Sunday, June 12, 2011

Eden is not just a place...It's more a state or feeling!

A First Plein Air Experience!!!

I had the great pleasure to spend the day Saturday painting in the beautiful garden of good friends Rolly and Grace Hallyburton. I was joined by my minister friend' David Howes' lovely wife Jennifer... this being a special day for her. David hired me to take her out on her first plein air adventure... as his fourth anniversary gift to "Her'.

He could not have honoured her in a more fitting and meaningful way. She came expecting to face the same barriers that she struggled with in her previous attempts in a studio and in a couple of courses to find growth and development. "She" ... was in the very same loop that so many of my students in both my elementary classes and my art workshops shared - a cycle of self-proclaimed failure... before they even picked up a brush. That to "Me" has always simply equated with... low self-confidence... battered down self-esteem in their previous experiences... or from the lack of a system from which they can proceed one simple step at a time towards a seeable and uncomplicated goal.

This beautiful Eden... on the shores of Orr Lake... a Love Garden created over more than ten years by a couple with a vision... and a passion for life and beauty... was also the setting for my marriage to Deb six years ago. Everywhere one looks or walks... one can find "still life" settings created by Grace... where one can pause... suck up the smells... the sight of greenery and sculpture and odd bric-a-brac interspersed... and all the time be chorused by every kind of songbird voice that lives in this Eden.

One could not fail to make a good picture in this setting... and neither Jennifer or I missed the mark in that task! Both of us came away refreshed... enriched... and with a "winner" in hand. Never at any time in the outing was Jennifer "lost". She took charge... asked questions... and painted with the confidence of a seasoned plein air pro!

We began the morning with a leisurely tour about the paths and walkways... contemplating "possibilities" and working out strategies to maximize success. I stressed to her the strong importance of taking ample time to choose a subject based upon structure... that is large masses and shapes... rather than complicated elements that required excessive attention to detail and draughtsmanship. Time is of the essence in plein air work. Light is constantly on the move and thus constantly effects the scene

Secondly, I stressed the need to think about the painting process and subject in terms of ONLY THREE VALUES. I introduced the value and personal practice that I use to address both of these concerns through making one or two simple pencil sketch thumbnails. The first sketch was simply a map that recorded the strongest or dominant lines... through squinted eyes in the scene. This creates a road map... or framework... on which to hang the three values.

In the sketchbook... white of the paper is the highest value... light pencil shading is the mid value... which coincidentally makes up at least 75% of the entire colour package... and heavy dark pencil is the darkest dark in the scene.

After making these preliminary sketches at the scene which Jennifer had selected... we set up the easels and palettes together... with her following my lead... and using the equipment and materials that I provided her. She decided upon a vertical format- Good! Simply because the trees in the painting were integral parts of the composition.

We simply retraced the initial sketching steps... this time with paint used thinly to create a value study and then began blocks of colour... as seen through squinted eyes to isolate the various large blocks from one another. Within less than an hour, we had the 116x12 inch burnt sienna toned panels to the lay in stage. We paused at this point to enjoy lunch on the dock at the lake and to replay the mornings findings and progress.

The next stage of the day's work was to work on values... balancing the myriad of greens to create more a more accurate and defined pattern of darks and lights. I stressed making a firm decision on where the light was coming from... and we took support references... so that changes could be made back in the studio if necessary... that captured "the moment" that we had chosen . We worked feverishly to get as much done as possible... because the wind had picked up and the skies threatened ominously overhead. We finished and packed up... just before the deluge arrived.

We arrived back at the studio... where Deb and David poured praise upon our efforts. David was so very surprised with the painting resulting from his anniversary gift... with Jennifer... justifiably busting her denim britches! Plein air painting is both a salve and tonic for the weary spirit. My piece was completed in full... while Jennifer wishes to take hers back to her home to finish certain areas, but even at this semi-finished state.. it is easy to discern the very admirable quality of her first plein air piece.

It is in every way a form of meditation during which the mind is transported out of reality... to a place where time and troubles evaporate. A place where the Id and Ego coexist in complete peace and harmony.

Have "You"... visited this place/ state called Eden?.... I wonder????

Happy 4th Anniversary David and Jennifer!... Many Happy returns... to Eden and Plein air Painting!

Good Painting All!


  1. Jennifer was so fortunate to have you showing her the ropes so to speak! Someone else might have tried to force their viewpoint on her, but you gave her the "tools" to work with and let her experience the day in her own way, showing her how to eliminate the overwhelming feeling one gets when confronting all that imagery in Nature! and finding out what is important to emphasize and what to leave out. Let's hope she continues to experiment with plein air on her own!

  2. Hi Karen!... Thanks for dropping by and for sharing your insightful and thoughtful comments!

    "Teaching" insuates (wrongly) that an individual with specialized skills can groom a "flock" using those "special" powers.

    "Empowering... or enabling" others to reach new levels... based upon their own initiative...using their own interior skills and abilities and passion is what I have embraced in my own classroom and workshopping experience. There is a huge difference in the two perspectives and method... as you have suggested.

    I wrote a sabbatical paper entitled:

    "Issuing the Invitation to Particpate in Learning."

    That infers an equal responsibility for the resource individual and student to pool their ideas... skills and knowledge in the learning environment to promote optimal opportunities to learn for both parties.

    Jennifer is more highly motivated than ever... has the belief in her Self that seemed missing before in her art. The responsibility to carry on is where it should be... in her hands!Judging by David's email of thanks this morning... I think she's hooked! HAHA!!!

    Good Portraiting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Both pieces are just so magical, Bruce! Deb did brilliant work and I am awed. Your work is just as stellar.

  4. Is that Jennifer's painting we are seeing here finished Bruce? what a really beautiful painting. I believe you encouraged Jennifer and guided her so many students have little confidence in their ability to paint. But with encouragement they can really blossom. Jennifer certainly has. What a great post!

  5. Hi there Sherry!... Thank "You" for your wonderfully encouraging comments! I hope that Jennifer reads these.

    Along with the obvious success "She" achieved... in just one positive outing... She'll be off to the races... and will work on her own steam and path to enjoy painting!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Good Painting "You" Sherry!
    Warmest regards,

  6. Hi Caroline!... Sorry for the lack of clarity in the post! The first three jpegs in order... top to bottom... show Jennifer's work right up to her layin... the point where the rain made us stop. The second last jpeg is my piece at the layin stage. The final jpeg is my own in its final state.

    In any learning situation... be it in a school classroom... a studio... or en plein air... "guiding", as you accurately described the process... will elevate confidence and skill levels simultaneously... simply because the process is non-threatening!

    Jennifer was the perfect example of an individual who wished to become better... who had abilities that were hampered by her own inability... to BELIEVE" in... and trust her Self. It is such a freeing... Eureka moment... when "You" discover that the ability lies within!

    Onward for Jennifer! She has much talent... and the time to explore and develop it further - if "She" desires to!!

    Thanks for your observations and sharing!

    Good Glazing to "You"
    Warmest regards,

  7. Hi Bruce,

    What an unusual and wonderful anniversary present.

    How wonderful for you to be able to guide someone on the path to discovering their own creativity.

    All the best,

  8. Hi there Keith!... Thank "You" for visiting and for the thoughtful comments!

    I just got back from my visit to your site... and was wowed by that wonderful mountainscape!

    I too... was very humbled and pleased to be a part of this unusual anniversary celebration... and the celebrating doesn't end there either!

    Rolly and Grace just celebrated fifty years together - What a milestone in any marriage that is!

    What better gift... than to offer this painting as a token of our love and respect for them as friends... and for this momentous occasion!Ity will join numerous other gifts and purchases that "grace" their walls....HAHA!!! Couldn't resist the pun opportunity Keith!

    That's living proof that joy can exist and be sustained in all relationships in Life. It only requires that we believe... and look for the good in Life... and work at keeping them healthy!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  9. oh bruce, what a lovely and informative post!! i just love that photo of jennifer painting, it needs to be painted itself! what a lovely day she must have had and such a wonderful gift from her husband. thank you for sharing all of this good day, i feel as thought i took part! splendid!

  10. Hi there Suzanne!... Thanks for dropping in... and for leaving such encouragement!

    Jennifer is an intelligent... lovely woman... both inside and out! Like so many other intelligent... and lovely people... we often lack that same belief about our own talents!

    I think that her husband's "wonderfuel" anniversary gift... yes... that's the word I wanted... has launched her into plein air orbit! HAHA!!

    Hey another Suzanne "Idea"! Might run with it! Why don't "You"? My jpegs... "She" would feel honoured to be... a "chosen one" for your easel! Go for it... if you're moved to! A great and paintable Challenge subject!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  11. Dear Bruce,

    Jennifer is indeed very fortunate to have the experience of painting with you. Her work is excellent. The process you write about is something I will put to use tomorrow. It is another plein air day. Once again, I thank you for sharing your talent and your knowledge.

    All the best to you,

  12. Hi Joan!.... Thank "You" for your kind words and for visiting!

    Look for Structure. Follow by developing one or two simple thumbnail sketches to explore 3 values ONLY.(ie white...grey... black) These simple steps will give you a clear pathway or framework to build a successful painting and plein air outing.... EVERY time!

    Good luck "out there tomorrow Joan! Have fun!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,