Friday, December 02, 2011

Art School: Plein Air Painting.

Ah... plein air painting.  It's been an adventure.  When I leave for plein air painting class in the morning, it feels like I brought enough equipment to invade a small country.  It was easier to pack for a month long European backpack trip than a 3 hour stint of painting outdoors.

The good parts...
  • After drawing portraits, figures, architecture, and animal skulls -- all subjects that require strong draftsmanship -- it's nice to relax on drawing accuracy.  I can draw a rock any way I want as long as it looks cool.
  • I enjoy being outside.  There is an energy when you draw from life that you can never replicate in the studio.
  • I've been exploring parts of the city I never knew existed.  For those areas I'm familiar with, I'm able to appreciate them in a new way.
The interesting parts....
  • Selecting and composing the scene can be tough.  The natural inclination is to include everything, especially those objects that are grand.  I see the enormous mountain range and want to incorporate it all, but realize that the more interesting scene may be a small path to the right, flanked by a few trees.
  • It's difficult to edit.  I have to know when to include an adjacent tree and when to omit it.  If I remove it from the scene because it doesn't add anything, what do I put in its place?  I have to manufacture the background.
  • Time is an issue since many things change.  Yes, time is an issue when painting a portrait in 3 hours from a live model.  But when outdoors, the light changes quickly.  The wind often goes from tame in the morning to blustery in the afternoon.  A fellow painter commented that all sailors know to head out at noon because that's when the wind picks up.
  • Something will always go wrong.  You have to persevere.  When I went to set up my French easel I discovered that a nut had fallen off a bolt, leaving me unable to securely fasten the canvas.  I had to McGyver it using metal clips.
  • Design is important.  Nature does not place tress in the optimal locations.  Limbs do not grow at the most beautiful angles.  You have to draw things so they look attractive, not because they exist.
  • Color mixing is challenging.  I have to mix colors to match hues and values that are new to me.  I have to determine which two, three, four, or five paints combine to form a specific shade of sand, and in which proportions.
  • Living on the coast we frequently paint the ocean.  Waves don't hold still.
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify.
Here are the last two paintings I've done.  Many thanks to my instructor, Bob Watts, for all of his help.

Tourmaline, San Diego (Oil on canvas board, 12x9").  Tourmaline is a world famous longboard surf spot.  It was so beautiful this morning -- the previous day's rain had left the sky perfectly clear.

Balboa Park, San Diego (Oil on canvas board, 12x9").

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