Thursday, June 14, 2012

Strategies to Overcome the "Dreaded Green"of Summer... and to Succeed

The old adage in golf ... "You can drive for show... but you putt for dough!" says it all in the challenging world and game of golf. The game is most often honed to perfection and matches decided upon one's ability to "read"... and to play on the putting greens. So it is in plein air painting as well. Many plein air "enthusiasts" find the varied and hard to read greens of summer discouraging... most of the time because they give up and wait until other times of the year when colour and form can be more easily distinguished.

Through this avoidance... they rob them selves of perhaps the most enjoyable and comfortable time in the year to be outside... free of heavy clothing and countless picturesque views of unfrozen landscapes and water views. Secondly... they rob themselves of an excellent opportunity to play with green's varied summer values and to learn through doing that how to mix values for any other hue. Mastering greens opens a floodgate of learning and accomplishment for those who dare to persevere.

I would like to offer a few tips or suggestions for my blogger friends which I have learned through many years of working with painting outdoors in this season. I don't presume to be a master such as Canadian Group of Seven member, AJ Casson... but I humbly offer that I am entirely comfortable in any summer location and usually come away a painting or sketch that I am pleased with. I have a list of invariables that I apply to each summer set up which helps to optimize possible success.

Yesterday, I had the honour of introducing a young lady studio painter (in acrylics) to the "Wide World of Plein Air Painting." I agreed to take her with me on a foray into the village... provided that she paint in oils and that she be open to taking some suggested  risks to overcome her complaint regarding the matter of "being too tight" in her approach to painting. I provided much of the paint and painting equipment including an easel and offered her tips in setting up her palette and choice of colours.... brushes and canvas format.

 Earlier in the morning on my morning walk about in Rockport, I selected three possible sites which might serve the purpose for an introduction to plein air painting. Each contained the invariables upon which I make the selection for my own choice in summer painting locations. I first walked her to each of the three sites and we discussed the merits of each and her feelings of comfort in each place. Finally... I asked her to select our place to paint for our three hour session.

I was more than happy that she selected the view of St Brendan's Church... from a low vantage point below the church located on the granite bluff. It was a location... that would remain mostly in the shade for most of our session and there was ample room to walk back comfortably and safely to examine the progress of the painting for the two of us. She also demonstrated a strong conviction for the subject... and therefore was motivated to jump in with minimal reluctance or uncertainty.Definitely a great beginning for the experiment!

Strategies or Invariables:

1. Select a location that has STRONG elements of structure and if possible.... some architectural element around which the landscape unfolds. This creates CONTRAST which helps sort out things in the initial stages of laying in.
2.I most often use a toned ground for my canvas... my preference being burnt sienna acrylic applied before you go out to paint. This reduces glare and adds warmth that are complementary to the greens that you will be facing.
3. Use medium to large bristle brushes... dependent upon the size of the canvas chosen to commence the painting process. These allow one to "scrub in" colour... or to apply the first pigment in washes using turpentine or OMS (your choice)
4. Examine your subject... squinting your eyes and seeing the subject through your eye lashes. This helps break the subject into forms... or more appropriately for St Brendan's Catholic Church.... MASSES!!! ... couldn't resist the opportunity to pun you! The idea of this whole business of painting is first of have FUN!!! The masses of greens need not be exact in their initial lay in... they will most certainly be altered along the way. The idea is to fill in the space with meaningful forms or shapes which = STRUCTURE. 
5. I use a rag or towel to "lift" areas such as the church steeple, statuary and body of the building. The sky remains sienna in colour at this point.
6. I darken the areas which are darker in the green areas using sap green... blues... purples or umber to create shifts in value that approximate not replicate what lies in front of me. Gradually, a mapping of green structure will emerge... which can be adjusted higher or lower later on in the session.

7. I then usually add some initial sky features by transparently "hatching in" blues ... pinks and whites to fill up the anticipated sky interest. It will change as well as the picture moves along.

8. At this juncture... I apply transparent values... in this case white to establish where I will finally place the elements of the church itself. Keep it very light and unobtrusive. White too soon will result in an undesirable chalkiness too early in the painting. Save the strong values until the very conclusion of the painting process.


10.Start working on specific areas... applying specifically and strategically placed strokes that are not touched or changed. The old adage:" A stroke laid... is a stroke stayed" is the idea from this point on. You are in fact creating a rug hooking from this point on... one stitch at a time. The sum total will read as a painting!

11. Take out your sharp pointed rigger and add another ten minutes of detail... avoiding fussiness or extraneous details. Simplify. Often... "little says more."

12. End the process when you find yourself looking for places to add a stroke. That can be accomplished best away from the scene and from memory. Keep that extra session to barely a few minutes... and preferably a few days after the initial outing.

I am including these jpegs to let you see the results of Josee's first plein air painting in oils. I will leave it to you to decide upon the success of our venture. I can only tell you that Josee has headed out to get new supplies to take back to the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St Lawrence. She's hooked!!!

Josee adds her final touches... a great piece for three hours work!

Final touches for me

Visitors arrived by land and by water during our session

Bonne chance Josee! Enjoi-toi ta nouvelle affaire avec les huiles!

"St. Brendan's Catholic Church... Nestled Into Summer" - oil on canvas 20x16 inches

Allison (Ms Pig)... calls me Kermie! I wonder why????? HA HA!!

Happy Summer Painting... to ALL! Hope this post helps you achieve more of that!


  1. Hi Bruce,
    Wonderful post, great tips I can apply to my up and coming plein air events this summer. Josee has done a magnificent job on her painting and very fortunate to have you supporting her through her first plein air painting. Thank you for sharing and I will return to this post quite often this summer.

    All the best to you,

  2. Good evening Joan! ... Thanks for stopping by and for your gracious comments!

    I sincerely hope that this particular post encourages people to step out during the summer to experiment with those luscious and varied greens... as bewildering as they might seem.

    Working with them as you do will inevitably lead to feeling in control of colour... no matter the hue in front of you. Values are so very important in landscape painting!

    Good luck with your own forays! Stay the course... I certainly am looking forward to seeing your results!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Good morning Bruce - an interesting post. It puzzles me a bit why people find greens so difficult: I find the grey values of a dull day or the browns of moorland just as challenging. The answer is in good observation and in finding the variations in colour or values that make a subject interesting.

    Thanks for the mention of AJ Casson. I have only a passing knowledge of the Group of Seven and I can see that I should have a look at more of their work.

    It didn't take long to get around to the church then! Yet again you have shown what an inspiring teacher you are. It looks as though Josee has been able to achieve the looseness she was looking for and has produced a satisfying painting at the first attempt.

    I wonder whether the "Two Hours Max" sign behind you was an incentive not to overwork the paintings!

    All the best,

  4. Oh to have been Josee! What a precious experience you gave her and you, Bruce! I can't believe how gorgeous her work is for using oils for the first time! And your piece? Sigh...Phenomenal!

  5. Good (early) morning Keith!... Thank you for sharing my morning coffee hour with me! Thank you too... for your stimulating observations and remarks.

    It is indeed about observation... and in the "seeing"... which should not be mistaken for looking. "Seeing" involves understanding through close and often long periods of study and observation.

    I'm afraid that a good part of society wishes for... and gets instant gratification, but fails to find the true depth of meaning and satisfaction which only comes through..."doing the work"...taking the time to understand and master.

    Your very astute power of observation is proven in your note about the "two hour limit" part of the sign in one of my jpegs. How true... and appropriate is that? I missed that!

    Thanks again for your valuable comments and Friendship Keith! I always look forward to our getting together on line! I sure would love to meet you in person... and paint with you for a bit! My offer stands for accommodations... WHENEVER you might be able to visit!

    Good summer painting!
    Warmest regards,

  6. Good Morning Sherry!... Thanks for this morning visit!

    It would be lovely to meet and paint with you as well! We'd have a lot to talk about and to share about life and painting!

    Josee did in fact loosen up... and put her talent in new territory and will never be the same... ever again when she paints. She now fully understands why she was trapped in needing to paint with a brush... using it like a pencil.

    The safety net of the past removed... allows the freedom to fly to greater heights of personal learning.

    She accomplished this under her own power... not by my hand. "She" required only encouragement... and questions to prompt her own questions of discovery. Her footsteps... her path. Now... she is ready to move ahead under her own steam and schedule.

    I call this process... enablement = empowerment. A mentor should point not lead the process... but should act as a resource to be drawn upon by the individual wishing to take charge of their own learning.

    Thank you for visiting and for your kind and gracious remarks! Get "out there" Girl!

    Good Painting and Happy Summer!
    Warmest regards,

  7. Great stuff Bruce. Are we having fun yet...! It seems that you are enjoying Rockport!! I might humbly add to the green discussion something that really worked for me is to leave my greens at home and explore making the many variety of greens using the rest of your palette.


  8. Hi there Jeffrey... Thanks for dropping by and for your useful comment!

    Havin' fun... We are! Rockport is such a vast source of inspiration... places to be mined!

    Thanks for the added suggestion to leave your greens at home! That's a given in this experiment!! Thanks for adding the overlooked Point #13 to the post! Very green of you! HA HA!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,