Saturday, April 19, 2008

My First Plein Air Painting! Lake Livsey

( For those of you that a received or viewed a previous post, I messed up some photos before and now they should all be visible.) Thanks for stopping by.

Click image to enlarge.

Of all the years I’ve been creating art, I’ve never painted outdoors or "en plein aire". It’s probably because I’m an "indoor" person. I don’t like bugs, cold or hot weather and I sunburn easily. All that said, as a growing artist that loves the impressionists’ paintings ( both the old masters and the modern ), I increasingly wanted to see what all the hype was about. Upon reading various artists’ blogs singing the praises of plein air painting, I began gathering information. I already had the easel purchased last year on eBay. I use the easel in my studio daily but on Friday, that easel, my dog and I took off to a park about 2.5 miles from home to experience my first plein air adventure. The day was perfect weather and the setting was lovely –– not too crowded for a Friday. I had to carry a lot from the parking area down to the lake with my dog Shad-o’s leash around my shoulder. Easel, bucket of equipment, folding stool and board to make a table, and a canvas bag with more stuff and a camera, was all taken in one trip with Shad-o pulling in the opposite direction the entire hike.

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Set up was easy on the lake deck –– a good level and firm surface and a little shade and lots of places to secure Shad-o. I’m so glad that I took a hat ( thanks Jennifer Young! ) That was a must with my transition lenses turning dark in the sun, and it got hot as well! Aside from easel, canvas, paints and brushes, my equipment included: paper towels, plastic garbage bag to line the bucket, camera, water to drink ( I forgot a water bowl for Shad-o ) cell phone, rag, turpentine and medium in small jars. That was everything I needed but I can see why an easel umbrella would be useful on future trips. Shad-o’s protection was not needed and things would have gone a lot quicker without him, bless his little heart ( as we say here in the south... ).

Click on image to enlarge.

It was 11:30 when painting finally began. I started by drawing with paint on white canvas, making a few marks to indicate composition and a few color notes and shadows.
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I continued defining shapes and colors to capture the light and shadows that existed at the start. Getting that light effect down first is important because later, as the sun moves, lighting and shadows are constantly in flux.

Click on image to enlarge.

After 2 and a half hours of painting, here I am very happy. Shad-o is not very happy and ready to go! My first session has been a big success and my dog and I have provided lots of entertainment for various groups of moms with strollers and small children in tow.

Click on image to enlarge.

I’ve finished painting all that the site will yield to me and am ready to go back to the studio and work on a few areas from memory and the digital images I captured.

Click on image to enlarge.

Back in the studio, I spent another hour improving some areas and probably overworking some, too. It’s often difficult to know when a painting is "finished" and there is a danger of losing the fresh spontaneous quality. As I compare this first outdoor painting with my studio work, I have several observations. When I look at the photo I took of this scene before I started painting, I try to imagine how this painting would compare to a painting from the photo. The first thing I notice is how much more color variations I saw in the trees around the lake. The photo was just different shades of green and lost a lot of yellows and reds that were apparent in life. The other big difference was found in the shadows. The photo’s shadows are darker and the light areas appear white ( as in the sky ) or washed out. These differences I’ve read about and noticed when I’m out taking reference shots, but it was eye opening to compare photography to life observation in this way. As a result, my plein air painting was lighter and airier–somehow less solid or heavy looking. I also felt a sense of freedom from the confines of a photo’s borders. Interpreting the broad scene before me, rather than from a photo on my computer screen, I found freeing rather than overwhelming as I had expected. I’ll definitely be outside again ( sans Shad-o ). I think this can be addicting!
Capturing that "fleeting moment" that the impressionists are seeking, took me 3.5 hours of painting, 1.5 hours for travel, set up, break down, walking my dog, and 9 hours to create this blog post! Hope someone reads it!

8"x 10" oil on canvas. Available.


Marilyn M. King said...

Thanks to Judy and Rick who stopped by and let me know that some of my photos were not showing up and the enlargement feature was not working.
Thanks for your two comments and I've recreated this blog and deleted the other. Rick, I know who you are and left a comment on your blog, but Judy I deleted your link along with the older post. I hope you stop in again so that I may visit your site.

Keith said...

I love the painting Marilyn; it has a feeling of the moment. To have completed it with your dog there - amazing. Keep up the plein air work.

rick nilson said...


about the part of knowing when you are finished with the painting. I have been know to say things like," painting is different from other pleasureable activities in that it is difficult to know when you are finished". very aligorical piece. ;>/ LOL

Tom Brown said...

Great first "plein air" effort Marilyn! Well done. To make future sessions more enjoyable, you might want to pare down your packing list so that you don't have so much to carry. I teach my students how to pack so we can carry everything we need in one hand, enough for two complete paintings. As for knowing when it's done: it's finished when the next thing you are thinking of doing to it will not actually IMPROVE the painting. I was delighted to hear that you noticed the vast difference in colors the eye can perceive on location vs what the camera can capture; the camera really "dumbs it down" but painting on location is a real eye-opener. Congratulations for taking the plunge!

Tom Brown

Marilyn M. King said...

Thank you fellow artists for the kind words of encouragement and sharing my small accomplishment with me.

Keith, I will keep it up!

Rick, You were supposed to give a "real" critique of the end result. Did I ruin it?

Tom, I certainly do need to cut that carry list way down. I'll need to get your DVD's to learn the secrets!

Jennifer Young said...

Congrats Marilyn! Splendid inaugural plein air piece! You've already gotten some great feedback, but I definitely agree with Tom about paring down. That seems to be a constant challenge to every plein air painter I know. But as you say, ultimately you gain so much more information from a piece painted from life, than from any photo you could work from.

I do like having an umbrella. It's important to have both your work and your palette shaded. If the palette is in the sun, it's hard to judge what the color and value on your canvas. If your canvas is in the sun, your painting will likely look too dark when you bring it inside. Sure you can hope to always find an evenly shaded spot somewhere on site, but I don't like to be limited that way...I always seem to want to paint in the most inconvenient locations with no shade in sight! ;-) Any way, keep it up..I could feel the excitement in your words.

daviddrawsandpaints said...

Brilliant blog Marilyn! I really enjoyed reading about your adventure into the great outdoors. It's fascinating and interesting to read another (new) Plein Airtists experiences on the road.
And didn't you do well! An excellent little painting direct from your own visual experience.
Now you just have to do it again and, as Tom and Jennifer advise, reduce the weight you carry. I am obsessed with not carrying an ounce I don't have to!

Marilyn M. King said...

Thanks to Jennifer and David for your uplifting comments and Jennifer, I'll have to revisit your blog and read some more before I go out again!

Marilyn M. King said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hello Marilyn- found you via Carol Marine's blog ( isn't she amazing ). I loved reading about your first plein air experience and stand up and applaud you and all your belongings!
I laughed out loud at the recognition of your summation of how many hours it took to get there, what you carried, your dog, and then 9 hours to post this blog portion!

I think you did an amazing first piece and have already taught yourself so much. It's so much harder than one thinks.
I know.
I just tried this myself last week in a workshop and gaaads, it's tough to know what to bring ( loved your inventory list ). I needed a sherpa!
The experienced voices here have just said to pare down. I think you only learn to do that when you're a good long time at it.

I send you my encouragement and empathy and look forward to your progress ( sans dog ) I mean, it's hard enough!
Great post.

Marilyn M. King said...

Bonnie, thanks for visiting and sharing with me your encouragement. I had a great time visiting your site today and find your writings very interesting as well as enjoyed seeing your beautiful art from St Croix.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the visit and I'm glad you were able to find some interest.
This is quite an amazing community here on these links.
I really credit so much of my remaining encouraged to the many supportive voices and compatriots I've made here.

Isn't it a great resource for us all?