Posts Tagged ‘Plein air painting’

A breath of plein air

Monday, June 1st, 2020

A few weeks ago, for the first time in several months, I met with some friends for a plein air outing. We gathered in the combined shade of a private park filled with live oaks and shared our news and goals for current artistic endeavors.  One friend worked with colored and watercolor pencils, another with graphite, and a third focused on color-matching exercises, while I did a watercolor sketch of one of the scenic views before us.

"Oak Park Pond," by Charlotte Mertz (5"x7" watercolor, #200506w)

“Oak Park Pond,” by Charlotte Mertz
(5″x7″ watercolor, #200506w)

Despite maintaining acceptable social distances from one another, it was a welcome change from the creative isolation we had all been feeling.

On our second outing, for the first time in many months, I played with water-miscible oils to brush up in that area. (I find I have a lot of brushing up to do in that realm, having fallen quite out of practice since agreeing not to use oils in my home studio. My husband’s extreme sensitivity to solvents means that I need to use oils en plein air or not at all; until recently it’s been not at all. But I’m hoping that that, by using the water-miscible oils, that can change this summer.)

Therefore, for several reasons, our plein air group members all look forward to continuing to meet on a regular basis.  

I hope you have all been able to start enjoying some opportunities for getting out and sharing some real togetherness, too, since shelter-in-place restrictions have started to loosen up.

What new undertakings have you been exploring while sheltering in place?  What are you looking forward to doing (or have started doing) again, that you haven’t been able to do for a while?  I’d love to hear from you.

Characteristics of Place

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

The transition from winter to summer seemed very sudden for us in Florida this year.  One of the few natural clues in the past few weeks that we were experiencing “spring” was the dramatic fall of leaves from the live oaks after daytime temperatures rose suddenly from the 50s and 60s(F) into the mid-to-upper-80s within a week.

Unlike most deciduous trees, live oaks cling to their leaves through the fall and winter, releasing the small, drying leaves only as the new growth of spring leaves begins.  So, in conjunction with our winter temperatures largely mimicking summer temperatures in more northern regions, (and aside from the fact that we don’t get much of a cold reprieve for more than about a week, ever) sometimes it feels as though our seasons are a bit backward on the Florida peninsula.

Hanging Moss in Oak Park, by Charlotte Mertz (8"x10" oil, #180207-o)

Hanging Moss in Oak Park, by Charlotte Mertz (8″x10″ oil, #180207-o)

It was a good reminder to teach my students to watch for the unique characteristics of not only the specific vegetation in the locales in which we paint, but other identifiable aspects typical of the region.  These may include rock and soil color and configurations, species of trees and shrubs in the area, wildlife native to the region, and architecture designed either to address climatic conditions or to incorporate notable regional cultural influences.

These regional differences are one of the reasons we travel – to recognize and experience both environmental and cultural differences from other areas we’ve known.  I believe, too, that it is one of the reasons plein air painting has become so popular in recent years.  Not only are the physical characteristics of a specific region different from those in other places, but the prevailing atmospheric conditions can be recognized, as well.  Artists often refer to it as “the quality of light.”

Atmosphere is influenced by a number of different factors.  These factors include level of humidity; active precipitation; prevailing winds; air pollution; mist, fog, or salt spray; type and depth of cloud coverage; the colors reflected from the earth’s surface onto the underside of clouds; and even altitude relative to sea level, which can affect the density of the air itself and the light’s refraction among any airborne particles.

As I write this blog, the air is heavy, dense with humidity.  Colors are less saturated, values are condensed into narrower bands of lights and darks than usual.  On days like this my grandmother would comment that the distant side of the lake on which she lived appeared particularly far away, whereas on clear, cloudless days she might say the far shore appeared especially close.  It is this kind of difference that, as an artist, I try to be aware of, to establish in my work a sense of the atmospheric conditions in a specific place.  It’s a lesson I mean to extend to my students.