Clouds Over Colgate Lake


© Durga Yael Bernhard

I just finished this painting on Wednesday. Clouds Over Colgate Lake is a real departure from all my other landscapes.  First, it has nothing in the foreground – most of my paintings are distant views framed by something large in the foreground.  Second, it’s my first painting with an overcast sky.  Third, I worked on it longer than any other painting in my life – two years.

I started this painting in the summer of 2016, when I took my daughter and her friends swimming at Colgate Lake.  The water was too cold for me, but the view was stunning.  What you see is the Blackhead Mountains north of the Catskills – Black Dome and Blackhead on the right, with just a bit of Thomas Cole Mountain showing on the left.  I’ve hiked two of these mountains, and the wild saddle in between.  They’re as beautiful and rugged as the lake is soothing and serene.  I could sit there all day, building up texture and color – but only had an hour or two to start the painting, beginning with a monochromatic tonal study, then painting over it with minimal color.

The painting appears smaller than it is in this photo.  It is 36″ wide by 12″ high, oil on canvas.

A year later – summer of 2017 – I returned to Colgate Lake and worked on the painting some more.  I was confounded by so much green.  Normally I paint in the spring and fall, when the color combinations are uncanny, intoxicating.  These lush monochromes were a whole new challenge.  I studied the unfinished painting through the long winter months, propped up in my bedroom.  Then I put it away, frustrated by lack of time to work on it.

Last week I finally pulled it out again.  I was determined to finish the painting without looking back at my reference photos.  I call this “early weaning” – when I push myself to stop looking at reference before I feel ready, breaking my dependency on it and challenging my tendency to get hung up on reality, which chokes the life out of my art.  I wanted to bring this painting to completion on its own terms – as a composition of color, shape, and texture.  I strive not for a strict representation of the subject, but an interpretation.  For if art is not more than reality, then why not just use a camera?

Equally uncomfortable was my decision not to put anything in the foreground.  Without the usual contrast of near and far, I felt strangely unhitched.  It was worth the discomfort.  I threw my mental crutch into the lake – temporarily.  I will surely use the technique again.

Clouds Over Colgate Lake will be on display (and for sale) at my house during the Shandaken Art Studio Tour – July 21-22, from 1o am – 5 pm.  If you’re local, hold the dates!  Many talented artists are tucked away in these mountains.  My house will be transformed into an art gallery and bookshop, with hundreds of original paintings and illustrations on display, along with posters, cards, my brand new calendar, and signed picture books.  To find out more, see the tour catalog here and scroll down to my name.

A good week to all!

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