Color in nature paintings. Sharon Pitts draws landscape trees, wildflowers, nests in a representative style with abstract qualities. The vivid color draws the viewer into his paintings of nature with tangles of branches, petals, and leaves filled with soggy settings. And while Pitts has always lived true to themes of nature, it is primarily the process of artistic creation, rather than the theme itself, that has supported her during her work. She addresses every painting as an exercise and unusually has a clear view of what she wants each one to look like when finished. I’ve come to appreciate the unexpected in the process, says she Pitts, who teaches watercolor classes worldwide.
I often show my followers that watercolor is for adventurers. Don’t be scared to move out of your convenience zone. For Pitts, watercolor is like a companion that pushes her to discover new things. I watch the watercolor flow, how it melts, how it dries, she says. “What could have been considered mistakes become opportunities to try something unplanned? In many ways, creativity comes from going to plan B.
Working for art
After encouragement from art professors during her studies, Pitts graduated from the University of Illinois, Chicago, with a degree in art, concentrating on art, photography, and modeling. She worked her way through art class by exerting short office jobs. She was granted a permanent position along the way, but art remained her top priority. I remember always being aware that it would be a big mistake if I didn’t keep the arts as part of my life.
Find a subject and a medium
As a student and young artist, Pitts initially paints in acrylic. After giving and having her first kid, she knew that artist Paul Klee worked with watercolors when his kids grew because the medium was more portable and manageable than acrylic or oil. Pitts was close with watercolor from color study work in college, so her new mother bought watercolors, paper, and brushes and started playing. Almost immediately, I remembered how much I liked the transparent look of the watercolor, says Pitts. It is a very independent-minded vehicle. You require to do what you need to do.
I love working back and forth between letting him do what he’s going to do and trying to control him. Since then, watercolor has been Pitts’ preferred medium. Other favorite subjects of his included cowboy boots, Hawaiian shirts, and kimonos. But after suffering the loss of his youngest son when he was 18, Pitts suddenly wanted to paint trees. After his death, I discovered that my art evolved into these three paintings without even considering them. They just came to me. Painting them gave me a certain sense of comfort.
Get lost in the process
Pitts begins many of his nature paintings outdoors, often in gardens near his home. I find fascinating things around me. Just seeing a branch outside her window makes her think about how he would draw and paint it.
After starting work outside, bring the painting to the studio. I begin by adding a bit and playing with the background, exploring a couple of ideas from my imagination. Then you could look at some photos to see if there are other ideas you can add. Each painting is inspired by a combination of real-life, photos, imagination, and ideas from previous paintings. Pitts is not interested in making an exact copy of nature. I don’t find it exciting, and I don’t think he would paint if that were the case.
Pitts relied heavily on an initial design but now works more freely. He only draws if he thinks he is getting lost in a complex subject, such as the nest paintings he has painted over the years. He found the problem with Nest I, Van Vleck, during one of his local gardening sessions. Traversed by a nest entangled in a large branch cut from a tree, she asked permission to bring the caricature of nature to her study. Once there, she struggled to hold it so that she could paint it.
She decided to paint it in a relatively large landscape format, so she cut 25 x 45-inch Arches cold-pressed paper from a roll. She then hooked the item to the foam core, placed it on an easel, and began to draw the interlocking pile of leaves and twigs. It was a real challenge. Once I got the cool drawings, I took a deep breath.
Coming into focus
To prepare for painting, Pitts creates separate individual color palettes, one for blues and one for greens. Then place the card on the study table. To start, Nest I, Van Vleck, Pitts painted one long twig and then another, making sure each was dry before painting the next. Once the paint has dried, he often puts the piece back on the stand and asks, how is it developing? Are you getting into balance? Are the colors I want there? He continues to explain: I answer these questions in my mind, but the painting back on the table, and do what I think the piece requires. And then I go through this process until it starts to take shape.
To create the balance she desires, Pitts focuses on color. If I want a nest to be vibrant with a touch of whimsy, I could start with bright orange. She will blend the orange, start with it in one area, and work until the orange is balanced throughout the paint. Then she could mix a dull yellow and repeat the process, following it up with a rusty color. I observe how the brighter colors are placed with the lighter colors, and then I can introduce another bright color, say, a rose. You might decide to revisit the orange and pink because I don’t paint all the orange and pink at once.
Once you’ve achieved your subject’s colors and balance, you add the background, most often in contrast to the dominant colors of the issue. After Nest, I, Van Vleck, Pitts was amazed at how wildly colorful and lush it was. I’ve never painted anything like this nest before. There was something about this that refreshed my work in a way that I had never experienced before.
Grab the paintings from the tree trunks of Pitts. The artist’s first painting was a commission for a natural environment with a close-up of trees through which a distant bay and island can be seen. As Pitts painted that scene, he considered other ways of depicting it, and the background became more mystical and abstract in later paintings.
For example, in Mystery of Trees I, the trees have become a screen that reveals a more distant and experimental background. He was trying to paint the trees to make them look good together, but each had a unique personality. When the trees dried, he painted the background in vertical scales from top to bottom. I started with a dark blue mixed with super dark green. When I got two-thirds of the way down and everything was still wet, I added some greenery to make the transition from sky to landscape and then moved on to the next sliver.
Having completed hundreds of paintings, Pitts still isn’t entirely sure where her ideas came from, but she’s pretty sure the art is in her being. Your advice for artists looking for ideas and inspiration? Take a walk, look around you and listen to that sweet inner voice. Ideas come in through the side door, perhaps not fully formed or fully understood, and sometimes ideas that are initially unrelated become an idea.
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