Carrie Hensel’s landscapes interpret the places she knows best.
I grew up on a farm in the middle of Michigan. As a child and teenager, I spent most of my days exploring the land – watching the trilliums grow in the woods, wading in the creek in search of crayfish, or spying on a mother fox who raised her kits each spring in a den under the same, ancient apple tree. My goal then was the same as it is now – collect the experiences, catalog them inside me, remember them fondly as my old friends.
Today at 50, I still spend countless hours outdoors – hiking in the hills, trekking through forests in search of morels, chanterelles, and other edible mushrooms, getting “lost” under the oaks and hickory trees. I take photos along the way of all the interesting views, foliage, and animals I find on my adventures.
In the art studio, I use those photos for reference, but I want my paintings to go far beyond the photos. Sure, I could paint realistically, but for me, part of the fun with art is making it my own. My own vision and interpretation. A world of my own, made by mixing colors and juxtaposing them on the canvas. I like to push the color palette as far as I can toward vibrancy. That said, if all colors on a canvas are super vibrant, they can cancel each other out, so I also appreciate the neutrals – grays, browns, a nice warm beige. So often, beige gets a bad rap, but the right beige can make you love cerulean blue all the more!
When I’m working on a painting and especially a landscape, my goal is to capture the experience of the place. How does the land relate to the sky? Where does a color show up unexpectedly? And how does it feel to be in that place? Does it feel open, airy, and free? Or more confined, like a dense thicket?
As I evaluated how to capture the Sleeping Bear sand dunes and one of the Manitou Islands in the distance, I noticed that if I pushed the vibrancy of all the colors, I could articulate the space with just a few colors. I was also a bit worried about how to create the texture the wind had created across the sand. I had to rework that area twice.
With this painting, I employed a very limited color palette – mostly Phthalo blue, white, and pink straight from a tube (shame on me for not mixing it myself, but it was so fun and easy). I used these colors to create the sky, clouds, sand in the foreground, and dunes in the middle ground. Then I used just a tad bit of cadmium yellow + Phthalo blue to create the grass/plant matter and a little cadmium red + cadmium yellow to create those small spots of golden sand. As best I could, I used defined strokes to portray depth and texture.
I love the limited color palette, defined strokes, and the vertical arrangement. Most painters know that it can be difficult to make confident individual strokes and restrain the urge to smooth them into each other.
I struggled with the sky a little bit, but overall I plan to use what I learned about using a limited palette (one red, one blue, one yellow, white) to make all the colors on the canvas.
This painting just won 2nd place in the Summer Exhibit juried by Vianna Szabo, P.S.A. IAPS EP P.S.W.C DP. My first prize. Thank you Huron River Art Collective!
ABOVE THE LAKE
Once I completed Blue Manitou (above), I wanted to try more paintings of the sand dunes with different color palettes. Plus, the Sleeping Bear sand dunes are such an interesting occurrence in nature – humongous mountains of sand that shift and move with the wind and rain. They’re a landmark in Michigan, and when I’ve taken people to see them for the first time (people from around the world – Spain, Japan, or even people who’ve lived in Michigan but never been to the dunes), they are awestruck by the magnitude and beauty of the dunes.
I’ve been experimenting with different ways to do underpainting and sketching when I start a painting. Months ago, I did my underpaintings in just one tone – e.g. a nice wash of burnt sienna. But lately, I try to bring some energy to the first washes of paint on the canvas, and I vary the colors. Those first layers then inform how I treat the next layers of paint. Here are a few photos capturing the way I underpainted and sketched this piece:
I like how the prominent dune in the foreground is balanced by the unique cloud pattern. I also like how the dune is monochromatic (values of same orange-red), and the green grasses and trees cut through the middle of the painting, and tie the dune to the sky.
My paintings are already impressionistic, but I’m going to push the expressionism (my own interpretation of same) further. I’m also getting more confident with my strokes and feel less inclined to blend them. My next paintings will continue on the same path – summer landscapes in Michigan. When fall and winter are upon us, then my work will move on to those seasons.
I like to work with images/subject matter that is known to and shared by many people, especially the Michiganders - beach scenes, sunsets, orchards, hillsides. And I like to take those common experiences and try to show there is magic there in the familiar. With this painting of a bonfire on the beach, most of us have experienced this type of night, where the sunset is a moving kaleidoscope and the fire keeps changing in intensity and hue.
With this painting, I let it rip! Colorful brush strokes all over the place! My goal was to bring movement to the piece and balance the glow of the fire with the glow of the sky. The underpainting is purple (beach and upper sky) and red (horizon and fire). That base layer was very helpful in creating movement. With the brush strokes on top, I worked over the canvas very quickly to fill the space, as I didn't want to give my logical mind ANY time to overthink it.
I like the spontaneity and aliveness. It feels like we are right there together at the of the day, celebrating one more sunset.
I feel like I am really finding my style – wild, colorful brush strokes (no blending!) on top of a multi-colored underpainting. This is the path I’ll continue to pursue - through the hot summer and into what we can expect to be a colorful autumn in Michigan.
Fortunately, my friends, family, and followers are supportive of my efforts. I’ve sold many originals, done several commissions, and made connections with other marvellous artists. (Thank you, Louise!)
My partner and I just bought a second house in northern Michigan with its own art studio (kismet?!?!?), so I’ll be able to make art right there in the thick of the woods. My plan is to keep creating, capture nature’s patterns and colors on canvas, and share my work with the world.
Follow Carrie Hensel.
In addition, you can find my art on my website.
BFA (Painting & Drawing), University of Michigan
BS (Chemistry) from Albion College
To view other artists who have been featured on my website in the last 3.5 years, please visit the Guest Artist page.
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