Posts Tagged ‘En Plein Air’

Seeking safe haven

Saturday, 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.

Casting Light on Lights

Sunday, May 15th, 2016

When striving to get our lightest values light enough, the temptation is to substitute white for a more accurate color.  Although this practice is both expected and acceptable in watercolor, since the lightest tones are actually taking advantage of the brilliant white of the underlying paper.

But in oils, the practice of using white, straight from a tube, isn’t so successful.  For one thing, tube white (usually titanium white these days, since zinc white tends to yellow with age and become brittle) has a cool cast, which doesn’t ring true as a highlight for warm colors.  For another thing, unless the subject color is intentionally white, pure white paint seems to glare and stand out unattractively from the rest of the composition.

The only unmodified white in the painting below is in the highlights on the paper towel roll (behind the canvas on the easel), and the highlights on the blue-white gloves, shoes, and turps can.  All other “whites” have been modified.

160409o---En-Plein-Air (original)

So what’s the answer?  As with mixing any other color, it’s a question of blending the appropriate hues to achieve the desired value.  And when that desired value is almost white, the mixture may require only the tiniest quantity of pigment to modify the tube white.

As I’ve been familiarizing myself with oils, I’ve found that my lights don’t always get quite light enough.  What I think will be a light tone, like the highlights on the hair in the painting above, proves to still be close enough to the middle tones to undermine my intention.  In this case, the highlight on the woman’s hair was so similar in hue, value, and saturation to those of the canvas that her head (which should have been a secondary focal area) and the canvas appear to merge into a single shape, which in turn disappears into the foliage behind them.

A few slight modifications to “En Plein Air” (#160409-o), below, made a big difference.  I lightened the hair highlights a bit, and both slightly lowered the value and increased the saturation of the canvas, which served to separate the two shapes, bringing greater attention to the head and allowing the canvas to appropriately replicate the colors of the background.

160409o---En-Plein-Air (revised)

The difference such subtle changes in contrast can make demonstrate for me again how important it is to really understand value control, even in the highest range, and to practice monitoring those values closely as I prepare the colors on my palette.  I didn’t have to worry about the lights so much when using watercolor.  I’ve been learning that it’s much more critical when working with oils.