Painting with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at The Boathouse Landing in Valparaiso, FL, last Wednesday, I thought I would paint a simple cascade of leaves over a fence. The lush green blackberry leaves were punctuated by a few white and yellow honeysuckle blossoms. I was wishing I could capture the scent along with the shapes and colors.
And then I found out that it wasn’t simple at all. I was very close to my subject, and perhaps that was the challenge — I was seeing too much detail. I’ve heard of people taking off their corrective eyeglasses so that they don’t see as much when they paint — maybe that would have made it easier.
I had toned the canvas with a light wash of pink acrylic paint before I started the oil painting. My purpose was to retain some of the pinks and reds that were in the blackberry stems and branches. Overwhelmed by the large mass of green leaves, I settled for the patterns of light and dark, and painted the honeysuckle flowers towards the end of the session. I scratched out a few of the twigs and branches of the blackberries, revealing the pink canvas. There were bands of light between the fence slats peeking through the leaves in a few places. Later, in the studio, I refined the edges of the spots of light to help the leaves stand in front of them.
It ended up being a great session for challenging myself, topped off by a nice meal and good conversation with fellow painters Dan Robison, Weezie Bancroft Brabner, Patti Overholt.
Wherever you live, there probably is a group of plein air painters who meet regularly to paint, perhaps critique their work, and socialize a bit. There is huge value in the energy of the group. Numbers may wax and wane, but almost always someone else comes and helps magnify the creative energy. The group I meet with is called Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters. More than 100 people receive the notifications of the weekly painting locations for our group. Anywhere from 2 to 15 people usually show up, painting for a few hours. Sometimes we paint the same view, sometimes everyone paints something different. There are no rules. Around 11:30 we meet for what I call a “soft” critique, with no one ever telling you that perhaps you should take up a different pasttime. Sometimes experienced artists are present, and they give very good suggestions for ways to be more effective in our paintings.
Social media also has proved to be useful in providing feedback. A post in “En Plein Air” Paintings and Painters. Only 3 at a time. on Facebook will often bring comments of appreciation and constructive criticism.
For myself, I am one of the waxer-and-waners in attending the weekly sessions, preferring not to drive very far especially during the slow traffic of tourist season. Our group meets in a two-county area, in Walton and Okaloosa Counties, in Northwest Florida. We generally meet in the southern half of those counties, but even that limited area comprises about 1000 square miles. There is no shortage of subjects to paint, so we really are constricted only by the presence or absence of public restrooms and adequate parking.
This week we met at Cessna Landing, a small park and boat launch on Hogtown Bayou in Santa Rosa Beach. The weather could not have been nicer. The first thing that caught my eye was the scene looking into the early morning sun, a bunch of scruffy, gone-to-seed cattails in front of the parking lot circling the park. I immediately decided the broken, bleached, backlit cattails would be too difficult so I walked around looking at everything else, finally shaming myself enough to work up the courage to give the cattails a try. Now that I have painted them once, I’ll have to try again sometime, to see if I can do a better job of capturing the brittle, broken leaves. Below is the 8×10 I completed.