Friday, May 4, 2012

Plein air painting idea 6

Tonight's idea is that you can work outside longer on a painting than most people think. I am often asked "How can you paint a scene when the light is changing so rapidly?" Bullets please.
  • Gray days don't change very much, you can paint all day sometimes. I used to prefer sunny days and I guess I still do, but that constant light on a gray day does have an advantage.
  • .When I set up, I spend the first hour or so drawing in transparent paint. I work out my design, hunt down possible gremlins and get the tricky drawing parts understood, usually in a monotone. I have been known to do this for an entire session, and then come back a second day and work in color over a full finished monochrome painting from the day before.
  • After that hour I will work for about two hours in full color, the light changes over a two hour period but not THAT much usually. That is the "primetime" part of the session. I push myself to work quickly and efficiently. I am careful not to get hung up working and reworking a single passage, that is easy to do. Hopefully I spotted all of my gremlins in the first hour's lay-in stage and am not confronted with a passage that slows me down. I make a point of working all over the canvas and trying to keep the entire painting marching along as a whole.
  • After your two hour primetime, you can still work another hour or two by concentrating on the things that the light has not changed. For instance, the things that were in the shadow may still look the same. I have a record on my canvas of what the scene looked like before the light changed, and if I follow that I can still feed information into the painting so long as I don't rearrange my pattern of lights and darks. I don't want to "follow" the light as it changes..
  • Try to put your shadow shapes down and leave them alone. Don't keep going back and lengthening them over the course of your session. If they really look better later in the day, by all means change them, but don't chase them all day long on autopilot. THINK about what you are doing.
  • I have no problem returning to a painting a second or sometimes a third day. I wouldn't go back out on a sunny day picture on a gray day, but if it is sunny again, I like getting a second day, particularly on a 24 by 30. There is no law that says a painting has to be done in one shot. Monet didn't do that, and his pictures were OK.

If you are slavishly copying nature before you, when the light changes you must either change your picture with it, or go home. If you are making a picture, and you have an idea of what it should look like, then you will be far better able to deal with the changing light. 


Anonymous said...

That is one idea I was thinking of trying...doing the drawing on one day, work out the design issues, then head back to do the lay in.

There's this lovely but HUGE victorian home and grounds I've had my eye on. But not only is the house quite ornate and would take quite a bit of time to paint, but the property and scene has design issues. I think a multi-day approach would help to stay focused on doing the right design without worrying about the light window.

I can do a small plein air, 12 x 16, in about three hours...not very fast.

There's no way I could paint the scene in one go.

Thanks for the post, Stape.

Judy P. said...

Six posts in a row, with my cuppa joe- great way to start the day!
Thanks Stape, I get so confused out doing plein air that every little gem helps.

Philip Koch said...

lisGood to hear talk about sunny day v.s. cloudy day subjects. Something that catches your eye as suitable for painting on a sunny day almost never looks good from the same point of view when it's cloudy. And the other way around. I think it's best to have distinctly cloudy day paintings in one corner and sunny day paintings off in the other corner.

Great question about how long should a painter keep working on the same surface on sunny days. I've known some very good painters who can go three hours at a stretch, but beyond that I think the results start to suffer. Personally I like to keep it at no more than two hours at one time, and return for more on later days. Just works better for me that way.

Like so many other things, a painter has to grope her or his way toward which methods bring out their best talents. There is no one-size-fits-all. But there are time honored painting practices that usually have some very good thinking in back of them. I think this is why it takes years to learn to paint really well- you have SO much trial and error experimenting to do fleshing out which procedure is best for your temperament.

One last thought- I know a lot of painters get super frustrated with how fast the darned shadows march across your subject and try to nail them down by working with a photograph. That can help with the shadows shapes, but it almost always invites new troubles with the shadows reading way too dark and all the same color. Direct observation has my heart as it's given me such better results over the years.

My3Starz said...

Thank you for this awesome series on plein air! Not to change subject, but I have to do some figure work right now: Can I apply some of your advice for plein air, such as "laying in abstract composition loosely and thinly with large brushes before refining" while painting a live figure?

Love2paint said...

Stape, this all goes to quality and quantity of light and our ability to capture an impression of it. If we place down those shadow areas in a design that relates each mass to the next, we have captured our impression of the light angle, the amount of light and the quality. In the hours that pass while we fill in the canvas we can use both memory and what shadow design we placed down to keep that momentary light. It is up to us to put it down with passion and skill, recording our feelings of that scenery onto the canvas.
I agree that we need to spend as much time as possible in getting the arrangement, (composition) just right, or the painting will fall apart faster than a broken egg in a fry pan.

Diane Edwards said...

So happy to have you back at it. This one was great. I often do the drawing and basic plan with a couple of thumbnails first and then sketch it on the paper (pastel). Then I come back when the light seems great and start painting....I always, always take several photos as I go along.

SWOPS said...

If you spend a larger part of your session 'drawing in', the move onto the painting stage, does that mean you almost never do a painting 'off the cuff'?

I would imagine that to capture a particular light effect, means turning up early, after doing a recce the day (or days)before..

Great to have you back by the way...