Thursday, September 30, 2010

In Plein Sight

Painting 'en plein air,' outdoors in front of the subject matter, is a great experience. A place of your choice, in a setting that's appealing to you, and enjoying the fresh air is a great way to spend many hours in productive pursuit of art.

However, it can be challenging for many reasons, including weather changes, continual movement of light and shadows, hauling all of the necessary equipment, and at times there's just too much in front of you to paint.

First, the equipment.

Many years ago, packing for a day of painting meant remembering to bring paints, easel, brushes, rags, canvases, turpentine, and wine and cheese. You could find a rock nearby to balance your palette on and maybe you had a towel or blanket to sit on when you took a break away from painting to relax a bit and check out your creation.

You painted under the sun, in full abandon, and hopefully came home with a great painting and a nice tan. I remember some artists who painted in their bathing suits and would take their breaks in the surf.

These days it's much more complicated!

Not too keen on steadying palette and goodies on nearby pieces of earth, as we mature, one needs a small table or at least a light folding chair with pockets for glasses and bottles. These days you can become dehydrated out there, who knew that, so water has become the beverage of choice. Now, we have to carry gallons of it and, along with the aforementioned art supplies, we have become aware of how dangerous it has been out there in the wild.

A very good artist will not go out without their SPF50, bug spray, wide brimmed hat, umbrella, and alcohol swabs. Long pants are tucked carefully into socks, in hopes to avoid ticks and perhaps other creepy-crawlers, and a light shirt, hopefully with some SPF protection embedded in it, stays on the artist all day while they are out to prevent the slightest hint of coloration...the only red should be from that tube and placed on the palette for painting only. We also have to remember towelettes for washing our hands between painting and eating, as we learned that lead and other chemicals in the paints can make their way to our fingers, eating utensils, glasses, and bottles and that seems to be a bad thing. Be careful to keep your drinking glass away from your turps so that you don't end up washing out your brushes in your wine and grabbing the solvent cleaner for a quick swig!!! I only did that once and can attest that wine does not clean your brushes well and turpentine has a long way to go to challenge even a cheap Merlot.

One of my biggest challenges, apart from setting up all of the stuff needed to complete a painting mission, is sticking to drawing and painting the subject that attracted me in the first place and not including the entire vista on the canvas. You want to paint a wave crashing against a rock, then do need to include the whole shore, every wave, the seals and lobsters frolicking in front of you, and the Queen Mary sailing by in the background!

What to do? Well, take a picture with your digital camera. You can use it as a frame to focus on what you want to paint, you have it to take home with you, and you can print it out later to use again.

In days prior to the digital age, we could Kodak the moment and have the picture later, but most times it was sketch, sketch and re-sketch, and then use that drawing as reference as you were painting.

Anyway, when you can't muster the energy to pack up and head out on this grand safari, paint indoors. Take a picture of your favorite spot, maybe do a quick sketch, and head to the studio.

That's what I've done recently. I've included here a seascape that I just started...what you are seeing here is the result of about an hour's worth of effort...some lines remain, I've blocked out some rocks, and I'll continue to look at the picture I have to work out lights and darks and the placement of waves and water movement and we'll see where it goes. I'll keep you posted.

I do like painting water and have to do it either by traveling five to eight hours, being landlocked in New York State, or painting from pictures. The great thing about landscape and seascape painting is that you don't have to worry about replicating the rocks and waves exactly as they were, as long as the painting works, as no one is going to say, "That's not what it looks like!"

Okay, I'll amend that. Unless you're Guy Corriero or one of his students who have transversed Monhegan ad infinitum and recognize each little piece of sea glass and its location year to year and know the exact spot of this attempt here, it wouldn't be a big deal.

In comparison, a portrait or a painting of someones home necessitates exactness...nature says, "Grab the essence." Along the vast shore line of the eastern seaboard, forgetting the island habitues in this case, this place could be anywhere.

So, in my little eight by ten room, under a special light, free from UV exposure, I am painting 'outdoors.' No worries about ticks and mosquitoes, I can start the process without lathing chemicals on my skin. The easel is set up, tables and chairs nearby, no lugging, setting up and taking down. I can leave my umbrella packed neatly away, dress comfortably for the day, and maybe even not wear shoes, and keep my wine bottle in the frig upstairs. If I forgot to bring the cheese, just hop up the steps and pull it out. Oh, and I can leave the TV or CD player on and have some company, too.

Easier, yes...but something is missing...the company of other artists, that special smell of the combination of turpentine, oil paints, tick spray and suntan lotion, bugs floating in your wine or crawling around your canvas, the disappearance of that shadow from in front of that rock (how many hours have I been out here), or that great story about how you were almost done with that three by five foot seascape that was going to sell for lots of money, when you took in a deep breath of that salty sea air. Closing your eyes briefly to focus on the smells of the ocean and feeling the gentle spray on your face, you open them again quickly when you realize that it's more than just a spray, more like a bucket of water being thrown at you, and you watch as your easel and painting attached to it are swept off the rocks in front of you, in plain sight of everyone, or should I say, "plein sight," to become one with the sea.

In my case, I was most fortunate...I was just far back enough away from the easel and the coast's end that I didn't go with it and I had my wine glass in one hand and the bottle in the other, at the time, so not all was lost!!!

More to come, as the painting progresses...

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