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Plein Air Painting in the Heat

Oil painting of pitcher plants painted en plein air at the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center in Freeport, FLHeat index is a calculation combining actual temperature with humidity, the result being what the temperature actually feels like, and a good gauge of the stress one suffers in the environment. Plein air painters paint in the open air, so they regularly subject themselves to extreme weather, often without realizing it, since they are absorbed in painting. That was the case when I painted with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at the E. O. Wilson Biophilia Center near Freeport, FL, this week. We were met by our most gracious guide, Laura Leslie-Sell, herself an artist, who took us on a short tour of the nearby grounds, showing us an old house on the property, with fat, happy, free-range chickens scratching in the dirt, and the tortoise area, where we saw numerous gopher tortoise burrows, and then through the hammock and down towards the creek, and finally back up past the rescued eagle, hawk, and bobcats. Also on the grounds, too distant to trek to, is a large bog filled with pitcher plants, a carnivorous plant that has fascinated me since I saw them for the first time when I moved to Florida years ago. Laura showed us a small patch the Center had for display purposes, and I decided they would be my subject for the day.

Back to the heat index… I set up my umbrella and easel and got to work on my pitcher plants. The shape of the pitcher plant is what interests me the most, a slender tube with a flap suspended over the top, inviting insects to come in to be dinner. With so many grouped together, they presented quite the challenge with the brush size I was using. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. But when it grew time for our soft critique and I began picking up my paints, I discovered that slight bit of disorientation I know is my first symptom of heat stress. I checked my weather app on my phone: the heat index was 107 degrees!!! I had known it was a scorcher; I had drank my refillable bottle of water and the can of LaCroix that I had brought but clearly it was hotter than I was able to endure for much longer. I quickly cleaned up and set out to find the other painters, to check on them. They all seemed fine, and one was painting on the shady front porch of the Center, where the air was moving a little bit. I was reminded of an instructor who said, regarding scene selection, that first she finds a nice, shady place, sets up her easel and palette, and then she turns around in a circle and looks for something to paint. That’s the wisdom of experience!

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Paint Your Heart Out! Painting en Plein Air at Least Once a Week!

While I was employed full-time in my own business, managing the maintenance of 300+ swimming pools, some commercial, some residential, some high-use vacation rentals, in the resort area of South Walton County, in NW Florida, I was doing good to paint just once a week. I thought that as soon as I sold my business, I would immediately start painting every day. That has not yet turned out to be the case, although it is still a future goal. Currently I am painting for the most part still only just once a week en plein air, while I continue to provide consulting services to ‘my’ business, and while I get my home life organized and start building the business foundation for my art career. I feel very impatient, and it seems like life is moving like molasses, but then I look back and I see that mountains of change have happened. I trust that my closest friends for the most part forgive my thin patience as I find myself feeling stressed nearly to the breaking point. I have resumed more frequent stand-up paddleboarding now that my left hand has healed from CMC arthroscopy and that makes a huge difference in my “Zen”!  Also I began recovering neglected friendships this week, grateful that the people in my community are so rock-solid.

As I work on releasing an employment identity I have had for 35 years, I remember that I also have always identified as an artist. It’s just that there is a big difference between being a hobbyist, and being a career artist. My experience in business will be an asset. For now I am using the shoe-box method of accounting, and I am studying marketing, and I am continuing to improve my technique.

And that leads me to tell you of the encouragement I received from my dear friend this morning when I mentioned my plans for the day. “Paint your heart out!” she texted me. So I did, and I was pleased with my result, an oil painting of the dunes south of Western Lake at Grayton Beach State Park. In the distant background are the iconic “umbrella trees”, with the sugar white sand dunes topped by odd clumps of live oak, slash pine, and wild rosemary, pruned by the wind and the salt spray. I resisted the temptation to put the sweet yellow and red Indian Blanket flowers in the near foreground, since my intention was to capture the more distant skyline. The Indian Blankets will have to be painted another day. Below is today’s painting, 8×10, oil on linen panel.

Oil painting of the dunes south of Western Lake, at Grayton Beach State Park

Last week we painted at Ft. Walton Landing Park in Ft. Walton Beach. An simple orange dinghy caught my eye, my interest being the strong orange light and shadow, as well as the interesting shape. I scrubbed it out twice before I painted it the size I wanted, and then solved a compositional problem by adding another piling on the right. (Thank you for the tip, Weezie.)

Oil painting of an orange dinghy tied to the dock, Ft. Walton Landing Park, Ft. Walton Beach, FL

And the week before last, we painted at the amazing, beautiful “impossibly blue” Morrison Springs, near Ponce de Leon. I got caught up in the staccato of “impossible greens” shining through the dark cypress at the edge of the spring.

Oil painting of the light through the cypress trunks at Morrison Springs, Ponce de Leon, FL

It’s been a good several weeks. Today I mentored a fellow painter on compositional conventions, and I coached her to use tools available to her in today’s day and age, namely, her phone-camera, which serves as an excellent viewfinder. I use mine all the time, often taking a number shots or more before I decide on a particular viewpoint and framing of a composition, and then from there perhaps moving an element or two to create better balance, rhythm, and harmony. In fact, I am making images all the time, with my camera, and I am convinced that it has strongly boosted my feel for good composition.

For people who live on the Emerald Coast or people visiting from Ft. Walton – Destin – Santa Rosa Beach – eastern Panama City Beach areas, if you would like to receive notification of our weekly Wednesday painting sessions, email me at PleinAirEmeraldCoast at gmail.com. I serve as coordinator for the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, which merely means that I am in charge of email!

Sixteen members of our group are exhibiting works at Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast now through August 31, 2016. Stop on by!

ECPAP Show postcard