Thursday, May 21, 2009


Scroll down to the bottom of this post to see work-in-progress and close-up views of this painting. Or better yet, read the story of the serendipitous way this painting came about, look at all the groovy photos, and then, as a reward for getting through it all, you’ll finally get to the work-in-progress photos!

Corn Dustin’ ©2009 Karen Mathison Schmidt
6 x 6 • acrylic on Gessobord
SOLD • private collection, Camanche, Iowa

Remember Ryan? The big great dane mix that appeared in our yard one day and stayed with us until we found his owners (or actually until they found us), who it turns out live just about a mile down our road?

Well, now he comes down to visit us about 2 or 3 times a week. Whenever he feels he needs a little outing he finds a way out of his back yard or pushes open an unlatched screen door in the house and moseys on down to our place. Austin, Ryan’s 14-year-old owner/brother, says he comes down here because he knows he’ll get a car ride back home. He loves car rides. Well, you know, what dog doesn’t? Most times we roll the back seat window down a bit so he can stick his head out and let the wind blow his ears back.
Classic dog stuff.

Anyway, Ryan showed up at our back door Tuesday around lunch time, and I gave him a treat and a ride home. I had just delivered him into Austin’s custody (Austin is home-schooled, so he and his mom were home) when the local cropduster buzzed out of nowhere and swooped down over the cornfield right across the road from where we were standing. So close!

And you know, a few minutes earlier as I was pulling out of our driveway with Ryan I had thought I probably should have grabbed my camera just in case I see something photo-worthy. But no. After all I was only going to take Ryan home and be right back.

Man! The plane was so close! If I had my camera I could get some really great pics!

So I hopped back in the car and hot-footed it home for my camera, and back down the road to take some awesome photos. Only now the cropduster was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t even hear the buzz of the engine anywhere in the distance. So I figured maybe he took a lunch break. Or maybe he was through for the day. Bummer.

I drove a little way further down the road, to where it turns from a smooth blacktop to a really rough, unmaintained blacktop, and discovered that the mimosa trees out here were in full boom.

So I pulled over and spent a little time walking around taking pictures of those.

I love these trees. A sweet touch of exoticness (it’s a word - I looked it up), here amongst the woods, country roads and hayfields.

After about 15 or 20 minutes, I heard that familiar buzz ...

and suddenly the cropduster appeared over the treetops,

turning and swooping down in the cornfield on the other side of those trees from the hayfield where I was standing.

Hot dog! I jumped in the car and drove down to where he was and began snapping away.

By the way, the auto focus on this lens doesn’t work, so I was manually focusing like mad, while following the plane through the viewfinder.

Not bad, huh?

After about 10 minutes of this, he disappeared on the other side of the trees for a few seconds and then reappeared, swooping down really low and passing right by me, so close, and so low his wheels were practically skimming the tops of the still-young cornstalks!

Then he did it again. These last two passes were obviously for my benefit, because he didn’t release any spray.

I mean, look how close to the corn he is!


I’m glad, though, because I got some great reference shots for my painting!

Then he headed back to home base. Wherever that is.

Who was that daredevil?

Serendipity. If Ryan hadn’t shown up right then, I might have missed this.

If I had run upstairs first to get my camera before driving Ryan home, I might have been too late to see the cropduster in the first place and not even know to hang around to see if he would come back.

If I hadn’t decided to drive just a little further down the road, but just turn around and head home, I would have missed the mimosas and the plane, I wouldn’t have painted this painting, which I’m sure is just the perfect thing someone out there has been looking for!

And now here it is, the promised work-in-progress:

1. The beginning. Sketching in the main areas with mars black, indigo and naphthol vermilion. I put more defined corn leaves only in the foreground.

2. Filling in the underpainting with a glaze of pthalo blue.

3. Adding a vermilion glaze in the trees and on the foreground leaves, adding some more vermilion and orange to the horizon line. I’m not sure what kind of plants these were, maybe some dried hay, but it looked really orange right in front of the dark tree line.

4. Filling in the leaf areas and shadows in the trees. Beginning to add color and detail to the plane.

5. Adding color and detail to corn in the foreground, developing the overall color graduation of the cornfield from darker in the foreground to lighter in the distance. I tried adding light color to the spray to indicate the darkness of the background trees showing through, but it wasn’t working, so I ended up painting the trees in dark where the spray is, and then adding a white glaze of varying thickness over the spray area. You can see the result in the final painting at the beginning of this post. You’ll also see that I darkened the trees right behind the plane to make it stand out better.

And here are some close-up details.

Here you can see that there are a bunch of little highlight daubs of paint detailing the plane.

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