It’s about time to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions again. I prefer to think of it as setting goals to pursue, or objectives I would like to attain, or even challenges I am setting up for myself. Somehow I feel less threatened by those words than by “resolutions”, which seem to me to be things that I resolve NOT to do, like eating a carton of ice cream in one day, versus goals, objectives, and challenges which are things I plan to work towards. Here are some of mine:
Paint every day either plein air or in the studio, for 30 or 60 days, maybe longer. To do this, I plan to have a palette and brushes ready all the time, in my studio, as well as in my plein air backpack. I have ordered a whole bunch of 6×6 panels for this effort. I can use larger canvases, which I keep on hand all the time, but for this goal to be achievable, I want to be able to finish my daily painting in just 30 minutes, so it makes more sense to use small canvases.
Learn to paint shapes common to our local landscape. Or to paint them better. Shapes such as, palmettos, palm trees, blue herons and other shorebirds, tugboats and fishing boats and pleasure boats, paddlers, waves and choppy water, clouds, live oaks and scrub oaks, sand dunes, twisted dune pines, etc. If I spend a week on each of those subjects, that covers at least 2 months, without even considering that nothing is carved in stone, fortunately for this easily distractible artist, where every shiny spot of light cries out to be captured, now!
Learn to simplify, simplify, simplify!
Figure out what appeals to me about paintings I admire, and then practice that — compositional design, color combinations, contrast, development of focal area, etc.
Practice putting people in some of my paintings. Participate in the upcoming figure painting sessions to be held every Friday at the Cultural Arts Alliance’s Foster Gallery on Grand Boulevard in Miramar Beach, Florida. Learn how to use the “Zorn Palette” to create skin tones (cadmium red light, yellow ochre, titanium white, and ivory black).
This fall I am investing my time in cultivating my community’s appreciation for plein air painting, as well as promoting my own work. Many people in my community have never heard of plein air painting, so that is taking extra effort. My local arts association, the Cultural Arts Alliance of Walton County, is very supportive. The CAA will be adding a plein air paint-out to our existing Flutterby Festival at Watersound Origins here in Santa Rosa beach, FL, in November. I will be teaching a one-day workshop the day before the festival, the lesson being effective shape-making to start a plein air painting in a way that will offer a high likelihood of success.
Art marketers say that 20% of your time as an artist should be spent on marketing. I am spending more than 20% of my art energy right now, but I expect it to level off. I actually had intended for last year, my third year of plein air painting, to be my marketing year. The transition and adjustment after selling my pool service business took more time than I had anticipated.
Last February I had surgery on my left hand to reconstruct my thumb joint (CMC arthroplasty), and in November, the day after Election Day, I had the same surgery on my right hand. ( I mention Election Day because the surgery the day after the election meant that I could go through the next few days on pain medication, a relief on several levels.) I had opted to have my left hand repaired first, in February, even though the right hand was worse, so that I could know the level of disability I would have and be able to project the recovery time more accurately. The adjustment I made in February was to change from oil painting to watercolor painting, so there would be less clean up. I blogged about it under the title Adjust, Adapt, Accommodate — Painting Through Challenges. But this time, my right hand, my dominant hand, was immobilized, so I had to use my left hand express myself. Handwriting left-handed is difficult to say the least. By the time I finish writing anything, I have totally lost my enthusiasm for whateverit is I am writing about. And controlled brushwork is nearly impossible. So I switched to soft pastels, which are pure pigment, pressed into chalk-like sticks. The support I am using is 12×9 fine grit sandpaper made for this purpose. I’ve tried to keep my compositions fairly simple, being quite challenged both by the medium and by having to use my left hand. I’ve painted 3 times in the 4 weeks since my surgery. The rest of the time has been consumed with recovery, Thanksgiving holiday, and installing my part of the exhibit at The Foster Gallery, which i mentioned in my last post.
The first painting, at our weekly plein air painting session at Watercolor, Florida, was incredibly enjoyable, as I sat beside a large grouping of butterfly bushes that were sparkling with at least a hundred monarch butterflies, visiting during their annual fall migration to Mexico.
The second painting was a respite from a football game that was being cheered by my Thanksgiving week hosts and their other guests. I wanted to convey my impression of a tree I had seen a few days before. I had a photo to remind me, but I wanted to portray the feeling of awe that I had when I first saw the tree. It had turned completely red, and was dropping its leaves, but all the leaves on the ground were pink, instead of red. I did not investigate to find out why — I guess they were falling face down, so only the pink backs showed.
And the third painting was again with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at our weekly painting session, this time at The Gulf Restaurant in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. I chose the view of Brooks Bridge crossing from Okaloosa Island to FWB, and I stopped painting when the first raindrops started falling. A tornado touched down not too far from us and a waterspout scared people as it crossed the Choctawhatchee Bay. But it was calm where we were.
Next week I will find out if I can take of my brace to be able to hold a paintbrush again.
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.
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.)
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.
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!
When I take an art workshop, it provides a wonderful break from the full-time management of my pool service business and an opportunity to fully immerse myself in my art. I counted this week as a 6-day vacation, first participating in the two-day Destin Festival of the Arts (Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation) on Saturday and Sunday, then attending a Bill Farnsworth workshop through the Apalachicola School of Art Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and finally, painting with Mary Erickson on Thursday.
The Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters had a booth in the Destin Festival of the Arts, with 6 painters representing the group. I enjoyed interacting with the festival-goers, talking to the other artists in our booth, and plein air painting one morning. A lot of work goes into a festival booth. Marian Pacsuta and her husband erected the tent, so it was fully assembled with ProPanels and wind-weights already in place by the time the rest of us arrived to hang our art on the curtain hooks Marian provided. She had a small table set up, covered to the ground with black spandex cloth. I had made some flyers explaining our group, and some group business cards the day before, so those were on the table along with artists’ business cards and a clipboard for folks to sign who wanted to receive the weekly notifications of our painting locations. To make sure the booth was manned at all times, I had scheduled the 6 participating artists and two additional artists helping, in two- and three-person shifts throughout the festival. At the end of the second day, we all converged to pick up our art and take down the tent, a feat accomplished in a mere 20 minutes. Many of us painted en plein air during the festival. I arrived early on the second day and had an uninterrupted block of time to paint my scene en plein air before festival goers came, and then I was able to add in a few people.
At 5:00 the next morning I jumped in the car to drive the two-hour trip to Apalachicola for the Bill Farnsworth workshop. Bill is one of the featured “plein air ambassadors” of the Forgotten Coast En Plein Air event in Apalachicola. I had seen and admired his work, so when the Apalachicola School of Art advertised his workshop, it was an easy decision to sign up. The workshop was billed as Field to Studio, but the 20 mph winds and rains of the remnants of Mexico’s Hurricane Patricia were emptying out on the Gulf Coast, so we just painted in the studio using photo references that Bill had brought. His demos seemed to build from silhouetted shapes to high contrast to color, first completing much of the detail of his focal area before progressing to the less emphasized parts of the composition. The first day I painted the trailered oyster boat on the left, from a photo that Bill brought, and the second day I painted his photo of a blue truck at a seafood business.
At the risk of losing my momentum here, a little rant about artistic ethics: It’s not right to pass off a painting of someone else’s image as your own. Photography is an art in itself. If someone else shot the photo, they made the compositional decisions, and probably did some post-processing. I encourage everyone to always make sure you disclose that you used someone else’s photo reference, and give him or her credit. I know there are an abundance of images available on the internet, and some artists, even recognized artists and instructors, merely download an image from the internet and then paint it. Some artists even copy other artist’s paintings, and call them their own! I’ve coordinated exhibits where artists signed a statement of ownership when their work is clearly a copy of someone else’s work! Explaining rejections of art due to ethics is difficult when people do not have the same values. Don’t get me wrong, there is a world of benefit in copying someone’s painting, especially a Master. I never learned so much as in one semester in college when I made it my assignment to copy drawings by recognized Masters, from daVinci and Michelangelo to Degas. But it’s wrong to call it your own art, without crediting the artist or photographer. I’ve even had friends download my photos from Facebook and then re-upload them without giving me credit, instead of using the convenient “share” button that Facebook provides. OK, enough about that. So I do sell my workshop paintings that used someone else’s photo, to recover the cost of the workshop, but I always disclose it and would not enter them in an exhibit or competition.
Finally, on the last day of Bill’s workshop, the sun came out and the winds died down and the birds sang! We had opportunity to paint en plein air in the morning and again in the afternoon after Bill’s demo. I tried hard to remember Bill’s focus on relative temperatures of color, as well as relative values. I painted an old but still living tree, and I painted the St. George Island lighthouse and museum.
The day after Bill’s workshop, I took a bonus day away from work, since my staff had handled everything well in my absence, my only concern being when my office manager used the words “creative accounting” to explain how she resolved a cash-flow situation, oh dear.
We found Mary at sunrise Thursday morning, and watched her deftly capture the pink and orange light on the clouds and the dunes. I decided to paint on some 4×6 miniature linen panels that I had bought by mistake, intending to buy a different size, and only 5, not 50! I painted 3 studies of the wildflowers in the changing light over the course of the day.
As a plein air painter, I am never at a loss for subject matter. I paint the light. How do you do that on a foggy day, you may ask. But that’s just it, unless it is pitch dark outside, there is always light. Sure, I prefer to paint the bright sunlight contrasted with shadow, but it was foggy many mornings this month. Three weeks ago our local plein air painting group, the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, met at Oak Marina in Niceville, FL. I was filling in for our coordinator who had business out-of-town that week. So I arrived early, and set up to paint in the fog, with no more than 100′ visibility. The moisture in the air almost completely removed the color from the scene of the sailboats tied up to the docks. I drew the basic shapes, watching them swirl in and out of view for 30 minutes before the first painters arrived. By critique time, I had completely finished my 10×8 oil painting. Having limited colors because of the foggy atmosphere, my challenges had primarily been just values of dark and light gray. Eventually during the session, the fog lifted, and the far shore became visible. But I was far enough along in my painting that I was able to maintain the blanketed feeling I had when I had first arrived that morning.
I would like to have painted in the fog two weeks ago on St. George Island in Apalachicola when I attended the Morgan Samuel Price workshop (blogged here), but the fog had lifted by noon every day when our painting sessions started. On my last day in there, after the workshop had concluded, I made one last trek to Scipio Creek Marina and caught a few photographs of the boats in the fog, to support my memory. I have one of those photos at the bottom of this post.
This week was a challenge of a different sort. Our group coordinator suggested we meet in the parking lot of a grocery store. I was skeptical, imagining that we would be painting my nemeses, cars and buildings. Our coordinator, Ed Nickerson, is a master of design, able to create interesting shapes and compositions out of what anyone else might consider impossible subjects, like broad expanses of road, and power lines, and such. So I was prepared to take a page out of his playbook and paint lines on a parking lot, ha! But to my pleasant surprise, I found the pansied entrance to the shopping center to be a delightful arrangement of color. What fun, to be able to use some pigments straight out of the tube! By the time critique rolled around at 11:30, I had finished most of my painting, all except for the road and the sky. My road was a blue-gray, and Ed commented that it was confusing, appearing as if it were water, so I grayed it more and added the median curb and post and crosswalk to indicate the divided highway.
Below is my photo of the foggy marina in Apalachicola.
Last year I took my first workshop in plein air painting. I had been painting weekly with the local plein air group for about 14 months when I took that first workshop with Morgan Samuel Price. But I found each day of this year’s workshop even more challenging than last year. According to Morgan, that is the painter’s life. She says that a plein air painter just keeps finding more and more challenges. The more experienced they get, the harder the challenges they find for themselves. Sigh, I thought this was supposed to get easier!
What an amazing group of artists in this year’s workshop! Lynn Wilson, Carol Drost Lopez, Becky Anderson, Charlotte Hope, Nancy Smith Crombie, Patricia Irish Richter, Brenda Anderson, Sherry WetheringtonA, Mary Wain-Ellison, Glenda Coleman, Karen Snider, David M. Jones, and I: thirteen of us. One of the best parts about the workshop was the critique session held each day at the end of the day. We would line up our efforts, even if it was just a few brushstrokes, and Morgan would discuss each and every painting, directing her comments to that artist but for the benefit of us all. This was addition to her amazing morning teaching and demo sessions, and our afternoon practicing painting en plein air, all making for a superb workshop for beginner and advanced painter alike. Blessed with infinite patience and superb focus, Morgan is able to work despite the constant distractions of the excited artists milling and buzzing around her, cameras clicking next to her ear. Below are a few shots of her working. You can click on any of the images to see a larger view.
I had confidence to be away from my pool service business. I had worked long hours the weekend before the workshop, to clear my desk, plus I have a fantastic crew in the field and a wonderful office staff. On Wednesday my staff decided to show me what was happening there in the office, with a series of photos that even Tamra’s store helpers (her two dogs) had a part in. Here’s the worst one, Tamra Thomas, Margaret Bush, and Brenda Osborne. Clearly they do not have enough work to do.
The city and area around Apalachicola is such a scenic place, with the historic buildings, working waterfront with shrimp boats galore, oystermen, grottos and lagoons — it is heaven for painters. The home of Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, you often can find an artist or photographer at work.
Below are some of my works from the workshop with Morgan Samuel Price. Daily critiques were at a set time. Work had to be halted then if we wanted to hear what Morgan had to say about our progress. Click the photo for a larger image.
On the last day I was captivated by a thistle in bloom, so after I finished my landscape, I captured the pink of the flower by using a tint of color I had not ever used before, quinacridone magenta, which turned out to be perfect for painting thistles and I believe also should make painting azaleas easy. I am finding I generally prefer to mix my colors instead of using specialty pre-mixed tubes, but in this case I was very pleased with the chroma.
I shot the photo below using my iPhone.
Contact me if you are interested in purchasing work from this page or any of my online galleries.
See the next post for the weekly paintings done just before and after this workshop.
Because there are so many variables in n plein air painting, each painting presents a unique set of challenges, even if I am painting the same place at the same time of day. Adding a complication, I myself am different, and I am part of the process. “Wherever you go, there you are.” So I make no attempt to repaint the same scene in exactly the same way.
I read a blog about a concept called “growth mindset”. Apparently “researchers have known for some time that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones.” (Salman Khan)
The point was that we learn and grow during the struggles. I certainly know this to be true within the patterns and rhythms of my life, and recently I have been coming to this conclusion about my approach to my art. Perhaps it is the stage of of growth as an artist, or perhaps it will always be this way, that I have to learn anew how to paint, during each painting. Of course, I become better at my craft, but each painting presents new compositional challenges, new color challenges, and often, new lighting or atmospheric challenges, not to mention of course, new imagery in new scenery. Usually, I paint something I have never painted before. During the process of the painting I must learn how to paint whatever it is that I am painting. I try to capture the light.
Last Saturday, my challenge was to paint the mist rising off the surface of a lake at sun-up. Many many years ago I remember creating a passable mist by scumbling white gauche on a watercolor painting, but I had no idea how to paint mist in oils. I ended up using a light gray mixture of paint where I wanted the mist, and feathering it as best as I could without mixing much into the colors above and below. This seems like a technique I should practice, since I probably will want to create this sort of atmosphere from time to time. Above right is my 5×7 plein air effort.
Below are paintings from the last two weeks — two from my best friend’s balcony looking out over Camp Creek Lake, and the other a painting of one of the gigantic live oaks at Eden Gardens State Park.
Those who follow my blog know that I contract to paint plein air at wedding receptions at Grayt Grounds of Monet Monet where my plein air paintings are shown. I blogged about it in May, “Commissioned Works en Plein Air.” So you might think it would become old hat, painting the same setting. But the colors are different, the sounds change, the plants change, the people are different, and most of all, the light changes, so the challenges are always there, and I must always grow as a result. If the scene feels too familiar, all I need to do is move my easel a little, or turn my head, for a new point of view. I am not so fast as to actually paint the couple on site — instead I paint the surroundings in the hour before the event, and then I take photos and sketch a gesture of their entrance or first dance or whatever scene they choose, and then I may block in the general silhouette of the couple. I complete the painting in the studio. The biggest challenge, in commissioned work, of course is pleasing the client, and that includes working with color choices that compliment or repeat the design colors of the event, and sometimes it includes altering my painting style to lean towards a particular style the client likes.
My most recent contract was a month ago, in September. I had gotten the time wrong, thinking the newly wedded couple would be making their entrance around 5:30 instead of 7:30, so I was painting the entire back scene with late afternoon light in preparation for adding the couple when they made their entrance. I had planned to catch the couple coming across the bridge over the coy pond, placing them slightly right of center, against the spray of the green bamboo like plant that grows behind the bridge.
When the couple made their entrance at 7:30, my entire painting was wrong — the garden was now illuminated by string lights instead of afternoon sunlight. Plan B: Start a second painting!!! I was only minimally prepared for a nocturne, but I needed to get my painter’s sense of the location, the sounds, the vibrancy of the lights, the energy of the party. By painter’s sense, I mean that visceral impression of myself being a participant in the scene and not just an observer. I needed to be able to recall all of it, not just relying on photo references, which convey only a small part of what I try to project. I set up my little lights, one on my palette and one on my painting, and knocked out a study of the light-wrapped trees and the dance patio to help me do the job right when I got back to the studio.
The challenges of painting a nocturne successfully include first of all, believable colors. My palette from the afternoon painting was not the colors I would have chosen if I had planned a nocturne, but I was under the gun to capture the light-wrapped trees and the energy of the gardens so I used my afternoon palette. I don’t judge the resulting study — it has so much background energy, it looks like the place is on fire — it was perfect for reminding me of some of the feeling I needed to capture, even though I needed to figure out how to paint the light-wrapped trees better.
A little about composition… When I teach, I suggest that my students stick to the safer “rule of thirds” for the focal point, which means putting the focus of the painting on one of the intersections of the horizontal and vertical tri-sections of the painting. By putting the couple smack in the middle of the painting, I was challenged to direct the viewer’s eye. I didn’t want the eye to go straight to the center and just stay there. I wanted the eye to circle the painting, returning again and again to center, to help the viewer look at the painting for a longer period of time. That required more attention to the crowd than I was visualizing at the actual event, and especially more attention to the figures at the outside edges, who are intended to help the eye circle, and by their body position also help redirect the attention back to center. The scene is dramatized by the blue and red spotlights that were on the couple during their First Dance.
By writing this, I am reminded how many decisions go into making a painting. When painting plein air, those decisions are made on the fly; they are more considered in the studio. To arrange for me to paint plein air at your event, contact Cheri Peebles at Grayt Grounds: http://graytgrounds.com/contact/.
I’ve heard of certain art described as being painted “in the style of plein air”, but that description describes nothing, because plein air is not a style. Some plein air artists paint in a more abstracted style, and some paint very representationally. Plein air painting, by definition, is painting in open air, on-site. It describes an activity as well as the painting produced during that activity. Plein air artists focus on capturing some aspect of the actual fleeting light. Usually the subject and the artist are at the mercy of the elements and the environment, but there are no rules — if the weather or bugs are nasty, the artist might paint from inside his car. But very little, if any work, is done in the studio. When invitations are given for plein air works to be formally shown, usually the requirement is that most of the painting have been done outdoors, on site, from life, anywhere from 80% of the painting painting en plein air, to the purist’s position of 100% painted on site.
As for my plein work, occasionally I will correct a shape or add a detail in the studio, but usually my plein air paintings are fully completed outdoors, on site. Like many plein air artists, I have many plein air paintings stacked in my studio that for one reason or another, I consider unfinished, or with which I feel less than satisfied as far as the painting representing my impression of the scene and setting. Some have compositional problems, because in addition to the value patterns showing the play of light, there are so many design elements to consider – line, shape, size, position, color, texture, and density, as well as the compositional principles of balance, rhythm, and harmony.
So this week when I was chased back indoors by some biting yellow flies, I worked in the studio, making a few corrections to a plein air painting I had produced in a Laurel Daniel workshop this spring. I removed a pesky, distracting “V”, made the greens more yellow and less green, and I added a little more light in the background, and a red boat shape. The composition is more effective now, and more clearly represents my impression of the morning view, except for the boat of course, which simply adds interest.