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Author Archives: Rex Beanland
It’s been a great year for me with plein air ( on location) painting. I’ve done it a lot and I learned something every time I did it.
I believe that some significant proportion of artists don’t do plein air for various reasons and that can be absolutely fine. However, for other artists it’s an essential part of their painting process. They get stale working from photographs too much. I count myself in that group. The speed, and decision-making needed in plein air painting keep me much fresher and they push me beyond my comfort zone and sometimes that’s very good. It’s such a wonderful exercise for me to take the complexity of a scene and try to put it together in a simplified and effective composition, with good values, and with some story to it. I almost always go into a slightly heightened state when I paint on location. I get ‘in the zone’ so to speak.
What Is Plein Air Painting?
I always thought that plein air meant that you did the entire painting on location. I found out this summer at the Plein Air Convention & Expo that the definition of plein air is “a piece started on location and completed without the use of photographic or other aid.” So you could finish the painting later in the studio but only by relying on your memory.
Types Of Plein Air Painting
There are a few reasons to paint on location.
To Complete A Painting
This first group of paintings show one of the reasons to paint on location and that is to complete the painting almost entirely on site and try to capture the mood, or feel of the subject. Robsart is a ghost town in Saskatchewan. We happen on it a few years ago when we took the scenic route from Gull Lake to Maple Creek. This year we purposely went to visit it again. A very interesting place and this painting really captured the feel of the day.
Sunbathing At Griffith Woods was my 4th attempt at this subject in 3 weeks and I was finally happy with the way I captured the feel of all those trees. Just by luck 2 girls were sunbathing. It made the painting have a much more interesting story.
Swimming In The Elbow, also painted at Griffith Woods, was a lot of fun. I saw all these kids swimming and floating down the river and I was very excited to do a grouping of figures as the main subject. It definitely captured the feel of that very hot and sunny day.
To Collect Reference Material
Another reason for plein air painting is to just collect information and reference material. That was the case in this winter painting done in my van. It was an overcast day but the darks at the bottom of the Calgary Tower parking lot added nice value contrast and made this otherwise dull scene interesting. The figures were by and large invented. I wanted to say something about this corner because it contains both The Inn From The Cold and The Mustard Seed, 2 agencies that help homeless and at-risk people. I find that it has a nice looseness and unity.
I used this painting as reference for a larger studio version.
To Have Fun Or To Try Something New
This painting was done at the Tourist Information/Rest Stop at the Manitoba Saskatchewan border. It was done just for the fun of sitting in the sun after a long drive through the night. In this one I learned a way to capture that soft early light on a white truck. The subtle glow on the side of the truck is my favourite part.
This painting was interesting to do because I did it as a demo at the Clothesline Sale at the Leighton Centre. It was all about the challenge of finding an interesting story using the big tents as a background. Just by luck those 2 girls stood talking like this for almost 10 minutes. I drew out it out completely on location and I completed the 2 main figures. All the rest I did at home but without any photographic aid. The challenge was to capture a sense of all the detail in the tents without it being distracting. A lot of learning from this one.
Why This All Matters
What I now realize as a result of all my years of plein air painting is that I have to do this kind of painting if I want to be excited by my painting and if I want to be challenged and grow as an artist. Whether plein air paintings turn into a studio piece or not doesn’t matter at all. It doesn’t even matter if it works out. It can be a poor painting but a great experience. The only way to do it wrong is not to do it.
CSPWC Annual Symposium
As a final note I want to say how excited I am to be teaching at the CSPWC Symposium in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia next month. I teaching 2 workshops: Figures In The Urban Landscape, and Figures In Action. Some of the lessons learned in these plein air paintings will be revisited in the symposium.
Over the past 3 weeks I have done plein air painting at Griffith Woods on 4 separate occasions. I did 4 plein air paintings. The first 3 were earnest and good efforts but were in general over done, a little heavy handed. For my 4th attempt I decided that I needed to do something differently. So this time I took half an hour to do some thumbnails and get a plan for the painting. For me this painting is by far the best of the bunch. Once again I’ve learned that using thumbnails improves the painting experience and the consistency of the paintings.
Here are the 4 thumbnails that I did. I tried out a few different ideas, namely how high to put the waterline and a couple of slightly different arrangement of shapes.
The unexpected gift I was given when I did these thumbnails was to have some people sunbathing in this fairly secluded spot. But it gave me a great opportunity to practice sketching the figure in these particular poses. Here are the very small, quick sketches I did. They are extremely basic but it’s very interesting how much information I actually got from them. In total these 2 little things took about 2 minutes.
Just for fun I took these 2 thumbnails and did them a little larger in watercolour. All of a sudden this is getting very interesting. I can see some exciting new ways to develop the ideas contained in them. Larger paintings come to mind.
Finally here is the 4th plein air painting. It’s by far the best and I must admit that I love it. The main struggle was how to represent the background of trees. I tried a bunch of ideas with none of them actually working but somehow altogether it worked out.
What I love about this painting is that it does completely capture the mood of this little gravel pile that was sunlit in a world of shadows on a very hot day. What I need to keep working on is how to capture the background. The background is a mass of trees with some of the bright greens popping through here and there. I was continually unclear what technique would best represent it. I felt that something fast and experimental was the way to go but my mind kept telling me to do detail. Draw and paint every branch, every trunk etc . In this painting I’ve somehow found a technique that’s in the middle . . . and somehow it works.
1 Week Later
I wasn’t planning to go on with this theme but I went to Griffith Woods again today (July 2) with the Thursday plein air group. This time we were right on the Elbow River at the far eastern end of the parking lot. Lots of kids swimming. Here are a few very quick thumbnails that I did. I’m coming to realize that my first reaction to a subject is so literal. I nearly always include everything I can see. But by committing to do these sketches I was able to realize the painting is about the figures so instead of a landscape with little figures I zoomed in on the real story – the figures. If I hadn’t done these I would have painted the first version and regretted it. By doing them I came up with a scene that really expresses my impression of the scene. I’m very happy with it. Thumbnails love ’em and need ’em.
I was fortunate to attend the Plein Air Convention & Expo in Monterey, California as 1 of 3 representatives of The Canadian Society Of Painters In Watercolour. This clip shows the highlights of the week. It was a fabulous experience, motivating and inspiring.
These are my plein air paintings from Monterey. I found out that in these plein air events the definition of a plein air painting is one started on site and either finished on site or finished later without the use of photographs. By that definition some of these are not true plein air work but by my definition that’s OK.
This year the CSPWC’s Symposium will be held in Cornwallis Nova Scotia. I was extremely pleased to ask to be one of the instructors there. It’s in a fabulous location and promises to be an exciting week devoted to watercolour painting. My wife has already signed up to take part in the symposium. I highly recommend that you consider taking advantage of this opportunity if it is at all possible. The comments from all participants at past symposia has be excellent.
Here is a great deal of information about the symposium. For further details check out the CSPWC website.
I was in Toronto for the AGM of CSPWC on May 2. I still find Toronto a fascinating city and look forward to going each year at this time. It’s so full of energy, creativity and wonderful architecture and some fascinating neighbourhoods.
This is a short video clip of some of the sights and sounds from Toronto. It’s unfortunate that the audio is so poor for this mediation event because the music was absolutely wonderful. I was moved by it and so pleased to have experienced it.
The AGM is held each year in the historic Arts & Letters Club, a favourite meeting place for the Group Of Seven.
I was thrilled to receive the President’s award for outstanding service to the society. I’m still now sure what I did to receive that but I was very honoured and very surprised.
These are selected images by the 7 new members juried in this year.
I taught 2 workshops this past weekend at the Paint Spot in Edmonton. Saturday was an Urban Landscape workshop. Sunday was a Landscape workshop. I didn’t get either painting finished during the workshops so I’m posting the various stages in the life of each painting. Neither is completely finished and at some point I’ll take them further. In each case Day 1 is the way the painting was at the end of the workshop.
The first one is a very interesting view of the entrance way of the Hotel MacDonald.
This subject is one of my favourite views of the foothills near the Leighton Centre.
I’ll be back at the Paint Spot for an Experimental Watercolour workshop on Saturday May 30 and a Plein Air Workshop on Sunday May 31.
I’m very excited about both these workshops. Plein Air has, for me, become one of the most important practices that I have. The Experimental Workshop is one I’ve just developed and it is the most fun that you can have with water that I’ve seen. Plus there is so much excellent learning that happens in this process so it will be helpful no matter what style of painting you do.
If you’re in the area I hope to see you there.
This past weekend I taught a workshop for Nancy Lynn Hughes at Kensington Art Supply & Instruction in their beautiful new location at 6999 11 Street S.E. Calgary.
Here is a short preview clip that shows some of the techniques taught in this workshop.
This was a fairly new workshop for me. At first the title, Experimental Watercolour seems a little daunting. “Experimental” carries a lot of connotations but really what it is is using water in a much more intentional way for all the many effects it can create.
I just got the first stage of each demo completed during the workshop and I wanted to show the various stages of the way I finished each painting .
This first painting is a very loose interpretation of a tree I photographed in Glenmore Park. This painting is a lot of fun to do. Everyone had a great time doing it. I think because it’s such a different approach to painting that everyone had to just let go and let the water do it’s thing.
The next painting is of a favourite location. It’s a small creek at Elbow Falls just directly across from the falls. I like the zig zag pattern as the creek disappears into the trees. This painting was done with a lot of masking and a lot of throwing of paint.
This is the painting after the workshop. You can see that all the snow is masked out.
This was after the first time in the studio. I used some tree stamps made out of matt board to begin the main trees.
Day 3 with the masking removed.
And the final version.
The next painting is a demonstration of a method to create water by painting bands of colour and spraying them until they blend. It was also an introduction to using masking fluid.
I used a sharpened stir stick dipped into white gouache to get the fine line of the fishing pole and line.
I really enjoyed the paintings of Loreley. I love her version of the Glenmore Tree. Gorgeous colour, fascinating lines, and a great sense of light.
It was a wonderful workshop. A great group of friendly and enthusiastic students. Thanks to all.
Don’t forget that I’m offering a Plein Air Workshop at the same location June 13 – 14, 2015. Call Nancy if you are interested.
I was thrilled to hear last week that I my application for signature status with the Federation Of Canadian Artists was successful. AFCA which means associate member of the FCA. I took a couple of years to get all the required elements for the application so it is quite a big deal. As an artist who toils away in solitude in the studio it’s important for me to be able to step back and see my work in the context of other artists and signature status is one way of doing that. It means some excellent artists have viewed my work and given it the big thumbs up.
The other big event in my art journey also came fairly recently. I was asked by the Canadian Society Of Painters In Watercolour to be a principle instructor at their annual watercolour symposium. This year it will be held Sept 28 – Oct 3 in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia. I love teaching watercolour and I have done it for a number of years but this to me is a step up. The list of previous instructors at this prestigious event includes many of the best watercolour artists from across Canada. It’s definitely an honour and a real motivation to keep going.
Finally, when I got back from my workshop in Edmonton, I had an email from the Saanich Peninsula Arts and Crafts Society (SPAC) in Sidney, B.C. asking me to do a workshop there in Oct 2016. I have long dreamed of being able to travel across the country as a watercolour teacher and it seems that that dream is now coming true. In 2014 their workshop instructors were Alvaro Castagnet and John Salminen. Alvaro is one of my 2 main heroes in watercolour and Salminen is someone who produces work that I am in awe of. I certainly don’t put myself in their category (yet) but I know by the feedback I get from people at all my workshops that I have something to offer and I love to connect and help all the people I meet in workshops. So I am completely thrilled by all these events, humbled by the opportunities and grateful for this journey that I’m walking.
I thought I would brighten up this post by adding an assortment of recent studies that I have done. Interestingly after having so much success with my urban landscape paintings culminating in receiving my AFCA I took some time to ponder – what next? Right away I started doing this studies mostly based on a beautiful sunny day I spent on Stephan Ave a couple of weeks ago. I was intrigued by the light and also by seeing the figures in a new way, more intimate way. Figures are an important feature of all my urban landscape paintings but nearly always they are just figures standing around. Now I’m much more interested in having the figures tell a story just by their positions or motions. I think this is a nudge that has come from somewhere to show me what direction to move in. I think I’ll listen to this voice.
I did an urban landscape workshop for the St Albert Painters’ Guild on Saturday. That was my first time to St Albert and I was very impressed. Lovely city, nice buildings and a beautiful location for the workshop. It was held in the big civic/library/courthouse complex. The main floor has a number of lovely, bright studios on the main floor. We were located in the painting studio. What I liked in particular is that the entire set up gave the impression that St Albert really values and supports the arts. As an artist you love to see that.
Anyway, once again, I made the decision to do more of the little practice studies that participants seem to get so much out of and to de-emphasize the actual main demo. So I just got the demo started when we ran out of time. I let everyone know that I would finish it at home and either photograph all the stages or do a short video. As you can see I did a video.
First I just wanted to show some photos of the day. It’s so interesting how excited people get when they see how easy it is to paint figures when you don’t treat it as a drawing exercise but instead let the mark the brush makes create the figure. It relieves all the stress to just push the hairs of the brush into the paper and see what happens. Often you get marks that are full of character and interest. That is clearly illustrated by these 2 samples done by some of the participants.
In the top image the figure right in the middle just oozes character and attitude.
In the bottom image the figure in the middle just reminds me of the student I always dreaded showing up in my grade 5 home room. I knew he was going to be trouble.
Here are some photos of the group in action. Just outside the windows is a lovely river and park.
Our formal class photo.
And this is the video detailing how I finished the painting.
Just because of a great question from one of the participants I’m including the photo that this scene was based on.
Thanks so much to everyone for an excellent workshop.
On Wednesday March 4, I had the pleasure of doing a demo for the CCPS. This is a great group to work with. Lots of members present, very enthusiastic and very appreciative. They always make me feel extremely welcome.
These first 2 photos show the group watching. When a group is this focused it’s very motivating for the artist.
It’s nice also when there is a mirror so that I can paint in my normal position with the board on a slight incline. When I demo on an easel with the paper almost vertical it’s much harder to control the dripping.
Since I was doing a painting with figures I invited some members to come up and try their hand at creating a figure using the brush with no drawing. People are often a little intimidated by doing figures but when they see how easy it is they love it.
This is the painting at the end of the demo . . .
. . . and this is the painting after I finished it in the studio.
Interestingly when I got the painting home I didn’t like the fact that the tent on the left was much shorter than the 2 figures beside it. It didn’t really make sense. It was like the figures were walking right into it. I hadn’t noticed this when I did the drawing. To fix this I used a toothbrush and some tape to lift out almost another inch and a half at the bottom of the tent including the metal pillar. With a toothbrush you can lift out paint and get back to almost white paper. If you look closely about even with the middle of the metal pillar you can still see the original bottom of the tent. Using the same process I cut about 1/2″ off the legs of the woman beside the tent. Now it has a much more logical feel. Many people say that watercolours can’t be changed but I think this shows that you can, in fact, make major changes.
Thanks to CCPS for the opportunity to demo and thanks to Jackolynn Coughlin for taking the photos.