After noticing my tendency to dull my colors when painting in the bright light outside, I decided to paint with brighter colors, sometimes straight out of the tube. The duller colors were exact when I was outdoors, but indoor lighting is never as bright as the sunlight, so I found my paintings looked dull when I brought them indoors. This effort to paint my paintings so that the colors look realistic when indoors, challenges me, because the more intense color seems a little garish while I am painting. I have to battle my instinct to tone it down.
Painting the potted plants in the pavilion at the head of the Turkey Creek boardwalk in Niceville, FL, last week, I was thrilled to find my subject half in the sun and half in the shade. Colors change radically when the sunlight hits them, being more true to what we think of as local color, in the shade. And the reds! Seldom do I get to use strong red! What fun!
This week Wednesday was overcast. The light was strong, but the colors were muted. The Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters were painting at Nick’s Seafood Restaurant in Basin Bayou, west of Freeport, FL. I remembered all the fancy little chickens running around in Trey’s yard next door, and I hoped to paint them. Alas, they were gone, and the only critters to show up were three scrawny young turkeys, two white and one brown. So I decided to paint the play of light around the boats, and the geometry of the chicken coop. Halfway into the painting, Trey came out and I asked him about the chickens, and he said there were about a hundred in the coop. I heard them start cheeping, as a little boy spread food for them. Trey threw some corn between me and the coop and a few adult chickens came out to eat. So I got to paint chickens after all!
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Last week was my last hurrah before my summer season in my day-job as owner of a pool service business in a resort area of vacation-rentals and second homes. Sigh, I am paying for it this week, burning the midnight oil making up for the time I invested in painting last week. But I do not for one minute regret it, because it is always such a joy to paint with like-minded enthusiasts. At the end of the workshop we took a group photo, and I asked Bob if I could hold his hand. His excitement was such an inspiration to the group, having started plein air painting only recently in his 80-year life.
Our workshop was sponsored by the Seaside Institute, in Seaside, FL, facilitated by Casey Johnston. Our biggest challenge was finding parking during that week of Memorial Day. The institute brought Kathie Odom in from Tennessee to lead our workshop. Kathie shows her paintings at Redbird Gallery in Seaside.
Kathie underpaints her plein air paintings with a wash of yellow ochre, viridian green, and transparent iron oxide (a rust color). If not fully mixed, the wash will be more of one color than another in any given area. She doesn’t necessarily cover the entire canvas, instead usually making some sort of a off-center starburst pattern. Then she takes a paper towel and rubs off the juiciness, so the wash is relatively dry. She uses a dark brownish mixture similar to raw umber to paint-draw the scene she has chosen onto the canvas, and she uses a cotton swab dipped in solvent to lift off the areas that she wants nearly white, the recently applied color wash coming off fairly cleanly. From that point, she proceeds on to the unexplainable magic of plein air painting, applying darks first and lights afterwards. At the end she randomly applies extra twigs and flicks of color which help create the what she calls “vibration of color”.
In every workshop I take, it seems like there is a bottleneck in my brain between what I’ve just heard the instructor say, and what I am able to do with my hand when I paint. It guess it takes a while for new information to get from the left brain to the right side. The bright yellow-green umbrellas of the Great Southern Cafe caught my eye from the amphitheater stage where we were set up behind the Seaside Post Office. Challenged by the lower part of the scene being hidden by the parked cars of Memorial Day vacationers, I dashed in a few shadows to break up the foreground, and returned the before class the next morning to finish up. I decided to leave the foreground as it was, and just sharpened up a few details and called it done. Buddy shot a photo of me concentrating on Kathie’s demonstration.
The next day’s scene was our view from a pavilion overlooking the beach in front of the Shrimp Shack there at Seaside. Working with the greenish-yellow wash behind my sky was not as disconcerting as I thought it would be. I’ve used washes before, using transparent iron oxide alone or mixed with ultramarine blue, and also I’ve used cerulean blue for my drawings, sometimes washing some areas. But usually I’ve toned my canvas with an acrylic wash so that it is completely dry before I start oil painting. That has allowed me to scrape off color to expose the wash, but Kathie’s technique of washing with oil paint permits lifting off color to expose the white canvas, or scraping it to expose the wash, which to me is the best of both worlds.
We painted upstairs at the Seaside Assembly Hall that afternoon, thankfully indoors while a fantastic lightning storm blew through the town. Kathie taught techniques that she uses. Below are two classroom exercises from two afternoons that week.
My pool service business did not slow down just because I was taking this workshop, so one afternoon I hardly painted at all, spending most of the allotted time on the phone, managing a difficult relationship between a property owner, his friend who was responsible for the property, and the contractor repairing a pool heater with wires chewed by rats. It is nearly impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it, how hard it is to figure out which wires the rats may have just chomped on, out of the spaghetti of wires inside an appliance.
I met the owner of Redbird Gallery in Seaside that afternoon, and we talked for a bit. Tricia shows some of Kathie’s works there. I chose that gallery to paint but barely got the paint-drawing done. Buddy got a good shot of my easel.
On Thursday we painted in Grayton Beach State Park. I decided to paint on a larger size canvas, 12×24, more than 3 times bigger than my usual 8×10. I spent almost the entire time mixing more paint, since my practice with smaller paintings was to mix just a little. A small mixture doesn’t go very far when painting a bigger painting! I went back to the park at 6:30 the next morning to finish my painting, thinking the park opened at sunrise, only to find that it doesn’t open until 8:00. Below is my unfinished painting of the scene from the parking lot near the nature trail.
Frustrated, I started driving back to Seaside on Scenic Highway 30A and stopped at the bridge where I painted the view of Western Lake from the roadside. This view of the “umbrella trees” is probably the most photographed scene in all of South Walton County, where the slash pines bordering the backside of the lake form an umbrella. It perfectly fits the 12×24 canvas I used. I will be making limited edition prints of this painting, some on stretched canvas. Message me if you are interested.
I often say that I meet myself coming and going, when I am plein air painting. By that I mean that I have to do a lot of work on self-acceptance throughout the process of making a painting. Every painting is a struggle – none go exactly as planned. Some paintings go better than others, but some seem like every stroke, every color, every value, every shape, is wrong and needs to be corrected. Those paintings require self-forgiveness and self-acceptance all the way through, or else I would quit and they would end up in the trash. If I don’t forgive myself, then I become angry, and then painting is no fun. I have to reach the “zen” of the process, that point where I start to let be whatever mark I make, without conscious judgement of “good” or “bad”. The artistic analysis and corrections become unconscious, and that is when painting becomes meditative and personally transcending.
I recently have done a number of paintings, some with the local Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, and some at an event in Apalachicola, the Forgotten Coast En Plein Air. Yesterday I did not complete my painting. I often wait until last to develop the focal area of my painting. Yesterday I worked on the focal area first, and I lost track of the time, so the call for group critique came while I still had half the canvas bare. I quickly slapped in the greenery and a suggestion of the ground to give some context and the following image of the Bruce Cafe was the result.
Last week’s regular plein air session was at Oak Marina in Niceville, Florida, yielding my impression of the graphic light on the foreground and the massive oak tree trunk.
I painted 3 paintings during the span of the Forgotten Coast En Plein Air. I painted in the Quickdraw Competition the first weekend and was pleased that my painting sold during the judging! The scene included a row of potted plants in front of a landscapers office, some in the shade, and some in the sun. I called it “Garden Ready”.
The next day my eye was caught by the light on the crumbling stucco wall and corrugated tin covering the windows of the abandoned waterfront Joe Taranto Seafood Company building. Across the street is the iconic wall of buoys, but I just suggested the buoys in order to keep attention of the texture of the wall and tin.
I could not stay for the entire event — my pool service business is experiencing a growth spurt, so I needed to be home during the week, but I returned on the weekend for the final showing of the works of the professional invited artists. While there, I painted what was told to me was the oldest structure in town, a building which now is just four walls, with no roof, draped with trumpet vines. The stark shadows of the palms on the wall were what initially attracted me to the scene. Unfortunately, I made a lot of what we painters refer to as mud when I was painting the spaces between the shadows, so I came back to the scene the next morning and cleaned them up. This is my result.
The week before last, our local plein air group painted at Four Mile Landing in Freeport, FL. I chose the industrial scene of the port, where barges were ready to be loaded, and on one bank, a new fireboat’s water cannons were being tested. The light alternated between a sunny glare and muted overcast as the atmosphere wafted in and out. The result was more impressionistic, with extra emphasis on the lights and darks.
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In addition to “Garden Ready”, the Quickdraw competition painting shown above, the following paintings also recently sold. “Marsh at Indian Pass” sold during the Artists of Apalachicola Area member show two weekends ago, and “Island Plantation” sold this past Monday night at a meeting of the local women artists network.
So often I pass a scene that begs to be painted, while on my way to some other engagement I am obligated to or have committed to. And then other times, when I have my paints and the time, the setting doesn’t seem right or the light is wrong, so there I am, all dressed up and nowhere to go. When the two come together though, it is so much fun! Today was one of those days, in both cases: first in that I had an obligation and couldn’t paint, but then when I was finished with my prior commitment and made my way to this week’s location for the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, the setting was right and the light was right, and I was so very happy! It was the first time I had been at Marse Landing in Freeport, FL, and I was so impressed with all of the beautiful plein air possibilities. The light was shining through the cypress trees onto the wetlands plants alongside the creek, the impossible greens and yellows begging to be captured. I knew I was getting a late start, so I made a preliminary values sketch, and then got out a couple of tiny 4″x4″ gesso boards and got busy. Below are my two efforts: