Category Archives: Alberta Landscapes

Constructing a Landscape in Acrylics

Taking a Leap in Constructing a Landscape

I had been thinking of creating this painting for a couple of years before committing this image to a  24″ x 36″ canvas. For me, this really was taking a leap in constructing a landscape in acrylics! It was inspired by a short photo shooting day trip through parts of Sturgeon County Alberta. Standing on the bridge that over looks this scene, I knew right then that it was going to be something worth exploring in paint.

 summer river photo

Above: Here is the original photo that I used for my main reference.

What drew me to paint this image in the first place was the the atmospheric depth, the stillness of the water and the diversity of greens in the vegetation. I also saw potential in the ways in which I could change some elements and alter the mood, thereby adding more of myself into the painting. It’s all about the myriad of choices made along the way.

Red, Yellow, Blue, Purple and White

Completing this piece required several steps taken over a period of about five weeks. Because of the size of this canvas, there was room to include a lot of detail that just can’t happen in a miniature painting. There were no tubes of green paint used. Only two sets of primary colors (warm and cool), plus dioxazine purple and titanium white. These tubes were all that was needed to create all of the colors in this painting. A challenge which I never seem to tire of.

white canvas with some dull blue paint

The very beginning of this landscape construction.

It is helpful when working on a water scene, to paint the sky and the water at the same time because the color mixes are usually similar. Even though the hue closely matches the photos I was referencing, it became disappointingly obvious later in progression, that the water was not saturated enough to create the depth that I was looking for. I was a little nervous about correcting this while not wrecking it completely.

large canvas with tree line painted near the top

Once I was happy with the sky and sun, the horizon line was added next.

Mapping it Out

I made marks to delineate the center point, halves and thirds on the canvas. I then set to decide where to place some of the landmark points. A watercolor pencil was used to draw out the river banks. Corrections are very easily made by wiping out offending areas with a damp cloth. After that, the trees and hills on the high horizon line were next. You may notice that the horizon line slopes differently from that in the original reference photo. Already, it was exciting to see the atmospheric depth that was beginning to become apparent. 

construction of a landscape in acrylics

More detail is added to the stand of trees beyond the river.

Making Changes

Many changes were made to the scene in order to improve the composition. I moved the focal points, simplified the background behind the river and changed the horizon line. I was enjoying the depth apparent in the background. Adding the warmth of the sun in the sky, which did not appear in the photo, seemed to be a great choice. Because the light was flat in the photograph, a lot of thought would have to be put into creating more light and shadow in the painting.

landscape river scene progress

More progress is made on the further bank of the river.

Easy to Get Lost

Getting lost in the detail was becoming a problem. Too many of the shapes were too much the same and had the same level of picky detail.  That’s what happens when I zero in on observing the photograph to closely instead of trusting my instincts around the ability to create believable patterns found in nature. This would be corrected by softening some of the edges and colors once more area was covered.

river scene landscape painting in progress

Now to work on the river bank and block in the major shapes and colors.

Fast and Loose!

The bottom two thirds of constructing a landscape in this example happens very quickly and is one of the exciting parts! Using larger brushes and incomplete color mixes make for quick work and a better understanding of the how the composition is or is not working in the matter of an hour or so. Here, I am concentrating more on the larger shapes in this landscape and how the river banks might like to meander. I have begun to add the sun’s reflection and deepen the color of the river. It is tricky to achieve a seamless gradation from light to darker and took quite a bit of time testing color mixes. What adds to the challenge is that acrylics tend to have a color and value shift when they dry. Quite a bit of time is spent watching paint dry!

painting a river scene in progress

Now to the right hand side of the river. Constructing this landscape is well on its way!

Quick and Dirty Stage

It’s a lot of fun to watch this come together quickly! Once more of the canvas was covered, I could see that the river water should contain more saturated color. I repainted most of the river again and took note of how the banks would need to become more irregular. It was unnatural looking at this point (photo above).

landscape painting in progress

You can see I have deepened the color of the water here and added more detail to the bank’s vegetation.

Painting this scene was quite meditative and even looking at it now, it is soothing to my eyes.  The detail was hard to decipher in the photo and I had to make up a lot of it, which is a good brain exercise. The reflections of the banks in the water really made this landscape under construction come to life as you can see!

brushes used to create a landscape painting

These tools were very handy in creating the shrubs and grasses.

Several sizes of brushes and other tools were used in constructing this landscape in acrylics. Many of them were smaller and well-worn and were especially handy to create grasses and tree shapes. It always takes a period of trial and error to decide on just the right brushes for the job at hand.

landscape under construction nearing completion

More details and refinements are created everywhere in the scene.

A Tricky Part

The lone spruce tree is the main focal point of the painting. The reflection of the tree in the water must be created as well as other refinements. The color of the water still did not seem right, and so I proceeded to work on that. It was really tricky to get a seamless gradation without wrecking the work I had done previously. To make it a bit easier, I allowed what appear to be gentle ripples at the bottom right remain and work with them instead of insisting on a perfect gradation. In the end, I think the ripples added to the appeal of the scene.

summer river landscape painting

Getting very close to complete!

The photo above was taken with a different camera and in a different location which accounts again for some of the differences in color over all. There are a few minor details that are still bugging me here, as well as the desire to add some small birds and dead branches. Oh, and maybe the tiniest beaver swimming near the riverbank (center of the canvas), just for my own entertainment.

summer river scene painting

Calling it complete! Here is the final version of “Teaming with Life”.

Constructing a Landscape Complete!

So there it is. The level of detail is hard to see in these photographs, but I am very happy with how it turned out looking at it in person. The actual painting is different than what I had first envisioned. Part of the process is to learn to let go of preconceived ideas and allow the work to develop in it’s own way. I am extremely excited to report that this painting now resides in a lovely art collector’s home in my area!

person holding a painting

The framed painting! Getting ready to package and deliver to the client. The photo makes the painting appear a lot darker than it actually is…

Road of Life

The road of life is a well known metaphor for good reason.

painting of rural gravel road with blue sky, white clouds

“Roadside Roses”, original painting by Judy Leila Schafers, circa 2009, sold

Much like the rural gravel roads, life in my experience,  is full of twists and turns, ups and downs, a few puddles, ruts and bridges. Roads as a metaphor makes it easy to describe some of our challenges and our ultimate destination because life is a type of journey, a trip through a maze of sorts. Without roads, any journey would be more difficult to navigate.

Wondering and Wandering

Exploring these rather isolated byways on or near the family farm as a child, often lead to fascinating nature discoveries or some sort of rural relic. I remember finding abandoned homesteads, scrap metal graveyards and piles of cool looking rocks. There was often a feeling of wonder, excitement or mystery that came with those discoveries. To find a patch of wild strawberries in the ditch or groups of brightly colored wildflowers along the way always felt like a special gift. Not to mention the joy of cycling to a friend’s house on such a road. 

road of life, painting of muddy road in an autumn grain field

“And So It Begins”, original painting by Judy Leila Schafers, 5″ x 17, circa 2010, sold

Searching for a Masterpiece

There is something meditative about a sojourn down a lonely country road or a peaceful woodland path. The sights, sounds and smells can give one a new perspective and temporarily melt away life’s stresses. As an adult, I regularly take day trips along similar trails and forest pathways shooting copious amounts of digital photographs. Those country paths, well worn or not, often inform my work. I get excited about the thought of finding my next great painting just around the corner. What will I find if I take this route, or should I go the opposite direction instead and what lies on the other side of that hill? How can I possibly see all there is to see? What am I missing? 

road of life, rural gravel road in winter with stormy sky and spruce tree

“Just Over the Hill”, original painting by Judy Leila Schafers, 11″ x 22″, circa 2011, sold

A Tank Full of Gas

These quiet lanes bring me a sense of intrigue and excitement and I seldom worry about getting lost as long as there is enough gas in the tank and hours of daylight. I often neglect to tell my family where to look for me because even I don’t know which area will be explored next. Someday, this might not work out too well.  Being unsure of which road would lead me back home has happened on occasion for short periods of time. A modern day GPS helps!

rural gravel road in autumn at sunset, flanked by dense forest

“When Serendipity Smiles”. original painting by Judy Leila Schafers, 12″ x 20″, available, $650

We All Get a Bit Lost on the Road of Life

Sometimes it feels as though I am lost and I think this is true for everyone at some point. We can’t see over the next hill if we are currently standing in a deep valley. It sometimes feels like we may not find our way. The road has never let me down and eventually, somehow it always brings me home. As long and winding as it might seem, it has earned my trust. I believe it is for these reasons that the less traveled byways find their way into my paintings as a reoccurring theme. As I paint them, I explore them anew and contemplate the journey along the road of life.

“The Road Less Gravelled”, original painting by Judy Leila Schafers, 16″ x 12″ , circa 2010, sold

Drawn to Sketch Local

Early in 2018, I was asked by a Sturgeon Country representative to participate in an event that would commemorate the 100 Anniversary of Sturgeon County’s incorporation. She asked if I would be willing to display my area inspired artwork at this outdoor party. There was no charge and it sounded good to me because I already had a decent amount of inventory prepared. This was long before I was drawn to sketch in the way described below.

A Novel Idea

One of the spots where I was drawn to sketch what was in front of me. During these occasions, I was often asked by passers by if I was ok and if I needed help. When they saw my camera and sketchbook, they would wave and continue on their way.

At the county’s main office, I came across posters encouraging residents to take on certain challenges to celebrate the milestone. Ideas ranging from reading 100 books to taking 100 photos were suggested. That was a novel idea. What could I do that wasn’t already on the list?

The idea came quickly. 100 sketches was right up my alley and would be cool to do! But I was a bit apprehensive about it because of concerns about time constraints. Still, I was drawn to sketch local!

Second Guessing

Have you ever had the experience before you make the decision to take on a project when your mind says.. “It shouldn’t really take that much time…”? Plus, I could learn something and enhance my skills all at once. The thought had frequently occurred to me that I should do more drawing as it was. Before telling anyone what had begun brewing in my brain, I looked carefully at the responsibilities that needed to be taken care of during the year. I decided to just go for it; not that big a deal.A

Can we really plan for life’s anomalies, the agendas of others and how everything might affect our time and energy in the future? In March I really felt that it would be no problem to complete 100 sketches of Sturgeon County before the main centennial celebration event on September 8. And so, I began the project with a couple of drawings from photos already residing in my huge stash of references. Soon after, I began sharing my project with others which solidified my commitment to the project. 

Finding a Few Moments

I stole away down the road in my little old van as often as possible searching for interesting places that I was drawn to sketch on the spot or gather photos to use whenever life drawing from life was not going to be possible.

Spring and summer was extra busy with a lot of farm projects and other family concerns. As a result, only 40 pages out of 100 were completed by September 8. A little disappointed, but determined, I kept at it and declared December 31 as the new deadline. Periods of intense focus on the project made it happen! Time and undivided attention always seems to get the job done.

Realizing the Logistics of an Old Idea

Even though I had lived in this area for 40 years, the thought of actively exploring the county itself, never occurred to me. On the other hand, I have regularly gone on reference gathering missions through out the years. For quite some time, I thought that it would be wonderful to scout out many of the back roads of Alberta. Now I understand just a little more clearly the magnitude of such an undertaking! Sturgeon County, a small part of Alberta, is actually huge when you drive the grid at a stop and go pace, taking copious photos! The idea of seeing Alberta this way is still intriguing so we’ll see where the road of life takes me.

Diversity Discovered

I was impressed by the diversity in industry, flora and fauna, landscapes from flat to almost mountainous hills, rivers, valleys and dusty hilltops. Heavily mined acres (which were totally uninspiring to me) and heavily treed areas that I never wanted to leave; it was amazing to experience all of that variety in a confined area. Among all of this, ruins and relics of various flavors were quite common, which I found drew me in many ways. I wanted to hear all of their stories. There were also a surprising number of  mansion style residences with fancy gates and gardens and tiny farmhouses, still sheltering active farm families.

I was disappointed that I left the north eastern part of the County unexplored and unrepresented in the book. It would take another year for me to tour all of it. Through this little journey, I have come to appreciate the beauty of where I live even more. I would urge everyone to explore the areas near to where they live and develop a deeper love and appreciation for what is right in front of them. Flying to exotic locations is a wonderful thing to do, but it is equally enriching to get intimate with one’s own surroundings. I plan to do more of this.

Online Sketchbook Sharing

Here is a link to a three minute video showcasing all 100 of the sketches that commemorate Sturgeon County’s Centennial year.
Talking and thinking about this for almost a year, I almost can’t believe 100 drawings were completed!. Since the book was not ready for the September main event, I wondered if there was a way to share all of the work and the results of this project. Why not an online, flip through the book video? 
That way, you can all get a close up look and I can more easily share it with a wider audience.  (video editing thanks to Devin Schafers)

My Drawn to Sketch Top 8

It was a lot of fun to do this project and through this process, my drawing skills were improved upon. As I moved closer to the 100th mark, it felt like it was high time to get it completed.

There you have it! Here is a link to my newsletter that contains more photos and a video about this project. If any of these sketch locations seem familiar, let me know! I would love to hear from you.

Two Docks Are Better

As my usual policy for painting landscape commissions goes, the first attempt to paint the image a client has described to me is created on a small canvas. This time, it turns out that two docks are better than one!

Above: "Echoes Through Time", 14" x 32", shown framed and haging in the client's home.

Above: “Echoes Through Time”, 14″ x 32″, shown framed and hanging in the client’s home.

A local couple asked me to paint a scene that was very special to the woman who had spent many summers on the lake where this dock has resides. They presented me with several photos and specific ideas about what the painting should look like. Certain items could be left out and other things emphasized. The overall feeling to be depicted was one of a perfect sunny Alberta summer day, very much like those she enjoyed as a child on her family’s property on Lac La Biche.

I proceeded to paint everything understood and remembered about the image they spoke about. Once the ‘preliminary’ painting was near completion, it was photographed and the image emailed to the client. As usual, a few nerves were involved in waiting to learn what they thought about the preliminary painting. I was pretty happy with it, but wondered: did I interpret correctly according to their vision? Was it at least on the right track? In projects past, sometimes the answer has been a polite ‘no’.

This time, however, the couple were very happy with the first attempt. Since they did not know what size the final painting should be, I showed them a number of blank canvases in the proportion that would suit the composition. They settled on one and soon after, I began the process of re-creating the scene in a much larger format. Once again fooling myself, I thought that this would be fairly straight forward, since most of the difficulties were worked out with the first painting.

A few minor changes to be made on the final canvas required that I move the horizon line nearer to the top than in the first one. The seamless gradation in the sky was quite a challenge as there were no clouds to hide any imperfections and the area to be covered was quite large. The humidity was so low that the paint would dry more quickly than usual. There are at least 15 coats of paint on the sky alone. I only had to paint the horizon line 3 times to get it right….. progress!!

Because the clients loved the colors in the first painting, it was important to recreate them again as closely as possible, which did not come as easily as first thought. Much larger pools of paint had to be mixed and adjusted over and over again because acrylics tend to change color as they dry.  Rocks and reeds were painted in, and then painted out. And then painted in somewhere else. Finally, it felt ready for the couple to take a look at.

Their reaction was heart-warming and a relief for me at the same time. It was important to me that this painting was everything they had envisioned it would be. The lady said the painting brought back many memories of her family and the quiet meditative moments she had spent in company of this old dock. They loved the painting and and felt that it brought them right back to that special place. Their thinking was that two docks are better than one! One for their home and the small one for her office!



Someone Else’s Idea

Above are a few of the pencil sketches that were drawn to work out some possible ideas for the painting.

Above are a few of the pencil sketches that were drawn to work out some possible ideas for the painting.

Sometimes an artist is asked to create something that expresses someone else’s idea. I have done this before, but this time, it was different.

Last summer, a couple were excited about an idea they had for a painting that depicted beautiful moments from their past. They approached me to paint a large custom ‘moonlight shining on the snow’ scene with a verbal description of the possible image. It was unclear to me what that painting could look like as they didn’t have any photos for me to work from.

Painting a moonlight night scene presented an unusual challenge for me as I had never done that before.  After a bit of research and several sketches, some concrete ideas began to form. The client had sent some autumn daylight photos of a location that was special to them and gave me free reign over which ones to use, if any. This was also a bit of a challenge because I am used to working within specific perimeters when it comes to producing a painting for someone. But it was fun at the same time because I could make things up as I went along.

Shortly after completing the drawings, I painted one of the designs (compositions) on a small canvas to work out what the colors might look like.  It turned out alright, but it might not be dark enough. Or maybe it was too simple or too blue….

This is the first trial painting that I did, described above.

This is the first trial painting that I did, described above.

That was another question: how to get a night scene dark enough, but yet light enough so that one can actually see it from across a room? I spent quite a bit of time studying how a landscape looks during a winter night under a full moon. I had to really pay attention and noticed that everything was some shade of grey. There may have to be some color embellishments to make the painting more interesting. I studied what trees looks like in the distance and close up, how much detail can be seen and what the shadows look like. It was quite an education!

Slightly larger and differing in color and detail, above is the second trial painting.

Slightly larger and differing in color and detail, above is the second trial painting.

After emailing the photos to the clients, they responded with excitement that I was on the right track! What a relief!! This is why I always do ‘preliminary’ paintings before tackling the final, usually much larger piece. There were a few changes for the final painting which was to be 24 by 36 inches. Oh, and why not add the big dipper to the sky? More research ensued once the final painting neared completion. Did you know that the constellations change their orientation in the sky according to the time of year? Fascinating!

Here is the completed painting just before it was shipped out the door.

Here is the completed painting just before it was shipped out the door. “Diamonds in the Snow”, 24″ x 36″

The animal tracks were second last to be added in, at my suggestion. They would make the painting more interesting and break up the large empty space on the lower right side. It was a good thing that there was plenty of snow colored paint leftover as quite a few corrections to the tracks had to be made. To create the right mix in order for corrections to become invisible is time consuming because the color shifts as it dries. Once I was satisfied and could not think of a single improvement to make, I proudly added my signature!