Making a Painting from a Plein Air Study


I decided to enlarge an 11in x 14in oil plein air sketch I made while in Monterey at the 3rd Annual Plein Air Convention a couple of weeks ago to see what I could come up with. The entire sketch was painted using one of my longer palette knifes that I re-fashioned with the assistance of my studio neighbor, Edgar, a metalsmith and craftsman and his blow torch. (That would be another blog post!) Almost the entire studio version was created alla prima (meaning in one sitting) and 95% palette knife, with the exception of a few finishing strokes to push a few color notes and a slight bit of scumbling in the sky after the painting had dried.



The above sketch was drawn directly onto an 18in x 24in  pre-stretched canvas using my new ivory Rosemary brush and a little Gamsol and Winsor Newton Permanent Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue puddle I mixed on my palette. I like to shade areas that I know will be my darker notes of color to check for the balance, overall design and flow. The wash drawing dries within a minute of applying the paint, so it doesn't interfere with the colors I apply on top. Any heavy tones, distracting drips or lines in the wrong place can be easily wiped off with a little Gamsol. I superimposed a backward "S" in photoshop onto my image to illustrate what my intent was in creating a pleasing *rhythm to the overall design. If this piece were a more complicated design, I might grid out the drawing on canvas first. This approach above, made me feel like I was painting back on location in Monterey--the more that I can do that, the better off my painting is. So, 90% of my "studio version" was painted outdoors in natural light.

*The rhythm of a painting is what creates the flow, it's like the timing in a tempo of a song. Strong directional lines in a painting can disrupt the rhythm causing the eye to rush too quickly off the canvas and onto something else entirely. It's like listening to classical music with a hip hop beat.



I felt pretty good about the design and the direction I wanted from my sketch and where I wanted to take this piece was becoming very clear to me, so I launched right in and started laying in my darkest color notes first. Applying the darks first is the simplest way to establish the value and color key that I'm after. I do the same while out in the field, so I like to do the same on my studio pieces. 

I tried to remain as true as possible to my field study, applying colors notes on top of color notes in the same fashion as I did while painting it out in the field. The globby masses of color you see here, all applied with a palette knife using thick applications of oil paint, sans medium and thinners, are essentially my first impressions of those spots of color that I observed while out in the field. The only way that I can actually see these color notes is by scanning all of the color relationships as a whole over the entire scene and discerning what each color has more of or less of compared to it's adjacent color. These basic masses of color are my interpretations of reality, narrowed down to a simplified overall mass of color that I can use to represent what I'm seeing. Basically, it's all an illusion of my reality.



The first color notes, are always the most pure and rawest ones, showing the *objects punchier side--it's all of that stuff that each object is made of. I also lean my first notes slightly darker, lightening as I build color on top of color. Every color exists in every color, the question is: How much of what color is in that object? In the process of applying color notes, I adjust and manipulate the notes to create a truer sense of what I'm seeing. And I'm always using my first notes to get there in a thoughtful and sensitive way--however outwardly, I'm attacking the canvas in a bit of a furious energy, because as soon as I slow down, I risk losing momentum and freshness ...and out in the field, you risk losing the light! It could almost appear as if I'm throwing arbitrary color all over the place in the beginning (that's usually when passer-bys come by and assume I'm an abstract painter and then wonder why I bother painting outside). I do enjoy the fresh air. 

I'm using the term, "object" here as that's how most people think of things. Thinking of the bushes, the trees, the ocean and the sky--as objects is easy; thinking of them as color spots, within color masses, within space may take a little practice. But that's how I try to see everything.



In the above image, I had loosely and energetically covered all the white of the canvas so that I could easily see what the painting needed. I hadn't bothered paying too much attention to creating forms within the masses, just spots of color as they related to their adjacent spots until the white of the canvas was gone. But, here we can see, forms or objects are emerging without my thinking of them as such.



Here, I am continuing to adjust my color notes in a more refined way, while breaking some of the larger masses into smaller masses. I'm carefully adjusting my hues and values to more accurately represent the light effect I witnessed on location. I'm not usually a "light-chaser", but when I was working on the field sketch of this scene, near the end of my painting session, I witnessed the sun dropping behind the tree with a veil of atmospheric fog that was lifting off the horizon and then rolling back in again. The light lasted about 2 minutes and then--poof, it was gone! I decided to try to record THAT light, as it was so subtle and beautiful and bathed in warmth. So here it is, an overcast gray day with the last bit of warm illuminating light bouncing off the top planes of the sandy dunes and peeking behind the cypress. I figured, "Last Light of Monterey" would be an appropriate title. Now, is it truly finished? Time will tell. I like to have my paintings sit awhile before I send them off someplace. I like to do a final "looksee". Almost everything I paint, will require a few finishing touches, a lost edge or two, a dark accent here and there, a soft edge, a hard edge, a belt sander, a razor blade... we could fuss forever, never really truly being satisfied. But I am deeply satisfied that I painted! The process is often the biggest reward.



Carole Gray-Weihman
Carole Gray-Weihman
Painter, Instructor and Founder-CEO of Plein Air Liaison, Carole loves engaging with other plein air painters, teaching and painting the landscape. She also enjoys web design and social media. You can also find her here: www.gray-weihman.com       READ MORE


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