I can’t remember the last time I painted my subject dead center in a symmetrical composition. But the live oak tree at Oak Marina had such a commanding presence yesterday morning that I decided to give it a go. It probably is 500 years old, with at least three main trunks coming up out of a common root, typical of live oaks in the wild. I remember learning when I was running a campground near where I now live, that when a branch of a live oak is plowed under, soon there will be several sprouts coming up from it, and which if allowed to grow, will form a small grove, all with a common root. Some trunks might join together, like this giant oak appeared to. It’s crown stretched at least three-fourths of the way across the water-frontage of the marina.
I was painting with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, the local group of weekly-painting plein air artists. I have volunteered to be the group’s coordinator of this year. Every Sunday I email everyone with the coming Wednesday morning location, and whoever shows up paints. For myself, I find that painting plein air with a group provides a social component that gets me out to paint when I otherwise might just blow it off, like when things are hectic at work or the weather is iffy.
The clouds came and went, rapidly changing the colors of the subject. sometimes the reflected light on the hard shiny leaves was blue, and then when the sun came out again, the colors would warm and glow. The Spanish moss swung underneath with the light breeze. The tree is so big that when you stand underneath it, it gives a feeling of rock-solid fortress-like security, but from a distance, it looked young again. This was one of those days that I personally identified with my subject.
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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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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.
As a plein air painter, I am never at a loss for subject matter. I paint the light. How do you do that on a foggy day, you may ask. But that’s just it, unless it is pitch dark outside, there is always light. Sure, I prefer to paint the bright sunlight contrasted with shadow, but it was foggy many mornings this month. Three weeks ago our local plein air painting group, the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters, met at Oak Marina in Niceville, FL. I was filling in for our coordinator who had business out-of-town that week. So I arrived early, and set up to paint in the fog, with no more than 100′ visibility. The moisture in the air almost completely removed the color from the scene of the sailboats tied up to the docks. I drew the basic shapes, watching them swirl in and out of view for 30 minutes before the first painters arrived. By critique time, I had completely finished my 10×8 oil painting. Having limited colors because of the foggy atmosphere, my challenges had primarily been just values of dark and light gray. Eventually during the session, the fog lifted, and the far shore became visible. But I was far enough along in my painting that I was able to maintain the blanketed feeling I had when I had first arrived that morning.
I would like to have painted in the fog two weeks ago on St. George Island in Apalachicola when I attended the Morgan Samuel Price workshop (blogged here), but the fog had lifted by noon every day when our painting sessions started. On my last day in there, after the workshop had concluded, I made one last trek to Scipio Creek Marina and caught a few photographs of the boats in the fog, to support my memory. I have one of those photos at the bottom of this post.
This week was a challenge of a different sort. Our group coordinator suggested we meet in the parking lot of a grocery store. I was skeptical, imagining that we would be painting my nemeses, cars and buildings. Our coordinator, Ed Nickerson, is a master of design, able to create interesting shapes and compositions out of what anyone else might consider impossible subjects, like broad expanses of road, and power lines, and such. So I was prepared to take a page out of his playbook and paint lines on a parking lot, ha! But to my pleasant surprise, I found the pansied entrance to the shopping center to be a delightful arrangement of color. What fun, to be able to use some pigments straight out of the tube! By the time critique rolled around at 11:30, I had finished most of my painting, all except for the road and the sky. My road was a blue-gray, and Ed commented that it was confusing, appearing as if it were water, so I grayed it more and added the median curb and post and crosswalk to indicate the divided highway.
Below is my photo of the foggy marina in Apalachicola.