Sunday, May 24, 2009

The perils of plein air

The Sentinel
10 x 20 oils

Today was a warm late spring day and I thought I'd try some plein air painting. I never have to go too far to find subjects as I live in the woods, quite literally. At the back of the house there are acres and acres of trees and among the pines, spruces and firs, stands a paper birch that soars head and shoulders above them all. I like to think of this tree as the Sentinel, watching over the forest.

I pulled together my oils, thinners and brushes and brought them out to the patio where I have a great viewpoint of this tree. The sun was brilliant on the canvas, so I quick toned it to reduce the glare and started to lay in some values.

A gentle breeze lifted to a cool gust making me glad I'd put on a sweater before venturing out. The disposable palette sheet started flapping, so I grabbed a rock and put that on the end of the sheet to hold it down. After finishing the sky and starting to build the tree masses, the wind came back again, this time lifting my panel and placing it on me. Great. I now had a brown sweater with blue paint and a lovely imprint of knit fabric on the painted sky.

I secured the panel more firmly to the little french easel and continued to build the image. The sun was warm and I took off the sweater, figuring it would definitely be 'the painting sweater' from now on. But the wind wasn't finished with me yet it seemed. It couldn't take the panel and fling it around, so it chose the palette instead. Even with the small rock holding the disposable sheet of paints in place, the wind took the whole thing and turned it upside down. On me. Guess what? I have dedicated painting jeans now. And shoes too.

I have older clothes that I use when painting and wear an butcher's apron,but its pretty rare that I do get paint over me. Til today.

However, after 90 minutes of work, this is what I came up with. I removed some trees to make the birch more prominent and ignored the line of old willow stumps that had been pruned in the foreground. I may fiddle with it a bit more or will it be classed as 'plein air' then? Isn't the end result what its all about instead of the process?

12 comments:

"JeanneG" said...

I guess today you learned your lessons the hard way. We have 2 plein air oil painters who go out with our group some but it is sure a challenge for them. Takes longer to set up, tear down, and they don't often take home a finished product. I think that may be why most in our group do watercolor as our time frame is 9-11:30.

Glad you were able to get outside to play.

Anita said...

This is gorgeous! I love it! Plein Aire is definitely your friend. I do envy you just being able to walk out and find things like this to paint!

Chris Beck said...

There seems to be some mischievous sprite who insists on covering our clothes with paint when we aren't wearing our old things. All that aside, this is a wonderful painting. It really says "spring" to me.

Billie Crain said...

This turned out really wonderful despite all the problems you had to endure. Isn't communing with nature fun? I guess you now have your dedicated 'paint clothes' thanks to the wind but in the future I'd like to recommend investing in a set of hospital scrubs. Love them for messy artwork.:)

I've been told by some artists that they enjoy the process as much if not more than the end result but that's not me. Personally, I'm happiest when I have the finished product in front of me.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

I have to confess that I smiled while reading this. The only advantage of pastels plein air is that the pastels provide some weight to hold them down! But I too have had the "peel the support off your upper half" moment - and know it well.

I don't use an easel because I find the way they misbehave in wind to be so utterly dire.

Canvas aprons - with a bib - are good! :)

I like the idea behind your painting but I think it might benefit from more contrast in values - but maybe it's your palette? I still think you need to go and buy yourself a new blue to get the sunny blue sky effect. I think the one you are using maybe leans towards green as it seems quite close in palette value and hue to the trees.

Robyn said...

Beautiful trees, Jeanette and an oil painting I'd be thrilled with under calm conditions. Your windy adventures make me realise why I'm never going to be a successful painter en plein air - I'd have scuttled inside at the first gust. You've made an amusing tale out of what must have been very frustrating.

tracywall said...

Hahahahahaha, ah the trials and tribulations of plein aire! We laugh because we've been in similar situations! Really like the whispy clouds you've added.

vivien said...

:>D you made me laugh - and I can SO relate to that!!!

Once in a gale (I know we were insane to be attempting to paint in it) I could only hold a tiny 6 inch square sketchbook still - anything bigger just flipped constantly as I got near it with a brush

I never bother with easels like Katherine, more bother than they are work plein air

Baby oil is good for getting paint out of clothes and then the oily mark from that washes out in the machine. It may prevent more wardrobe losses :>)

I agree with Katherine about the blues - I wouldn't be without Ultramarine, Cerulean, Indigo, Pthalo Blue, Prussian Blue and occasional others. In acrylics Process cyan is a useful colour.

I think oils are actually the easiest for plein air - I can quite literally do 3 oil sketches in the same time as 1 watercolour because of the 'waiting times' while w'cols dry

Nice result - you are building a great series. I hope you have an exhibition with these or open studio to show them?

Jennifer Rose said...

I really like the texture of the leaves you have going on here :)
I shouldn't have laughed at your paint problems, but like Tracy said its happened to most of us and we know how you feel :) (oxyclean might work well to help get the paint out, or at least fade it a bit. Worked great to get acrylics out of my jeans)

Jeanette said...

What we do in the name of art is always interesting Jeanne :) It is nice to get outside and paint though.

Anita, I have enough places to paint within a stone's throw of my house, I could go paint in my pyjamas and no one would ever know. One of the advantages of living in the middle of the woods!

I agree Chris. The gods of wind were playing with me, as they often do here. And the greens of spring are always so tempting to capture.

Great idea on the hospital scrubs BIllie, I must invest in some! I usually have a bibbed canvas apron on over clothes, but even that wasn't enough yesterday.

One of the joys of plein air isn't it Katherine. No matter what the medium, there are challenges it seems.

I think it needs the values bumped up as well. This is the raw plein air piece of 90 minutes. I find that I rarely complete a piece plein air, or if I do, its pure luck. I always have to finish it off in the studio.

As for the blues, I have a range of pretty much all the blues, and used cerulean with a touch of cobalt for the sky. The sky itself wasn't a deep blue and the wispy clouds moved in which I added.

I am aware of my 'delicate' touch (read pastel values) and know its an area that I have to work on. I need to try to be bolder but the timid side always wins out for some reason.

Thanks Robyn. Landscapes really aren't my forte and trees a true challenge, especially this tangle of them. I was trying to simplify it and will continue to work on it to give it more form. Wind here is a given, being on an island. You just work around it. And swear a lot. :)

Its universal isn't Tracy? You gotta laugh or it would make you crazy.

Vivien, the easel I used was a little tabletop French easel that I placed on the wide arm of a Adirondack chair and that worked well, as it was just on the patio. I wouldn't have the patience to drag out a full size easel and set it up.

As for the blues, I have them all, except Indigo, which I need to mailorder in. As I said, I'm cautious in my colour uses, likely too cautious. I'm more a drawer than a painter I think. :)

I'll think of something to do with these pieces when I accumulate enough to be significant. I'm considering something for late in the year.

Oh it was funny Jennifer, its one of the hazards of painting outside. The paint is applied more thickly on the highlighted leaves, almost impasto. As I tweak it, we'll see where it all goes. And thanks for the tip on cleaning paint from clothes.

Mary said...

A lovely painting Jeanette, after all you had to go through and I hear you well, I think that is why I prefer studio painting.

Karen McLain said...

I can relate! I have two kinds of shirts, one with paint on them. And those that are going to have paint on them! I really like the feel of the wind/movement in the sky and trees.