In the style of painting that I enjoy which is representational watercolour it is essential to paint on location as often as possible (en plein air is the official term). I’ve always enjoyed plein air painting but I have to admit that I haven’t always enjoyed a lot of success with it. It’s only in the last year or so when I’ve started to consistently come home with interesting paintings. I have noticed 2 stages of development that I had to go through to reach the point where I usually succeed when painting on location.
Stage 1 in plein air painting is when you can go out and consistently come back with a successful painting. In order to do this I’ve found that 2 things are essential: 1) the ability to create a successful composition and 2) the ability to create an effective value pattern. To create a successful composition requires many decisions in terms of leaving things out, moving shapes around, and especially simplifying things. Almost never can you just copy what is in front of you. An effective value pattern is the arrangement of lights and darks that will lead the eye on an interesting journey through the painting.
Once you are consistently able to produce a ‘successful’ painting the next stage is to be able to create a painting that shows your own personal vision. This is where your painting starts to tell a story or evoke a feeling. It’s not copying nature it’s using nature to tell your story. This stage requires a whole other set of skills. The most important is that you need to be able to pre visualize or see in your mind what you want the painting to look like. Responding to the moment and responding to what’s happening on the paper are of course some of most enjoyable aspects of painting but it is important to start out with a fairly clear direction that you want to go in. A successful stage 2 painting needs to have washes that are fresh and lively and this can only happen if you get the right colour and value in the first wash and that only happens when you have an idea of what colour and value you want.
What’s The Point Of All This
The 3 plein air paintings above which were done very recently are ones that I feel do have a consistent vision and successfully tell a story. Glendale Community Centre is a challenging perspective as the building and rink are down at the bottom of a little valley. This painting very accurately follows the value pattern of this partially sunny day.
Winter Sun, Inglewood plays with the colours of the scene to create a strong centre of interest. Every wash was done in one go except for the 3 large shadows of the 2 groups of figures and the central car. I had to add a second wash to them. So the painting is clean, colourful and I hope very inviting.
In Downtown, Winter Sun I again played with the colours to create a more interesting journey through the composition.
I’m very pleased with all these plein air paintings because I think that they use the elements of the scene as a starting point to create an interesting and effective painting.
If I were to summarize what I have found most useful in this particular journey it is to take as much time as needed before applying any paint to get a clear vision of where I want to go. There will always be ups and downs but when I do the necessary work before I begin painting I find that it almost always works out well.
P.S. I don’t normally want to diminish my paintings but just in case you are interested in a further illustration of the stages of plein air paintings take a look at this previous post . It illustrates what I feel are a couple of successful stage 1 paintings. Pleasant enough, definitely accurate but lacking a vision. They were in effect nice copies of some buildings and structures in Ogden Yards.