Chris Witkowski Fine Art
Certain places call to us. They can hold us for a lifetime with the comfort and predictability of their yearly cycles. I have been called to try out different environments, if for no other reason than to get them out of my system. I made friends with all of these landscapes whether an austere expansive vista across the Coachella Valley or the intimacy of my favorite shoreline boulder on the south end of Bainbridge Island. All have provided inspiration along with solace and companionship and there is nothing like observing nature to help one make friends with change.
In Washington State, I’ve called the islands of Shaw, Lopez, Whidbey and Bainbridge home along with the Methow Valley of Eastern Washington and the charming and vibrant city of Port Townsend. And with dear friends in La Conner, the Skagit Valley counts as one more.
I have also lived in Sonoma County, and in the desert southwest of California including Palm Springs, Palm Desert and the high desert community of Pinyon Pines.
When I moved to California from the Northwest I thought I wanted warmth and the confirmed regularity of blue skies. It definitely has its advantages, but after five years I found I was missing the variety, surprise and drama of a typical Northwest day, let alone a season. I’m here to stay.
Although I love oil painting, throughout the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s I concentrated on watercolor. Certainly for the challenge of it, but also because it is inexpensive, clean and portable. My favorite thing to do would be to throw my pack on my back and head out to find a spot to paint, looking for the right place to grab me. I have always thought that the view I choose to render has a say in it. It can feel like a conversation.
It’s much easier to paint midday in watercolor, as the sun helps to dry your paper and you can get the painting down more quickly. Yet midday sun can also be boring. It flattens color and shapes. Morning and evening bring a mystery along with the richer tones that I wanted to capture in paint. This is harder to accomplish in watercolor. When I took a portrait class in the early 90’s my love of oils was rekindled and I started on a slow shift away from watercolor. With much trial and error, I discovered that the magical qualities of the dawn or dusk composition would not wait around for the stressful hurried preparation to get working in oils outside. Just getting my spider-legged Julian easel set up and braced on a rocky hillside had me ready to throw it off the cliff.
Pastels played a major role in this transition. In the 80’s, I had received a boxed set of 96 Prismacolor NuPastels which I found messy and clunky. I now decided to try them again in the field for preparatory color studies. Working outside made it easy to knock the pastel dust off and have the wind carry it away. And I was able to work quickly to capture the light and mood of a low light scene with much less effort. I also supplemented my pastel studies with quick value sketches in pencil and applied a number system to note color transitions across a darkening sky.
Back in the studio, I used my fieldwork to complete a finished oil painting. And during this period of adjustment in my techniques, I was also falling hard for pastels. With increasing ability, I was soon completing framed studio pieces in pastel for gallery presentation.