Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Daily Painting Practice- Painting Outdoors - Looking for light in the city

I don't remember which artist said " Paint what you know" but I am beginning to understand the effort it takes to really know what I paint. I thought I would share my new approach. Above you can see three steps I use to become familiar with the subject and developing the idea. Sketch, color study and photos.

First day, explore the city looking for light. I only allowed myself to carry a sketch book.(in the photo on the left) I wanted to make sure I took the time to explore. The beauty of the light hitting the brick building really stopped me in my tracks so I noted it with a small sketch. Having only recently discovered the value of the sketch to record emotion (I know... slow learner) I am really hooked on the idea. It really is the best means of expressing what first attracts me to a subject. So much better than a camera. Exploring with the sketch book and not relying on the camera helps prevent doing paintings that only hold your attention for the length of a TV commercial.(as you know is a new goal of mine) It really isn't about going out and capturing an image as it is about identifying and expressing an emotion.

Second day, I went back with the camera and paints to do a painting on the spot for color reference. Going back on a different day helps to see the subject in a new light. Does it still hold interest? Do you still react to it? Photos are used for details and drawing back in the studio.

It was a beautiful day and a few people stopped by to watch me paint. One man stuck his face in just below my shoulder before I noticed him. Wanted to get a closer look I guess. Another stopped and told me he used to live in that building, in fact, he met his wife there. I love hearing stories like that. Now I have a connection to the place too.

Back in the studio. This is the develop the idea stage. I did a drawing and wash to see if the composition and size of the canvas worked. Not quite right yet so the process continues. Stay tuned I'll show more of this piece as it develops!
There are so many things that can go wrong in outdoor painting. It helps to be prepared as best you can. Here you can see a few ideas that work and a few that don't: dress warm, bring hot coffee (tea only works in the studio or cafe), have your car near by so your photographer/wife can stay warm. If you plan on using a medium you are not familiar with in the cold... don't.
Here's an idea I thought would help me get off to a faster start on a cold morning. I tried this last Saturday at 8:AM. Don't faint, I actually did this study using pastels.
Since I knew it was going to be chilly and I am not comfortable using pastels in my plein air painting , I did the outline drawing the night before from a photo.
I then started blocking in the lights on the purple half tone mat board. But when painting outdoors some things are out of the control of the artist.
Picking up the trash on Saturday morning waits for no man or artist. Good thing the garbage wasn't my point of interest.
I only got this far before my fingers froze and I had to run to the car for some of that hot coffee. By that time the light was changing dramatically and I called it a day. Still, the sketch helped me get familiar with my subject and will help me develop an idea for a painting. Since I have visited this alley several times I have seen the life that goes on around it. I know where trucks unload and people take smoke breaks. I would not have that knowledge if I had just walked by and snapped a photo.

10 comments:

Cara Dawn Romero said...

WOW! What an undertaking -

Stacey Peterson said...

Nice work Peter. I've been learning the impact and necessity of the sketch too - it's amazing how a small sketch can capture so much. I've been using the sketch as a quick way of recording what drew me to a scene initially, and trying to stick with that "idea" when I paint and not stray. I'm hoping it will result in paintings with more emotional impact - we'll see!

Also fun to see you working with pastels! I love pastels, and I would probably have switched over from oils to pastels completely if it weren't for the hassle of framing the things. Your sketch shows the light in the alley beautifully - a perfect reference.

Portland Plein Air & Studio Painters said...

Peter..thanks for sharing all that..especially that you gave yourself a roadmap before going there in person. Another fine illustration of how painting in the real world is the only way to really understand light and how it falls onto objects. Bravo.

Janelle Goodwin said...

I applaud your tenacity in getting out there to paint on a cold morning. It's the start of fascinating painting. You give me encouragement to get out there and paint more often.

Sylvia Jenstad said...

I agree... this is going to be really cool... it will be amazing painting...

Bev Chicoine said...

Hi Peter, we met at the American Plains Artists Event in Midland, Texas. Your blog is most inspiring, although painting in the great outdoors is a wee bit nippy in Saskatchewan at this time of year. Your artwork is eye candy Peter, it's just wonderful.

Dar Presto said...

Thanks, Peter, for sharing these stages. I can see the way your investment pays off in your work.

Kelley Carey MacDonald said...

Looks like this multi-pronged approach is the way to go- you get the 'bones' of the painting, yet remember the 'life' to it, too. I think I need to rent myself a wife to come & take photos and bring me coffee!

http://www.onpainting.wordpress.com said...

Great to watch your process - thanks.

I wonder if you might like doing a watercolor sketch instead of graphite - get the immediate color feeling as well.

Ya, I know, you don't need my input as to how to paint.

mahmulligan said...

Love, love, love your work! I'm amazed to see how you can bring such life to a simple and seemingly mundane setting. Thanks for sharing your process...always so much to learn!