The quotable Birge.
Grand Central And The Biltmore In Hazy Twilight
I have taken notes from some of the passages from Landscape Painting that reveal how Mr. Harrison went about his painting, and his thoughts on art-making in general.
I find the below to be some of the most revealing.
(These are all from chapters 3 & 4)
On technique in the service of individualism:
"... one of the chief delights of the art of painting lies in the fact that each artist does, and of necessity must, invent his own technique; for his personal technique is an inalienable part of the personal vision which makes his art his own."
I take this to mean in practice that one should learn and try many techniques from the masters of the past and your teachers of the present. Some technique, or combination of techniques, is the way forward for you on your path to an individual creative style. The only way to find out which is to work and experiment. A lot.
"The whole picture in all its exact values can and should be built up in this preliminary covering of the canvas, for the value of the overtone must in every case exactly match the value of the undertone."
"While we wish to secure broken color, we must avoid broken values, for they utterly destroy atmosphere."
" The undertone must be warmer than the overtone, and second it must never be brown; and this for the excellent reason that out-of-door nature abhors brown, and never uses it."
So... broken color was Birge's thing.
There's more than one way to go about that. Birge's way was to lay down a warm underpainting of shapes and values, and then work on top of that with a cool color, not completely obscuring the undertone.
He was after vibration through contrast of hue, not value.
His whole negative reaction to brown may stem from an over-use of it in the generations preceding him. Earlier artists - and many, if not most of them did not paint outside much - tended to lay down a brown underpainting and/or have brown shadows in their landscape paintings. Shadows outside tend to be cooler, blue or blue-grey, often reflecting some of the blue of the sky. And tree trunks and branches are more often grey, or grey-green than the commonly thought of brown. I myself would never say that there is zero brown out in nature, but there is not as much as people often think.
(I take Mr. Harrison to mean "edges" when he says "refraction.")
"no picture in its extreme corners should be painted with quite the same vigor of technique or strength of color or of value as in its natural focal centre."
A pretty obvious concept, but a good one to keep in mind when painting or drawing.
One can become obsessed with rendering detail and over-refining over the whole of an image, but end up doing so at the expense of clarity and focus.