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.

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