Tim Kelly loves a challenge. He doesn’t just tackle them, he paints great paintings as a result. We thought we’d ask him how he approached this complicated scene of reflected sky, submerged colors, and stark light and shadow.

Lead Image: “Herring Run Park,” by Tim Kelly, 2015, oil, 11 x 14 in.

“This was painted on the morning of May 30, 2015, in Herring Run Park, a little oasis of greenery in the middle of Baltimore City,” recalls Kelly. “The first step, and it’s often dumb luck, is to come across a good scene, or at least recognize something that might translate well into paint. This particular scene fit the bill for me. I was drawn to the concrete pads barely submerged in the stream, and the sun-kissed streambed with the reflection of sky crisply atop the water. It offered a good combination of depth and surface pattern.”

Kelly is an accomplished plein air painter, so he is accustomed to painting quickly. “It’s my habit to add alkyd gel to my colors to speed up drying,” he says. “That was a key element in this piece’s completion. I knew that if I attempted to paint the reflections and the streambed simultaneously, I would end up with a muddy piece, so I held off on the reflections, ignoring them completely. I knew I would address them later. I worked on the rocky stream bank and shadowed water first, with opaque strokes of pigment.

“The sunny water was painted next, thinly. This thin treatment allowed for the white of my panel to filter through the pigment with a warm glow characteristic to sunlight. Attempting to add white to heighten the value would have cooled the tone too much. The thin application also stiffened up quicker, due to the alkyd gel. I planned it that way. I knew I was going to paint the reflections later in the session and wanted that first layer of paint to be set up adequately to be able to handle an additional layer of paint. That additional layer, of course, was the crystal clear reflections — the last thing to be painted. I mixed up a clean dollop of pigment with titanium white and ultramarine blue and painted the reflections with opaque strokes, just as the stream bank rocks were painted, wiping and refreshing my brush after each stroke to take care not to stir up mud.

“To paraphrase Gary Sinise’s character in Apollo 13, ‘That’s all in the sequences. If we can skip whatever we don’t absolutely need, and turn things on in the right order, maybe….’”

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