Plein Air, Hornets and Catapulting Canvases
I set out to paint a view in my back yard that I’m faced with everyday. From our window all but the mountain’s peak is more or less covered up but a quick jaunt up the road almost reveals the entire face of the mountain and the continuing range.
I started the painting with a wash of Cadmium Red Light and a small amount of Ultramarine Blue, to kill a bit of the orange found in the red and lean things a little more towards violet. I’m using a limited (liberating) palette of Cad Red, Ultramarine Blue, Cad Yellow Light and Titanium White. Basically what I was taught at university, many years ago. A limited palette or, a variation of, seems to be popular and has come to be known among certain circles as the ‘Zorn Palette.’ In the studio I usually use a variation of these colors, swapping out Ultramarine for Cobalt Blue at times as well as a cooler color for each primary. In the studio, I’ll use as many as eight or nine colors, depending on the scene or as few as four. Keeping things simple, especially while in the field helps in making quick decisions and provides a much easier way of creating color harmony.
Below, I’m using the site-size method of painting the scene. It’s a great way of quickly checking for tone, color, size and, of course, for checking your drawing.
As is so often the case when painting small works in the field you’ll notice that the piece quickly gets to a point of finish and that any further marks won’t necessarily add but would only distract. At this point I like to snap a few photos as the camera will show things at a thumbnail size that you may have missed. Most often it shows an edge that needs attention or a shadow that is too dark, things that can be reworked later but I’ve found it’s best to catch things early on and on-location.
Below is a close-up before I inadvertently launched my sketch into the dirt. My new pochade box took a little getting used to and I found out the hard way that the clasp that holds the panel in place will also flip a painting if you open it without having a hand resting on the top of the panel.
And now for a little bit of texture, the painting after slamming to the ground.
This isn’t the first time I’ve had a painting take a spill and to tell you the truth, a painting usually improves after a good toss but this one wasn’t salvageable due to all the fine dirt, multimedia is obviously not my forte. I do like how my left hand made a good scrape, down to the gesso and a nice arc in a last-ditch attempt to stop the ground from swallowing things up. In the end, I chalked this one up to a (hard) lesson learned and after a few expletives thrown to the wind I quickly grabbed a paper towel soaked in turpentine and scrubbed the panel clean. Then, with a deep breath and two hours left of good light I began again.
With the current fire season that we’ve had this year and an 8,000 acre fire burning about 40 minutes away in the Bitterroots, smoke had been moving in every evening and today was no exception. Once the sun dropped a few more degrees on the horizon the haze was apparent but I kept after it, if only to have something to show for the day.
Bugs always seem to be an issue that you just get used to aside from winter and late fall. Today I had what I thought were horseflies buzzing me every ten minutes or so and before the frustration of my panel taking a spill, the bugs hadn’t fazed me in the slightest. Now, of course I swatted at them and managed to catch one between my ring and pinky finger on my painting hand and instantly realized that they were some kind of black hornet as I was stung a couple of times in quick succession before shaking the hornet loose.
All out of unique expletives, I reused a few from the previous moment’s frustration and managed to muster enough gumption to continue through to a finished piece (below).
You can see that there was a lot of smoke in the air and I imagine that my mood mirrored the way I mixed the colors and placed them. Not a particularly pleasing work but a finished piece never-the-less.
Alleviating Discouragement in Daily Paintings
Not to be out done and recalling word’s my dad had said once I was bucked off, I decided to try getting back on the same horse the following day. I’m out painting these sketches in order to not only grow as an artist and continue learning but to have reference for larger studio paintings. So, the gray painting above wasn’t going to cut it and my masochistic self refused to be beat. I was out again to the very same spot with time allotted to get some paint on the panel before the haze set in.
My next attempt is below and I managed to keep things out of the dirt and to not swat at the
horseflies er, hornets.