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Brighter Colors in Plein Air Painting

Oil painting of Hogtown Bayou looking west from Cessna Landing

I was showing a friend my paintings in my studio last weekend, and she remarked on the light and color of one row of paintings, which indeed were more vibrant than almost all of my other work.  I explained that none of the five were plein air, that they were exercises done in a workshop I took last summer, from Julie Gilbert Pollard, “Wet and Wild:  Painting Vibrant Water Scenes in Brilliant Color” (See my blog post).  Ordinarily, that would have explained the difference as far as I was concerned, but I started thinking more about it.  Granted, Julie taught us to use bright under-painting, and to use color for its value, rather than strictly for its hue.  But as I looked around at my paintings, I realized that at the time I was painting them, I thought I was painting very brightly, but in the studio they looked a less brilliant.  Then it dawned on me — I try to paint the colors that I see when I paint plein air.  And usually the sun is shining brightly, so light and color are at their optimum.  But when I bring my paintings indoors, the light invariably is never as bright as the sun, even using “daylight” bulbs.  When I take those same paintings into the sunlight, they are much brighter.  So I realized that in order for my paintings to have the same brilliance of color indoors that I see when I am painting them, I might need to paint with brighter color than what I see.  I’m going to think about that some more.

For today’s plein air session I took some canvas panels that were already under-painted, like we did in that workshop in July.  I had under-painted two 8×10 panels with red, and a third 6×6 with sort of a buff color.  I let some of the under-paintings show through, not covering the entire canvas with paint.  and I scratched out some of the grass and tree trucks, revealing the underlying color.  Below are my results.

Oil painting of Hogtown Bayou looking west from Cessna Landing

Oil painting of trees on the far side of Cessna Landing at Hogtown Bayou

Oil painting of soft grass at edge of Hogtown Bayou