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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.)


  1. This is gorgeous, I feel that I could touch the clouds. Yet it is simple, amazing.

    Thanks for sharing what you have learned. I am going to mull it over, and over...

    We are going to have a blast in our workshop in Maine next summer, with all this!

  2. Thankyou for all the great advice. I agree with all you say but its too easy to get overwhelmed. So I'm jotting down your thoughts in sketchbook - hope you don't mind! And this is a lovely work.

  3. After having almost given up plein air painting (knowing that I preferred the controlled environment of my studio), I now am swinging the other way! It's a constant learning process and who cares if it doesn't work - I can still learn from it. Thanks for the tons of advice, and I'm looking forward to getting outside! And of course reading more of your posts.

  4. Excellent painting, Liz! There are so many beautifully subtle shades. Love the touch of sienna(?).

    Great post too! Although I'm not a Plein Air painter, there are so many good lessons here, particularly the points on values and choosing a star player. So many good things to think about. You Plein Air Artists are a very courageous breed!

  5. Very timely reminders, Thanks Liz! And you hit the nail on the head, simple but beautiful!

  6. Love these tips. I have been painting a while now and I wish that someone had told me these things in the beginning!!! I love the idea of letting the painting find you.