Wednesday, October 17, 2012

When Plein Air Challenges... Part Two

On Saturday afternoon , I excitedly headed over to Eagle Point Winery to paint a subject that I had noticed after the Friday  morning meeting. I was unable to paint that day because "I had other fish to fry" and had to set it aside until the next day. I was really taken by the interesting composition and the lush.. leafy foreground of  grape vines of varied greens and yellows. I had even decided upon a 12x16 inch format to accommodate the image.

When I got up early on Saturday morning... I soon realized that there had been a "killer frost"... the kind that is the enemy of all garden lovers. Such a frost usually brings the gardening season to an abrupt end. Only the hardiest and protected garden patches can survive the icy death that this kind of frost delivers. My own garden remnants here in Rockport certainly suffered greatly from its effects. I spent the afternoon today culling out those areas of the garden that were obviously done for this season.

So I arrived at the Winery half expecting damage... but I couldn't believe the devastating effect that the same frost had on the grape vines. They were decimated... as if a tornado had gone through the rows ... stripping off the foliage... leaving only a few leaves here and there... which had already surrendered their green beauty.
Needless to say... my enthusiasm for the scene was greatly altered. The vision of what I had seen the day before paled in the face of what lay before me!

Painting for me is totally about feelings for my subject. It is this emotional attachment which launches and carries me through the painting of any subject. I always have a clear vision of what I intend to lay down in paint. I often struggle to maintain that vision... and sometimes lose in the end. But not often. It is my nature to persevere and stick at what challenges me. In painting... it is that inner struggle with my Self and succeeding to meet the challenge in the end... that is the pay off... the reward.

I decided... half heartedly to proceed... even in the face of the rapidly dropping temperature and the raw cold westerly wind that blew constantly from beginning to end. I had also made a grave error in choosing my dress and was really feeling the cold by the end of the first half hour of painting. The cold and dampness of those first cold days painting outdoors in the fall really tax me. It takes my body a few weeks before it becomes acclimated to the cold. I paid for it on this occasion and found it both punishing and not enjoyable.

I hurried the lay in and just get down what I could quickly. I know from experience that catching a cold in this early part of the season means carrying it along for the rest of the short autumn painting season. I decided from the very start to keep my stay short... n' sweet! I simply caught what I could... fully realizing that there were areas not resolved... and others that were laid in (to me) an awkward and ambiguous manner... without proper thought. In short, I was less than satisfied with the resulting sketch when  I finally packed it in and headed home at the one hour point.

Seeing the sketch against the wall off and on over two days convinced me to head back out this afternoon and to at least give it another shot. On this occasion there was little wind... I was better dressed... and "the doldrums" I had found myself in on Saturday had long since passed. I won't say that I am entirely pleased with the end result here. "The vision of sugar plums still dances in my head"... but so does the frosty nightmare of my first attempt. I believe that the final sketch contains elements of both the "difference" and the "sameness" of the original landscape that I was attracted to. Visually I search for reconciliation of those two polar opposite feelings.

I guess... I should be happy with the fact that I am healthy enough and live close enough that I had a second chance to revisit  to try and salvage whatever positive aspects I could. I believe that I accomplished that at least. For that I( am grateful. So... I will post the two for comparison. Somewhere between the two there lives the spirit of what I was drawn to. Sometimes in plein air painting... that has to be enough! On to the next challenge!

The fence element provides a strong serpentine compositional device to draw the eye around from the foreground back to the horse barn in the middle ground. The sky is active... and I warmed  up the otherwise cold timbre of the other colours to counteract the coldness that had crept into the landscape... and my bones!

The foreground vine areas are vague and indistinct... with too much of the tone colour showing thru' to confuse the eye.

"After the Frost at The Eagle Point Winery"- plein air sketch 12x16 inches on toned panel

The second version remedies both of these weakness to a large degree. I focussed my attention upon the foreground area and the existence of the curving horizontal furrows now made visible by the loss of the
vines... tidying up but not totally eliminating the burnt sienna under toning. I then pushed and pulled values on the roof of the barn and heightened the colours... which actually had risen since Saturday. I played with the three small maple saplings and even considered eliminating one. But I resisted that notion... knowing from experience that drifting too far from your original thought usually ends in disaster.

A stroke of good luck brought the session to a halt! My new friend John Sorenson, a member and President of the tiArts Group came out of the Winery and we became engaged in "vine side" chat. We share many of the same ideas. We both share a passion for creating... and above all a "live-and-let-live"... and share philosophy which we practise in both our personal and artistic lives. I very much look forward to more sharings with John. The chat had given a reason to bring the recovery painting session to a close.

The sketch as shown... warrants a C+... Satisfactory... on my own "gem" scale of worthiness. But in my heart of hearts, I feel that I achieved the best I could... given the circumstances that were beyond my control. First and foremost, I managed to maintain the "painterly" spirit of the initial session.The sketch at least provided me the opportunity to share this challenging adventure with all of you. The second and  unexpected bonus opportunity to share time with John... for the first time one-on-one, perhaps lifts the value intrinsically for "Me"... to the level of at least an A... for  Accord... Harmony. And I can live with that!

"After the Frost... or... Ice Wine Anyone???" - a plein air oil sketch 12 x 16 inches on toned panel
The sketch... "tongue-in-cheek" suggests, "When disaster strikes en plein air and it will on occasion... use the AA process for recovery". That is... "Advance and Accommodate... and not Abort and Abandon!" Skol! On to the next outdoor painting adventure!!!

Good Painting to ALL!!!... En Plein air... or in your studios!


  1. I think the pieces are gorgeous, Bruce. May not be the leafy beauty you expected, but it still tells a story and captures the beauty of the autumn.

  2. Good morning Bruce,

    Yes I agree with Sherry, both are beautiful. Out of the two, I like the second one. I can feel the chill. I like the AA process. Thank you for sharing how to deal with the elements. The cold is coming to our area soon. Better go out and shop.

    All the best to you,
    Stay Warm

  3. Hi there Sherry!... Thanks for stropping by and for lending me your encouragement!

    As you noted... things can't always come off as planned... BUT... something better often comes out of simply forging ahead and having fun with it!

    What would autumn be... without the crispness it alone puts into the air? It simply enhance conjured up warmth... of a nice wood fire... glass of mulled wine or cider... All of that good autumn "stuff"!

    Enjoy your Autumn... Crimson... Autumn Leaves!
    Warmest regards,

  4. Hi there Plein Joanie!... Good to here from you this morning!

    I was hoping that you would tune into these last two posts... they were really inspired by your questions and conundrum.

    Seems you have found ideas in the posts to support your own... and to help you continue to make great strides in your own journey! That pleases me immensely Joan... and is my sole reason for spending the time.

    "We" artists... are all "different"... but paradoxically... we are as well... "the same." We are human... all following different but parallel journeys... and for a very short time! Let's get down to some serious painting Joan!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,