Sunday, August 5, 2012

Plein Air Out and In

Deer Island, Redux

Last Friday was a hot day for the Plein Air Class. The temperature was in the mid-nineties, but it was the humidity that was crushing. Still, we're a hardy bunch and, although not everyone made it for the full four hours, a lot of good work was done on promising starts. I had announced that we would be at Deer Island, in the middle of the Merrimack River, between Newburyport and Amesbury, Massachusetts. I gave notice that I would be essaying a 16x30" canvas, and that I'd given the canvas a tone of transparent red oxide.

The spot I chose was where I'd been earlier in the week, painting with friends, and where I'd made the 8x16" oil sketch, below, demonstrating the use of sgraffito for grasses, which I wrote about in my last post. The proportions of the new canvas were roughly the same, but it was four times the size. I figured that I could work on one this large, out in the open, because I was already familiar with the motif.

This time making the grisaille, in the heat and the glare, was a bit of a challenge. The 8x16" sketch above was made slightly after mid-day, with the sun behind us. This time the sun was dead ahead, right in our eyes. Given the dark tint on the canvas, it was pretty well impossible to see what one was doing. But we soldier on! This is what the canvas looked like when I got it back to the studio:

I decided, this time, that I wanted a different color scheme and mood. I worked on it, most of Saturday, arriving at this stage:

This is when it gets really tough for me----and possibly for you, too. I'd left the security of the 'golden afternoon' image, without a clear idea where I wanted to be headed. I'd changed the whole sense of light and color, but wasn't really very happy where I'd landed. I particularly didn't like the growth in height of the near-most peninsula.

This is certainly deep-breath time. What may separate me from my students is that they often suppose, when they start to lose an image, that all is truly lost. I'm usually a bit more sanguine when dealing with my own paintings. In many ways it's very liberating to be able rethink a painting. After all, I can't hurt it any more than it's hurt already. 

So yesterday evening I pondered a bit about what I might do. The painting was safe in my studio, fifteen miles away and, anyway, I was only musing.  Then I remembered that I'd said to the Friday students that I might try to make a 'pearly' view, in the spirit of one of my first heroes, John F. Kensett (1816-1872).

But, of course, I can't paint like Kensett, making views of a crystalline clarity and shimmering atmosphere. He painted more carefully than I, and he was certainly more disciplined. But I can make a painting he would understand, even if it's something he couldn't condone.

The view in the painting looks roughly to the east, toward the Atlantic Ocean, maybe two miles away. I decided that a moonrise might be fun to try. I had the stage set already. There was still work to do reshaping the peninsulas, but generally everything was in place. Below is how far I got.

There's much work left to be done: subtle attention to reflections and to edges, work on the foreshore and more definition in the sky. But it's starting to have a personality. 
More when I've done more.


  1. I like this sense of deeper space in this one. Your courage is admirable. Very fun to watch.

  2. Amazing, so many completely different paintings, each one of which I thought was great. Love the process Donald!

  3. I remember reading in a Quidley newsletter that William R. Davis was also greatly inspired by Kensett. I must admit I didn't know anything about him until I read the WRDavis article but he keeps popping up as a reference as people are rediscovering the value in realism in landscape painting.

  4. ah...but can you turn it back again? (kidding) These posts are great and very too! PAT N.