Essential Character of a Place: Plein Air Nature Trail

April 11, 2013 in Landscape, Plein Air by joanvienot

I was privileged to paint plein air beside my artist friend Betty Cork yesterday.  I am the proud owner of one of Betty’s paintings, the bright colors of a path under the oaks of Eden Gardens greeting me when I walk into my business office every weekday.  I met Betty through the Cultural Arts Alliance.  We both drew at the figure drawing sessions at Studio b for 3 years.  And it was she who twisted my arm to be on the A+Art Committee which I now Co-Chair with Robin Wiesneth, showcasing CAA member artists work in the reception area and conference room of the South Walton Center of Northwest Florida State College.

The plein air painters met at Grayton Beach State Park this week.  Most of the painters went to the beach to paint the misty shoreline and emerald waves, but Betty and I hiked a short way up the nature trail and set up to paint under the canopy of scrub oaks. I was looking towards the sun, so that much of the foliage was beautifully backlit, but with the sun in my eyes, it was a bit of a chore seeing the brilliance of the colors.  The gnarly tree trunks were silhouetted against the bright light.

I post on Facebook photos of my work in progress and also the finished piece. I found it interesting that one of the comments on my finished piece was “That is so here!”  I wonder, what is the specific visual imagery that depicts the essential character of a place, making it “here”? In this case, I think it was the combination of the palmetto bushes underneath with the twisting shapes of the scrub oak trees.  The live oaks at the beach are very small, hugging and conforming to the dune line, sheared off at the top by the salty winds. On the bay, the same trees grow into massive giants, with Spanish moss dripping from the acre-wide branches.

One of the constrictions of plein air painting is that you don’t have a lot of time.  Because the scene before me was so chock-full of brush and foliage, my challenge was to simplify it into layers. I painted the background foliage first, so that I wouldn’t have to take the time to try paint the negative space around the foreground shapes afterwards. The gnarly tree trunks came next, and the palmettos in the foreground were last.  Betty suggested to me to put some of the oranges and very bright yellows in the palmetto leaves.  She is an expert with bright color.

Below is the start of my painting, and the finished piece.  Contact me if you are interested in purchasing this piece, with or without frame. — Joan Vienot

Oil painting of Nature Trail at Grayton Beach State Park