I grow faster as an artist if I occasionally try something new, with a technique, a medium, or a subject I don’t normally use. Last week I posted a work in soft pastels. I’ve painted a couple more since then, for more exposure to the medium. Pastels are an excitingly different medium than the oil paints I normally use.
A month ago, I enjoyed oil painting using only black, white, and gray, to meet the requirements of a call for art by my local arts alliance. I painted en plein air, on a 12″ x 36″ stretched canvas, at Salinas Park near Port St. Joe, Florida, on the road to Cape San Blas. The marsh there is one of my favorite scenes. When I was a mentor for the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air in 2016, as a Florida’s Finest Ambassador, I taught 3 sessions at Salinas Park, but there is a difference between painting as a demonstration, and painting for the sheer pleasure of it. I loved doing this painting using only black, white, and gray. The only times I have painted with this palette of neutrals is in classes, either as a teacher or as a student. I really ought to do it more often, making a completed painting out of a value study, such a beneficial exercise! Unfortunately, the painting was not accepted into my local arts alliance’s exhibit — so I can’t wait to see the art that was accepted! To see a larger view of this painting, CLICK HERE.
The pastel works I completed last week are below. I specifically worked on creating the illusion of distance in all of these paintings, by softening distant edges, reducing detail,and reducing distant intensity and heightening the values. Pastels are pure pigment, and it is a challenge to reduce the intensity when you only have a couple hundred colors. Painters who work regularly in pastels have probably a hundred shades and tints of each color, perhaps a thousand colors in their box. As an oil painter, I am accustomed to mixing my colors. So it was a lot of fun allowing the brilliance of the pure pigment to show.
As always, message me if you are interested in owning any of my artworks.
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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Don Demers, one of my workshop instructors last week, tongue in cheek, said “Plein air painting creates bad drivers.” He explained the hazard, that as a practicing plein air painter, one could be driving along and become mesmerized, staring at the shape or color of something, perhaps even something so interesting as the shadow of an underpass. We all laughed of course, but I recognize the truth of his statement. After practicing plein air painting for 8 days, I can’t look anywhere now without noticing wonderful value contrasts, delicious color intensities, and patterns of light leading my eye through compositions waiting to be painted.
The first workshop I attended was by invitation. Twelve painters were selected to be in the “pilot” course for the Apalachicola School of Art Plein Air Academy. Master plein air artist Don Demers is designing the curriculum, and Joe Taylor of the Apalachicola School of Art is planning the logistics. Together they will come up with a course to be offered as professional development for the advanced plein air painter. Don spent a good bit of time talking with each of us, as well as offering constructive tips with our paintings. Of most practical value to me was his suggestion to set intention before starting a painting, and then to stick to that intention. He suggested we draw “thumbnail sketches” of our intended paintings first, studying the value relationships and evaluating whether the composition would work as a whole, before we spent 3 hours painting it. Some of my sketches progressed into paintings, some were mere studies of shapes or ideas discarded as perhaps too complicated or logistically difficult (the one above left required me to stand in an ant pile; the one above right was too complicated for my limited knowledge of fishing boats).
I learned something about photography after doing one such value study, and that is that my iPhone camera does not see the light the way I do. In fact my camera hardly picked up the power of the light at all. Here’s a comparison:
I completed two paintings and a couple of studies in the Plein Air Academy workshop. Integrating what I am learning is always difficult — there has to be a period of intense, grinding focus, because painting is for the most part so visceral, and newly learned information so very intellectual. I found myself completely exhausted by the end of the first several days. I must have had every muscle in my body tensed as I tried to incorporate what I was learning. I literally came home, ate supper, and went straight to bed, for the first 3 days.
Here are a few of my paintings from the Apalachicola School of Art Plein Air Academy workshop.
Typical page of notes
Over the next few days I attended the Forgotten Coast En Plein Air event workshop with Greg LaRock and Ken Dewaard. I wish I could remember everything they said. It was fun to watch the different approaches of two accomplished artists. Both were very strong on compositional tips. LaRock often mentioned ways to lead the viewer’s eye through the painting, and Dewaard pointed out subtle color changes to look for, like the change in the tint of shadows depending on how much of the sky color they might be acquiring, or how much of the color of the ground. Hopefully I absorbed a lot of it, even though I can’t recite it. Below are the paintings I produced during their workshop. In the first one, my challenge was to make the pile of rubble, mostly chunks of concrete, look interesting, like a rocky shoreline. The paintings of the boats and of the shirts for sale both challenged me to simplify.
I actually had energy to paint a few small studies outside of class, the last several days, below. Apologies for shooting the photos slightly crooked!
NOTE: light added to 2nd painting above, at https://joanvienotart.wpengine.com/?p=7003
And now back to my day-job! But the shadows of those underpasses are starting to look mighty interesting!!
Coastal Georgia was a beautiful place to be, last week. I drove from my home in Northwest Florida to St. Simons Island for a plein air painting working with Laurel Daniel, a fabulous artist whose work I have been watching for years, following her blog even before I ever decided to try plein air painting. Laurel is a master at ‘definitive suggestion’ in her work, leaving out just enough of the smaller details which invites the viewer to participate. I am a fan of this kind of work, because the longer the viewer will look at the piece, the more they will appreciate it, and not just see it and walk away.
Laurel worked hard for us, teaching us to show distance by muting intensity and tapering values to mid-range, but her primary focus was teaching us to block-in the basic shapes and values before getting down to the business of painting. Each day she demo’d a different way of blocking-in, before painting luscious scenes “From Marsh to Seaside.” Her three block-in methods include dry brush sketch in a dark neutral; mid-toning with a neutral and then wiping out lighter values and adding darks; and the most difficult, blocking in with true colors at correct value. Laurel put the dark elements in the painting first, leaving the lighter values for later. Her reasoning was to get down the shadow patterns first, so that we would be able to hold onto them throughout the painting, because the light and shadows change throughout the two hours you are painting. In this location, the tide changed as well. A marsh full of water might be nearly bone dry by the time you were finishing a painting, so what started out to be a pattern of light on water, could be dark mudflats by the time you finished. Laurel blogged about her workshop at http://www.laureldaniel.blogspot.com/2014/05/marshside-palms-demo-georgia-workshop.html. We were treated to an opening of Laurel’s works at Anderson Fine Art Gallery on St. Simons Island on Friday evening, midway through the workshop. There were a lot of red dots on the labels by the end of the evening, indicating “SOLD”. I would have loved to have brought one home with me, but it already had a red dot on it, sold before I arrived. I was happy to see works by other amazing artists in the other rooms of the gallery, including Morgan Samuel Price from whom I took a workshop in April. On the last day of the workshop, my muted phone started buzzing while I was shooting some progress photos of the instructor’s demo — it was Joe Taylor calling, the organizer of the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air. I will be attending a workshop by Ken Dewaard and Greg LaRock after that event, so I thought it might be some details about that. But no. Joe started by asking me if I had received his email, and I drew a blank. I went from confusion to shock, when he said he had emailed me to ask if I would like to be one of the students in a pilot workshop that is being designed as Advanced Plein Air for the Apalachicola School of Art. I managed to compose myself enough to say Yes! So I will be taking 2 workshops, back-to-back, next week. When I set the intention of taking as many plein air workshops as I could afford this year, I didn’t know that I would be getting more workshops than I can afford! (This one will be free!) I am delayed in getting this blog posted. We had a flooding rainstorm that shut down the entire Florida Panhandle, closing roads and bringing everything to a standstill. About 2 feet of rain fell in a 24-hour period. I was fortunate that my home and business did not suffer any damages, other than a sign blown down. Many others are not so fortunate. The same storm spawned killer tornados in other states. Nevertheless, it kept me from getting back into the studio to practice my new awareness gained from Lasurel Daniel’s workshop. Here’s a quick video of the bridge over the slow moving swamp I cross every day, a half-mile from my home. http://youtu.be/3cGH-p9XM00
Last week I attended a plein air painting workshop in Apalachicola, Florida, taught by Morgan Samuel Price. The location of this fishing village is just two hours from my home, an easy drive but far enough away that I chose to stay in a rental property rather than commute. I learned so much I hardly know where to begin. It will probably take me years to assimilate it. The difficult thing about an intense learning situation, is that much of it is communicated abstractly in words and absorbed into the left brain, while painting is performed on the right side of the brain. Fortunately, Morgan demonstrated during and after each lecture, to help us make right-brain sense of the concepts she was teaching. And she didn’t seem to mind repeating answers while each of us gained just enough understanding to ask the same question the previous student had just asked. “Morgan, what colors are you using now?” “Ultramarine blue, cadmium red light, and hansa yellow,” Morgan would answer. And the next student would ask, “Morgan, what colors did you mix to get this color?” And Morgan would patiently answer, “Ultramarine blue, cadmium red light, and hansa yellow.” To be fair, though, the different colors we were asking about were entirely different colors — it’s just that Morgan is a wizard at color mixing, and can make any color on the palette out of ultramarine blue, cadmium red light, and hansa yellow.
The first day, Morgan taught us about various materials and how to hold the brush for different angles of brushstrokes, and she taught us about color value, intensity, and temperature. She taught us more about those topicss every single day. She also taught us about color in context, about composition, about creating the illusion of receding space, how light falls on horizontal surfaces vs vertical surfaces, how the eye moves through a painting, and even how to doodle on a scratchpad that sits by the telephone. She taught us about clarity of value and precision of shape. She taught with ease and good humor. And she patiently answered again, “Ultramarine blue, cadmium red light, and hansa yellow.”
We had some good sunshine the weekend before the class, but our only sunny day during the class was the first day, Monday. After watching Morgan paint a simple alleyway with so many luscious values and such obvious perspective, making it look oh-so-easy, she turned us loose to paint in the afternoon. I choose the bright yellow siding of the Inn where everyone else was staying, and tried to capture the perspective of the sidewalk receding toward the church in the background. Even in my frustration (left brain / right brain confusion), I already had begun to learn. It is in the struggle that I find I truly learn, whether the painting shows that learning or not. There is some confusion between the palm tree and the porch roof which makes the porch roof look like it is angled wrong — it’s not. But as we joked in class, sometimes we need arrows and words printed on our painting to explain different elements. My painting of the Inn could use several arrows.
The next day we drove to St. George Island, and I painted a grove of scrub oaks which had a play of light on the tree trunks that interested me. I struggled with that light, but Morgan said to be definite with it — so I put down my tentative little brush and made some bold swaths of light, giving it much more of the feel that I wanted.
On Wednesday, two of the other students and I got lost from the rest of the class. We painted near the base of the bridge to SGI, at a marina. I painted on 16×20 canvas panel instead of my usual 8×10. I enjoyed using bigger brushes, but found myself being very stingy in mixing my colors, never mixing enough paint. It’s difficult to paint with no paint on your brush.
Thursday found us at Scipio Creek, at another marina at the north edge of Apalachicola. The pelicans and seagulls put on a continuous show for us while we caught the hazy pinks and lavenders in the middle ground and the muted grays in the distance, in contrast with the richer colors and more contrasting values in the foreground.
And then, sadly, it was Friday. I painted beneath the overhanging deck of ‘Up the Creek’ Restaurant, with a vicious thunderstorm popping lightning all around me. Nearby strikes three times chased me back further underneath to the center of the marine storage area under the building, which I imagined was safer. All of the colors of my scene were washed out, at times it being so dark there was no color at all. The last thing I painted were the reedy grasses and trees in the background, when suddenly I realized it was time to critique, so I packed up and hurried back. I will dim the intensity of color on that foliage to make it recede more — it’s a little too bright, like the sun is shining on it, which it wasn’t.
A plug for my excellent host, the owner of the property where I stayed, Robert Lindsley: Visit the Robert Lindsley Studio and Gallery at 15 Avenue E near the waterfront in Apalachicola. And to the VRBO agent, my new friend Mike Klema — just search “VRBO Apalachicola” for Vacation Rentals By Owner, and Mike’s units will come up. He was very accommodating, and I loved my place behind the island, right on US 98! I had the thrill of seeing both the sunrises and the sunsets, as well as the parade of fishing boats every morning, and the abundant species of birds. I’ve posted below a few photographs of my week, which all in all I enjoyed very much.
It’s a rainy day in Florida today. For being the Sunshine State, we certainly have had our share of rain this year, at least in Northwest Florida, where I live. Our plein air painters group was scheduled to paint at Grayton Beach State Park today. With 100% chance of rain, and with it already 100-percenting since the wee hours of the morning, accompanied by flash-flood warnings, it is not surprising that only two of us showed up. I was first to arrive, choosing a pavilion where I could see the distinctive stand of trees across the lake, that everyone here knows as the Umbrella Trees. The rain had slowed to barely a sprinkle and some little woods rats were squirreling around in the wildflowers beside the pavilion. I would see something move out of the corner of my eye, and then if I kept looking, I would see the second one follow the first. They were completely camouflaged when they were still.
Soon after fellow plein air artist Ed Nickerson joined me, the bottom fell out of the sky again. Colors in the distance muted to grays, and the foreground colors intensified by contrast. We both had time to paint two small paintings before the mist of heavy raindrops bouncing off the tin roof and blowing onto us chilled me to the bone. I headed over to Grayt Grounds for a cup of good coffee before running an errand and returning to my studio.