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.
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.