Tag Archives: plein air painting

Breaking the rules!

We’ve all learned painting rules during our Academic training or in workshops when we started out.
I always remember Kevin McPherson’s famous line: ‘Black in sunlight is lighter than white in shadows’. The other famous one which I can’t remember right now who said it: ‘the darkest light in the light has to be lighter than the lightest dark in the shadow. Keep the light and dark tonal ranges separate to show realistic form.’

How come there are so many paintings out there where those rules are seemingly disregarded?

That’s what Andrew Wyeth called ‘going beyond the facts’. Looking at the images below it’s easy to see that the value range in these pictures must’ve been at least partly invented. The tall foreground grass is too dark even though it’s obviously in the sun and the back hill is way dark for a more dramatic effect.

wyeth

wyeth2

 

It’s even more obvious in the second image: why are the blanket and the flower patch on the lower right so dark even though they are obviously in the sunlight?

The best answer is simply that art should be about expression and that fact is often completely forgotten or missed by many painters. I think it has to do with the fact that the general public judges art by how realistic it is painted. You often hear the phrase: oh wow, that looks just like a photograph. Like that’s the best thing ever! To some that is more of an insult than a compliment (harshly spoken of course) because what is the ARTISTIC point of copying something verbatim, even if you achieve photo realism? What message is the painting carrying? Where’s your personality in it?

Having said that, most artists start out that way. We are obsessed with copying it the way it is and that’s ok. It is a process and we develop and grow as artists. Further along in our art endeavor we might ask ourselves ‘what am I trying to say’, ‘why do I paint this scene’ and ‘what would my message be’?

I continue to go through phases like that. Sometimes a painting I paint looks overly realistic to me and then I don’t really like it. Sometimes it has a painterly quality or feel to it and still looks real (but only if you step back) and I like that best!

Check out this image I found of Wyeth painting on top of his jeep. Super cool! I love how the watercolors drip down the hood and of course the puppy patiently waiting in the car! My dog would try to climb onto my lap making painting impossible!

andrew-wyeth-plein-air2

Plein air in cold weather!

cropped nature takes over

I thought I speak about that a little bit, since it is that time of the year! Painting outside when it’s cold has it’s challenges, just like painting in real hot weather does. The biggest problem with watercolor painting is drying time. That means, if we do big washes (which I usually do) they won’t dry for a long time resulting in periods of unwanted waiting around, twittling my thumbs!

What’s the solution? There’s no real good one I am afraid. But there are things you can do that definitely help: If you’re near your car, you can use the car’s heater and fan. It works perfectly and only takes seconds if you crank it up on high!

If the sun’s out, it goes without saying to put it down and it dries very quickly.

If the sun is not out and you’re not near your car, try using less water and a bit of chinese white in your big background washes. It makes the paint flow slower and dry more quickly. A word of caution: it takes practice to gauge how much to use, if you use too much you’ll get opaque ugly soup, if you use too little it won’t do anything at all!

Lastly, you can break up your washes more. If you know your middle ground is darker than your sky (it almost always is), just don’t paint there at all in the first wash. Stop the sky halfway and leave the white of the paper. That way, you can immediately start painting without waiting since you never touched that part!

If it is colder than 0 degrees celsius, or 30 degrees F, I don’t recommend watercolor painting outside. I have had my washes freeze before and it’s just plain awful! Better wait for warmer weather!

Cape Cod: The Beauty of Light, Sept. 19 to 22, 2013

conference2013header

Please consider joining me and other great painters for this wonderful event this fall! It is taking place in one of the most beautiful places in this country. For more information, please visit:

http://capecodartassoc.org/cape-cod-beauty-of-light-conference-september-19-22-2013/

Various Horse studies on location

San Pasqual I   San Pasqual IIReady to ride 14by2030 min horse sketch

Horses are not easy to draw and paint. When on location (plein air), I am using my little point and shoot to capture certain positions. Yes, I am cheating!

There are two reasons for me that convinced me to do it that way: The first one is time. I am always in a terrible hurry when I paint outside, so the last thing I want to do is spend 45 Minutes on my preliminary drawing to get it right with the light constantly changing on me. I’d rather just paint after 10 or 15. The second reason is accuracy. Without a still picture, it is very hard to get the proportions right in a few minutes, so instead of painting I would spend too much time drawing. Now, if I just go there to draw, it’d be a different story! Drawing for drawings sake. I guess in the end, it all comes down to time.

Horses, cars, cows, buildings…treat it all the same! They are just shapes and objects. The key is to do them with as little work as artistically possible. It all hinges on the shapes. If you get those right, it will look right! If the shapes are off, well, then no matter how pretty your wash and colors are, it just won’t look right.