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Trying Something Different, en Plein Air

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.

Oil painting of the marsh at Salinas Park, Cape San Blas, Port St. Joe, FL, painted en plein air in black, white, and gray

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.

Soft pastel study of a the afternoon light on the marsh at Bayou Texar, Pensacola, FL   Soft pastels painting of the marsh and bridge on Bayou Texar, Pensacola, FL

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The Need to Paint

Soft pastels painting of an old leafy tree
“The Thinking Tree” is available now in my store! Click the painting for details.

I have been in Apalachicola, Florida, for two weeks, immersed in plein air painting.The first 10 days were the Forgotten Coast en Plein Air, where some 25+ artists are invited to paint, demonstrate, and share their talents and stories, with hopes of generating sales of works produced throughout the event. The second 4 days were a convention of sorts called Plein Air South, with demo’s by multiple artists painting in the same general location at the same time, panel discussions, lunch-and-learn sessions, lectures, and paint-along sessions, from early morning to late evening, a marathon of learning, painting, and networking, generally refilling the well, creatively-speaking. One of the demonstrations I attended was given by Marsha Savage, who painted with soft pastels en plein air. Oil paint is my usual medium, but I like to explore other media for a change of pace. A month prior I had signed up for a local plein air pastels workshop which was scheduled two days after my return from Plein Air South, and although I was exhausted, I happily attended, freshly inspired in particular by the freshness of Marsha Savage’s pastel painting. The instructor of the local workshop was Fred Myers, who used to teach art at the University of Northern Colorado, where I received my art degree in the late 70’s. Fred was my favorite art professor, teaching figure drawing and painting. After his demonstration at this workshop, I made several thumbnail sketches of scenes, to study and figure out the darks and the lights, and I found my mind also wandering back to Marsha’s demo as I sketched. Then I tackled my subject, a gnarly, aged magnolia tree, covered with the buds of the blossoms that would surely be decorating it in the coming weeks. While the painting I produced is probably typical of the paintings I do, no doubt my work was influenced by having watched both Fred and Marsha work.

I think that every exposure to plein air painters and plein air painting brings me closer to the level of awareness that I strive for personally and in my paintings, which in this case was the mood of the tree scene. I had the overwhelming feeling that it was a good tree to sit underneath to think, perhaps even sharing its wisdom as well as its shade. It satisfied my compulsion, my need to paint, at least for that day.

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Adjusting Again – The Election and then Hand Surgery

Last February I had surgery on my left hand to reconstruct my thumb joint (CMC arthroplasty), and in November, the day after Election Day, I had the same surgery on my right hand. ( I mention Election Day because the surgery the day after the election meant that I could go through the next few days on pain medication, a relief on several levels.) I had opted to have my left hand repaired first, in February, even though the right hand was worse, so that I could know the level of disability I would have and be able to project the recovery time more accurately. The adjustment I made in February was to change from oil painting to watercolor painting, so there would be less clean up. I blogged about it under the title Adjust, Adapt, Accommodate — Painting Through Challenges. But this time, my right hand, my dominant hand, was immobilized, so I had to use my left hand express myself. Handwriting left-handed is difficult to say the least. By the time I finish writing anything, I have totally lost my enthusiasm for whateverit is I am writing about. And controlled brushwork is nearly impossible. So I switched to soft pastels, which are pure pigment, pressed into chalk-like sticks. The support I am using is 12×9 fine grit sandpaper made for this purpose. I’ve tried to keep my compositions fairly simple, being quite challenged both by the medium and by having to use my left hand. I’ve painted 3 times in the 4 weeks since my surgery. The rest of the time has been consumed with recovery, Thanksgiving holiday, and installing my part of the exhibit at The Foster Gallery, which i mentioned in my last post.

The first painting, at our weekly plein air painting session at Watercolor, Florida, was incredibly enjoyable, as I sat beside a large grouping of butterfly bushes that were sparkling with at least a hundred monarch butterflies, visiting during their annual fall migration to Mexico.

Soft pastels painting of monarchs on butterfly bush, painted en plein air at Watercolor, FL
(Created using my left hand, with soft pastels on sanded paper.)

The second painting was a respite from a football game that was being cheered by my Thanksgiving week hosts and their other guests. I wanted to convey my impression of a tree I had seen a few days before. I had a photo to remind me, but I wanted to portray the feeling of awe that I had when I first saw the tree. It had turned completely red, and was dropping its leaves, but all the leaves on the ground were pink, instead of red. I did not investigate to find out why — I guess they were falling face down, so only the pink backs showed.

Soft pastel painting of a red tree with pink leaves underneath, an impression of a scene in Murphy, NC
(Created using my left hand, with soft pastels on sanded paper.)

And the third painting was again with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at our weekly painting session, this time at The Gulf Restaurant in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. I chose the view of Brooks Bridge crossing from Okaloosa Island to FWB, and I stopped painting when the first raindrops started falling. A tornado touched down not too far from us and a waterspout scared people as it crossed the Choctawhatchee Bay. But it was calm where we were.

Soft pastels painting of Brooks Bridge from The Gulf Restaurant on Okaloosa Island, painted en plein air, looking towards Ft. Walton Beach, FL
(Created using my left hand, with soft pastels on sanded paper.)

Next week I will find out if I can take of my brace to be able to hold a paintbrush again.

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Middle-Aged Artists

Oil painting, study of water lilies

Oil paining, study of water liliesI sit in my studio, with the sound of soft pastels marking on paper in the background, as my friend makes a study of a peach on the other side of the room.  She is finding Art now, as the duties of raising her children near completion.  It helps that she has an eye for composition, being a photographer.  Natural talent makes her a quick student – if I show her something once, she can do it, and she is brave, discovering tricks and technique on her own.

I am realizing that this is a common occurrence.  People spend the first half of their lives doing one or both of two things, earning a living, and raising a family, and then re-discover their creative expression in middle-age.

Oil painting on canvas panel, Cattail Pond at Cessna LandingThis certainly is true in my community.  We have a loosely organized network of women artists here.  One dedicated member, Donnelle Clark, maintains the list of email addresses and the schedule of members’ homes where we meet once a month for potluck and for show-and-tell.  Each member brings one or two things they have been working on, and has 3 minutes to talk about what they have produced.  Weavings, handmade dolls, paintings, quilting, stained glasswork, story-telling and bookmaking, sometimes poetry, you-name-it, are shared in the space of just a couple hours, and I always come away amazed at the creativity.  Most of them, like my friend, have finished raising their children and now have time to devote to creative expression.

I know from my own experience, though, that it takes some effort to overcome inertia.  For about 8 years, I had been receiving the email notices of when and where the local plein air painters’ group was meeting the next Wednesday, always intending to go, someday. For 8 years, there had always been a conflict of some sort or another, and I had always allowed the conflicting event to win out.  In February of this year, I was attending some meetings on Wednesdays for a project I am volunteering for, and when I hesitantly told the chairman I wanted to start plein air painting the next Wednesday in March, she immediately changed our meetings to Tuesdays!  She honored my intention more on one shy request than I had myself for 8 years!

Of course I have to be flexible.  Last week I had to miss painting with the plein air group because I had scheduled the hanging of an art show I was coordinating for A+Art at the local branch of Northwest Florida State College on Wednesday.  I got up early and using a few photo references, painted the study of water lilies (above right) before the show installation.

Today I was again back out with the group, painting at Cessna Landing, on Hogtown Bayou, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.  The weather was beautiful, with a pleasant soft breeze and only one quick-passing shower that barely spattered us.  My painting from today is above left.

Below are my friend’s studies of a peach.  We worked with the shape, color blending, intensifying color by using compliments in the background, the shape of the shadow, and the importance of small details that identify the subject.  I demonstrated with a quick sketch, and then Leslie produced these two studies.  Her first one we agreed came out looking a little like a tomato, but the second one is definitely a peach.  It’s fun to have such a good student, with natural talent.  Look out, art-world, here comes Leslie Kolovich!

Pastel painting, Study of a Peach, by Leslie Kolovich Study of Peach by Leslie Kolovich