I am starting to see in color. That may sound strange, but the fact is that most of the time in my normal everyday activity, I hardly pay attention to color. When I was focusing on figure drawing, I occasionally used color, but for the most part I was focused on line, shape, and value, usually rendering the whole piece just using a black-white value scale. Now that I am painting again, I am noticing for example, when a white railing is picking up the blue of the sky, or how intense a green becomes when it is contrasted with red. I am finding that much of what I think I am seeing as different tones of a color are actually the same color which looks different depending on what color is next to it. I am particularly challenged by all the greens I see, when landscape painting. If I try to mix an exact shade of green, it often seems muddy compared to what I actually see. Who knew, that Einstein’s theory that everything is relative applies to painting as well as nuclear physics, that the better way to achieve a color is to find the color next to it which gives it the quality I want. Resisting the temptation to launch into that as a metaphor for life, I’ll instead move on to my adventures in plein air painting over the past week. Last week we painted at Nick’s Restaurant, and I bemoaned the fact that I know very little about boats. The next day I decided to take another run at the featured boat, using my photo references, and came up with the piece at top right. It was the little paprika-colored spots of rust washing out from the old nails in the hull, that gave the greens and turquoise the punch I wanted. So I wafted a little of that color into the foreground grasses too.
This week is the largest of the spring-break tourist weeks in the beach resort communities of Panama City Beach, Seagrove Beach, and Destin, FL. So when the announcement came that the plein air painters would be meeting at the docks again in Destin, I knew the drive would take all the fun out of the adventure, so I opted to paint from my dock in my back yard. I had thought I would be painting my view of the creek leading into Tucker Bayou, but when I looked upstream, the color of the bayou grasses intrigued me. My initial 6″ x 6″ study, left, did nothing for me by way of planning my painting, but rather served more like a singer doing la-la-La-LA-La-la-la scales to warm up her voice before performing.
I needed a warm-up! The temperature was less than 40 and the wind was chilly. But it was a clear spring day with bright light. I roughed in the composition and then went to work on the trees at the edge of the Bayou. The spring gold-greens of the new leaves contrasted with the rich, dark pines and the shadows underneath. I resisted the impulse to paint the shadows a colorless dark value, which has the potential to suck the life out of a painting. Instead I darkened my green shadows with a touch of the same deep red I used to tint the pink flowering trees in my distant neighbor’s yard. I stuggled with the grasses, because the shiny highlights were picking up every color of the palette. Uncertain whether I was just making a mudpie, I plowed onward through the painting, until I was satisfied I had achieved an approximate similarity to the colors I was seeing. My two cats initially were scared by my unusual activity on the dock, but they grew braver throughout the 2 hours, wrapping their tails around my legs as I scratched some final textures and highlights into the grasses and the tree trunks. Upon completion, I stood my painting up against a piling and stepped back from it only to have a bitter wind gust blow it onto its face, requiring repair where it had landed on an edge of a dock board. Remembering the worm crawling across my finished painting two weeks ago, I decided that paintings are not really finished until restored from an inevitable mishap at the very end.
The day before yesterday I was excited to find a delivery frames on my package stand as I entered my driveway, so even though it was late, I spent the next couple of hours framing my earlier paintings done in November and December of last year, when I first resumed oil painting after a 30-year hiatus. Looking at them, I realized that I am growing by leaps and bounds. The rate of my improvement surprises me. I thought I would progress more slowly, and even be tempted to give up, because oil painting so intimidated me, no doubt from my tortured efforts during and shortly after college. I find I am enjoying the time limitation of plein air painting, which while still allowing for tortured effort, does not allow it to continue for very long, with only a two hour window before the light changes so much that further attempts at capturing an impression are not worthwhile.
I continue to play with my photography. I am learning about photo-editing, taking a class in Photoshop Elements from Jackie Ward at Northwest Florida State College, South Walton Center. She is teaching us what Photoshop can do. It’s difficult for me to remember. My poor brain may be overloaded, trying to run my business, my day-job, the one that pays the bills, while I try to learn more about photography and painting. I still enjoy the easy editing that can be done with Snapseed App on my iPhone. Yesterday I paddled my canoe on the Bayou with a dear friend, a fellow photographer. You can’t take a bad picture at sunset! Most of my editing of my iPhoneography consists of simply straightening the horizon line and perhaps a little cropping, but I had some fun dramatizing and saturating the photo below.
Most of my images are available for purchase. Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot