Painting a Rosedale Sunrise

Faculty Guest Blogger: Collier Parker

Collier Parker: Spring is finally here and that means nicer, warmer weather, longer days, and abundant sunlight (well, it’s supposed to mean that anyway; as I write this it’s cold and stormy outside – maybe soon!).  With it comes the urge to go outside and enjoy the weather. For me it always means the beginning of landscape painting season.

For almost forty years now I’ve painted landscapes on-site, in all kinds of conditions, and in many different places. I still remember getting up before sunrise one spring long ago when I was an undergraduate in college, driving to the Mississippi River’s edge at Rosedale (the same Rosedale that Robert Johnson goes down to in Cross Road Blues, a song later covered and made famous by Eric Clapton and Cream) to paint the sunrise.  It was a thrill and a considerable challenge to try and capture that magnificent sight – the sun red, large and dominating, with yellow-orange rays that covered the whole sky, and the river awash with unimaginable magentas and oranges. The whole spectacle lasted less than 20 minutes.

Looking back it was foolishness itself to try and paint something that really couldn’t be captured in pigment. What red oil paint is as luminous as a sunray?  And the timeframe was impossible too. The sunrise lasted only 20 minutes but it changed virtually every second of those precious minutes. Despite this I went back, day after day to try. I got there before the sun came up and painted furiously for 20 futile minutes.  I tried over and over again. Those attempts were all failures but I was hooked. Landscape painting on-site, in front of nature, daunting as it could be, was my calling.

Fly Fishing on the Lackawanna

Fly Fishing on the Lackawanna

Since then I’ve learned a bit about what kinds of challenges to take on. For one thing, I give myself more time now. Like Corot, the great French landscape painter, I like to go out early “before the sun is yet high in the sky,” but not so early that the light changes dramatically every second. I’ve settled on a 2-hour window of time for most paintings. I’ve learned to take the best moments from that time period and meld them into one scene, one composition. I return to the same spot at the same time of day with the same light conditions at least 8 to 10 times for each painting, sometimes many more. This gives me a chance to really learn what’s important about the place that I’m painting and lets me develop the color and drawing and subtlety of value.

Tree: Morning Sunlight

Tree: Morning Sunlight

Over the years my methods have changed just a bit. When I lived in Philadelphia in the early 80’s I’d strap my Stanrite tripod easel and paint box to the rack on my red Raleigh Record Ace and peddle from South Street in center city to the Wissahickon Park to paint rock formations. Later, in 1982 when I moved to Florence, Italy, I bought an Italian made half box French easel at Zecchi (http://www.zecchi.it/). This set-up was a big improvement as I could carry all of my paints and canvases together. For the next two years I hiked all over the hills that surround Florence with that easel on my shoulder to find just the right Tuscan vistas.

Olive Tree and San Miniato

Olive Tree and San Miniato

Thirty-six years later I’m still using the same easel. It’s needed a few repairs along the way but I haven’t found anything better suited for my needs. When I go on painting trips back to Italy the easel always goes with me. I’ve added a large umbrella to my equipment arsenal and usually take a shoulder bag to carry extra paint, turpentine, rags, and sketchbooks.

Edge of Lackawanna: Mid-morning

Edge of Lackawanna: Mid-morning

So now I’m getting things ready to go out and paint soon. I’ve stretched and prepared ten canvases so far. They are various small to medium sizes ranging from 16” x 20” to 20” x 24”. Basically sizes that are manageable outside.

Woods: Early Fall

Woods: Early Fall

Once though, I did paint something much larger outside. It’s the painting below and that is at the beginning of this post. It’s a view that was just outside of my studio when I was in graduate school at Villa Schifanoia. It measures 41 ½” x 57 ¼”. I worked on it for over a year. It’s got me thinking that I should attempt another large work on-site. We’ll see what the season brings. I’m just excited to finally be able to go outside and paint. Soon I’ll be beside a lake in the sunlight trying to paint the impossible again.

Villa Schifanoia

Villa Schifanoia

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