Friday, August 30, 2013

Running with the rain clouds!

Clouds #4

Yesterday was a fantastic cloud day. It was showering in the morning and I had every reason from the weather forecast to think that the cloud painting would be great that afternoon. I went out about 3pm and decided to set up first on the north side of the back. The wind was blowing NE, and the fastest direction of my two options was looking north. I knew it would be a challenge, but I had no idea how much. It was like being in two different races at the same time. The clouds were changing shape faster than a speeded-up lava lamp while they were blowing left to right like a train going by. I watched for a couple minutes, just to try and get a feel for it, then I picked a couple big clumps that didn't seem to be changing too quickly, and started throwing on paint. I couldn't even begin to keep up, and after a couple minutes I was just trying to pick shapes and add them in. After I got sort of a structure on the canvas, I started filling it in, one area at a time, trying to be sort of faithful to what was in front of my eyes at that moment. When it was mostly done, I switched over to looking at each mass on the canvas and then trying to find something like it in the sky, and use that as a guide to finish rendering it. I ended up having to invent a lot more than in my previous paintings, and my skills at this point fell short of being able to do that. But it was still a lot of fun, and a great experience, maybe like running the bulls at Pamplona, only I came out of this alive. Tired, but alive.

Clouds #5

As soon as I covered that canvas I took it up to my house and moved my setup back to my familiar eastern view and started again. This time the wind was blowing right to left, and not quite as fast as in the first spot. I did the same thing, just watched them for a few minutes, then grabbed a clump and jumped in. It was just the same as the first time—painting as fast as I could, throwing the paint on, grabbing the most interesting shapes and getting the proportion of white to midtones to darks to represent what they looked like in the sky. I did one smart thing and took a couple photos, just a minute apart, once I had sort of a composition. It ended up the same way, with me trying to improvise a finish when everything I'd started with in the foreground had long since disappeared. And I can see that inventing in both these paintings, and it makes them different from the previous three, which were much closer to what was actually there.

You can't really tell in these paintings, but each view had a different feel as I watched. In the north, the big shapes seemed much closer, and the lower clouds resembled them, just farther away. In the east, I'm looking up toward the Cascades, and I can see the darkest undersides of the cloud masses higher up over the foothills.

I can't remember EVER having such an exciting day painting! As relaxing as it is to paint clouds that are less mobile, painting them when they're this dynamic is absolutely exhilarating. I will certainly jump at the chance to do it again.

This morning I referenced the photos I took yesterday and corrected an ugly spot in each of the paintings.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A simple one I like

Barn #3
Third time is seeming like the charm for my barn paintings. I painted from the same location but used a slightly different view, and this one finished up in one two-hour session, plus ten minutes the next day to tweak a couple things to strengthen the composition. I started out with a plan to just paint in the major blocks of color first, thinking that would be my underpainting that would set the mood and tone of the painting—but it ended up being the painting. There's a lot less detail, but plenty of texture, and the feeling is fresh, spontaneous, and alive. Nothing over-thought or over-worked. The cold press surface of the unprimed paper really contributes a lot of texture.

The first day, there was more lighter-colored foliage in the firs, and the background brush in the left center was lighter, with no texture. The second day I made all the fir branches uniformly dark, and that balanced the mass of the barn better. I also added some darker tones and a bit of texture to the brush, and that unified the shapes more.

I'm still doing cloud sketches. They really are a great way to just unwind. All the ones so far have been looking just north of due East, toward Mt. Hood and the Gorge.

Clouds #2
This was a bit later, getting towards evening, when more colors were appearing in the clouds.

Clouds #3
This was a bit earlier in the afternoon. It's a really common configuration when we have moist air coming up from the South, and rain clouds build up over the Cascades.

Monday, August 26, 2013

More plein air

Barn #2

After I finished the first plein air painting, I decided I wasn't happy with it for a couple reasons, even though it seemed a huge improvement over my last one, last year. First, I don't like how dark it is overall, and second, it's way more realistic than I want. It was great practice, but it's not even close to being as good as my best studio work. I looked around for other places to paint but decided to keep working with the barn, try acrylics, and try a limited color palette that I've worked with before.

I started with a one-color value sketch, and each day I added a color or two, gradually building up detail and trying to capture the colors in the scene without overworking it. I stuck with a larger brush for just that reason.

On the next to last session, when I'd done as much as I could without letting the paint dry, I had too much paint left, and the sky was full of paintable clouds. I got a pad of cheap canvas sheets (the one I've mentioned previously) and made an attempt at the clouds, painting as quickly as I could because they and the light were changing every minute. It took me about 15 minutes to get them as well as I could. I haven't had that much fun painting in a long time, and it was a great way to unwind after a session.

Clouds #1

Today I had the pleasure of painting in a pretty good breeze. Every few minutes, a new dusting of fir needles and pollen flowers came down on everything—the palette, the water tub, and the painting. I picked off the big lumps and kept going. By the time I felt that I was done with the painting, the breeze was getting stronger, so I skipped trying any clouds today.

I think I've spent about the same number of sessions as on the first one, and I think I'm done with it today, although I might tweak it a little more. I feel as though I'm making progress, but the big deal for me is that this is the first time I've ever really enjoyed plein air painting. Time to go on to the next one.

Plein air the EASY way

I've finally found an easy way to do plein air—out in my garden! It takes me two trips to get everything down there—I use an old one-gallon bucket to carry all the little stuff. I have a pretty comfortable cloth folding chair and a small metal easel I've taken down and stashed under the overhang of the woodshed so I don't have to carry them down every time. I use two little plastic lawn furniture side tables, one on each side of my chair, to hold everything but the painting. When I'm done, I turn one of the tables upside down and set it on the other one, so neither gets fir sap dripped on it. Fir sap drips on everything out there, even me. Leaving the tables out where I set up means I can get my chair back in the same spot from one time to the next.

I wanted to try watercolor first, just to make it as easy as possible. It took me five sessions of about two hours each to get this one to where I can't make it any better.

The first day I felt very guilty and started telling myself I really should be working. I had to remind myself that I was working—learning how to paint plein air! After the first time that wasn't a problem. It's been wonderful just enjoying my garden for a change. I found that when I sit there long enough for the birds to ignore me, I start seeing the whole place come to life. The clouds blowing around, birds going about their business, an intermittent breeze moving through the treetops, different kinds of insects checking me and my gear out. I got to where I can ignore the weeds I see, look at my plants without thinking of things I need to do, and just enjoy painting.