pastel painting of stormy sunset

February 2020 Personal Creative Challenge, Day 7: How Small Beneath the Sky

pastel painting of stormy sunset

How Small Beneath the Sky, 16 x 20, pastel © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

I don’t know what it was about this image as a photograph that stayed with me from the time I took it. It’s that sense of my tiny self, smaller than one of those dots in the valley below, under the huge sky above, the sense of infinity as night draws down, and eternity as a warm autumn day changes over to cold winds and an incoming storm.

I finally painted it. I had always envisioned this and other sky paintings as moderately large, and 16 x 20 was a good size for this one. I used a piece of smooth deep charcoal matboard coated with my favorite transparent pastel ground, Golden Acrylic Ground for Pastels. I painted it freehand, no tracing or measuring, as if I was standing out there watching the scene en plein air. It’s as close to the real thing I as can get in my studio. And, of course, I would not be painting this en plein air under those conditions, so it works for me.

I love amazing skies and that was my first draw to the idea for the photo, but the tiny lights below became an integral part of this image and gave it its title.

I took the photo in 2011 and shared it on my photo blog with a narrative, but the image stayed with me. In 2016 I looked it up again and wrote a poem and named my painting after that poem. Now as a painting it’s hit the major categories of my creative efforts.

Here is the narrative:

Rain had fallen intermittently all day, but the day had been steadily dark and cold even without falling rain. But as often happens on long rainy days, the clouds broke at about sunset to give a view of faded blue sky trimmed along the edges with heavy clouds, offering reflected light but no direct sunlight. Suddenly the autumn leaves shone again even in the cooler light. I carefully watched the light, deciding that when my errand was done, or as soon as I could, whichever came first, I’d head for my favorite ridge to photograph what there was of the sunset, hoping for lots of red from the humidity in the air and sunrays from the layers of clouds breaking up, but I’d take what I could get.

No such dramatics were in the plan for this evening, but I felt the valley settle into night as I watched the clouds march steadily from the north, hearing only the wind as it swept from far beyond the horizon across my face, tugging at my hair and skirt on the hilltop where I stood, one tiny dot of a figure in this complicated and beautiful landscape, chilling my fingers with the first real cold of winter in its direct and determined path. In the center is Carnegie, somewhere in there is my house, and all of the familiar streets and scenes of my days reduced to a few amorphous blots of color, light and shadow.

In just minutes the north wind had carried the cloud cover over the valley once again like a blanket, leaving the valley in deep shadow but for the dots of light collected in the velvet darkness, small shreds of red showing through at the horizon; the sun has not given over yet, there is still some fire in its day.

And here is the poem from 2016:

How Small Beneath the Sky

Tiny toy buildings,
fluttering ribbons of roads,
arcs of light that illuminate our night are but pinpoints in the velvet earth below;
How small beneath the sky.

Poem © Bernadette E. Kazmarski


I began this year with a pledge to myself and my art: To be certain I won’t let ideas pass me by I’m setting myself up for a personal painting challenge in February, similar to the painting challenges I’ve participated in in past years. I aspire (but don’t expect) to create a painting or sketch every day in the month, to be posted on my blog each day.

This is my painting from Day 7. See other paintings in this and other painting challenges on the page Creative Challenges.

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© 2022 | | Published by Bernadette E. Kazmarski

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