Painting with the Emerald Coast Plein Air Painters at The Boathouse Landing in Valparaiso, FL, last Wednesday, I thought I would paint a simple cascade of leaves over a fence. The lush green blackberry leaves were punctuated by a few white and yellow honeysuckle blossoms. I was wishing I could capture the scent along with the shapes and colors.
And then I found out that it wasn’t simple at all. I was very close to my subject, and perhaps that was the challenge — I was seeing too much detail. I’ve heard of people taking off their corrective eyeglasses so that they don’t see as much when they paint — maybe that would have made it easier.
I had toned the canvas with a light wash of pink acrylic paint before I started the oil painting. My purpose was to retain some of the pinks and reds that were in the blackberry stems and branches. Overwhelmed by the large mass of green leaves, I settled for the patterns of light and dark, and painted the honeysuckle flowers towards the end of the session. I scratched out a few of the twigs and branches of the blackberries, revealing the pink canvas. There were bands of light between the fence slats peeking through the leaves in a few places. Later, in the studio, I refined the edges of the spots of light to help the leaves stand in front of them.
It ended up being a great session for challenging myself, topped off by a nice meal and good conversation with fellow painters Dan Robison, Weezie Bancroft Brabner, Patti Overholt.
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.
Last week I didn’t draw, except for my practice at home. Instead I watched and listened to a lot of live music at the 30A Songwriters Festival, which I blogged about in my last post. And last Friday I attended a yoga presentation on the Root Chakra, the first in a 7-week series, a subject which is all new to me. Then on Tuesday a friend and I got together and brought each other up to date, all good. And Wednesday, a whole bunch of artists I hadn’t seen for a while were at figure drawing, at the regular weekly session at Studio b., which was exhilarating.
So whether a positive result of my fledgling efforts to allow more energy to flow through the Root Chakra, or good old-fashioned open communication with a dear friend, or listening to so much good music, I felt very confident in my artistic expression this week. I found myself very quickly lost in the process of executing each pose. When I lose myself is when I enjoy it the most and feel the most successful at capturing what to me is the basic emotive and visual essence of the pose, whether I am focused on the light, or mass, or shapes, texture, or line.
Our model struggled with the standing pose at top left. Supporting herself on one leg with a locked knee, she wasn’t able to hold it for as long as she had intended. Nevertheless, even with the pose a little shorter than expected, I felt completely comfortable with the end result, leaving portions of the drawing a little sketchy. In fact I think I am enjoying that more and more, developing only the more important area of each pose, although I need to be careful not to always leave the feet undeveloped, because that might be suspected laziness. Feet are difficult to draw.
The drawing at upper right is the only drawing I was unsure about, when I was finished, because her right elbow creates a triangular shape above the woman’s throat. Effective composition requires the artist to be judicious, to leave out visual description which merely confuses. So I worked on this drawing when I got home, removing the elbow shape entirely, and then drawing it back in. Sometimes it is that little quirk of confusion that requires the viewer to puzzle for a moment, and engage a bit more, holding his attention for a bit longer. And in this day and age of instant communication, holding someone’s attention is like gold to an artist.
Speaking of attention, to those of you who wade through my blogs each week, from the bottom of my heart, thank you! You don’t even have to say anything, though I love it if you do — I feed off your collective support. May we all give support to each other for our efforts at creative expression, whatever the avenue!
Most of my images are available for purchase. Contact me if you are interested. — Joan Vienot