Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lessons from the Field

"I'm still learning that there are no mistakes, only discoveries."
                                                                                                    ~ Fernando Ferreira de Araujo

We've been blessed with a long, beautiful Fall this year and I am trying to get out and paint in the field as much as possible. Yesterday I packed up my supplies and headed to a state park near us and spent the day painting on location. I found that the park had thoughtfully supplied me with plenty of convenient picnic tables near scenic views. A good thing, since I have yet to get an outdoor easel. 

I spent the morning at this lovely spot next to the river. A single loon kept me company, floating and diving in the river right around my vicinity. It called once; that hauntingly beautiful wild call that nature sounds relaxation CDs have made so cliched. 

I also spotted a coyote wandering around in the rocks and scrubby junipers across the river from me (too far away for a picture). The paint flowed from my brush onto the canvas almost effortlessly. I was brimming with contentment. If only I could do this every day!

After lunch, I scouted out some other spots with painting potential and ended up being inspired by this group of boulders in the afternoon light. The rocks were a dream to paint, with delicious purples and rust colors. 

My models. They were wonderful at holding a pose for a long time.

As I drove home, I was so proud of the little paintings I had done and so filled with bliss from the day. I unloaded the car and put my pieces in a prominent spot where my husband couldn't miss them when he walked in the door. 

After I unpacked everything, I glanced at my paintings again and did a double take. They looked nothing like what I'd done in the field! The colors were very pale and washed out, the values in the boulder painting were flat. What the...? Oh, crushing disappointment! I was so tempted to hide the paintings, but I bravely showed them to my husband anyway. He was supportive (of course) and we discussed what might've gone wrong. Best we could figure, my eyes were tricked by the intensity of the light. After a little research on the internet, I found that this is a common problem for beginning plein air painters. Suggestions ranged from getting an umbrella, to turning so that your canvas and palette are in the shade, to toning your canvas so that you aren't staring at a blindingly white surface while trying to figure out colors and values. 

What happened to all the yellow ochre and earth tones I thought I used? Why is this SO green?

We also thought that perhaps wearing sunglasses had affected my perception of the scene, but last week I did another painting with sunglasses on and it came out just fine. Maybe I should name that piece "Beginner's Luck".

Beginner's luck

Today it is overcast and blustery, so I can stay inside with a cup of tea and contemplate the challenges of painting on location, as well as fritter away more time surfing the internet trying to decide which of the hundreds of plein air painting set-ups I should get. So many choices: Pochade box or French easel style? Traditional easel legs or tripod? The wooden set-ups are so beautiful, but also way more expensive. The metal ones seem more compact for carrying, and more rugged for outdoor terrain, but they are not lovely. The internet is also full of artists with DIY pochade box instructions (just google "make your own pochade box" and you'll see what I mean). If you have any experience with outdoor painting, please leave your opinion on a potential easel in the comments section for me. You can also tease me about my newbie mistakes in the field. Thanks!

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