Seeking safe haven

September 15th, 2018

What do you do when it’s neither practical nor safe to paint en plein air?  On a lake, for instance, lightning will be drawn to anything that stands above the water’s surface … such as sailboat masts or even people in low-lying kayaks or canoes.  You don’t want to be on the water during a thunderstorm!

It seems we’ve gotten more than our fair share of rain and heat this summer, wherever we’ve traveled.  So I haven’t been able to get outside to paint quite as much as I’d been hoping to. But even when I have to work from photos, I find that the desire to paint outdoors attunes my eyes to notice (and remember!) features that I might not be so conscious of otherwise.

I find myself paying attention to such things as hard and soft edges created by changing density in the atmosphere, and color variations that indicate changes in plane.  And the very process of figuring out how to most effectively approach a painting to recreate these edge effects is always a valuable exercise. Even the selection of colors, choice of how to blend or overlay hues to achieve appropriate values and saturation levels, deciding how and where to reserve whites, and how to suggest motion are valuable studies, whether accomplished en plein air or in a makeshift studio space.

"Scudding for Home" by Charlotte Mertz  (5"x10" watercolor, #180902w)

“Scudding for Home” by Charlotte Mertz
(5″x10″ watercolor, #180902w)

For “Scudding for Home,” above, (5”x10” watercolor, #180902) I drew information from several related photographs, as well as the memory of the experience of being in a nearby boat (with a camera but without my painting gear) … and my own desperation to beat the storm to shore.

So no, it wasn’t painted en plein air.  But to my way of thinking, the veracity of a painting is in the feeling as much as in the literal depiction of the scene.  So I’m happy with the resulting painting, which remains faithful to both the site and the circumstances, even though I couldn’t execute it on location.

An air plein trip-up to remember

September 1st, 2018

One logistical issue I hadn’t considered when taking a plein air trip was brought to my attention quite suddenly this summer.  Although I had gone light, with only a small shoulder bag painting kit and a folding stool in lieu of an easel, on the return trip I decided to tuck my art gear and the small watercolor paintings I’d completed into my suitcase and keep my backpack available for comfort items I’d need while flying back home.  After a six-hour flight delay (plus the two extra hours I’d allowed before flight time) and missing my original connecting flight, I managed to get standby space on a later connecting flight home.  But my suitcase didn’t.

Fortunately, I had both more art supplies and clothing at my destination.  But I didn’t have the new paintings I wanted to blog about.  Nor had I yet made a photographic record of all of them.  The suitcase did not appear on any of the next several flights, so I began to worry that they might have been “permanently lost” or routed back to my other address rather than to the location where I would be for the next several weeks … and where I would need everything else in the bag as well as the art!

I should have learned my lesson the only other time I’d been separated from my luggage, which, that time, had held my wedding dress.  Apparently a panicky bride carries more weight than an artist at the end of a long day of multiple airline snafus.  The wedding gown had been delivered by taxi the following day.  This time, the suitcase with my paintings, art supplies, and clothing did eventually arrive, but not nearly as promptly.

Lesson learned:  Find a way to keep the critical stuff with you!

En Plein Air – Follow-up

August 15th, 2018

Besides learning techniques for painting outdoors, my recent plein air experiences have alerted me to some of the logistical issues, as well.

Early lessons learned included the need for proper equipment.  In Key West my backpack carried the easel and all my other paraphernalia, but it was slightly too small to allow me to zip the main pocket fully around the easel and shelf.  I used a bungee cord to hold it all together.  And though the tripod fitted into the side pocket and was anchored with straps up the height of the backpack, its length was unwieldy.  The pack also had so many pockets that I actually couldn’t access my camera, which had slipped down to the bottom of an inside pocket.  As a result, I wound up using my phone camera instead, from which it was more difficult to transfer images to my computer, as well as providing poorer quality images that were difficult to see on the small screen in bright sunlight.  Upon our return, I promptly ordered a Plein Air Pro backpack designed specifically to encompass my entire Plein Air Pro easel kit and tripod.

As I had long suspected, experience also confirmed that I needed to find a good painting umbrella both to protect me from the direct Florida sun (which makes temperatures seem noticeably and uncomfortably hotter than actual temperatures in the shade) and to protect my eyes, which tend to lose an accurate sense of color in high glare.  So that was another purchase I made this summer.  The model I chose is the EASyL Plein Air Umbrella, which is comparatively lightweight, forgiving of windy conditions, and fits, as the tripod had on my Key West trip, into an outside pocket of my new backpack, bound up the length with support straps.  Both the easel and the umbrella fit into a large, checkable suitcase but not into carry-on sized luggage.

I also picked up a small folding stool to have along in the car when I use with my pocket watercolor kit but when I don’t want to take a full easel setup.

And of course, techniques and equipment are only part of the equation.  As you have probably already seen in recent posts, time, energy level, and prioritization also play important roles.  We have to actually get ourselves out there to paint!  We can’t get out of our efforts what we don’t put into them.

 

En Plein Air – Composition

August 1st, 2018

I’ve been having some fun this past month playing with less common aspect ratios for my compositions.

As I considered this live-oak tree, for instance, with its resident bromeliad, fluffy tufts of air plants, moss, and multi-colored patches of lichen, I chose an elongated vertical composition (10” x 5”) to emphasize the height of the trunk, allowing the contrasting lines of the branches and the bromeliad blossoms to visually counter-balance the dominant vertical thrust, and the mass of the bromeliad to counter the lines and puff-points in the rest of the composition.

"Arboreal Tenants" by Charlotte Mertz (10"x5" watercolor, #180701w)

“Arboreal Tenants” by Charlotte Mertz
(10″ x 5″ watercolor, #180701w)

In order to feature the other plants that have nestled into the vertically textured bark, I took the artistic liberty of drastically minimizing–to a wash of merely suggested color–the densely wooded background and entirely eliminating the tree’s own foliage, both of which would have created visual confusion.

This process of visual simplification also narrowed my own focus down to the key elements, which can be very helpful when working en plein air, where it’s easy to become distracted by other, extraneous aspects of the environment.

Door County Community Mosaic Project

July 15th, 2018

Although I am unable to be in Door County, Wisconsin, for their annual Plein Air Festival, July 22-28, this year, I am happy to have been able to participate in the Community Mosaic Project, to which artists of all ages and inclinations are encouraged to contribute in support of the Hardy Gallery, a Door County charity.  The “mosaic” will be on display July 20 through August 26, 2018, concurrently with the popular Collection Invitational Exhibition, at the Hardy Gallery in Ephraim, Wisconsin.

"Well Rooted" by Charlotte Mertz (6"x6" acrylic on canvas, #180601a)

“Well Rooted” by Charlotte Mertz (6″x6″ acrylic on canvas, #180601a)

Entitled “Well Rooted,” my painting (numbered 118 for the exhibit) was inspired by the intertwined roots at the base of a stand of trees in a shaded park.  They reminded me of the residents of this sylvan area, who anchor, support, and strengthen one another through the vagaries of time, weather, and … well, life in general.

If you’re in the vicinity, I hope you’ll stop in and show your support for this very active and attractive arts community.