From Plein Air Studies to Studio Painting

June 16, 2018 in Landscape, Plein Air

Last week I completed a painting of the early morning light on part of the hogback [rock formation running along the front range of the Colorado Rockies] at Devil’s Backbone Open Space at Loveland, Colorado, a Larimer County Natural Resources Park. I blogged about painting en plein air there 6 weeks ago, “A Quick Trip to Colorado, Paints in Hand“.

I am a believer in painting only what you experience. There is the occasional commissioned painting of someone’s scene from their own photo, or their dog or child, but I feel more strongly about the scene if I actually was there and I think that I make a better painting when I have a memory or feelings about the scene.

This certainly was true with Devil’s Backbone First Light. I blogged about looking for the part of the hogback formation that I had remembered from my childhood one whole morning, and about going to Loveland to another part of the hogback with my sister and brother-in-law to hike, and then hiking it myself with my paints the next day while the sun was coming up, painting all morning, and then hiking the trails again that afternoon with both sisters and their husbands and a couple of the grandkids. I was filled with powerful memories of the scene, made more significant by spending time with family there, and I had my 3 plein air studies, and my iPhotos. Only my memory held the actual lighting I wanted to portray — the photos were much less colorful than I remembered or than my plein air paintings indicated, but they provided better value comparisons and better perspective. My plein air works provided truer color, and the time spent painting en plein air imprinted certain details on my memory. If I had merely photographed the rocks, and not painted en plein air, I would not have remembered the yellow-green of the lichen and the pinks and lavenders of the sagebrush, and the tufts of grass growing between the rocks on top of the hogback.

I was thrilled to realize just how much the process had helped to make the painting. Below is Devil’s Backbone First Light, followed by the three studies I painted en plein air.

Oil painting of first light on Devil's Backbone, Laramie County, Loveland, Colorado

Devil’s Backbone First Light, 10 x20 oils on stretched canvas (click on image for purchase info)

Oil painting (study) at Devil's Backbone Open Space, Larimer County, Colorado

6×8 study, Devil’s Backbone, Loveland, CO

Oil painting (study) at Devil's Backbone Open Space, Larimer County, Colorado

4×6 study, Devil’s Backbone, Loveland, CO

Oil painting (study) at Devil's Backbone Open Space, Larimer County, Colorado

4×6 study, Devil’s Backbone, Loveland, CO