Learning to See Better through Plein Air Painting

May 20, 2014 in Landscape, Plein Air by joanvienot

2014-0508 Thumbnail Sketch, Boat in Drydock2014-0513 Value Sketch, Fishing BoatsDon Demers, one of my workshop instructors last week, tongue in cheek, said “Plein air painting creates bad drivers.”  He explained the hazard, that as a practicing plein air painter, one could be driving along and become mesmerized, staring at the shape or color of something, perhaps even something so interesting as the shadow of an underpass.  We all laughed of course, but I recognize the truth of his statement.  After practicing plein air painting for 8 days, I can’t look anywhere now without noticing wonderful value contrasts, delicious color intensities, and patterns of light leading my eye through compositions waiting to be painted.

The first workshop I attended was by invitation.  Twelve painters were selected to be in the “pilot” course for the Apalachicola School of Art Plein Air Academy.  Master plein air artist Don Demers is designing the curriculum, and Joe Taylor of the Apalachicola School of Art is planning the logistics.  Together they will come up with a course to be offered as professional development for the advanced plein air painter.  Don spent a good bit of time talking with each of us, as well as offering constructive tips with our paintings.  Of most practical value to me was his suggestion to set intention before starting a painting, and then to stick to that intention.  He suggested we draw “thumbnail sketches” of our intended paintings first, studying the value relationships and evaluating whether the composition would work as a whole, before we spent 3 hours painting it.  Some of my sketches progressed into paintings, some were mere studies of shapes or ideas discarded as perhaps too complicated or logistically difficult (the one above left required me to stand in an ant pile; the one above right was too complicated for my limited knowledge of fishing boats).

I learned something about photography after doing one such value study, and that is that my iPhone camera does not see the light the way I do.  In fact my camera hardly picked up the power of the light at all.  Here’s a comparison:

2014-0509 Value Sketch, Docked Sailboat iPhoto of Sailboat I Sketched

I completed two paintings and a couple of studies in the Plein Air Academy workshop.  Integrating what I am learning is always difficult — there has to be a period of intense, grinding focus, because painting is for the most part so visceral, and newly learned information so very intellectual.  I found myself completely exhausted by the end of the first several days.  I must have had every muscle in my body tensed as I tried to incorporate what I was learning.  I literally came home, ate supper, and went straight to bed, for the first 3 days.

Here are a few of my paintings from the Apalachicola School of Art Plein Air Academy workshop.

2014-0511 Typical page of Notes

Typical page of notes

.2014-0506 Port St. Joe Marina.2014-0508 Mooring Buoy.

 

2014-0507 Value Sketch, Marsh.2014-0507 Color sketch for Marsh.2014-0507 Marsh

 

Over the next few days I attended the Forgotten Coast En Plein Air event workshop with Greg LaRock and Ken Dewaard.  I wish I could remember everything they said.  It was fun to watch the different approaches of two accomplished artists.  Both were very strong on compositional tips.  LaRock often mentioned ways to lead the viewer’s eye through the painting, and Dewaard pointed out subtle color changes to look for, like the change in the tint of shadows depending on how much of the sky color they might be acquiring, or how much of the color of the ground.  Hopefully I absorbed a lot of it, even though I can’t recite it.  Below are the paintings I produced during their workshop.  In the first one, my challenge was to make the pile of rubble, mostly chunks of concrete, look interesting, like a rocky shoreline.  The paintings of the boats  and of the shirts for sale both challenged me to simplify.

2014-0511 Value Sketch, Rocky Shoreline 2014-0511 Port St. Joe Rock-Lined Harbor 2014-0512 Carrabelle Launch

 

2014-0513 Value Sketch, Shirts For Sale 2014-0513 T-Shirts for Sale, Apalachicola

I actually had energy to paint a few small studies outside of class, the last several days, below.  Apologies for shooting the photos slightly crooked!

2014-05 Morning Light, Two-Mile Channel Oil painting of evening light on Two-Mile Channel, Apalachicola, FL Oil painting of full moon rising over Two-Mile Channel, Apalachicola, FL

NOTE: light added to 2nd painting above, at  http://joanvienot.com/?p=7003

And now back to my day-job!  But the shadows of those underpasses are starting to look mighty interesting!!