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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #56/#57

#56 - "Valley View"
Original Oil 8x6"
For purchase info click here

10/06/21 (1:30pm)
The advantage of starting this project in April was 2 months of bug free painting. That all ended today. Not only did I have ants crawling all over my feet, but there were these nasty little varmits that die and get stuck on and crunchy behind your ears as soon as they bite. Oh yeah, and it was hot. If I sound like a whiner now, you should've been in my head at the time...

But, I loved this scene looking across the valley. It started out well, and then the wheels fell off about 2/3rds of the way in and I thought it was going to be a wiper, but I kept re-focusing and painting and in the end was quite happy with it.

#57 - "Afternoon Build-Up"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/06/21 (6:30pm)
Walked around and around like a dog packing down its bed before settling on this scene. Noticed it passing by as I went to tromp around in the forest looking for a subject - when I emerged 20 minutes later - it was still there, quietly whispering, "What about this?" I loved the soft cumulus clouds and decided to do the best I could to pull together a foreground that would support them. The interesting thing about a sky like this is that the physical form of it changes continually while in essence it stays the same the whole time you're painting it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #54/#55

#54 - "Rundle Patterns"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/06/20 (3:45pm)
I was captivated with the snow patterns on Mt. Rundle and this was the only vantage I could see them from, so I had to work with it. The middle ground trees were blocked in with transparent oxide red and it was my intention to cover them with a blued green, but in the end I really liked how the warm played off of the cooler violet mountain, so I left them as they were. I also felt this helped get the eye past the weight of the large, dark foreground trees, but mostly I just thought it was fun!

#55 - "Evening Light"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/06/20 (8:30pm)
Sometimes time of day will dictate choice of subject, and in this case I chose the scene because I knew the light would linger on the high peaks long after it left the valley bottom where I was painting.

Today was also prime wildlife viewing! Both of the shots below were taken just before I started the first painting. If only they would hold still for an hour or so!

Big horn sheep - Lake Minnewanka Road. (click images to enlarge)

Friday, June 25, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #52/#53 and Upcoming Workshop

#52 - "Banff Evening"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/06/19  (8pm)
This was a perfect, calm, beautiful evening down at Vermilion Lakes. I was in the painting groove, loving that I was outside painting and warm, listening to 101 birds tell the world how happy they were to be alive, and thinking life was pretty good.

One of the Canadian Group of 7 painters, J.E.H. MacDonald said, “Art is the successful communication of a valuable experience.” That's what this evening felt like for me. 

#53 - "Lingering Snow"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/06/20 (12pm)
What inspired me about this scene was the soft, summery clouds against the stark snow capped peak, something we see often in the mountains, even in August if we've had a couple of cold, rainy days.

On another note, I will be teaching a plein air workshop here in the Banff/Canmore area September 18th-20th, 2010. Please click here if you are interested in more details.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #50/#51

#50 - "Forest Patterns"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/06/18 (3:30pm)
I had just completed packing up this painting and was unscrewing my box from the tripod when it got away on me and tumbled about 30 feet down a steep hillside, bouncing and cartwheeling all the way. I was with Gaye and Lily and the 3 of us stood in awed silence watching it, wondering if it would go all the way to the bottom. It did. This is a testament to the solid construction of Ben's boxes. Not a dent, nothing broken, and though the painting was shaken loose it only had a couple of minor scratches to be touched up.

#51 - "Shoreline Study"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/06/19 (5:45pm)
Loved this the minute I saw it, the only decision was whether to push the shoreline high and make it about the water, or low and make it about the trees. Either way would have worked, but I'm glad I chose this one.

I have discovered that there seem to be 3 distinct approaches that I fall into when painting plein air:

  1. Uninspired by the scene, I tap into the energy of the place and, drawing on a few key elements that are present, make up a painting (#50)
  2. Inspired by the subject, I try to nail exactly what's in front of me (#51)
  3. Inspired by the subject, I try to get down my best impression of it in a fast, loose manner
I think they are all valuable approaches for their own reasons, and instead of trying to choose one (which I thought this project would help me narrow down), I've decided it's best to get good at all of them and then let the situation dictate.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #48/#49

#48 - "Banff Sunset"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/06/08 (8pm)
Well today I went well into the dark side. Did 3 paintings, wiped 2 of them. For all of them the light and I were on completely different programs. Every time I started to key in on something, it would change completely (lots of clouds in and out), and instead of committing to my first inspiration, I followed it everywhere it went. I can truly say that this day my head was just not in the game, to the point where I got extremely frustrated and just stopped caring and started slapping any old thing down. Observing my aggravation escalate, I recall thinking, "Hmmm, so this is what halfway through feels like..."

I really didn't want to start this 3rd piece, but I did, and I tried to stay focused when the sun set about 20 minutes in and I had to draw on memory to finish it. Was pleasantly surprised when I got it out of the box at home to find there was a lot of good stuff in it.

Here's something that has helped me deal with the sense of "wasted time" one feels after spending a few hours painting and winding up with "nothing to show for it". I have learned to consider that every brush stroke I put down moves me toward being a better painter, so even though I may not have a successful painting to show for it, progress toward the goal that really matters to me has been made.

#49 - "Rainy Night"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/06/09 (10:30pm)
This was interesting to paint. A few days of rain and gray and nothing I was excited to paint compelled me to tackle this subject one night on the way home from the studio. I used a little LED booklight (in the car) which  worked really well, and it was super fun to play with the street lights and wet highway reflections. In the end I think it's a bit dark (a friend asked, "Well isn't night dark?"). Good point, but all the great nocturnes I have seen suggest darkness without being dark. Really inspired to tackle a few more of these down the road...I can see this subject matter has a lot to teach.

Friday, June 18, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #46/#47

#46 - "Indian Flats"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/06/05 (3pm)
It had been raining all day and finally in the late afternoon it started to clear up so I headed for this field which is about a 5 minute walk from my studio. I was captivated by the spring greens against the violet mountain in this setting and thought it was finished out there (it should have been), but I tweaked myself in circles with it back at the studio, right up until this evening. Not sure why, just couldn't leave it alone, wasn't making it better, just changing it. Sometimes I think we take our own unsettled selves out on our paintings, thinking if we can fix the painting it will somehow fix our state of mind. Would be very useful to keep these things separate...

#47 - "Storm Window"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/06/05 (8pm)
This was painted in exactly the same spot as #46, I just turned 180 degrees. There is a quality of light in the mountains when the sun comes out after a storm - especially in the evening - that I haven't seen anywhere else. The clarity of light is beyond crystal clear, the air has been cleansed of dust particles and the moisture evaporates almost immediately, making mountains miles away feel like they are towering over you. I wish I had time to do 5 paintings in a row here to begin to get to the essence of that drama.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #43 / #44 / #45

#43 - "Study in Greens"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/06/04 (2pm)
I wanted to post these three together because they were painted on the same day. I was painting with an artist I have bumped into several times over the painting years - Sharon Williams, as well as my good friend Conrad Habing and a new friend, Bobbi Dunlop. Good thing the company was great because the light was uninspiring to say the least. For the first one I was determined to do a 15 minute study. It took 20 mins., but I count that as a win. The goal was to capture the colour, value and rhythm that were present without thinking about it too much. It's wild to paint this fast, feels like you're flying by the seat of your pants every single brush stroke, but it sure forces you to make decisions intuitively.

#44 - "East End of Rundle"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/06/04 (3pm)
Loved the first challenge, it was so fun I vowed I would do the same speed painting exercise every painting for the rest of the day, and proceeded to spend an hour on this one, and an hour and a half on the 3rd. Change does not come easily...

#45 - "Middle Lake"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/06/04 (8pm)
These women are painting maniacs, we started our last painting at 8pm after driving around for about 45 minutes scouting things out. Sharon found this magical little spot and the light got interesting for a brief time just as we were setting up. I was really striving to push things back on this one. The middle ground trees were much darker in reality but I wanted to see how much depth I could create using value and colour temperature changes.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #41/#42

#41 - "Hidden Treasure"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/06/01 (12:30pm)
This waterfall was raging! Full spring run-off.  To walk up and view a waterfall like this for a few moments is spectacular. To stand in the continual mist of its spray and listen to its thunder for and hour or two while painting it was one of the most powerful plein air experiences I have ever had. It was cloudy for a part of the time, so every time the sun poked it's little head out and lit up the water, it was a race to get the good stuff down before it was gone. Here's a photo of the falls:

#42 - "Juniper Ridge"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/06/01 (6:30pm)
Two big learnings on this one. The first I walked right into. As I was drawing out I heard John Carlson's voice in my head saying, "Always start your foreground at least 50 feet in front of you or you will get caught up in unnecessary detail". Yup, pretty much exactly what happened, lost a lot of valuable time there as the light was slipping away. Note to self: Don't do that again. Second one, I thought I would be bold and start with a Dioxazine Purple ground. Note to self: NEVER do that again. It stained the canvas SO dark, couldn't wipe it down to a light value, which wreaked havoc with all of my colour and value judgements - made me completely mental. Super bad plan.

These two pieces were painted on my way back from Vancouver at a stop-over with my good friend Gaye Adams in Sorrento. Loved this photo of her, coffee in hand, scouting locations:

 Note: Sorry this post is a day late. I'm teaching a 3 day workshop this weekend and just ran out of day yesterday. I'll make up the lost one before the project ends.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #39/#40

#39 - "Vancouver Skyline"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/05/30 (1:30pm)
When I was out in Vancouver teaching a workshop recently, I had the opportunity to spend a day plein air painting with my good friend and fantastic watercolourist David McEown.

For the first painting, I found I was really captivated by the city skyline in the far distance. I kept looking around to find less complex subjects, and being drawn back to this. The obvious challenge here was simplification, between boats and lots of people on the beach, about a gazillion boulders on the shoreline, and of course the city buildings, I really had to sort out what was essential to convey my inspiration. In the end this was it.

#40 - "West Coast Blues"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

This study was done from the same spot but looking across the water toward Lighthouse Park. It was raining lightly and pretty socked in. David has hundreds of days of plein air under his belt, and he approaches it in a very soft, meditative way. He says there are moments painting outdoors when the observer and the observed become one, when all sense of separation is gone. That was the space I tried to rest in while painting this one.

Here's a shot of David painting. Little bugger did 4 to my 2. For those of you on the West Coast, he will be instructing at the FCA's Gabriola workshop this September along with Mike Svob, Brent Heighton and Deanne Lemley. If you're going, you're going to love him!

Monday, June 7, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #37/#38 (and large, furry, sharp-toothed carnivores)

#37 - "Mountain Meadow"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/05/24 (2pm)
This day of painting was all about the wildlife. For this first one, I was in a small enclosed meadow surrounded by forest, mid-painting, when Lily started with her low rumbling growl that says, "Intruder in our midst". I looked behind me to see a coyote silently watching us from about 100 feet away. I asked him politely to carry on his way, he kindly complied and was starting to trot away when Lily (the smart, beautiful wonder dog) decided she needed to really let him know who's turf he was on, and started bluff charging and barking her fool head off.

He took one look at her display of bravado and started marching in a determined fashion straight toward us, at which point I picked up my orange fluorescent ball thrower and started waving it madly in the air, trying my best to look ominous. He considered this for a moment, looked at me like I had totally lost my mind, and loped off in to the sunset.

And then...

#38 - "Vermilion Lakes Road"
Original Oil 6x8"
For purchase info click here

10/05/24 (7:30pm)
A bigger visitor... I was painting in the back of my car with the hatch open on a side road in Banff that runs along 3 beautiful small marshy lakes when I looked up to see this girl ambling along the side of the road in my direction. Aborted the painting and jumped in the driver's seat to follow her as she climbed the shoulder and cruised along for about a kilometre before disappearing into the woods. Sure wish I had my good camera with me.

As for the paintings, I seem to switch back and forth between a representational style and a more graphic approach, not intentionally, just happens, and it especially surprises me when I do it in the same day. Needless to say it was rather challenging to bring my focus back to finishing this one, but well worth the diversion. (Hey, don't those trees look kinda like big pointy teeth? Hmmm...)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #35/#36

#35 - "Golf Course Greens"
Original Oil 8x6"

10/05/22 (10:45am)
I'm pretty happy with this one. I was working in the car and was especially cramped, perhaps because Lily was in the front seat with me. I was getting funky glare off the windshield and weird side light coming in and hitting my panel. Despite the visual distractions (and my desire to have them gone),  I managed to keep my focus on the painting. For this study it was primarily on capturing the aerial perspective necessary to push the mountain way back where it belonged (it's probably about 10 kms. away from this vantage), and on getting the greens right.

#36 - "Storm in the Bow Valley"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/05/22 (12:45pm)
So far one of the very most valuable things I have learned on this project is this:

When you're looking for something to paint, squint down and see if you can reduce your subject to 5 or 6 large abstract shapes. If you can't, choose another subject. If you can, block them in, and then work on modeling those shapes further and adding the accents and highlights to finish. If you can keep it that simple, plein air becomes so much more manageable.
My intention with this piece was to block it in and then build up a lot of thick paint, but at this stage, I re-evaluated. Everything important was there, for a field study there really was no need to keep going.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #33/#34

#33 - "Evening Sun"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/05/21 (5:45 pm)
These two paintings were painted one right after the other. It was a gray overcast day, and as you can see from the time I started it - I had to really talk myself in to getting out on this one. Was definitely working on the discipline part of the project. I got lucky after I started and got a little sun, which helped brighten things up. My main focus on this one was to try and nail the colours and textures of the foreground marsh and bushes.

#34 - "1st Vermilion Lake"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/05/21 (8pm)
Windy and cold, I elected to paint this one from the passenger seat with the heat on. My goal was to accurately capture the colour and value of these gorgeous evening clouds and sky, something that is almost impossible to get in a photograph. The lake at the bottom was a last minute addition, in reality standing at this vantage the lake is about 100 feet to the right, but I wanted to brighten the foreground and tie it in to the sky.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

100 plein air paintings in 100 days - #31/#32

#31 - "Evening Cloud"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/05/19 (6pm)
Today's two paintings are a continued experiment to paint thickly. I have found it to be a great way to create interest in a subject that isn't super inspiring. That and pushing colour. (I've included a photo of the scene I was working from - there was quite a bit more blue sky when I started.) Here's what I'm learning about applying thick paint:

  • Soft brushes don't work, needed to break out the hog hairs to get a really loaded brush
  • It's really hard to get a lot of paint on the panel
  • Ignore frustration - just keep putting paint on til it looks right. What's interesting about this one is that when I'm painting thinly, the more I work it the more the life gets painted out of it. When working thickly, it seems to improve with continued effort. Not sure what that's about, but when I figure it out I'll get back to you on it.

#32 - "Spring in the Rockies"
Original Oil 6x8"

10/05/19 (7:30pm)
Had to remind myself to keep varying the brushwork on this one (direction, size and shape). I am finding it is easier to keep modifying the painting with an impasto approach because for some reason thick paint breeds a more cavalier attitude. Perhaps because I feel that I have much less control than when painting thinly, so I decide to relinquish my need for it and just go for it.