The paint was still drying on Brenda Boylan’s five-foot-wide landscape when she took a few minutes to chat with me about her most recent work. Learn how the painting came to be, including the design concept she discovered and applied when she was halfway through the piece.
The Inspiration for “A Secret Place”
Brenda said this work started with an annual autumn drive into the Oregon country with a friend/neighbor/fellow artist, Michael Orwick. He suggested a place he had discovered with a low-lying stream that flows west toward the ocean.
When they arrived, Brenda chose not to step into the water because it was cold, but the view, she said, was “just gorgeous.” But don’t ask her exactly where: She and Orwick promised each other to keep the exact location a secret, even though there was evidence that others had found the spot.
Brenda knew she would paint the scene. “The light was coming through and it was just glowing with fall color. I took several photographs of the stream to have lots to paint from — if I were to do a series of these, it would take me years.”
She said, “I decided to go big with this piece. It’s pretty much a monster that is as wide as I am tall. It’s a little hard for me to handle it.”
On the Easel
The massive size of the landscape painting didn’t deter her, though. Brenda put the painting up on the presentation stand easel she uses for oil painting — she referred to it as “wimpy,” but it gets the job done.
“I have no pride in having spent $1,000 or $2,000 on a beautiful easel,” she said. “I’ve just got to get the job done, and this does it.” She laughed, adding, “So what if I have to adjust the legs here and there sometimes?”
Her studio has a pastel stage and an oil stage, so she can easily work in either medium without rearranging the easels or materials.
Discovering New Design Techniques
Brenda, who has a degree in design, said she’s been “geeking out on this thing called dynamic symmetry,” which she actually heard about from a workshop Michele Byrne gave through the Booth Museum. “I had never heard of it,” Brenda said. “Out of all my design experience, getting a degree in design, none of my instructors talked about dynamic symmetry, or the Fibonacci spiral.”
This concept came to her when she already had many hours into painting “A Secret Place,” but she knew it would make an incredible difference in the design of the work. She added that learning about this at this stage was a mystery: “How did I miss this information? I have no idea. But I’ve been [painting] by just my own sense of composition, and naturally, so it was pretty close.”
Even though she was about halfway through the work, she began applying the concept of dynamic symmetry.
“I made some adjustments to it as I went along,” she said. “I had to kind of change gears a little bit, but I wasn’t entirely off with it. As I went, there were things I added and subtracted. It was kind of like a relationship with the painting, where it needed to go and what I thought it felt. I would let it bake for a day, come back to it, and reevaluate what I had done the prior day. That tends to be my method of creating work in the studio. Sometimes I’ll just jump right in. And now that I have this design guideline embedded in my memory and the tools to use it, I kind of go in that direction.”
“The underpainting peeks through in certain areas,” Brenda explained with excitement. “As the light is hitting the bottom of the stream and hitting the rock, this reddish underpainting peeks through. That’s my favorite part of the painting. I didn’t have to do anything there except maybe outline a few shapes of rocks suggesting it. I’m just really pleased with how it turned out.
“Painting is a process. It’s like a dance, and sometimes you make missteps and you have to go back and correct them. I’m always conscientious as to where my focal point is, and the Fibonacci spiral, or the dynamic symmetry, really helped me nail that in. Your eye just wanders through the whole thing … there are passages where it’s quiet, and then there are passages where it just demands your attention to look at it a little bit more.”
Indeed, and I have a feeling many viewers will be doing just that.
“A Secret Place” is headed to Art Elements Gallery as Brenda’s “showcase piece” in Newberg, Oregon, June 2-August 13, 2022. An art reception is scheduled for June 18.
In Brenda Boylan’s “Pastel FUNdamentals” 3-hour workshop, learn how to give your works harmonious color, the “lights on” secret for a solid underpainting, and much more.
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– Online art conferences such as Plein Air Live
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