Friday, August 24, 2012

Plein Air Class

Friday Plein Air Class
24 August

Today the Friday class met at Greenwood Farm again, but with a very different prospect in view. We hiked further into the property, until we had a view of the Paine House, silhouetted against the Ipswich salt marshes.

It's a motif, though usually backed up by the ocean, that was used repeatedly by Worthington Whittredge (1820-1910), an American painter. Whittredge traveled a road leading from his early Hudson River School paintings to his later life interest in the French Barbizon painters. Initially he studied in Germany, so he came a very long way indeed.
Whittredge deserves to be better known. In addition to writing an engaging autobiography, he modeled for Emmanuel Leutze, standing in for The Father of Our Country in Leutze's giant canvas of Washington Crossing the Delaware.

Today the task was to paint a back-lit, hazy subject in a situation of strong glaring light. The trick seemed to be to paint the objects in a hazy way, while still having a few strong darks to reinforce the lights.

You can see that the canvas was primed a thin pink, actually a tint of Blockx Jaune Capucine Clair----which, despite its name, is definitely reddish.

This, of course, is just a beginning. Finishing a 16x20, on site, in direct light, is a bit more than I can manage. But also, to the horror of real plein-airistes, I think that most plein air paintings benefit from a time-out, in the studio. Usually I'm then able to re-organize my thoughts, and to refine things without battling changing light, etc.

My real goal is to make a good painting, one that is true to the spirit of the place. This rarely requires a whole catalogue of facts about the scene. Mostly it wants an eye sympathetic to the mystery and poetry of the site.

Should I do more, I expect I'll post it. At the moment, as those of you know who follow the blog, I have a huge backload of paintings begun in class. Perhaps they'll be fodder for good work when it's icy outside. In the meantime, I'm working on a 48"x72" canvas, most definitely NOT outside.

Oh, yeah...when I go back in to sort this out, I'll paint in the apple tree. Don't worry.

Paint well.


  1. Do you ever use alklyd paints to enable quicker drying of the background layers? I am always a bit impatient with the sky and putting in the foliage and tend to get green into the sky colour.

    1. Hi, I never use alkyd paints. Not out of conviction, but because I'm happy with, and used to, my oils. That said, I do use Liquin. It's alkyd, too, and does speed up the drying time. But that's not really why I use it. I've grown used to the gel consistency and, like my paints, I don't have to be alert for sudden, unwelcome surprises. Regarding your tree greens getting into the sky, I don't seem to have that problem. I tend to establish my trees before I paint the sky. When I put in the sky, I paint it into the tree edges---and also do the sky holes at the same time. This gives me the ability to design the tree's edges by playing with the negative shape (in this case, the sky). Make any sense?

    2. Thanks Donald, I have done both approaches but I will have to try harder to stay clean and not rush things. Painting in the sky into the trees does the same thing for me...I end of dragging green out of the trees into the sky. That is why I have begun to experiment with a 'dry sky' background over which I model in the trees. BUT. Since I like YOUR results maybe I'll keep with your methodology.

    3. Monsieur Bruce...the "dry sky" method is always an option but, if you prepare your sky before a plein air session,it's anyone's guess if it will suit. It can also result in a tree edge that's too pat, lacking the freshness of the rest of the painting. Stay with it! Develop a very soft touch. Often, when I'm doing delicate work, I wind up holding the brush so lightly that I find it on the ground. There is no reason, if your other edges are fine, for you to have trouble with tree/sky edges only. It's in yer head, fella! We shall make this right, at worst, next June in the Berry.

    4. Merci Monsieur Donald and happy haggis hunting!