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With the new normal in today's world, the last months have been odd to say the least. As the province where I live went into voluntary individual self restriction in mid March it felt like a storm was approaching. No one was quite sure about what would happen next. Would it get really bad? Would we ever see anyone again via the local artists' guild I belong to in our in person gatherings for meetings, painting together, shows, and social events?
As I felt my daily life outside our home shutting down and watching videos from China with people singing to each other from their many balconies to stay connected I took my art community on-line.
After my successful Acrylic Landscape Workshop in Sept 2019, I was asked by the participants if I would have something for them that would continue week to week, so I began a weekly paid drop in. In early March I sent around an email asking people to join me via Zoom and I gave myself a crash course. Since March 19 2020 a group of us have been meeting once a week.
I wasn't sure how it would all go. Would the artists be able to ask questions they wanted the answers to? Would everyone feel they got a fair chance to ask? Could anyone even see or hear anything in a useful way? Would people get anything out of this online thing where everyone was in a little box? (If any of you have ever seen those TV shows, the Brady Bunch or Hollywood Squares you'll understand what I mean) Up to now I haven't had a paid account, so we do one 40 min session before it kicks us out. We take a 20 minute break and sign in again for another 40 minutes. People have paid me what they can until now, and as of Sept 1 we have decided on a weekly rate based on attendance and invoiced at the end of the month by etransfer. As of Sept 1, I will switch over to an annual paid account so we can do the full 2 hours and people can stay on afterward if they want to keep painting with others for company.
Over 5 months later the verdict is in. It worked better than any of us ever suspected. People tell me they are learning. They tell me they look forward to Thursday afternoons. They tell me we have built a place of community. Of safety, of space for art. They ask their question and then paint, while listening to the issues raised by others. I can tell when some people are feeling blah, or uncertain about what to paint next. I can tell when they are done with a piece either for good or for now. People send me closeups of their work by email and I give feedback. They send in their finished pieces for Show and Tell and I send them out to the group. Comments and encouragement come back, and I send that to the person who created the piece. One member is away isolating on her boat for the summer and joined us a couple of weeks ago purely for the company. She'll be back in the fall.
The only rules are that everyone has to wear clothes! You can drink anything except your brush water, and there is no talk of the current world situation. On Thursday afternoons we are virus free. We are in a positive creative supportive space. Friendships are being forged, and learning is happening. The connection we have for a few hours every week is accomplishing more than we first suspected and, as we head into colder, shorter days, will be even more important.
I am never sure if anyone reads these blogs, but if you do, leave a comment via the Guest Book or Contact tabs.
It's been a while since I last wrote here, as I feel it's more important when there is actually something useful that I can share.
Last March my art guild needed someone to fill in at the last minute on a public interactive demo day. After the general meeting I offered to do it if needed, and shortly afterward I received a phone call confirming my participation.
I arrived on the day with my helpful husband in tow carrying bags of my work, and all my supplies. We hung up some of my work behind the table, I pulled out my canvas prepared with sketch and transparent colour toning, and got down to work in front of a crowd of anywhere from 5 to 12 people that came and went throughout the three hours.
I explained how I started out 27 years ago and then started applying paint.
Some people came and went. Some stayed the entire time. Some stood in the rear of the group and took in snippets of info and others sat hunched in the front row eagerly taking notes. Some were quiet, some asked questions. Some smiled and some were serious.
I thought I could feel my blood pressure rising. I had a few adrenalin rushes for sure, especially during parts I wasn't confident about or where I was feeling my way through values or shapes. Making sure the image was reading properly was a challenge since I was working against time and couldn't step back freely without ending up in someone's lap.
Some people I recognized as non painters, some were curious about starting, the rest I of course imagined were masters of their craft who should have been doing the demo instead of me!
Prior to this demo I had painted with an audience. In a previous blog Go Big or Go Home, I wrote about seniors with massive cognitive and physical impairments that I painted for, who couldn't leave if they wanted to either because of not being able to speak or move. Some of these had a keen interest in art, through former related art careers or art as a hobby and would stay with me because it brought them some kind of joy to watch me create an image.
Before that my demo experience was years ago from a few visits to demonstrate for my daughters' elementary classes. I started with the Kindergarten class and gained enough courage to paint in front of the Grade 4 class. In both cases the demos were successful and it seemed that a lot of that success was attributable to choosing the right audience! (It didn't take much to impress a group of 4 year olds.)
I did have a year of teacher training back in the mists of time that I relied on for confidence that I could pace and communicate knowledge in front of others.
After the interactive demo last year, while cleaning up, I found a plain white shopping bag with something wrapped inside it. I took it to be a bag of garbage that a member of the public had left and opened it before throwing it away.
To my surprise there was a parcel wrapped in newsprint, tied with a ribbon and a little sign taped onto the outside. On the newsprint was a handwritten message of support from a fellow guild member, former buyer and vocal supporter of my work. She wished me well on the demo, said some very nice things and said it was the beginning of good things to come. In the wrapped parcel was a canvas and the words "I can't wait to see what you do with this." In my relief at having completed the challenge, it was the PERFECT ending to a day that was very intense at times.
Since the demo, I have taught my first workshop for the Guild, teach an ongoing monthly class in Acrylic Landscape, have another Workshop coming up in April, have been invited by another Art Guild to teach a weekly class there in March and April (see Workshops and Demos tab). Each time I have demonstrated or taught I bring the little sign and set it up on the work surface.
The latest demo was for an art guild in another town! The painting I did in 2 hrs plus another 45 minutes at home, is below. Once again, I was nervous as this was for an art guild with some very good painters, not the general public. Once again I imagined they were all masters of their craft and early in the wee hours of the day the demo was to happen, I was awake with mind racing about colour choice, brushstrokes and pacing. In an effort to get SOME sleep I reminded myself that they had seen the website, so they knew I wasn't a fingerpainter and that if they had wanted magic, they would have hired a magician! The demo went well. There was no need to worry.
I tell my audience that the sign is not about me. The sign is there to remind me of all those along the way who told me I could do it. Even at times when I wasn't sure. Even when I was amazed to find that people thought I knew stuff they might not. It reminds me of my friend. It reminds me of my family who have told me good things over the years. It reminds me of the people who have chosen to live with my work by buying it. It reminds me that self doubt is my biggest obstacle. It gives me confidence to push ahead with what I enjoy and grow in my work.
So thanks to Rose and everyone else out there who has said positive things. Thanks to those who have rejected my work too, as they have a place in keeping my feet on the ground and keeping me part of the growing and improving that makes the art making a fresh challenge every time I start new work.
"Island Charm" is found in the Southern Gulf Islands BC Coast Gallery
Our guild has an upcoming show in February called "The Changing Light" where we are collaborating with the local photo club. The photographers have submitted photos and all of us artists have chosen to paint from them.
A fellow guild member and a good painter has been getting back into it by coming to my monthly Acrylic Drop In class and mentioned she was doing a painting from one of the same photos that I chose.
The other day she emailed to say she was frustrated as she had ruined her painting.
I replied by asking what was going on and requesting a photo of said disaster.
She sent along two stages worth of her work and an explanation of what she felt had gone wrong. She also said she was thinking about pulling it out of the show as she didn't have time to fix it before leaving for a trip.
On one hand, I could see that there were differences in the two images and the two images differed from the reference photo. On the other, I could see that in both stages there were some redeeming qualities, but nothing to me that looked like it needed to be hung in a dark room or, according to her drastic strategy: gessoed over!
I had to think about a reply. There were a couple of choices open to me: one was to immediately launch into a critique to analyze the ways in which the image could be pushed or pulled in value and composition etc. so as to strengthen it and get back the things she felt were lost. Two was to take another perspective.
(She had already told me she was running out of time and had to pack for the trip. Such a circumstance is NOT helpful to the consideration and analysis that one needs to give a piece to rework and reinvent so as to change the result into something that makes one proud.)
I chose instead to go in a different direction and said this:
"I can see how the before and after differ.
I think both have their merits. Yes there are more contrasts in the first one and the darks are stronger but the second one still has some great stuff.
I would put it in the show as it’s an interpretation.
After all no matter what a finished painting looks like, no matter how we feel about our results, no one really knows how far something matched or missed the brilliant work we had in our mind when we first looked at the image and decided to paint it. Therefore no one knows if we nailed or missed except us.
It’s incredible to me that things I thought were terrible faux pas, are some of the things I have had compliments on when others see the painting!
So submit it, hang it in the show. If you happen to not be in Hawaii and hear someone say something great about it then simply say thank you and smile inside? Don’t explain the work’s shortcomings. And when you get home and have more time think critically about how you might pull it and push it to where you feel you’ve given it everything constructive.
It’s after that that you might gesso over, if and when you’ve learned all you can from it?
A lesson in objectivity that I constantly remind myself of: the farther away one stands, the more a piece is worth. 😊"
What I was trying to say was that when one starts out a piece it's perfect. In our mind. Somewhere between the mind and the brush hitting the canvas something changes. The colour of the paint we mix is not a match for what is in our heads. The value of the paint is darker or lighter than we intended to mix. Even the shapes we have carefully observed in our mind or in our sketch end up on the canvas as differently shaped or in a totally different place than we intended in the reality of the reference material. Many a time I have been busily working away and run out of room or my husband says, "you realize that's not even where that really is right?".
As we paint, the work often becomes less like we intended and more like what it intends. Brush gets ahead of brain and suddenly our hand has made marks we weren't even aware of.
It's something I'm always reminding myself of: Observe relationships. Observe shapes. Observe values. Slow down at times. Speed up during others. Leave stuff alone. Work on things that need adjusting. Watch and observe at every stage. Stop and leave periods of time just to let the work tell you what it needs next.
When you aren't rushed leave it and look. When you are, stop and wait.
Be patient. Stand back. Wait for honesty in what is and isn't working.
And now the reply I received from her about the course she is choosing:
Wow, thanks Monica! You just made me feel a whole lot better. 😄 I really, really appreciate you taking the time like this to give me such constructive feedback ... Go ahead if you want and use my example of 'what not to do' in your session next Thursday and I'll even send you two more pictures, phase one and phase two (the ones i sent you were three and four).
Try number two with this entry. The first one disappeared when I posted. Ah, painting is always rewarding, technology sometimes!
This entry is about the way painting in different sizes helps me grow as an artist.
Several years ago I volunteered to give back at the facility where a family member stayed in safety and comfort before they passed away. Over the years my relative was there I grew close to the staff, and decided to keep the connection ongoing. I would paint murals on paper for the residents, many of whom had cognitive impairment. My pieces were 24 FEET long by 6 FEET tall. I had to work quickly to lay in a horizon line, the shape of a building or a person so as to retain the viewers' attention and allow their often compromised brains and sight to register what I was doing. In moving quickly with a large brush, I was able to engage them sufficiently that those who would normally nap if not directly engaged one on one, would stay awake for upwards of 45 minutes at a time!
My art "critics" as I called them would sit sometimes 10 to 25 feet away to see the big picture and allow everyone to be included. The residents would look on with excitement as the image unfolded quickly right in front of them. I was becoming an artist in residence and a bit of a live Bob Ross if you've ever watched those PBS painting shows. I found around the same time my paintings on canvases became freer and more loose as I found confidence to move to bigger brushes and less detail in my work.
At the same time I was asked by a Gallery owner, on the island where we own a vacation property, to show work and we decided with her clientele that I would mostly show small pieces under 12" x 12". The price point is great for tourists, who may be packing their lives with them in carry on sized luggage, and so began a series of 3" by 4" works, that function like little wooden postcards. (see the Gallery Minis Sold, some still for sale are hidden among the Southern Gulf Islands and BC Coast Gallery and some in the Fraser Delta Gallery). Some have flown to New York City to small apartment walls, one 5" x 7" hangs in Ohio on the wall of a couple who became engaged at the spot in the painting. People come back year after year to pick up a new one to remember a warmer week when they left their cares behind and went on holiday.
I began selling some larger paintings. A 24" x 36" sold locally. (see " Pumpkin Time on Westham Island" in the Fraser Delta Gallery) .Then a 3 FOOT by 4 FOOT commission came in from far away in Central Canada (see "Fitzsimmons from Whistler" in the Vancouver Whistler Area Gallery). In every case these large works freed me up to use broader strokes, larger arm movements, and bolder colours than the little ones.
Each time I moved from small to big or big to small I noticed a need to simplify. If I began painting big, I had more ground to cover. The skeleton that one hangs a composition on became crucial as I needed the piece to hang together and not take decades to complete. When I moved from several large ones to the minis I found I had to simplify as the amount of area would simply not hold every little thing.
On both extremes I had to distill the image in the same way, but for different reasons. Whether I paint with a 2" or 3" brush, or a 1/4" or 1/2" brush I am painting with a large brush if my brush is large relative to the size. Getting out of the 11" x 14" and 16" x 20" comfort zones actually taught me that I have many more comfort zones than first thought!
It's been a rewarding discovery.
Last month I had a brand new artist's experience with the shipping of the largest commission I had done to date. I had done some work on the phone looking at options to ship between Vancouver and Toronto. I began in April with a research phone call to several companies about the costs of shipping. At one point the client even looked into having me take the canvas off the stretchers, roll it, and ship it that way. The cost seemed rather high, given what I was hearing from freight and cargo companies for a packed complete canvas. Since the work was 3 foot by 4 foot unwrapped, I had quite a large item on my hands.
I went on the internet and looked at ideas for lightweight sturdy packaging and was able to adapt my packing strategy to capitalize on quite a few free materials I could easily find. I had some good tips and went ahead collecting the various components of the end wrapping.
First I wrapped the work in white roll drawing paper that I bought at my local art supply store to keep it clean. Next I wrapped the image side and edges with some scraps of that hard pink 1 1/2" insulation board to protect it. Next I bought two half sheet scraps of 1/4" door skin or mahogany plywood and put one on each side of the work. The next layer was was an appliance box from a dealer where we had bought several appliances over the years. The whole thing was well taped around the edges and in both directions across the middle. Lastly I purchased enough 6mm heavy poly plastic to totally waterproof the whole thing with a last layer. All seams were taped in case the package ran into rain on the tarmac somewhere.
Once my clients had finished their renovations and cleaned up enough, I phoned again to recheck the information from one well known Canadian airline. Initially their answers seemed too good to be true. Upon calling back, it all checked out as correct! I was even able to book the wrapped parcel using the actual dimensions, on a flight. It flew on a specific flight due to the fact that it would be on a wide body jet and be built into a cargo container and not laid on top of other loose cargo. I was able to purchase insurance through the airline.
About the only thing they didn't offer me for the painting was a seat with pretzels and drinks! The timing of the Thursday flight meant it arrived in Toronto after midnight which meant arriving on the Friday. This meant that with the weekend looming the buyers had 3 days to pick up instead of 2, before storage charges began to apply.
Once I had it booked it was a matter of taking it to the cargo hangar at Vancouver Airport and signing it in. It even traveled collect so I did not have to put out any money ahead of time and the clients paid the bill at the other end to release the parcel.
Everything was well written out for the client in emails where all agreed to the amount, which turned out to be substantially less than the cost of undoing the work from the stretchers, shipping rolled, and re-stretching. Through the magic of smart phones I was able to track and text the client with the work's progress through the system and they sent me the photo as it arrived on the other end - in absolutely perfect condition.
With good preparation and proper packing I discovered that paintings can really fly, and with less fuss than it would take for a person!
Now coming to the end of months of working on the commission I mentioned in an earlier blog:
At the end of the last work session, I started feeling that things were getting to a point where I was getting to the home stretch.
Early on when I was first learning to paint, an elderly lady in our Guild said "Always quit when you think you are 3/4 finished." She also said "Put some paint on the canvas before it is fully mixed on the palette, that way you get more complicated colours." It's something I've always tried to keep in mind. Don't overwork the piece.
Another person I learned from said "Don't fall in love, don't marry any one part too early." A great way to say that if you become attached to any one part of a painting too early, and spend the rest of the time protecting that area and painting around it, it will affect the success of the work.
Learning when to stop is one of the most important things for an artist. When is enough, enough?
Here's where I Spy comes in. That game we often played as children mostly when an adult wanted to keep us occupied with something that involved sitting down and keeping relatively quiet. People often ask me how long it takes to paint a piece. It's not an easy answer to give. As with anything that involves the puzzles of the mind and perception, one can spend as much time observing the piece figuring out what happens next, as actually squeezing paint and applying it.
From Plein air where one has to get the scene composed and down on the surface before the light or weather change, to the studio where one could work forever on one piece, there's a middle ground, but it's rare that I don't spend some time backing away and observing. It's usually at the point in the work session where the brain starts to wander that little bit, and one becomes aware that one is in danger of putting down a stroke that is not thoughtful. I don't think between each stroke. Each stroke is not deliberate, but before I start painting the group of strokes, I have deliberated.
Stepping back for a few seconds is the minimum and the larger the work, the more often I find I have to step back. Once I hit the point I described above where the mind starts to wander, if I'm not hungry or thirsty, I know I have to put the palette away, clean the brushes, take the piece off the easel and take it to where I can put it into my daily life backdrop to watch it. Observation confirms where to go next, points out areas for attention and improvement.
It can also draw out a word of opinion from my husband, who is really objective and has very useful things to say as he plays music but doesn't paint. Because he doesn't paint he is objective, and not competitive. He doesn't know the "rules", he just knows when something bugs him. Most of the time the stuff that bugs him is right where the problem is. Often he knows when it's done too. How does he know this? As a viewer, he doesn't need to be hit over the head with every detail. If I am going to leave something for him to think about and participate in when viewing the painting, than I have to leave room in the picture for him to fill something in for himself.
It's that magical quality where you look at the brush strokes the artist put down on an individual basis and then resolve them into the subject, before going back to the parts again, only to return to the total. Your eye begins to move through the painting in the way that pleases you enough to stay with the work and marvel at how the shapes allow you to see what the artist saw and add in something of your own.
The observation stage can last a few hours, or it can last a week or two. It calls for patience.
After over 25 years as a painter, even when I stare at the blank gessoed canvas before I start a piece, I know with confidence to a decent degree what I am aiming for and how to get it there. Things can change as I work through the piece, but I always know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I can see it from where I begin. There is a point though where you just know you are so close you can touch it.
It's at that point that I start making a list. The bigger the piece, the more I write it down rather than carrying it in my head. It's just like I Spy.
I spy with my little eye: and the list develops from there. It's funny how that list is enough to create the objectivity I need to make the last adjustments. Changes in tone, value, mass, highlight and low-light. It's the final adjustment just as a chef makes a final adjustment to the seasonings just before serving the dish.
And suddenly it's there. The painting is done. Each last stroke is put down thoughtfully and I know I'm there. It makes sense to me and it's enough. Time to put the work out into the world and enjoy it without looking back. It could be time for a new piece or painting the next one in a series from similar reference material. Either way, it feels like the piece is done.
It's been a month of extraordinary heat and no rain, with over a week of smoke filled skies that looked like a tube of Golden's Titan Buff. Two days ago the heat broke, we began to see a faint hint of Prussian Blue to the sky and then the clouds showed up. I saw a star at night and the moon was a normal colour.
Painting was a way to pass the hours, but motivation at a humidex of over 30 degrees can be an elusive thing.
Yesterday the rain moved in at 10pm and we got a good overnight soaking. The first rain since July 21 when we had a few drops.
The best thing I could do for my studio in July, was to look around and see what could be thinned. I once took a workshop from a woman who said if she was blocked, she would tidy her surfaces and creativity followed. Some people need to have a lovely layered chaotic space where they know the whereabouts of each item in the layers of detritus and sediment, while I work better with spaces between the bits of visual chaos. Calm areas that make me feel productive.
In 2010 I came into possession of three large canvasses. A 24 x 36, a 30 x 40 and a 28 x 40. I used the 24 x 36 to paint "Pumpkin Time on Westham Island" (which can be seen in the gallery Sold and Archived Works). It went on to win a spot in a competition in our Guild, it won an Envision Credit Union Category Prize in a local art show, and went on to sell on the last day of the show.
The other two canvasses stayed in the studio waiting to receive the right image. Somehow clients never chose the size, canvasses that large have to be something that is live-able for more than just myself, and then there was the empty white canvas intimidation factor.
One day this past month I realized that they were taking up mental as well a physical space in my studio and one day I sent out an email to fellow artists I know who like to paint big, put a good price of 30% of the orig. pre tax value on the two as they had been no cost to me, and within an hour had four artists willing to take them off my hands. By supper time they were gone and I had the equivalent of two tubes of paint I would definitely use in my wallet!
Last week I was sorting through some knitting wool that was taking up a drawer in the corner of the studio while other items remained homeless and distracting on the floor. As I opened another drawer, I noticed a tray of coloured acrylic inks I was given once. At the time I thought they would be very inspirational. In over ten years they never made it out of the drawer! Sent out an email to fellow artists I know who I thought might find them useful and within an hour I had someone who works in illustration, and does the most beautiful detailed fine work with ink, reply. She was thrilled to the extent of 3 exclamation points in her query about whether they were still available. Within a day the inks were in her studio where they WILL be used.
The feeling of weight, relief and freedom I feel when this happens contributes directly to my enjoyment of a tidier studio where I will feel more productive. The enthusiasm of the other party is infectious. Things I won't even miss out the door, leaving room in head and heart for a more creative space. It's something i highly recommend.
Today I uploaded an 8" x 10" piece called "Violet Louise" which can be viewed in the Gallery - Sold and Archived works.
It's a piece done for a specific owner. Her mother owned the store over 40 yrs ago in an old heritage building that still stands in a neighbourhood of Vancouver, Canada. I took a reference photo of the building as it is today.
The challenge with this painting was that the building, unusually, is still the same on the exterior in an architectural sense, but the colours are not at all the way they were when I wanted to depict it! I asked the future owner's son, but although he tried to help via chat, no one in the family had any photos. My next step was to ask a friend who still visits the neighbourhood if he knew. I thought, being a history buff with a great memory, he might shed some light on the issue. He checked with a friend and sent back some educated guesses along with some paint chip sample ideas for heritage colours. Helpful but still not definitive.
I contacted the future owner on a pretext to "settle an argument" and she didn't twig to what I was doing! So she gave me a little info, but I couldn't pump her too obviously. Her info was general and didn't shed much light on it as I couldn't make a clear request or say why I was really asking.
She did give me one very helpful clue. She said the jeweler who was originally next door had a black and white photo of part of the building on their counter across the street in the new store. So I called the jeweler as the same family operates it today.
The original jeweler's daughter was very helpful, sent me a blurry scan of the photo in it's frame, and told me what she knew. She told me the store was in the middle of the three units, and there was black tile under the street level display windows. She settled the question of the trim and confirmed it was always black. She wasn't sure about the pebble dash stucco colour, but thought it was a dirty grey. This was nice to hear and narrowed things down, but made for a very accurate but boring painting full of grey.
So I used artistic license and decided that, in a nod to Violet, the building would be violet to contrast with the greys of the sidewalks and pavement and show off the black trim. Of course, the way to get the sky to pop was to put it in quinacidrone gold to exploit the complementary colour pop against the purple colour and symbolize the humble good fortune her family achieved in Canada after coming from Hong Kong.
I purchased a refillable ink pen and, filling it with high flow black ink, put in the black trim to get finer detail than my hand would permit by brush. In the end it was a case of detective work creating enough truth in the end result to make it believable to someone who knew, from long term memory, a good chunk of what it should have looked like. Getting the shapes and lines correct within the context was enough to allow me to take off into the symbolism of the owner's mother's name and the gold sky to indicate the life she was able to create for her children in Canada.
On the eve of the 150th anniversary of Canada's Confederation I have completed a commission for a landscape from Utah. The family is a cross border one, she a canadian and he an american with canadian citizenship. I don't know how they choose between the BC and the Utah scenery. They are both so tempting to paint!
In this latest piece, "Wasatch Sunset", (which can be seen in the Gallery The Desert) it's about the sky and the clouds at sunset. I have always been incredibly inspired by clouds, and have found them to be a fascinating subject. The sky and the light, or lack of, in the clouds is often what draws me to consider taking a reference photo or stopping to marvel over something that later ends up as a painting. Clouds can be very useful to me in terms of composition, to draw and direct the eye. Sometimes the sky is subordinate when the rest of the composition dominates.
I find it worthwhile observing the sky when I am out in various seasons and weather conditions. I find successful skies often don't need to be laboured over. Some of my best results come from the loosest of brush strokes, with colours mixing right on the brush.
A big attraction of cloud formations is the subtlety and variety of the colours one sees. Creating complex colour sometimes involves painting an area of barely mixed colour several times, each time letting part of what was underneath show through. I think colour is better when not laid down as a premixed solid area. Although my goal is to move toward simplifying more and more as i grow as an artist, I need to ensure that areas of colour remain interesting and varied.
As a Girl Guide I learned a lot from my wartime pilot Dad when I asked him for help with my Weather badge. More than I anticipated actually. It became a full lecture, but the information was so interesting. I wish that in addition to studying the water cycle etc., that elementary school children could learn what the various cloud types can inform about the weather so that one wouldn't need a smart phone in order to decide whether it is prudent to try a plein air day or stay in the studio!
I once had a pair of prescription sunglasses where the tint on the lenses changed over time in such a subtle way that I didn't really notice. What I did notice was that I could see such dimension in clouds, that those with me couldn't see. They were extraordinarily beautiful.
For some time I thought that I was developing an artist's eye, that I was learning to see things on a different level after years of careful observation of the landscape around me. It wasn't until I went to renew my prescription that I learned that the mid grey tint had changed in one lens to a slight rose while the other gray had a slight green tinge. I had a pair of irreplaceable 3D glasses! No wonder my reference photos couldn't hold a candle to what I saw with the sunglasses.
So filter or no filter, I keep my eye on the sky in my landscapes. Sometimes they serve my purpose and sometimes they are the purpose.
I have not painted this way much at all over my many years of making art. Last year I joined some of my fellow Guild members outdoors to paint, but not understanding the way it worked, I brought some of the right stuff, some of the wrong. Although it was productive, I painted from photos working on projects on the go already. Yes I painted outdoors, but not what I would call plein air. A few weeks ago I returned from a week of daily plein air painting. This time, I had researched my setup and took what was recommended to me. My husband rejigged an old painting box found at the local thrift store with a camera tripod also found there.
It worked really well. He had thought of everything and, as a consequence, I was free to concentrate on painting. Over 5 days I learned that painting en plein air is both wonderful and challenging. It freed me from photos, enslaved me to the wind and the sun, and improved my ability to see composition in a subject as I quickly weeded out the dead ends and the things that would take away from the final image.
The first day involved having to think about every work item's position, and every brush stroke. On the 2nd day the setup time was cut to a fraction of the 1st day's, and after getting out my viewfinder (an old small mat) I was off and painting. Values quickly became a challenge in a way they are not indoors. The wind and sun dried the paint. Various tiny creatures volunteered to trek across my work, and stroll through my piles of acrylics. I took more risks with colour.
The image developed quickly with the large shapes laid in. The changing light was not as much of a factor as I had thought. My memory of how the scene looked at the start was not as difficult to recall as I had feared. With the composition to hang everything on, it became natural to simplify and look at the overall much more than if I had a photo to go back to for detail.
Eventually I plan to use the five pieces I returned home with as studies for studio paintings and will post them. For now they are percolating in my mind and waiting for other projects to be finished.