Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Going With Your First Reaction

Upon arriving at a painting location yesterday, I looked to my right and found a perfectly acceptable subject:  a yacht club near a little harbored lagoon.  But as I looked back over my shoulder to the left, I looked at the bridge over the Apalachicola River .  I loved its curve and the color of the cement pilings.  The blue sky and the warm pilings were also appealing.

Still, I thought I should go for the more conventional subject.  But while I was setting up my easel, I kept looking over at the bridge and the river.  Just before I started to paint the yacht club, I decided to go with my first gut instinct.  I turned the easel 180 degrees and lightly sketched the shape of the bridge with a small brush and some diluted yellow ochre.  Here is the result.

Two thoughts: first, you'll probably have more fun if you're invested in the subject.  Taking the easier subject might have produced a perfectly acceptable painting, but I knew I wouldn't have been invested in the outcome.

Second, if you can name why the subject appeals to you, you're halfway finished.  In this case, I knew it was the lovely curve of the downward sloping bridge and the play of warm against cool colors.  Rather than say, I'm going to paint the bridge, say, I'm going to paint the way the shadows fall on the bridge and the play of light and contrasting colors.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Studio vs. Plein Air Painting

When the Impressionists first stepped out of their studios, the subject matter shifted from the things that they were painting to the quality of the light that fell on the things they were painting.  Color and light became uppermost in their minds. Even these days, most studio painters are influenced by that change in focus.

As for me, I am energized when I'm painting on location.  I am more spontaneous, my brushstrokes are faster, and I love the way the upright easel helps to mix the paint on the paper.  The occasional drips and splatters also delight me.  I can also choose nearby elements to include in my painting rather than relying strictly on a photograph.  And quite frankly, I think the sounds, the warmth of the sunlight or the coolness of the fog on my shoulders, and the smell of low tide all make their way into the experience of painting.  Being outdoors makes me feel part of the landscape and much more in the moment.  Rather being removed from the scene I'm painting, I feel the joy of being in the landscape.

So when I was finally able to paint plein air yesterday for the first time in over three months, it was exhilarating. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Painter's Block

I've been here in Apalachicola, Florida for two and a half weeks.  The weather has been most uncooperative for a plein air painter.  I finally dragged my gear up to my second story room and have attempted to paint in my room.  At least I got my brushes wet. 

Before that it was home repairs, and holiday and travel preparations that kept me away from the easel.  All in all it's been about a month since I last touched brush to paper.

I've discovered that even a short time away from painting can result in painter's block.  Re-igniting interest, finding subject matter, and remembering procedural techniques become difficult.  And after painting for over 40 years, I feel a lack of confidence when facing the blank page.

What's a painter to do?  Here are some things that have helped me to jump-start my painting motor:

1.  Paint some color swatches.  Some wet-in-wet combinations, some wet over dry.

2.  Watch some painting instruction DVD's. 

3.  Re-paint an old painting.  Use a limited palette, arbitrary rather than local color.

4.  Re-visit your old instructional books.

5.  Visit a museum.

6.  Get out your sketchbook.  Check it for subject possibilities.  Make some new sketches.

7.  Make a list of the subjects you love to paint most.  For me, it's boats and trees.

8.  Explore some galleries.

9.  Try painting an entire painting with only your largest brush.

10. Set a goal.   Ten paintings for a week.  Enter a competition.  Contact a gallery.