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!
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!"
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