Backdrops pt. 2

I visited the Salinas Valley recently, and took the opportunity to take a lot of research pictures of the hills and plants surrounding the Salinas River / former Pajaro Valley Consolidated right-of-way. 

Unfortunately, it was a bit foggy/hazy-because-California-is-on-fire-again, so I was unable to get clear shots of the hills to use as reference for the backdrop along the Buena Vista Branch. However, I did get a chance to see the mountains as I drove around, and found a location that I could later pull up on Google Earth. The clear imagery that Google captured was taken in November 2017, and I visited in November 2018, so I felt comfortable using both sets of images as my starting point. 

The following two images were captured from Google Earth. They were taken approximately one mile to the north of Spreckels. 

The eastern edge of the hills. The PVCRR (later SP) ROW is the dirt farm road heading to the left, southbound to the old Spreckels Sugar Refinery (the white silos on the right in the distance.)

The western side of the hills. 

I began by creating a panorama of the entire length of the hills that I wanted to capture in the backdrop. These images were printed on two sheets of 11" x 17" paper, when combined, these were approximately 25% of the size of the backdrop. This was a happy accident, allowing me to easily transfer measurements from the print out to the backdrop.

To begin, I sketched the outline of the hills on the previously primed and painted masonite. Once I was happy with the final shape, I stepped away for the night, to avoid overworking things. The next evening I applied the lighter shade of acrylic paint, depicting the more barren western hills. I then mixed up a darker shade for the tree covered hills on the east.

First coat of paint along the backdrop. The central peak is a bit too pointy, I plan to smooth that out next.

The most important thing to consider when painting scenes like this, is to decide where the light is coming from, and keep that constant. In this case, the sun is to the east (to the left when looking at the backdrop). I tried to shadow and highlight the hills according to this. 

Highlights and shadows were used to add dimension

I referred to pictures of the area to help with the trees and bushes, which were all quickly dabbed into place. I wanted to create the look of distant trees and plants, without painting every branch and leaf. 

The bushes and trees are dabbed into place. I tried to avoid solid edges and even coverage. I may still go back and touch up some areas, however, by adding some highlights.

The primary goal for me was to create the look of the Salinas Valley, without getting caught in capturing every single individual element. I also didn't want to (try to) paint photo-realistic trees on an impressionistic hillside, or vice versa. Maintaining the styles throughout the process is key to creating a uniform look. The stylized trees don't stand out when the hills are rendered in the same manner. 

Next up: Some clouds, probably.

Products Used:
Craft Smart Acrylics
Liquitex Basics Acrylics


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