The View from Here


Parks en Plein Air
June 24, 2009, 11:10 am
Filed under: Art News

Painting outdoors is a relatively new thing for me. While I have painted a handful of watercolors on various trips, I had never attempted an acrylic or oil painting outdoors, on location, until recent years.  

Cinnamon Bay, Virgin Islands  10x 12 watercolor  1994

Cinnamon Bay, Virgin Islands 10x 12 watercolor 1994

Back in 2003, I was awarded a scholarship to the Susan K. Black Foundation’s art workshop in Dubois, Wyoming. I bought a French easel for the occasion, as we were supposed to do a lot of painting outdoors. It is a somewhat awkward contraption with a box and drawer on folding legs, with a tilt-up adjustable easel.

My French Easel in Sycamore Valley

My French Easel in Sycamore Valley

 As other French easel caretakers know, they are prone to coming apart, losing hardware and splitting seams, especially at inopportune moments.  It is a bit awkward to carry for long distances, but I am going to fit mine to a backpack frame for use in the U.P. this summer, when I will be Artist In Residence at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.  In Wyoming I once had to weigh the thing down with rocks so that it didn’t sail away in the stiff breeze.(Some suppliers actually sell rock slings that hang underneath and provide stability). Despite the difficulties with equipment, and more often the environment, there is something addictive about painting outdoors. Sitting by a beautiful wilderness lake for hours, a gentle breeze keeping you comfortable, wildlife passing by, and gazing intensely into nature’s beauty is a great way to spend an afternoon, and then you have that nice painting to carry home.  When you actually sell the work that results, it is a fabulous way to make a living.  Of course, reality isn’t always so wonderful.   There are always the duds you can bring home… those paintings that seemed like a great idea when you started, and fizzled gradually as you worked. Then there’s the bugs that like to do their best to distract you.  Mosquitos buzzing in your ear, gnats in your eyes, etc.  I once tried painting under a mosquito veil in the Amazon, but the visibility through the netting is problematic.  Bugs even get in your paint. Ants in your paints, and in your pants is a reality in the rain forest where ants seem to be the dominant life form. But like any outdoor pursuit, you put up with a few discomforts for the greater good.

 

Double Cabin Creek, Wyoming 8x10 acrylic on panel

Double Cabin Creek, Wyoming 8x10 acrylic on panel. Be sure to keep looking over your shoulder for Grizzlies!

 

 Being a studio painter most of my life, I was used to using mostly photo references. Painting from life is an entirely different experience, especially outdoors. I am forced to work quickly, which is usually a good thing. I have a tendency to bog down in detail, and lose sight of the overall image.  When working in a quickly changing scene (the sun moves all the time!), you don’t have time for extensive detail. So, I rough everything in, add detail in representative areas, and then back in the studio I finish it out. Sometimes. Occasionally, I find that I don’t need or want to add anything when I get back home.  Many plein air painters adopt an impressionistic style, and some of my compatriots have chastised me for being too detailed. “Loosen up, John!”  they say.  I tell them they need more discipline.

 

Looking Into Mexico  9 x 12 acrylic on panel

Looking Into Mexico 9 x 12 acrylic on panel

 

 

 

Currently, I’m engaged in a project to paint en plein air, Hamilton County Parks.  In the links to the left, you’ll see “Parks Plein Air, which is a chronicle of each of the paintings I’ve done so far for this project.  I started last February and add new ones as I finish them, and will continue until October 18,  when I’ll have a show of the results at Sharon Woods Center, in Sharonville, Ohio.  I still have a lot of parks to visit. I should have a pretty comprehensive list by the time I’m done, although I’m skipping the golf courses and boat docks and sticking to natural vistas.  Here are a few examples of what I’ve done so far:

 

Winton Woods Backwater  11 x 14, acrylic

Winton Woods Backwater, April 11 x 14, acrylic

 

 

West Entrance, Miami-Whitewater Forest, February  9x12 acrylic

West Entrance, Miami-Whitewater Forest, February 9x12 acrylic

 

 

 

 

"West Entrance, Miami-Whitewater Forest, June" 9 x 12 acrylic on panel

"West Entrance, Miami-Whitewater Forest, June" 9 x 12 acrylic on panel

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