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Sunday, May 30, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #29/#30

#29 - "Catching the Evening Sun"
Original Oil 6x8"
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10/05/12 (7pm)
These two paintings were painted in exactly the same location a few days apart. I was walking along the shore looking for a subject when I noticed the sun catching the tree and grasses on this outcrop. I knew the light would go fast so I focused on getting that element captured as quickly as possible and then worked out the remaining areas.

On another note, I've been asked about the value of painting with an umbrella. First and foremost, it is extremely difficult to paint with glare on your canvas, and difficult to judge your colors accurately unless your palette and canvas are in consistent light.  An umbrella allows me to choose any composition, even one that will direct full sun onto my palette and canvas because I can shield it. If you paint in full outdoor light you will mix everything as it looks under that bright source. Indoor light (where paintings are viewed) can never compare to this, so the paintings look much darker when brought indoors. A white umbrella is great when you are looking in to very bright light as it minimizes the extremes of contrast looking from your scene to your work area, but in most situations I find a black underside is best.

#30 - "Evening on the Bow"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/05/17 (6pm)
I just discovered a new artist - Kathryn Townsend. In real time, about 2 weeks ago, in the chronological time of this project, the day before this piece was painted. She paints field sketches in wonderful, thick, interesting paint, really using the texture of the paint to her advantage. I was enamored, and set out with the intention to take a crack at this approach. This first effort was SO FUN! Just about the most fun I have ever had painting, it was pure play, putting lots of paint on and pushing it around. Instead of painting literally, I was trying to just letting brushstrokes suggest things. I kind of slipped into my way of painting in the background, it will require some refining, but I'm sure this approach will show up here and there in future pieces.

PS: Just finished teaching a 2 day workshop in Vancouver. If any of my students are reading this post, thanks so much for a great weekend. You guys were awesome!

Friday, May 28, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #27/#28

#27 - "2nd Vermilion Lake"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/05/12 (10:30am)
Someone asked recently why I chose 6x8" for this project. I answered in the comments, but for those of you who didn't see it there: It's because the goal is to spend a maximum of 2 hours per painting (otherwise the light has changed so significantly it's a different scene), and I have a really hard time working that fast, even on 6x8. My average time so far (just finished #37) is 90 minutes, and I veer over that much more often than under it. This painting is an example of that, I started in morning light and painted right in to mid-day light, starting in one lighting situation and finishing another. (I try really hard not to do this.)

#28 - "Early Evening - the Bow River"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/05/12 (6pm)
I really love the mood that was captured in this piece. I was about 20 minutes into it when the sun dropped behind the mountain and I had to forge ahead on memory. This is perhaps part of the reason why much of it is suggested rather than finished, but that's one of the things I really like about it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

100 in 100 - what I've learned so far

#26 - "Spring Cumulus"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/05/11 (6pm)
This one was primarily an exercise in letting the texture of the brushstrokes suggest the masses. It required a lot of paint and a lot of pushing it around until it looked right.

I thought #26 was a good time to share a few of the things that I have learned while making my way through this project:

  • If a scene is particularly complex, I don't even begin unless I have a clear plan about how to simplify it. I have gotten myself into trouble on several occasions learning this one (translation: wiper), but I think I've finally figured it out.
  • On that note - simplify, simplify, simplify! Squint to eliminate detail and clarify values.
  • Values must be seen relatively. I seem to have a lot of trouble getting enough contrast painting outdoors, and I believe this is because when I look in to the shadows my pupils dilate and everything seems at least 2-3 values lighter than if I look at it RELATIVE to the light. Have to remember to keep checking everything against each other.
  • Pick something and get painting. Hours can be wasted driving around looking for the perfect design. The job is to create something interesting from the elements available. I've learned that often if I just stand still in a place for 5 or 10 minutes, the painting finds me. Something appears out of what at first seemed uninspiring.
  • Choose a star player, and make everything else subordinate no matter how compelling it is. Light on the peaks, sparkling water, backlit forest, sundrenched meadow, gorgeous clouds - sometimes all these things are present and compelling in the same scene, but they can't all be given equal attention or nothing will shine. I'm learning to accomplish this with design (ie: only compose for the area of interest) or by downplaying the other elements if they are included.
  • When I see something beautiful and I know the light is going to change before I even get it drawn out, I try to convince myself to go for it anyway, because I realize the only way to develop visual memory is to practice it. (This one can be particularly frustrating.)

There are so many things to consider in trying to create a successful plein air piece. The most important thing I have learned so far is that sometimes it's just too many balls in the air, and it's okay to work on building skills in one or two areas rather than trying to nail them all in every single piece. Curiosity keeps it fun. Most important, willingness, patience, and a shot in the arm for getting out there have replaced an unrealistic desire to have every painting be a star.

(I'm leaving today to teach a workshop in Vancouver this weekend, but hope to keep up with the posts while I'm away.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #24/#25

#24 - "Hidden Corner"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/05/10 (4:30 pm)
Let's talk about cranky pants painting day. Oh yeah. SUPER cranky pants...for several reasons, but let's address the biggest one. I had lent my brand new, I love it more than I can say, umbrella to a friend and was attempting to use my old, hate it more than I can say, contraption with like 19 adjustment points and a really bad clamping system - and the wind was seriously gusting. So I spent about 1/2 my time painting and the other 1/2 dropping everything on the ground and clutching my easel with both hands wondering if I was going to be the next incarnation of Mary Poppins. (Can you see me hanging on with both little legs flapping out behind me?)

Despite this, I was really thrilled to find a spot I had never been to before, and some lingering snow on the shoreline for interest. I was actually back at this spot today, all the snow is gone and the river is right up to the grass, different world.

#25 - "Last Light"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/05/10 (7pm)
Believe it or not this was painted the same day as #24, a couple of hours later, and about 500 meters away on the other side of the road. It was serious speed painting, the sun dropped fast and my light was gone about a 1/2 hour in. I almost wiped it, but I really loved the warmth so I kept it and finished it in the studio.

Note: For those of you who don't know, you can click on any of the images in my blog to see them larger.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #22/#23

#22 - "Bow River Shoreline"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/05/08 (5:30 pm)
This was painted about a half hour after #21 - same gray day. This time I used it as an opportunity to work on design, I really love the composition of this scene, and the thin underpainted background with only brushstrokes to suggest detail. Linen is such a great surface for this kind of passage due to its irregular weave.

#23 - "May Snow in the Alpine"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/05/09 (7pm)
Brrrrrr!! Again, but really cold this time! Down coat, hat, gloves, jumping jacks. Lots of them...but I was stoked to have another opportunity to paint snow in the peaks before summer gets here.

On another note: Someone emailed to ask how I hold my panel when I'm painting in the car. On the sidebar to the right there is a link to 'my favourite pochade box', and it really is! For numerous reasons. Outdoors the box mounts on my tripod, but when painting in my car it easily sits on my lap.

I have painted from the driver's seat, the passenger seat and the back with the hatch open, all have varying degrees of discomfort and cramped quarters, but when I'm tired of being COLD or holding on to my easel while painting to keep it from blowing away, it's worth the trade off. Someone else asked how I keep my car clean. Sometimes the brushes get away on me, but I try to catch it and get stuff wiped before it dries. I'm sure eventually it will look like everything else in my life - unequivocal evidence that paint's been flying. :)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #20/#21

#20 - "Last Snow of Winter"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here
10/05/05 (5pm)
Another car painting on the way home from the city. I was attracted to the contrast of warm foreground and cool background. I found I really had to keep lightening/cooling the values to get the background pushed back enough, and I concentrated on diminishing size of brushwork to create depth in the field.

#21 - "Banff Springs Golf Course"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/05/08 (3:30pm)
I really pushed the color on this one. It was a super flat, gray day with very brief windows of light. The real world wasn't inspiring me, so I made up my own world. (Fun!)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #18/#19

#18 - "Late Spring"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/04/30 (11:15 am)
Wow, it was so interesting to come back from the desert and be thrown back in to cool on every level. An entirely different palette is required for spring in the Rockies. This is one of my favourite places to paint and I was glad to see there was still a little snow hanging off of the river banks, it's such a great element to design with.

#19 - "Mt. Rundle"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/05/02 (7pm)
This was a car painting as it was a super windy evening. The light was constantly changing and there were several moments that the mountain disappeared entirely. It's exciting to paint through such dramatically shifting light. I felt completely engaged - almost a part of the weather. What seemed to work best was laying in, and then grabbing the elements I wanted as they passed in and out of view.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #16/#17

#16 - "Desert Bloom"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/04/24 (2:30 pm)
Boy the desert is a prickly place! We laughed so hard at some crazy kind of tennis ball cactus thing that stuck to the heels of our shoes and came with us wherever we went. Couldn't set anything down or it was covered in prickles and burrs. It seemed like there was just nothing soft there until I saw this bloom and thought it would be a fun opportunity to focus in on the micro landscape.

#17 - "Tonto Sunset"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/04/24 (5:30 pm)
This is the last painting from our desert trip and my favourite. I'm adding a photo of me painting it to show what isn't seen in a photograph. I definitely took artistic license and pushed the warmth, but in reality I would say the scene looked about halfway between what I painted and what the photo represents.

Friday, May 14, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #14/#15

#14 - "Sonoran Desert"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/04/23 (5:15pm)
The light was very soft and flat on this day, so I decided to tackle the desert foreground and think about texture and simplifying. I loved the muted greens against the violet backdrop with warm bits of desert floor showing through It was a quiet, unhurried piece with no urgency to race against light.

#15 - "McDowell Mountains"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/04/24 (9:30 am)

The two challenges with this piece were the flat light and the busy-ness of the scene. I focused on simplifying all those crazy sagebrush into masses and trying to create a sense of depth using color and value. This one worked me. Oh, and it was hot! Are you hearing this, I finally get to complain about being hot instead of cold! Not for long though, stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #12/#13

#12 - "Desert Storm"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/04/22 (5pm)
I did 6 desert paintings when I was in Scottsdale at the end of April, these are the first two. Talk about visual memory skill building, the light was changing so fast that picking an idea and sticking to it was essential. When I set up to paint this the foreground was in shadow and the background in bright sun, by the time I squeezed out it was the opposite, so that's what I went with.

Gaye took this photo while I was painting "Desert Storm". I wanted to add it to show how high key this scene was even with stormy light. I don't usually paint with my camera over my shoulder, but things were so exciting I wanted it close!

#13 - "Saguaros at Sunset"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/04/22 (6:15 pm)
As I was gearing up to start this one, the light was bouncing around everywhere - it felt impossible to pick a subject because fascinating things were happening in every direction - and disappearing as quickly as they came. Desert sunsets are an incredible thing to be a part of, they build in intensity for about 45 minutes to this magical, mystical, spiritual crescendo, and then they're over and 10 minutes later it's dark. I got to share this one with my good painting friend Gaye Adams and we were both pretty blown away by it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #10/#11

#10 - "Bow River"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/04/19 (6:15 pm)
This was painted in the same spot as "The Fairholme Range" (#7), but this time I wanted to focus on the river and trees as I loved the evening light on them. This is one of my favourites so far, because I finally did something that feels painterly to me, and because it really captured the mood that was present.

Note: I've decided to start posting two paintings at a time, every other day. One, to give me a break from daily posting, and two, to give you all a break from getting an email from me every single day - I know from my own experience this can be a bit tedious. So here's #11:

#11 - "Banff Morning"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/04/20 (11am)
This painting was done shortly after having a conversation with a terrific artist from the west coast, Brent Lynch. We were discussing plein air and he reminded me of some very important ideas:

-field studies are meant to be field studies, not finished studio paintings
-design is super important, move things around to support it
-keep the relative values of foreground/middle ground/background in mind (John Carlson talks about this a lot)
-visual memory is key, especially when painting at the ends of the day when light changes quickly, or in stormy weather (boy am I working on this, one of the hardest aspects of plein air).

Thanks for the great tips Brent!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #9

#9 - "April Evening"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/04/18 (6:45pm)
This scene is a 5 minute walk from my house, and I always find it most captivating near the end of the day as the sun drops lower in the sky. It seemed too difficult to paint around the trees, so they were added at the end while the painting was still wet (oh the joy of 6x8!). I have always had a bit of trouble with tree shapes, so I really worked here to study them carefully before painting them, and they came surprisingly easily. I started with a dark mass in their general shape, suggested the detail with some middle tones, and the trusty palette knife came in to play once again for the trunks. Without them this painting was a wiper, so yay! that they worked.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #8

#8 - "Lake Louise"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/04/16 (4:15pm)
Lake Louise is a stunning turqouise blue in the summer, but there was something special about being up there in the spring quiet painting it still under its winter cover.

Today I'd like to share a quote from Keith Hiscock about outdoor work: "What I like about plein air the most is that it is not meant to be a masterpiece or a statement of something profound for the world to contemplate for centuries to come, but simply a sketch, a notation with paint or whatever medium one chooses, of a moment in time where one is actually observing at a particular place their surroundings and trying to make a nice note of it."

Friday, May 7, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #7

#7 - "The Fairholme Range"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/04/15 (6pm)
This was the second painting done this day (right after yesterday's post). I've been reading "John Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting" during this project - it has a wealth of great information about painting plein air, highly recommend it!

He says: "In landscape painting the thing that is of importance to artistic expression is the "landscape sense", a sense that makes us feel the weight of the mountain, feel the float of a cloud, feel the rhythmic reach of a tree, the hardness of stone. If we do not feel these things about a landscape, we miss one of its biggest qualities."  I considered this as I was painting this scene, as well as the stillness of the water and the softness of the late day light, and it really helped me to immerse myself in the experience of painting it.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #6

#6 - "Spring Thaw"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/04/15 (3:45 pm)
Today I had one of those plein air moments that make all the difficulties of painting outdoors insignificant. I spotted this little shore line breaking up and the vertical edge reflecting that bright value in the darker water, and was immediately captivated. I had just set up and was about 10 minutes into the painting when I looked up from mixing to see 5 elk strolling through the middle of my scene. The 3 in the photos below all stopped for a drink and a curious look at me and Lily before ambling away.

These guys didn't get painted visually into the painting, but they're definitely in there, wrapped up in the energy of it. This is what happens painting outdoors that can't occur when painting in the studio from a photo, the so cool experience of connecting with your subject while it is alive and unfolding before you. Awesome!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #5

#5 - "River Spirit Sunset"
Original Oil 6x8"
(For purchase info click here)

10/04/14 (6:30 pm)
This painting was done on the way home from a trip into the city - super windy so it was a car painting. It was the sky and the distant mountains that compelled me to paint this scene, and I really worked at keeping the edges soft to capture the mood of the day.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #4

#4 - "Frozen Falls" 
Original Oil 6x8"

10/04/10 (6pm)
This was the 3rd painting done on this day. I was attracted to all the diagonals answering each other in this design, as well as the soft light. Started it at 6pm and painted the last half of it after the sun had dropped behind the peaks. I know, I know, I'm whining a lot about the cold, but it was COLD! It was all I could do to get enough paint on to call it finished, the only detail I put in was on the trees and the slope on the right. I was pretty stoked to get 3 keepers done in a day, that's a first for me.

Monday, May 3, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #3

#3 - "Bend in the Bow"
Original Oil 6x8'

10/04/10 (3:30 pm)

This was the second painting done on April 10th, I moved about 50 feet ahead of where I painted yesterday's post. Still lots of ice on the river, which I loved - but it was freeeeezing! (You'd never know it by watching Lily, who kept wandering around in the river collecting rocks - one of her top 10 favorite things).  

The huge challenge with this study was painting on such a bright platform and looking into the sun. The umbrella helped tremendously, but it was still next to impossible to see color on my palette and panel accurately, and a lot of my mixing was done from knowledge of my colors and my best guess at proportions. I have since figured out that in these situations it helps to set up your easel so that it has a dark background behind it if at all possible. Also, the umbrella shown here is black underneath which is often an asset, but when painting in extremely bright conditions I now use a white one which lets a lot more light in and decreases the extremes of contrast from the scene to my painting area.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #2

#2-"Winter Grasses"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/04/10 (1:30 pm)
This was the first of 3 paintings done this day. I was setting up to paint the river scene in the photo below (tomorrow's post), but as I was squeezing out paint, the warm grasses on the left kept catching my eye, and I felt compelled to have a go at them. I really had a lot of fun with this subject, especially near the end when I used a palette knife - for the first time ever in my life! - to suggest the highest lights on the grasses. I found it to be a much better tool than a brush for this job, the color and line are cleaner, though it was a challenge to get the paint in the right place.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #1

#1 - "Banff Airstrip"
Original Oil 6x8"
(For purchase info click here)

10/04/09 - (6pm)
The painting that kick started this project found me. I wasn't planning to begin until a bit later that week, had been at the studio attending to odds and ends all day and was driving home for dinner when I passed this scene. All my painting gear was in the car, and I had been gearing up mentally for this project for a couple of weeks, so suddenly it didn't make sense to keep driving. The scene I stopped to paint was a small snow squall blowing through with the trees very diffused and no color whatsoever in the scene, but by the time I rifled through my pack and fished my painting gear out, the storm was gone and the sun was shining, so that's what I dove in to. Halfway in the sun was gone and the rest was painted from memory.

Other than paint on the steering wheel (hard to keep a rein on those brushes), it actually worked quite well painting in the car, which will come in handy when the weather is changing its mind every 5 minutes as it often does in the mountains. Felt great to finish #1 and get the ball rolling. 99 to go!

To see the remaining posts in the 100 in 100 Plein Air series, please click here and then scroll down and follow the links in the sidebar to the right - from May to August 2010.