Last night I was pleased to present a two hour demonstration to about thirty keen members of the Barrie Art Club in their shared studio space. This opportunity to share arose when several of their members visited Hillsdale on a plein air paint out... and when cold... they came to our Gallery for a warm up... and look around. I was asked if I would accept an invitation to do a demo after Christmas matters settled.
The object of their invitation was to give members some tips and encouragement to increase plein air participation based upon my own working methods. This request is not new to me... most people who choose to paint in the warmth of the studio and in large groups are a bit mystified by my preference to be "out there" in all sorts of weather... particularly in winter.
I geared my presentation and demo towards the aspects of painting outdoors... especially in difficult weather. Firstly... use of Time is really important. Cold can be punishing... but also because Time in winter is unlike other seasons because the lighting is transient... changing constantly with cloud cover and the shorter daylight hours.
So prior preparation is essential. My palette is already in place and ready for use. My canvas sizes are primed... toned and available to accommodate any subject format. I usually have scouted out a subject and therefore have a location in mind... so I waste no time looking for motivation. I do an equipment check to ensure that I have the necessary support to begin quickly. My easel, box and equipment needs are light and easy to set up and carry... in and out.
I allow myself about fifteen minutes to gauge the scene and digest what it is that I want to paint... a great time for a quick coffee and tromp around. I set to work quickly spending as little time as possible to create an accurate ... thought out composition based upon bare bones information and most important linear elements. I then begin a very thin application of blocks of appropriate colour... establishing darks and lights very thinly. I usually allow and use most of a half hour to forty-five minutes to reach this initial state.
I then step back about a dozen paces... coffee or soup in hand... and plan my "assault/attack" on the canvas. I try very hard to work with speed and confidence... alla prima... brushes loaded with almost raw pigment... doing most of the "mixing" of tones almost in an accidental way. Leave "good" strokes... those that show meaningful value... direction or colour and movement. I then focus on the dark-light relationship in the painting. That will inevitably be the subject... or be located surrounding it.
My final task is to fine tune values... and add a few rigger strokes to give detail. Stopping is easy when you are cold... or when the light has faded. If I am not going to meet the deadline in my battle with the light... I will take a digital image to support some extra tweaking back in the studio. I rarely need to return to the site... preferring to let my memory guide the finishing.
I began the "sharing" at 7:00 pm sharp... and was underway painting on the black toned 20x24 inch canvas 15 minutes later. I brought the outdoors... indoors ... using a 10x12 inch panel which I had made in November on location. I answered questions continually throughout the drawing and lay in parts of the demo and we took a break at 8:00 pm for individual questions... socializing... and snacks. At 8:15 sharp I jumped into the "attack"mode to demonstrate how speed and the alla prima method dove-tailed.
At exactly 9:00 pm... I put the brushes down and allowed people to fire questions at me and to come up closer to the "finished" work. All in all... it was a valuable learning experience for everyone... my Self included! I came away with a strong feeling that the work... done under studio conditions did in fact possess the "painterly" freshness that comes from outdoor sketching within similar time and pressure constraints! I was satisfied that people were going home encouraged by new ideas and enthusiasm to perhaps give plein air painting a whirl... whenever!!
A night well spent! New friends.... and another reasonably good painting for the Gallery... with a few tweaks to be added!
Good Painting to ALL! Get out there!