– Bob Bahr reporting, Editor PleinAir Today –

Don’t tell anybody, but Paint Berlin winner Mike McSorley kind of chased the light in executing his award-winning painting.

Lead Image: “St. Paul’s,” by Mike McSorley, 2016, oil on panel, 9 x 12 in. First Place at Paint Berlin.

“Walking down the street in Berlin, MD, I noticed the light hitting this church, especially the angles created by the shadows,” says McSorley. “The glow of the reflected light onto the shadow side of the white walls took on a bluish hue. Recently, I had encountered this same effect at Cape Cod, and I remembered how I enjoyed painting that scene. The light here, now, was similar in its clarity and strength. I was drawn to the church for its stillness. Most of my paintings are quiet, and I try to achieve a meditative calm in them. The strong light and shadow complimented the mood.

“I knew the light would change quickly as it was getting late in the afternoon,” continues the Washington, DC, painter. “The panel was quickly covered with the main shapes in pencil, hatching in the shadows so they were in place before the light moved. Scrubbing the lines with turpentine and a brush, and refining and darkening the shapes, allowed me to strengthen the composition and correct the drawing before too much time was committed. The grave markers were a concern as I wanted to avoid too depressing a tone. Some of the light caught the few in front, which helped with the atmosphere. The crosses are smaller in the painting than in reality. I didn’t want them to be the main focus.

"St. Paul's," by Mike McSorley, 2016, oil on panel, 9 x 12 in. First Place at Paint Berlin.
“St. Paul’s,” by Mike McSorley, 2016, oil on panel, 9 x 12 in. First Place at Paint Berlin.

“Toward the end I fussed with the foliage,” McSorley continues. “I couldn’t get it quite right. Varying the temperature of the trees helped, and I kept going back and forth with the trees until I was satisfied. The orange, straight wall in the front was a concern. As there is nothing breaking the line, I had to vary the color and intensity to get it to feel correct. I ended up increasing the intensity on the left side to make that part of the painting draw some interest to it. The light had changed when I was finishing, catching the small bush in front. Even though it was in shadow when I started, I added the highlight to it as it helped the composition.”

The judge for the competition, Abigail McBride, says she appreciated that McSorley took some chances. “The first thing that stood out is that his painting had a presence to it,” says McBride. “The composition was not the kind you see over and over again. His was of a church, with the chimney going into sky, but he pushed the chimney over the Golden Mean. The picture had a graphic style but was serene and respectful of the church and cemetery. It was a memorable composition of the scene, not stock. It had an interesting range of shapes, like Mondrian might arrange shapes. Even though it was representational, there was an abstract underpinning to it.”

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