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The Practice of Plein Air Painting

We “practice” yoga, we “practice” meditation. Plein air painting is “practiced”. Like yoga, and like meditation, plein air painting is performed, hopefully, with increasing awareness and perhaps with increasing skill, but I don’t know of any painter who thinks their practice is “perfected”. Even though a plein air painter might occasionally paint the best painting of her or his life, the next painting still begins with the proverbial blank canvas. I paint weekly with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters. Actually, I coordinate the weekly sessions, sending out the location to the email list of 240 people, and meeting the group of 2 to 15 painters who might show up. We paint for 3 hours, and then have a soft critique, followed by lunch at a local restaurant. The social aspect of the weekly get-togethers reinforces my practice.

In January, it was foggy for one of our sessions, at Turkey Creek in Niceville, FL. By the time we finished, the fog had lifted and colors had appeared, but initially my scene appeared to be monochromatic. I used a different approach for this foggy scene. Normally when painting en plein air, the darks are laid in first. But to create the atmosphere of light through the fog in this painting, I painted the light brownish-gray sky and water and the very light value background shapes, layering the darker, closer shapes on top.

Oil painting of the dunes at Henderson Beach State Park

The last week of January we painted at Henderson Beach State Park in Destin, Florida. The Florida Panhandle coast from Panama City to Pensacola is covered with sugar-white, fine quartz sand from thousands of years of erosion carried down to the Gulf of Mexico by the Apalachicola River. The white sand picks up reflected color from everything around it, and sometimes the compliments of those colors are sensed by the viewer. The sand might appear pink next to the green foliage topping a dune, or warmer and yellower near cool shadows.

The next week we painted at Camp Helen State Park, which is on the Walton County / Bay County border. The park contains hardwood live oak and pine hammocks, marsh ecosystems, and sandy beach. I hiked out to a view of the dunes, where I could just make out the skeleton of the old pier. I was challenged by the puffy little clouds covering most of the sky, with a little blue peaking out just here and there.

The first weekend of February, I drove two hours east to the village of Apalachicola to meet up with my friend Lynn Wilson, owner of On the Waterfront Gallery and President of the Artists of Apalachicola Area. Lyn is sponsoring monthly Weekend Warrior painting workshops, and this weekend was the first, taught by Atlanta artist Debra Nadelhoffer. I took the workshop both to learn and also to observe the logistics, since Lynn has invited me to teach the workshop in May. Debra likes to paint the sky with different colors of the same value in order to impart the shimmer or movement of the air that she sees. I painted the above painting, and later was painting on a new canvas, trying to learn how to paint the blinding glimmer of sunlight on water, when passers-by stopped and asked to purchase the above painting. The following paintings were also painted in the Nadelhoffer workshop, as I tried new color combinations, and exaggerations of color.

After returning home, I painted with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, and found myself experimenting with color temperatures in order to enhance the feeling of space and mood. I did not finish the painting (below) and did not keep it, satisfied with what I learned in the process.

All of these paintings are available for purchase. Contact me for information, using the form that comes up when you click on the painting.

 

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