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Brighter Colors in Plein Air Painting

Oil painting of Hogtown Bayou looking west from Cessna Landing

I was showing a friend my paintings in my studio last weekend, and she remarked on the light and color of one row of paintings, which indeed were more vibrant than almost all of my other work.  I explained that none of the five were plein air, that they were exercises done in a workshop I took last summer, from Julie Gilbert Pollard, “Wet and Wild:  Painting Vibrant Water Scenes in Brilliant Color” (See my blog post).  Ordinarily, that would have explained the difference as far as I was concerned, but I started thinking more about it.  Granted, Julie taught us to use bright under-painting, and to use color for its value, rather than strictly for its hue.  But as I looked around at my paintings, I realized that at the time I was painting them, I thought I was painting very brightly, but in the studio they looked a less brilliant.  Then it dawned on me — I try to paint the colors that I see when I paint plein air.  And usually the sun is shining brightly, so light and color are at their optimum.  But when I bring my paintings indoors, the light invariably is never as bright as the sun, even using “daylight” bulbs.  When I take those same paintings into the sunlight, they are much brighter.  So I realized that in order for my paintings to have the same brilliance of color indoors that I see when I am painting them, I might need to paint with brighter color than what I see.  I’m going to think about that some more.

For today’s plein air session I took some canvas panels that were already under-painted, like we did in that workshop in July.  I had under-painted two 8×10 panels with red, and a third 6×6 with sort of a buff color.  I let some of the under-paintings show through, not covering the entire canvas with paint.  and I scratched out some of the grass and tree trucks, revealing the underlying color.  Below are my results.

Oil painting of Hogtown Bayou looking west from Cessna Landing

Oil painting of trees on the far side of Cessna Landing at Hogtown Bayou

Oil painting of soft grass at edge of Hogtown Bayou

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Photography: Good Morning!

Photo of the dock at the boat launch at Point Washington, FL, by Joan Vienot

Photo of the dock at the boat launch at Point Washington, FL, by Joan Vienot

Many mornings before I go to work, I will see a view that begs to be captured, the image that starts my day.  I post these morning photos on Facebook, with perhaps a wistful comment about my day-job cutting short my enjoyment of the scene.  This was the image I shot yesterday, the dock at the public boat launch in my village, Point Washington, Florida.  The view looks out over Tucker Bayou extending into the eastern Choctawhatchee Bay, in Northwest Florida.  It is one of my favorite areas to canoe and stand-up paddle.

Usually when I post to my personal page in Facebook, I set the post-privacy to friends only, but when I uploaded this image yesterday, I accidentally uploaded on the public setting, and it spread like wildfire.  Ordinarily I have a few “likes” and maybe one or two instances where people have shared my image onto their own page.  This photo had been shared 119 times in one day.

This view is iconic for the area. certainly, but there was a quality to the light, a certain late-summer gold on the grass, that I could see between the trees all the way from my house a good ways up the bayou.  The attraction was such that I took only a few seconds to brush my teeth before rushing out the door to capture it, afraid it would change before I could travel the long mile to get there.  I took a couple of shots with my good camera, and then I shot this one with my iPhone 4S for immediate upload.  Some of my friends on social media have told me they enjoy my morning shots, and it is gratifying to hear their comments.  Sharing an experience or a perception through an image makes it more meaningful to me.  But the number of “shares” on social media has surprised me, and I am pleased that so many people appreciated this simple scene.  Thankfully, I had remembered to watermark it with my website, which if the image is not altered on purpose, allows me to retain a connection as it travels the web.

My website is being updated.  When I saw my image starting to go viral, I called my webmaster to ask him to put Facebook “share” buttons on my site so the path would be circular, from the Facebook image on my personal page, to my website, and then back to my Facebook art page.  He responded immediately — kudos to Brian at

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Painting Plein Air At Home

Oil painting of the view into Tucker BayouA nice thing about plein air painting is that it can be done anywhere outdoors. I am fortunate to live in an area of wonderful natural beauty, so everywhere I turn, there is a scene worth painting. I didn’t want to make the 30 mile drive into town to meet up with my plein air group, so I stayed home. The trees were tinged with fall colors, and the sky had returned to blue, after days of haze. It was a great day to paint. But I was in a bit of a rush this morning, wanting to finish by a certain time in order to be able to go to a poetry reading. After an hour of painting fast-and-furious, I left my easel setup on my dock, running to the house for a quick shower before driving to the reading.SetUp on the Dock-sm

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From Mosquitoes to Fire Ants: Plein Air Painting in Florida

Oil Painting of Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, modeled after GivernyWhat I did not write about in my blog post last weekend, Plein Air at Torreya State Park, Bristol, Florida, was that there were a few bugs.  Mosquitoes and spiders to be specific.  Actually there were more than a few.  There were gazillions of them.  I stayed covered up with a long-sleeved shirt and long lightweight pants the entire 95º weekend, despite the humidity.  It was in the early hours of the first night that I realized I had made a terrible mistake, that I had failed to consider all the possibilities for my heavenly plein air retreat in the woods.  It never even occurred to me that I would actually need the repellant I always pack when I backpack..  After suffering through the first night with not one but two mosquitoes in my tent, I learned that I would need to slather every square inch, exposed or not,  with a good herbal repellant.  The mosquitoes bit right through my clothes.

Ordinarily the suffering that goes with plein air painting is mimimized by the thrill of the process.  There is nothing quite like the race against time to figure out and capture the light and colors of a scene.  So began my painting at this week’s session with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet, a coffee shop occupying a copy of Giverny complete with gardens and a water lily coy pond near Grayton Beach, Florida.  It has become a favorite location for our group.  There must have been 15 or 20 painters there this week.  I had gotten a good start when I became aware of something biting my ankles.  I swatted a couple of times, sprayed some repellent on, and kept on painting.  All of a sudden with a clear understanding of what it must be like to be burned at the stake, I looked down to see the horror of a whole troop of ants setting my ankles on fire!  Anyone who lives in the southern United States knows exactly what I am talking about, but anyone not from the South cannot even imagine it.  Fire ants have a strategy of climbing onto your feet and legs en masse with the stealth of a cat burglar, and then upon some mysterious signal, all biting at the same time.  It literally feels like your feet are on fire.  Determined to hold my position and finish my painting, I found an extra paint shirt in my pickup and laid it on the ground in front of my easel.  Unbelievably, it worked — the ants stayed underneath the shirt while I stood on top of it.  Above is my painting of the building called Monet Monet at Grayton Beach, painted from the top of the fire ant mound across the street.  I almost always re-size my paintings for internet publication, but I decided to post a higher-resolution version so you can see the details.  You may have to click on the image when it first opens, to allow it to display at full magnification.  It’s not as distinctly focused as I would like, but it gives you an idea of the number of colors and fast-and-furious brushstrokes that go into a 2-hour painting.  Click here for very large image Of the Monet Monet painting.

Last night I had a little fun painting in my studio. I have mentioned before that I serve on the A+Art Committee of the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County.  We will be showing members’ art made on 10″ x 10″ wood panels in a show called “One Size Fits All”.  All the panels will be priced at $100, of which the artist will get $80 and the remaining $20 will go to CAA.  I’ve already painted the two panels I am submitting, which I blogged about in Painting Under The Gun.  But if any of our paintings sell, we are allowing the buyer to take it home with them, and the selling artist then can fill the empty space with another painting.  I decided to paint a couple of extra paintings because I intend for mine to sell.  (Hint, hint, local patrons!!)  I love the iconic blue herons we see here everywhere there is water — docks, shorelines, even roadside ditches.  I tried out a new color combination in this painting.  I used a craggy piece of driftwood to make the lines of the grasses, which resulted in a much less controlled and more interesting jumble of lines than if I had put them in with a familiar tool or scraper.

Oil painting of blue heron standing on purple, brown, and orange stripes

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Plein Air at Torreya State Park, Bristol, Florida

Oil painting of Apalachicola River through the trees from the bluff above
Guerilla Painter
 Oil painting of Apalachicola River through the trees from the bluff above
 Oil painting of the hillside by the campsite overlooking the Apalachicola River
 Oil painting of grasses beside the campsite overlooking the Apalachicola River

A few weeks ago I bought myself a toy, a “Guerrilla Painter” thumb-box, which is a small wooden box that opens into a plein air panel holder and palette and brush and paint holder.  The box fits into a small carry case and has a hole in the bottom for your thumb so you can hold it like a painter’s palette.  It comes with one 6×8 gesso’d hardboard panel, and I also bought 10 resin-impregnated 6×8 cards to paint on.  I primed the cards even though you don’t have to, so I would be painting on a familiar white surface.

I thought a camping trip to a local state park might be the perfect opportunity to try out my “thumb-box”.  A friend had made reservations at the best primitive campsite Torreya State Park has to offer, and Friday afternoon found us backpacking the short one-mile trail to set up camp.  I also had packed my full plein air set just in case i didn’t like the Guerrilla Painter, so I carried it in on the next trip when we went back to the truck to get water.  My full set has arm straps and a campstool attached, but no hip belt, so you carry the whole thing on your shoulders.  It became very heavy on my shoulders, so getting a hip belt is now a high priority!

I had never camped with painting being the sole purpose to the trip.  My friend took off for a hike each day, and I was left to paint to my heart’s delight.  I tested the Guerrilla Painter, using a limited palette, only 4 colors and white.  At right are the three 6×8 pieces I did.  I used less paint than I would have on a textured canvas.  I learn something on every painting I do.  The first day I was determined not to use green straight out of the tube, even though I was surrounded by green in the forest.  So I mixed some greens using of course blue and yellow, but I also put blue next to yellow in many places, to give the illusion of green.  On my third painting, I painted the grasses near the edge of the campsite sometimes using red instead of green.  That interested me — I may do a series.

There was one challenge I did not resolve, when painting with the Guerrilla Painter.  I use my left hand to hold my rag or paper towel, to clean my brush, but holding the Thumb-Box with my left thumb meant that I had to hold my rag between my index and middle fingers, wiping my brush without being able to see it underneath the box.

The second day I opted to paint using my standard plein air easel and full paint set, since I had gone to the trouble of packing it in.  I usually end up using a limited palette anyway — it helps to tie the painting together, because the same colors get used in many different places.  Below are the two 8×10’s I did with my regular set-up.  This time I mixed a lot of different greens, but attempted to keep most of the foliage details a little vague.  I felt if I was distinct with the tree trunks and branches, they would explain the foliage.

 Oil painting of Apalachicola River Bluff campsite 1
Oil painting of Apalachicola River Bluff Campsite 2