Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Summertime... and the livin' is easy".... En Plein Air!!!

That mouthful of George Gershwin Porgy and Bess lyrics which open the summer anthem Summertime" never had more meaning than on Tuesday last. I had a group of aspiring artists out on location on the Old Rockport Road... away from the whirlwind of activity and throngs of visitors on the Rockport waterfront.

I chose this location for that very reason. It removed the possibility of intrusion... distraction and intimidation which new-by plein airists often suffer from. This "stage fright" can lead to an unpleasant first experience which has driven many a first timer high tailing it back to studio cover. The location offered quiet.... and SHADE for the entire painting session... another situation which can punish and discourage.

I chose a subject which (in my own judgement) best provided an uncomplicated motif to work with. There was indeed room for individual interpretation and preference... but the subject possessed all of the necessities for a solid painting/sketch. There was good lighting... colour... contrast between darks and lights and just enough detail to avoid fussiness.

I had beforehand agreed to to demonstrate my method of setting up... laying out my palette... and to briefly outline my decision-making process with regard to format and laying in. I decided to use a vertical format on a 12x9 inch (1/8 inch thickness) Masonite panel toned with a burnt sienna acrylic ground. I demonstrated how I used the digital camera to guide me in cropping a composition possibility. I then put away the camera and launched into the painting process.

I laid in a rough line "map" of the house to begin... making certain to keep it out of the centre of the panel. I painted very rapidly... laying in dark green masses around the house framework... emphasizing the fact that one shouldn't aim for exactness. These shapes would all be subject to much change in colour, shape and value as the work progressed. I added higher values of green in the middle ground where more light was evident.,, and added more darks to the foreground where the light diminished.

First of all, I maintain that years of outdoor painting and architectural study of Ontario architecture reveals that significant changes have been made to centrally planned Ontario this farm house.There is no question that these changes are more functional and better suit the house to current need. However, the new result may not be as aesthetically pleasing... in pure picture-making terms. I encourage them to "own" the painting from here onward... undertaking to choose the elements that best support a pleasing picture. Be brave!

 The "Three Brushketeers"... Mary... Robin and Don... really into it!

My lay in with the subject in the distance. Note the lack of any fussiness at this critical part of initial structure and composition.

I noted the very strong importance of getting the lighting conditions right at this juncture... and to make a decision to follow those initial decisions right through to the end of the painting session. Lighting will change drastically within two hours. Any attempt to follow this change will result in confused lighting effects that can ruin a good piece of work. If necessary, one can easily take a digital photo for future studio reference to work out a section of the lighting challenge... to capture it when it is most dramatic.

 My lay in and the discussion  together last about one half hour. They then set to work... each in his or her own medium. I agreed to complete my lay in during another half hour period... while they ate lunch. AS they worked, I managed to move about to each participant offering suggestions... answering concerns... and offering encouragement as they required it.

During the closing our of my own lay in I did an "about face." That is... I never again looked directly at the subject for detail or further support. I explained that years of painting on location... in all conditions and seasons builds a much stronger visual memory which isn't reliant upon actual information... other than to start the process. In this way... most every painting becomes a self-guide adventure rather than an act of mere copying what lies in front of you.

All of the participants enjoyed the camaraderie and the opportunity to learn new strategies to equip them to paint en plein air. All remarked how much more free they felt... being outdoors for inspiration and with new strategies to help them simplify the complex subject they face before them. All achieved... and learned to paint without fear or trepidation... using new strategies which they can use... even when working alone. I marvelled at the how quickly their initial uncertainty and reticence melted away... and how quickly each entered... "The Flow!"
 Robin... on "Horizontal Hold"... water colouring her way around the house in the early stages

 My long time good Friend... Mary (of the Wilf  n' Mary trip to share Vincent)... with her "right -in-your-face" frontal attack on the subject

"No fear Don"... layin' er down with the panache and confidence of a pro!

These shots... over the shoulder views of each of them intently at work. Happy souls... living fully ... in "The Now!"

Here is the final state of my vertical lay in. During the last half hour of painting, I asked them to suggest interesting details... not necessarily in my picture plane that might be of help to me in finishing. Orange day lilies were one of those suggestions offered... and don't they add a bright touch to that middle ground? I also added some dashes/short strokes of stronger darks and lights to the grasses across the panel to create punch in the grasses. Pushin n' pullin is how I refer to it!

It was a wonderful and most enjoyable day and experience for us all... a day spent in God's Great Greenhouse! We meet again next Tuesday for session #2... and this time... "under another flag"... a pure watercolour day for all, including moi! We will also be adding another member to the "Troupe of Four". Wilf Eagle ... Mary's partner in crime will be joining us with his pen and ink kit. Should be another day... in Paradise... another blast! Wish that you could join us!

Stay tuned for episode #2...

Good painting and Happy Summer top ALL!!!

"Swaddled in Summer Greens" - oil on  Masonite panel 12x9 inches


  1. Very impressionistic end result Bruce, and one that is so lovely. Please tell Mary that if I could grow up to be like her I want to do just that. She is exquisite and her talent amazing. Sounds like a fun day. That said, the best I could do plein aire would be from inside the car. I am just not an outdoorsy type of girl. By the time I got done slapping at the bugs I'd end up having more paint on me than on the canvas!

  2. I love your finished painting- and I love the photo of it in process, it really works at that point too with the toned canvas showing. Sounds like you had a great outing with your brushketeers. I also like what you said about not being tied to looking at your subject past a certain point.

  3. Hi there Sherry!... Glad that the painting pleases you! It was definitely the result of a fine day ... with fine kindred spirits on a perfect summer day!

    Mary is simply an extraordinary fine lady and very dear friend, along with her husband Wilf! She is so full of life...knowledgeable about art... thirsting for more adventure in her life and still self-determining! "She" is an example to all of us who know and love her... of how a life should be lived!

    Get out there girl! Take along a swatter! HA HA!!
    Good Painting and Happy summer!

    Thanks for your visit and encouraging comments!
    Warmest regards,

  4. Hi there Doug!... I had the same great day with my Brushketeers as you seem to be enjoying... on a regular basis with your own circle!

    The painting was very enjoyable... and the result satisfyingly "painterly" and loose in quality!

    Enjoy your summer plein airing!
    Good painting!
    Warmest regards,

  5. Good evening Bruce. It's nice to see another group enjoying a dose of that Sherman inspiration.

    I like your own piece. The harmonious colours work beautifully together and those lilies give a nice finishing touch.

    I hope the watercolour day goes just as well.


  6. Hi Bruce...
    I haven't been blog hopping in a long time and realized that I have been missing you and your work!
    It sure sounds from this post that a lot of people had a delightful day painting with you. Your demo is terrific! .... But of course!!

  7. Hi there Keith! A good evening to you as well!

    We really did have both an enjoyable and profitable day... all of us! None of us are too old to learn... and to share! Plein air painting brings out the best in people I believe!

    I was really pleased with the demo outcome as well Keith. It fell together quickly... and finished without hitch. Just one of those rare days... when all the world seems right!

    I did a water colour piece today... just to get into the flow! Felt a bit iffy in the beginning! HA HA!!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  8. Hi there Marian!... Both of us have been in the same canoe with regard to blog visiting! I've been up to my arm pits in gardening... which just could not be ignored... or put off!

    WE had a great time together... "out there" on location! It just doesn't get better... does it Marian?

    Thanks for your visit and positive comments! I'll get over top pay a visit to your site now!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  9. Very painterly, Bruce! I love this painting. It looks like you all had a wonderful day...thanks for sharing these great photos.

  10. Hi there Hilda!... Happy Summer to you! I know how much you enjoy this time of year in terms of your own painting!... Great weather for pastelists!

    WE dis so enjoy this day together... and I feel each one of us carried home far more than just a good painting! Sharing and caring... accompany the making of art... and I know that you agree!

    Thanks for dropping by and for the encouraging comments!

    Good Painting... and Happy Summer!
    Warmest regards,