With the heat index over 100, any activity requiring intense focus, such as plein air painting, can actually become dangerous, because staying cool and hydrated is not the first thing on your mind. Instead you are focused on capturing just the right amount of rose in that barely orange chunk of concrete, or the touch of sky blue reflected on a shadowy surface. But the heat has no mercy. So only 3 die-hard painters without good sense showed up this week to paint. I was glad I was one of them — every time I paint, I learn.
I was painting with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at Coffeen Nature Preserve in Miramar Beach, Florida. World War II bunkers and missile tracks punctuate the beautiful nature trails wending through the wild. A few small areas of the preserve are groomed for recreational use and sight-seeing. Outside of the preserve are the houses of Four Mile Village. Caretakers Bruce and Susan Paladini watch over the preserve, welcoming guests and providing information. You have to call ahead and get their permission to visit.
I have fond memories of the area. Long ago I used to visit my dear friend Jane Henkle who lived in Four Mile Village. She would take me over the dunes to the coastal dune lake bordering the preserve, and we would sketch and paint. The last time I came to the Village was to visit her daughter after Jane died.
Every time I have come to the Preserve and to Four Mile Village, I have avoided looking at the giant barn, the first structure you come to after checking in at the office. I have always thought it generally to be a monstrosity, such a big building situated in the middle of the wild, natural beauty. But yesterday in the morning light, it caught my eye.
I sketched in the light and shadows first, to help me remember what it looked like when I finished the painting at the end of the allotted 3 hours. I left the sky until last, not sure whether it was going to cloud over or not. What initially interested me in the composition were the dark openings of the doors in the broad sunlit side of the barn, but I also noticed the sky blue reflected on the shady side of the building, and the brightly lit tree in front of that side. And then I got distracted by the intricacies of the trailer full of brush trimmings, and then the light behind the sand pile! What a fun painting, every part of it!
I finished it and then drank about a gallon of water!
I paint with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters which meet every Wednesday morning to paint somewhere in the Okaloosa-Walton two-county area in Northwest Florida. Last week we met at Alaqua Animal Refuge. What a treat. Interesting animals everywhere, and fantastic areas of light and shadow between the barns and sheds and trees. I had been at Alaqua only a few times before this, to adopt a couple of cats, so this was the first time I looked at it through a painters eyes, with no other agenda.
After walking much of the immediate grounds, admiring Gorgeous George, the turkey strutting his full regalia, and the pigs, and the horses, burros, goats, and of course the dogs and cats and kittens, finally I found the emus, and decided I wanted an emu in my painting.
Alas, the perspective and the brilliant light in my scene completely dominated the emu. But I still have titled it “Emu at Alaqua Animal Refuge”, honoring my original intention. So often that is the case, that when I paint en plein air, the “what” that I thought I was painting either doesn’t get painted at all, like the Indian Blanket flowers I had intended to paint last week, or else the focus shifts during the painting, to the perspective and the light.
The painting is 12 x 24. I also have posted a detail showing that indeed there is an emu in the painting!
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.
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.