Sunday, July 22, 2012

Plein Air Watercolor Sketching

 Painting rapidly outdoors on a relatively small scale - say, 6" x 10" - can be a highly satisfying way to paint on most days. The materials are not overly expensive or, consequently, intimidating and I've developed a loose, sketchy style that allows me to translate directly from my eye to the page with very little intervention or distraction.

I've often been using a small and soft 3/0 Squirrel Quill brush that allows for very loose flow of paint. Good paper (Arches 140lb cold press cotton rag when possible) makes a huge difference compared to the student grade wood pulp stuff I sometimes use for these. That brush offers a kind of freedom that's a bit like Chinese calligraphy, I reckon: it takes confidence, practice and discipline to do it well and all three of those traits are intertwined, one flowing from the other. As with most things: the more you do, the better you get. Or perhaps it's just the more of them I do, the higher my chances of achieving a satisfying result every once in a while.

This seems to be my most "natural" style, and it's sometimes a bit of a struggle to paint in other ways. Somehow it's very easy for me to edit out the detail in my mind's eye and depict the 'feel' of a place, but very hard to metiuclously replicate every little nuance of a scene before me.

So... I'm going with the 'flow' when possible.

Here are two from a beautiful warm, bright and very dry day at our favorite haunt: Crane Beach in Ipswich. With that much sun and a slight breeze holding back the Greenhead flies it's very hard to judge the wetness of the paper and paint, difficult to add things and make ammendments. You can see that in the top edge of the clouds on the first one: the initial outline to define the white space was dry by the time I put in the rest of the sky wash and the two didn't blend together as I'd hoped:

Here's a view of the same day looking South towards the huge sandbar we had walked at low tide. I was trying to work on the clouds and sky this day, but it was not as cloudy as this looks. Wearing brown-tinted sunglasses can sometimes alter your perception in uninvited ways!

Here are two quick ones from last week at Jamaica Pond while the boys were fishing with their cousins. During the summer weekdays, the Courageous Sailing group hosts a sailing camp on the pond and the five boats were out for a little good-hearted racing.

This wood pulp paper is not very good - it has a "harder" and more smooth surface that doesn't behave in the same way as cotton rag does... too many 'blooms' in the color mixing, and tilting the paper makes it all run together more than usual, but sometimes that's fun to work around.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Almendres Cromlech Meets Manet

One of the most magical lunches I ever had was a cheese and cracker picnic in an islolated part of the Alentejo in Portugal in about April of 1992 or so. Four friends and I were traveling throughout central and southern Portugal for a couple of weeks, and near Evora we decided to track down the Almendres Cromlech, a four thousand year-old megalithic site several miles down a dirt road.

This photo always reminds me of Manet's famous picnic scene in  Le Déjeuner sur l'
Herbe "The Luncheon on the Grass", even though we're all wearing clothes. As peaceful and beautiful as that place was that day, there's something just a little disconcerting about casually eating cheese next to a truly ancient and mysterious construction of stones. Disconcerting in perhaps a similar way to Manet's ladies.

So, taking a few liberties, I've started some sketches toward what will be, for me, a rather ambitious painting. I started with a quick, amended drawing of the scene (sorry Martha!):

... and I quickly discovered I had a few composition issues to work out, so I tried another version using a different photo of the stones from that day:

And then one in color just for kicks:

I'm still not "there" yet, but I decided to move on and do some more paint studies to see if I could capture the feel of the stones and the place without the picnic (for now):

And then... back to another compositional study, mostly to see if I would have trouble painting the figures:

I think I'm getting closer to what I wanted, but I'm not quite ready to tackle integrating the whole scene in a large format just yet... but stay tuned! This part of the process is fun, a traditional painterly approach and ultimately important to the final result.

Here are my photos of the stones used for painting reference:

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Return to Secret Beach

Good friends have enriched our lives by taking us to a fabulous hideaway they call "Secret Beach". It's an idyllic and mostly private stretch of sand where Sage Lot Pond empties into Waquoit Bay, in Mashpee on Cape Cod. Last year I did a very quick plein air sketch for our host and then took lots of photos:

Over the winter, I did a more refined painting as a Christmas present for our friends:

Later still I returned to my photo references and did this one:

 Last weekend we got a chance to go back again and I did two more plein air paintings while the dogs raced by kicking up sand and the boys hung over my shoulder asking questions:

Sure is a great place!