Some of my Demo paintings from the November 21 & 22 workshop in the Santa Ynez valley
Great fun in a great location and a lively group this last week! A bit of rain on the first day did not deter these painters from doing their thing! Congratulations on a job well done! I would also like to thank Hannah at the Los Olivos Grocery store for supplying the much needed food and fuel! We just need to do it again soon!
Media: original watercolor on paper
Image size: approx. 14″x 20″
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As a plein air artist I feel fortunate to always visit such beautiful areas in the world. I conducted a workshop in one of those areas last week: the Santa Ynez valley in California.
Plein air painting is tricky business. You are dealing with a lot of adversity: weather conditions, (i.e. heat, cold, winds etc.) pestering insects and/ or pestering people! Selection of subject matter is even more challenging! What do you paint and how do you make it work? Is there room to set up?
According to Murphy’s law some absolutely crucial fact about the scene you’re painting will change one hundred percent halfway through your painting! Like the horses you’re painting will be moved out of the pen before you can finish them. A bank truck collecting money from an ATM will block your view down the street scene you’re painting and a uniformed guy with heavy artillery is glaring at you. Ahh, what fun…NOT!
While I admit that these things can be disconcerting, there is no better teacher than nature herself! In your studio, you’ll never get a real interaction with the subject matter and staring at a photograph is just not the same thing! I can promise you, if you start painting plein air, your work will improve dramatically! The painting may not be a success every time, but the paintings that do have a beautiful spontaneity and directness about them that you can’t get in the studio. Even if the painting is no good, the studio version you do with the help of your ‘failed attempt’ will come out a lot better, simply because you were actually there! You walked through the place, you were taking everything in with your senses and you painted there and that makes all the difference!
When painting near Los Olivos, we came upon this horse farm tucked in a hidden valley far off the beaten path. I was so psyched to paint there, I just drove right in. My painting buddy went ‘you sure you want to just go on their property?’ Of course, you can’t do that so we asked if we could paint near the horses. Unfortunately, the owners were nowhere to be found and the horse handlers felt they couldn’t make that decision.
Plus, there was a bit of a language barrier, because the modern day cowboy is, not surprisingly, a Mexican man! The only person who spoke perfect English was someone’s 15 year old kid who helped out!
Horse farms are definitely a subject matter that I want to explore more. I did this piece from a value study of the horse shoe barn (if that’s what they call it) and a plethora of pictures.
Notice how there is a unifying color to the work. In reality, the sky was a solid ‘Walt Disney blue’ and there were patches of super green, artificially looking English meadow here and there. However, I went with the colors of California hillsides which are a wonderful golden hue that is very unique to our area.
I think it’s important to remember not to copy the place as it is, but paint it in ways that makes for a good painting. Even outside, it’s all too tempting to copy what’s there and end up with an area of bright blue, and a squeaky green foreground with little or no color harmony. That’s not to say that color is bad, but just like everything else in a good painting, it should play a supportive role and not create sections of different colors, completely unrelated. Cartoons look like that!
For my color mixes, I use quite a bit of cadmiums (or the new equivalent of cadmiums, without the toxins). Cadmiums (yellow pale, med yellow, orange and red) are very strong, but when mixed with earthtones will give the punch that is necessary to make a statement. I try to avoid painting too wishy-washy.