By Bob Bahr
Thomas Caleb Goggans painted a mountain scene for the Quick Draw event at SKB’s Artist Rendezvous in September in Dubois. We photographed several stages of the painting’s development and peppered him with questions while he worked. Here’s what he said. Watch the YouTube video or scroll down to read it.
Goggans put small hash marks at the edge on all sides of the painting surface so he can be sure as he sketches in the composition he doesn’t place the horizon or any major division at the halves. The artist likes to work on linen affixed to thin pieces of birch plywood. He travels with eight or 10 different sizes of panel, toned to a midrange value at various color temperatures. He chooses a tone with a color temperature that will work with his planned composition. “I choose the one that compliments the subject, and offers the opportunity to allow some of the tone to show through in the final painting,” he said. Goggans drew in the major shapes with vine charcoal sharpened with knife. “I don’t always start with an actual line drawing,” said the artist. “Sometimes I start with paint, but here it was a compressed time so I knew I needed to set up quickly and precisely. Often I wouldn’t sketch because the charcoal can dirty the paint—and, it may turn out that the sketch overly emphasizes divisions that may actually be fairly soft in the scene. A sharply drawn line could influence the decision about that edge that may not be beneficial.”
Goggans wielded a thin stick as he eyeballed his reference photo and his painting surface. It was a brass tube from a hardware store that he was using to help assess angles and proportions. Brass allows him to straighten the tube if it were to get bent in his bag.
His drawings remain as minimal as possible. “I seek to draw only as much as necessary to provide a map of the major form, value, or hue changes in the painting,” said Goggans. “The foreground was mostly just subtle changes in temperature and value, so I won’t put so much drawing there–more in the mountains and hills.”
Time to paint. Goggans put some color in the sky. He started with a middle value or slightly lower so he could adjust it more easily–and get lights in it (as well as darks). He let some of the tone show through. “I’m looking for the opportunity for it to provide color complexity and depth,” said the artist. He also put spots of an initial mixture of a value that would work for the broad tone of the hill. It required adjustment later. The lower hills were next; the area of highest chroma and value existed in the tops of mountains, but Goggans deemed it impossible to determine that part without setting the whole key of the painting. Those initial strokes in the lower hills provided the vital context of middle value.
Goggans next washed in the foreground. “I need to bring the foreground closer to the correct temperature and value so I can assess more accurately the color values necessary for the distant hills,” said Goggans. “Muting the color decreases the chroma and lowers the value away from tone of canvas. The hills were looking darker and cooler than I knew they would eventually look.” Goggans then massed in the general tone of the distant sunlit mountains slightly darker than what would be their final tone.
He next put in a bit of the cool, violet shadow areas of mountains, followed by a few strokes of a bright yellowish mixture. “It’s a small notation to establish the key for the upper end of the value scale—the yellow of the mountains,” said the artist. Incidentally, the original tone of the canvas was close to the lightest light in the painting.
Goggans added the halftone leaning into the cast shadow. This stage was the start of finishing details. He concentrated on building the light effect.
Goggans then restated the shadow of one of the near mountain peaks. “By restating the darker and higher chroma violet blue, the warm pinks and oranges in the mountain are perceived as being much stronger,” Goggans said, “so I’m playing with the temperature contrast.”
Next, Goggans readdressed the sky to introduce more warm neutrals, as well as bring in more form. He warmed up and grayed down the main part of the sky, then introduced value gradations to turn the forms. The artist painted in the darker and lighter forms of the middle landmasses, creating form and depth. In the mountain peaks, he increased the temperature and value in places to achieve the dramatic light effect he desired. The dark mark in the foreground was the initial placement of a tree.
Goggans then turned toward refining forms and values in the distant and middle landmasses and addressing the final texture and values in the foreground. “The foreground calls for a lot of restraint and careful observation of relationships between the foreground and the rest of the painting,” Goggans pointed out. “My focus was to suggest the texture and the appearance of changes in the vegetation and subtle differences in the planes of the valley–without creating distraction. To do this I kept the values close and color relationships subtle, with broad treatment and application. I was keenly aware that if the small trees in the foreground were stated too strongly or their values were too contrasted with the colors around it, it would command an undue amount of attention. To avoid this, I squinted indirectly at the reference photo and attempted to state it as simply as possible.”
The finished painting: “Onward Toward Slumber” 2017, oil on linen on birch, 9 x 12 in. Private collection. Ω