, which it wasn’t. Time to add back some color and a bit of chaos! Jana


I really like this painting, and I like your idea of trying to do a larger painting from this as a sketch. Particularly if you have a photo reference, it can be a great experience.

I like the way the roses (or pink flowers in the pot) stand out more in the second version. The colors are really great. For me, those colors really make the painting. But I agree that you loose a sense of where the light is coming from that way. I’m not sure it needs more chaos. What’s bugging me more is the color of the foreground. It’s kind of chalky instead of sunny, and the colors of the pot aren’t as subtle as before. It also looks like you lost the color contrasts in the shadows under the rocks bordering the path.

Nice work!


Comments are closed.