Mar 28, 2013

Plein Air Dreaming

I have Easter off. Three whole days of no work, no tourists, no getting up at 6.15 in the morning to attempt to unfreeze the water pipes so that I can shower, no getting home just as the sun is setting.
No, I have three days of sleeping until 6.30 (because my body clock won't actually let me sleep in), lots of dog walking, a few jobs around the place, a couple of art jobs to move on a pace.

But mostly, this weekend is about plein air painting. I've been reading Liz Wiltzen's fantastic blog a lot over the last few days and I can't recommend her enough. Not only is she an amazing and inspiring painter, she is also full of really specific, tried and true advice for fellow artists.

So, armed with all sorts of new knowledge on how to approach plein air painting, I am going to set myself a task... To paint a scene on each of those three days. I know! Wow! Gush! Awe! Yeah, it's not a huge challenge, especially as I have taken on some of Liz's advice and will be painting on a smaller canvas so that I can focus on colour and composition in a tighter scale. It's going to be fun, messy, probably unsuccessful and perhaps upsetting, but that is art, isn't it? It's all about progress, learning, seeing, doing.


'Golden Secret' - Acrylics on canvas - 12 x 10
So I went off tramping, with a spot to paint firmly in mind, Along the way, I passed by a couple of other possible scenes to paint in the future. Unfortunately, the local farmer has cleared a lot of the hazel scrub that drew me to these locations in the first place. Apparently the half dozen massive fields he already has for his total of 10 cows simply wasn't enough...
Anyway, the above painting is what I came up with today. It's not very good. But it looked a lot worse before it got to this point. But as I working away, I had the words of landscape artist Stapleton Kearns ringing in my head, 'it takes 10 years to become a good artist.' That doesn't daunt me. It's a journey. A trying, yet rewarding, journey.
As I was painting, I had a visit from an inquisitive fox, but he didn't want to hang around, hopefully it wasn't the sight of the painting that scared him. I don't think I could take that kind of criticism. Not from a fox!

What I learned
Getting a good sky blue is harder than I thought.
Bare trees are tough.
I need an easel.
My style requires the building up of lots of layers.
I will get angry at a lot of my paintings before they come good.
I must work through the anger.
I must utilise a variety of brush strokes.
I suck at composition.
The fox is a beautiful animal.
Farmers are philistines.

What an absolute disaster.
Today's painting attempt was the kind that really whacks you where it hurts. Nothing was working, everything looked terrible, the colours were wrong, the application was amateurish at best, the composition too complex for my skill level. I tried to continue with the piece for as long as I could, but it was just getting away from me more and more. And it was freezing cold. It was the kind of cold that is tolerable if you're out in it for a couple of minutes. But for any prolonged amount of time, it starts to really become a problem. I was wearing my fingerless gloves, but still had to stop every 10 minutes to try and get some life back into them.
But that's not an excuse. The painting would still have been bad if it were 20 degrees warmer.

As I was stomping home after abandoning the scene, I could slowly feel the fog of failure lifting though. And by the time I reached the front door, I almost wanted to turn around and try again. But I didn't.

What I learned
-I suck.
-I will suck for a long time to come.
-But I will suck less and less as I acquire knowledge and practical skill.
-I REALLLY need a portable easel. I have taken measures to solve this problem. I have ordered a mounting bracket that I will secure to my Burren Box Easel that will allow me to connect it to a photographic tripod. This will mean that I will no longer need to rest the box on my lap while I sit on a 1ft high collapsible chair, which is my current, uncomfortable and thoroughly compromising set up.
-I need to build up layers more loosely and with more attention to placement, opacity and variety of strokes.
-I tend to be a dabber. I need to not dab so much.
-I need to start with a pencil and get the composition down before even thinking about picking up a brush.
-I need to blend clouds more, mine look like big chunks of solid objects.
-Barren trees against a skyline are to be avoided at all cost until I can do them justice.

Ivy gully - Acrylics on Acrylic paper - 12 x 9
Today was better.
I took a while to find a spot (mostly due to cows taking a keen interest in what I was doing and jointly deciding to follow me and see what was what.) Eventually, I found a little gully about 3-4 metres deep and the same again wide. On the other side stood a huge tangle of briars and hazel scrub. And running rampant over everything was ivy. The picture shows what looks like a tree in the height of summer, but really, it's a leafless tree covered in ivy.
Anyway, the piece turned out okay. Not great, but the best of the three. I tried some new things, and did some old things differently.

What I learned
-sea sponge is messy, but creates nice effects.
-red is a dangerous colour.
-shadows should be done first.
-painting when it is sunny feels nice.
-I still suck.


Boric G said...

...not sure what you're going on about, Jay. These look great to me. Just remember: even on your worst day, there are those of us out there that wish we could do THAT well.

Keep up the good work!

Jensan said...

I agree with Boric G, these are great paintings.

The "Ivy gully" painting looks amazing. The technique you used there makes it feel very much alive.

Keep on producing!

Jay Penn said...

Thanks gang, it's a long process and a journey I'm really enjoying. Weather permitting, there should be more to show soon.