Friday, September 21, 2012

Post Plein Air and Demo... Somewhere Between Elation... and Exhaustion - Part #2

All of the painters have long departed. All of the raw excitement of the moment has (almost) faded. Life has begun to return... "to normal." Painting en plein air... in large doses in itself is a very tiring... energy-depleting exercise. On most occasions... my usual routine after a full day out in the fresh air... most always tramping over uneven ground involves a long and hot soak in the tub... beverage at the ready for a full hour. By the end of this ritual.. body core is back to normal... aches are on hold... and the mind drained from being locked for too long in the creative zone. In short... creative overload of both body and mind!

However... on this occasion following  that routine was not possible because it fell to me to do an oil demo for each evening after supper. Both of the expected speakers were at the last moment unable to take part for very valid personal reasons. So  a replacement solution fell to our committee to fill that time slot with some activity which suited the occasion and situation. What better activity than a demonstration of plein air painting.

Only problem was that I was the only demo man volunteer. It was an honour to present and not terribly stressful to quickly prepare for because I am frequently asked to present one.I usually feel very comfortable in doing them. It only became stressful on the occasion of the second demo night... when my tank was truly "running on empty"... after two successive full days of being outside.

At best... my  main objective in offering a demo is to try and present an indoor facsimile of the outdoor  experience. That means painting a subject that has been well-considered beforehand... in a rapid fashion... as is nearly always the case en plein air.This is done in the field  to accommodate rapidly changing lighting and weather conditions. I always stress to the audience the need "to own" the painting process.

By that phrase... I mean ... paint what you feel using all of your senses simultaneously, as opposed to painting using only what is visually in front of you. The truest act of creation comes out of being in fully charge of one's actions and learning. Being en plein air... alone with Creation itself affords that wonderful opportunity to pass beyond "reality" and to enter a creative world... where the only rules are the ones that you choose to follow.

During a demo... I always stress that every stroke should be laid with forethought and that it should be left untouched until after the total lay in part is completed. My belief is that value and shapes can be adjusted in oil whenever the decision need be made, or is thought necessary. The joy in filling the blank canvas with "information" to guide your learning is a HUGE motivator to encourage the search for clearer definition of one's  "impression" of the subject. I stress that "an  impression" should be the goal... not replication when painting. That is a daunting challenge each and every time I paint en plein air... and I do not always achieve that goal as fully as I'd wish to on most occasions... even though I set out to do so on each and every occasion. That again is a facet of plein air painting. Every trip "out there"... is a wholly new experience and adventure!~

Plein air painting is somewhat like fishing. "The BIG One"... you feel ... is always "out there"... and the only way to catch it... is "to fish".Cast after cast... honey hole after honey hole one searches the illusive. And when at last you do hook into that denizen... struggle with it... and finally carry home the trophy... the Self will always be primed to look beyond today... for a bigger one. That's fishing! And... also... it's painting! It arises out of an inner urge and passion to pursue and capture... in the case of painting a visual image unlike that of any other painter.

On the negative side... conducting a demo is to "Me"... an act of "performance art" because of the imposed time restraints... usually poor lighting... and those right brain distractors... who talk better than they listen, or think of offering distracting personal anecdotes of their own successful strategies... which you might try to help you. I don't perform well. Never did... when the goal was to achieve a purely artificial effect. Painting has been the one area of my life...since childhood which I control. Seldom... have I permitted intrusion into this deeply personal area of my life which governs my actions... or learning.

I have reasoned... in the past, that doing demos permitted me to reach out and to share my knowledge and my deeply held passion for painting. I have done so on may occasions with large groups... with individuals young and old... each of my children and all of my learning classrooms over my entire lifetime. The joy comes out of seeing knowledge  being passed freely. In watching that sacred "Aha" moment... when for the first time, an individual comes face-to-face with their own Creative Self. This has justified being a part of these exercises.

Perhaps at this time... it is time to step back and to evaluate where... or if,  I should continue to get involved in offering public demos  from this point in my life. Allowing oneself to become vulnerable... as one must become in this situation... is very draining. Rarely, do I feel good about the painting when I am finished because it has been rushed and  parts of my painting have been influenced by distracting comments... which I always paint out when I return to the studio anyway. Lately, I seem to face many more of those who wish to derail the presentation, making it difficult to focus... and to remain positive about giving the demo.

Usually... I set out to rework and re-think demo pieces as soon as I get back into the studio... using the structure of what I was able to create in the compressed moment and under the stress of  "performing". I often find that my deviation from a game plan is as much self-imposed as caused by external influences. I am only able to feel good about these demo works after this refinement process is completed. Such was the case after the Rockport Plein Air event just passed. Two days of playing...making new decisions away from the initial sources... and I feel satisfied to post the results. I will as well post with them the "originals"... to show comparison. You be the judge... I'd be interested in hearing.

To demo... or not to demo
That is the question!...
I'll think on it!

(Sorry... William!.... artistic licence! But you'd understand... You played to audiences for a living... and we're still grateful that you hung on!)

I'm off to Algonquin Park Thursday of next week for a few days. I have to take my three entries up... hopefully to be included in the annual ECOAA "Mystery in the Park Juried Exhibition. David reports that colours are a-changin! Panels and canvases are primed and toned... ready for fall pigment!

Stay tuned..... hope to bring back a few keepers to share!

Stroke-by-Stroke Commentary:

Friday Night Demo

I chose a river theme... one that was highly recognizable and one that I played around with during my painting classes this August... "Sunken Rock Light, Alexandria Bay, NY". I used a toned 24x20 inch canvas... and used it vertically to emphasize the height of the light. I used my earlier water colour 14x10 inch sketch for initial reference... but immediately discarded it to demonstrate a purely intuitive approach... as opposed to copying. Although the demo moved along smoothly... with good colour and design... I realized the next morning even before  I had the opportunity to revisit the sketch reference that there were glaring misinterpretations which disturbed me. So, I immediately stepped back to the easel in my studio and in about a half hour managed to bring the piece back to state which I could live with. The reworked version will remain... "as is"... I think! HA HA!!

Note the differences between the original and reworked versions...

Original version

Reworked Version

Saturday Night Demo

I purposely chose a smaller canvas, an 8x10 canvas... toned in black acrylic and used vertically. As my subject, I chose my final half  hour sketch completed on Pine Island that day. I used this painting set up to introduce the notion of using negative space to develop the painting in its initial stages. It is my belief that this approach encourages the use of the right side, or more imaginative lobe of the brain to inspire and direct a playful approach to composing the framework for the painting.

I began the demo by painting the sky area around the dark black shape of the leaning white pine... using a light greyish wash for the sky colour... leaving the ragged edges of the pine almost cooky-cutter shaped. At this point, I handed the original sketch out to the audience to look at closely... while I continued to paint on relying totally upon memory for direction. Risky... but worth the challenge.

I did the same for the triangular shaped roof area of the small studio-cottage. I quickly added very loosely interpreted green areas to approximate the shapes/masses of the stag sumacs and the birch clumps. I added the lightly stained water area to complete the laying in of the basic shapes or masses. All of this was accomplished using a one quarter inch flat sable brush. The remainder of the painting... or details were completed briskly in about 5 minutes using a rigger... with no real attempt at accuracy. It was simply a quick impression... and note the strong resemblance between the two. Note however... that my interest shifted dramatically away from the tree and cottage in the original sketch to the sky to the left... and its effects on the cottage. A reversal of focus... and a very different feel!

Original sketch on left... reworked demo version on the right

     Actual view for both sketches... the writing studio for journalist/novelist JK Keats on Pine Island

Tomorrow.... Part #3 The other five paintings that came out of the 2nd Annual Plein Air Paint Out that I managed to share with all .

Stay tuned...
Good Fall Painting to ALL!!


  1. I've always hated when an instructor's presentation gets derailed, Bruce. I find it distracting and rude, really. I can imagine painting in front of a group and trying to teach at the same time is tough enough without a person with an obnoxious aside, comment, or question taking the momentum away. If it is any consolation, I like both the original and reworked versions. I do see a difference, for sure, but at the same time I think how happy I'd be for the original to have come off of my hands! LOL

  2. Hi Sherry!... Thanks for sharing your thoughts and positive opinions!

    One can find boors anywhere... how to handle them in this type of situation is a delicate process. Mostly you just go into a zen cocoon and blitz them out. That punishes the folks who you intended to reach.

    So cautiously directing a bit of the scapel tongue in the direction of the source of distraction is usually my technique. All of that said... so many folks really do enjoy and appreciate one's efforts. That's the real thing to focus on I guess!

    In any event.. the storm has passed and the Park awaits "Me"...... "still waters"... restoreth my soul! That's where my mind is at until next Thursday's launch northward!

    I'm happy with the way both finally turned out.

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

  3. Great stuff Bruce...I rarely expect to come away with a finished piece from a demo in the same sense as when out painting alone plein air. However I do enjoy the challenge of trying to stay tuned in such situations and sharing my process.

    Love what you did with the light station.
    Have fun at the park you lucky dog...


  4. Hi there Jeffrey!... Thanks for dropping by! We're of the same ilk, I believe! We're both givers... and we're both inspired by the magnificence of Creation. Kindred spirits I'd venture to say!

    On to the Park... I'll think of "You" there... and do a ghood one in your honour... Promise! Stay tuned!