Painting the Perfect Picture: Beautiful and Magnificent Haystack Rock

Painting the Picture is a recurring blog where I dive into what led to a painting I’ve done, giving you some background on the decisions and inspiration behind it.

When I went to Cannon Beach with my wife, Amber, I had the intention to snap some good pictures that would emphasize the large forms of Haystack Rock rising above the ocean. There is something grand and mysterious about the formations of rock along the Oregon coast; something worth capturing.

We had just been to dinner and were walking back to our car when we decided to take a moment and head down to the beach towards Haystack. It was evening and the sun was going down over the horizon of the water, but it hadn’t quite reached yet and was being obscured by some sparse clouds, resulting in violets and pinks streaming across the sky and sand turning from tan to blue in the shadows. Everything was picturesque in a unique way and hard to capture with a camera, so I made some mental notes of how I would want to paint such a moment, in terms of color and light.

Back at our apartment, a few months down the road, I decided I wanted to paint a picture of our time at the beach. I kept envisioning a painting of Haystack Rock, hulking above the waves, framed evenly by a vertical canvas. However, as I went through my photos, it was the reference for this painting that struck me. The photo is much darker, but it still gave off a nice feeling of relaxed observation, overseen by a mass in the distance.

I had recently picked up a color of paint that I had never used before called Radiant Blue which I decided to make my general tone. I specifically worked to make the painting more vibrant than I usually push, challenging myself in my habits. I also did not want to overwork anything, as my earliest layers of paint relayed a nice “life” and movement that would be lost if the painting became too exact. The more individual blades of grass that I added, the more I may end up losing that natural feeling of movement and mass. It is always my deepest hope to transport my audience, not to merely impress them with precision and minute detail. I want an overall impression to be made rather than an exercise in perfection (which I find leads to an unnatural stiffness).

My greatest challenge was pushing values darker. Values are the range of lights and darks in a painting, drawing, or photograph. I can tend to reside on the lighter end of the range. Even in this painting I struggled. Along those same lines I strove to not push any pure white into the scene at all. Nothing was reflective enough to warrant it and I knew relying on white would just lose all of the vibrancy I was hoping for.

There are elements that work and elements that were a struggle. I’ll keep those to myself, because most likely I’m being my own toughest critic and I don’t want to influence the way you see this painting. I ended up very happy with the majority of it, however, and I’m glad when I see it. One of my most central goals was to paint an ocean painting without any visible water, as I tend to really just love the sand, grass, and wood that lines the beaches more than the waves and expanse itself. I think I was successful.

Another goal was to paint a picture of Haystack Rock without the rock being the emphasis. I still wanted it to be a focal point and I think it ends up being one of three. I just didn’t want it to be everything. I think I was successful in that, too.

So that’s the story of my Haystack Rock painting. I hope you like it. If you would like a print of it, please visit my shop, where it is readily available.

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