by Bethany, November 20, 2017
I’m excited to share my guest blogger for this month – my friend Jeff Ventola! Jeff is a pastel and oil painter living in New Hampshire and one of my first pastel friends and encouragers. Jeff is a talented artist who curates and administrates the FB group Purely Pastel Painters. He is on instagram here.
Jeff was awarded an Honorable Mention in the 2016 Pastel 100 by Pastel Journal magazine. He paints, demos, and teaches near his home.
(all images courtesy of Jeff Ventola, artist)
Being from New Hampshire everywhere you turn it’s easy to find breathtaking scenery. However, my inspiration is derived from the one thing that sets New Hampshire apart from other locations. It’s not the gorgeous foliage, the wildlife or the dense mountainous regions, but the cold snowy winters that make it like no other. The saying here in New England is “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute,” and to reside here you don’t have to like winter, but you must certainly accept it.
Snow is something I have always loved and not just because I snowboard, but because I draw inspiration from each falling flake. What’s not to love? The only reason why we don’t enjoy snow is because we must shovel, or drive in it.
When painting a snowy landscape, not only do I set out to capture its beauty, but its luminescence and its reflective properties – how the sun lays among the trees and how the shadows fall across the landscape. The goal is to make the viewer forget what they don’t like about snow and make them see why it’s so special. In case you’ve forgotten…go watch a child play in the snow on a snow day!
I want to explain my technique for creating SPACE by using light. I accomplish this feeling through the proper location of color and value, giving the idea of a secluded, yet vast location that doesn’t make you feel trapped.
During the winter of 2015, the snowiest winter on record, parts of New Hampshire received over 125” in three weeks. Before the snow arrived I was displaying some winter scenes at a show in early December. A lovely woman looked at my work, rolled her eyes, waved her hand, and said, “yuck snow” as she turned away and stormed off (pun intended). This may be one of the best compliments I have ever received! To have my art impact an individual as such, tells me I’m doing something right! Ironically at the same show, I was doing a demo of a snow scene when a quiet and sweet little 8-year-old girl who was captivated by my work approached me. For 30 minutes she talked non-stop about my painting, snow and why she was wearing a pink owl on her shirt. Her mother approached me after and said “She never speaks to anyone, thank you.” Enough said…art is amazingly powerful. Was it the snow that impacted her? Probably. It touches us all in different ways.
If it weren’t for snow, I might not be an artist today.
Other than color and value, one of the most important aspects I consider when composing a snow scene is the proper rendition of space and perspective. Space is equally imperative to a composition because space is there for a purpose, regardless of the subject. For a landscape, space includes the foreground, background, and middle ground and utilizes distance around and between objects, thus creating positive and negative space.
When beginning a subject, even before considering palette and value scale, I survey the location to figure out the best way to make the space feel intimate, but not claustrophobic. You must feel as though you are able to explore and wonder what lies beyond your initial focus.
In the early or ‘lower’ layers, I begin with my dark colors. I put down a layer of darker color values which will be the foundation for creating effective space while also giving form to the objects. The early layers of a subject in my composition will be dark regardless of beginning with an underpainting of any color. Whether a tree, a rock or shrub, a dark layer of color will start as lighter values are added to the upper layers as we progress through the composition. As I build up layers, values become lighter. However, I discipline myself to not cover up the under layers.
(Here you can see Jeff’s peach underpainting peeking through).
“Light, Time, and Space”
Take a tree for example….a sunlight tree full of foliage relatively speaking will be darker on the inside close to the trunk and branches, becoming brighter on the outside canopy of leaves. This color/value variation is imperative to the ‘form’ of the tree. This will give the objects in your composition ‘life’ creating dimension and enhancing the positive and negative space in your painting.
Once most of the composition is complete, the process of bringing in the ‘lighter’ colors or ‘highlights’ (the values imperative to ‘opening’ up the space) in your composition begins.
“Guided Light” 12×16 pastel on paper
First thing I consider is where my light source is coming from. Then I examine my subject and compile a strong understanding of which objects are affected by the light and from which direction. When applying the lighter values, I carefully plan the application and take in to consideration the importance of the mark making of the pastel I’m applying. The quick, decisive strokes add to the authenticity of the light source.
“February Frost” – 12×16″ pastel
I control the location of my lighter values and make sure not to ‘overwhelm’ my painting with lighter ‘marks.’ Remember they are there to accent and create space, not to distract or draw the viewers eye away from your focal point unless your intention is to make this part of your composition the focal point. Approach this process carefully because the human eye is always immediately drawn to a light element placed next to a dark element.
You can also add to and create visual space with careful rendition and placement of the objects within the subject matter of your composition. For “Never Ending Story” (see above – 12×16 pastel on paper) the barn received a makeover not only in color and value, but placement as well. On location the barn is a dark brown weathered wooden shed behind the embankment of trees on the left. I felt the barn was more valuable on the right in a different color and a slightly lighter value. The changes make the composition more interesting, welcoming, and mysterious. All essential to creating successful space in this painting.
These techniques can help you add life to your landscape paintings either in the studio or in the scenic woods of New Hampshire. Whether you’re shoveling the snow or painting it, find joy in it and remember why it’s special.
Thank you so much Jeff for sharing with us! Your love of your landscape is apparent and infectious. The scenes you have in New Hampshire are so vastly different than what I have here in Texas – I love seeing those beautiful, deep snowy woods.
You can see more of Jeff’s work on Instagram and on Facebook (and you may just see him tromping through the snowy woods on his way to a plein air location!)
P.S. I’ll be drawing the winner of my giveaway for the Pastel Journal magazine tonight! If you haven’t entered, click here!