Saturday, September 25, 2010

Clark's Elioak Farm

Clark's Elioak Farm, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 16." Contact artist for price.

Yesterday the weather once again was magnificent. The Howard County Plein Air Group whose acquaintance I made at the Ellicott City Paint It had scheduled a paint-out at Clark's Elioak Farm, a quarter-mile away from my house, so it was the perfect opportunity for me to join them.

I got there at nine AM just as the owners were opening the gates to their popular petting farm, and asked permission to drive up their private road a bit further so I could get to this lovely view and set up my easel under one of the venerable old oaks along Route 108. This area is named after what must have been an ancient oak known as 'Eliot's Oak' and a cross street is called Elioak Road.

Shortly after, Deborah Maklowski, a pastel artist who is the organizer of the group, came by and set up a bit farther down the hill. It seemed we were the only artists there today. The morning passed pleasantly. I was struggling with the shadow in the foreground when I decided to take a break to see how Deborah's work was going. She was just finishing her pastel, and it had turned out lovely. She packed her gear and then came over to look at my work and offer encouragement.

I worked a bit longer, but feeling I was not improving the painting at that point, I packed up and was back at home shortly after noon. After lunch I worked on the shadow a bit more on and off during the afternoon, changing the shape a bit and softening the edges, until it became less distracting and more unified with the rest of the painting. I like the variety of colors in the rolling fields and the way the road moves towards the farm buildings in the distance.

Inner Struggle For Harmony

September Morning on the Patapsco River, oils on canvas panel, 14" x 11."
Lately I've been feeling I'm in a rut with my painting. Lee's classes have taken me rapidly to the point where I understand how to organize what I see into a workable composition: how to use color and value to express light and shadow, as well as separate the perceptible space into background, middle ground and foreground. Yet from an intellectual understanding to actually being able to achieve the effects on the canvas there is still some distance to go. Not to mention that ineluctable quality of excitement so necessary to catch the viewer's eye and capture the heart.

With these frustrations roiling my psyche, the pressure of competing at Paint Annapolis this weekend was more than I could deal with, so yesterday I made up my mind to skip it this year, both the MAPAPA member's show and the Dueling Brushes Competition. There's no need to put that kind of pressure on oneself when one is stressed so close to the breaking point. Besides, it's unseasonably hot--too hot to be trudging on shadeless streets looking for fresh & original views of our capital city, struggling to find parking, working on a tight schedule, etc.

Instead, this morning I went back to the McKeldin Area to paint. I had intended to re-visit the same composition I'd struggled with a few weeks ago, but walking along the path I saw this bend in the river. The light on the trees and reflections on the water were so lovely on this still morning with the burbling of the stream as the only sound, I was entranced. I set up my easel right on the path and started to block out the painting.

I exaggerated the blueness of the distance for a mistier effect than in reality, and that in turn accented the yellow of the sunlight on the foreground trees. I took my time balancing the colors and bringing out some details on the rocks, the reflections and ripples on the water. The trees dropped leaves on my palette from time to time while the occasional hiker walked around me. It was so relaxing--this was exactly what I needed, and I think the painting shows it.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Olney Plein Air

Elena painting at The Backyard Naturalist on Georgia Avenue
Last Saturday Sept. 11 was the Olney Plein Air Festival. This year we had only one day to paint: we checked in and had our materials stamped in the morning. At five our work was to be handed in unframed, to be displayed for sale at the Olney Farmers and Artists Market the following day.

The weather was wonderful and it was a joy to be outdoors on such a day. I forgot to bring my camera along so I am not able to show you the two pieces I painted. I had hoped to take photos the next day but the following day was very rainy and the organizers rescheduled the art display and sale for Sunday Sept. the 26th.

In the morning I did a small painting at one of my favorite local stores, The Backyard Naturalist on Georgia Avenue. You can see some of the colorful whirlygigs and banners in front of the store in the photo that organizer Bobbie Staat took of me while I was painting. The traffic on Georgia Avenue became quite heavy by mid-morning and the noise was deafening. I wished I'd brought along earplugs, but then I couldn't have chatted with a man and his young son walking by who had never seen a painter at work before.

For the afternoon I chose a quieter spot at Tanglewood, a private historic estate a few miles from Olney. The new owners had invited our group to paint on the property--the house is in the process of being restored and is quite interesting, but I found the surrounding fields and woods far more appealing in the late afternoon light. You'll have to wait until Sept. the 26th to see my paintings. The Olney Farmers and Artists Market takes place every Sunday from 9 AM to 1 PM from early May to early November. Come on by to see some lovely paintings and buy the freshest produce at great prices!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Watercolor vs Oils

The Patapsco River at McKeldin Area, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12"
Last weekend I went out to paint with a friend at the Mc Keldin Area of Patapsco State Park. It was a gorgeous morning, sunny and clear, with just a hint of fall in the air. We were at a trail just below the rapids where there is a wide pool before the river turns its course to flow through the forest.

I chose this view because the light coming through the leaves of this small sycamore maple was so lovely: the light breeze set the leaves to dancing and the water beyond glinted in the sunlight. I was working in oils and Mary Jo in watecolor; we worked on our paintings for about three hours, until the sun was high overhead. By this time huge clouds had gathered and the wind was picking up speed. Mary Jo didn't seem too happy with her painting--she doesn't use watercolors often--and I could see there were some problems with her work. Her strokes were much too much the same throughout the surface, with not enough color variation to give a sense of the space, of foreground and background.

After I got home and looked at my painting again, it seemed to me that mine had lost a good deal of that initial sense of light, of the warm light and shadows in the foreground against the cool background. This can easily happen as the light changes rapidly, and my work had clearly suffered from this confusion.

The next day I decided to paint the same scene, this time using watercolors, which I haven't worked much for the past year. I had some reference photos I had taken when I was finishing my oil painting.

The Patapsco River at McKeldin Area, watercolor, 10" x 14"
I think the watercolor is much more successful than my oil (it's cooler in color overall, since the photo was taken as the sky was becoming overcast). The background in the watercolor remains more nebulous and cooler, while the foreground leaves, despite a soft focus, are in the proper relationship. The real difference, however, is the value of the tree-trunk, which should have been much darker and cooler in the oil to make it pop to the front. The distance should have been lighter and bluer in the oils to make it recede.

In the watercolor the softer darks on the left are more suggestive, it could be a footbridge or merely trunks, but they balance the darks of the tree trunk on the right, so the composition reads better. This illustrates perfectly a case where, as Mies Van de Rohe said, "Less is more." I must learn to restrain my impulse to put everything in minute detail into my paintings, in order to subordinate all other elements of the composition to the focal point. Somehow, I find this easier to do in watercolor than in oils. Could that be because I've learned to plan my watercolors more methodically or does the medium lend itself more to simplification? Hmmm...

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ellicott City Paint It

Old Ellicott City Fire Station, oils on canvas panel, 9 " 12."

Painting the Firehouse from Main Street. Photo by Vesselinka Warren

Last weekend (Aug 28-29) was the "Paint It" plein air in Ellicott City. There were about thirty artists juried for the event and it was my first juried plein air competition. We had two days to produce our paintings, then bring the framed paintings to the Howard County Center for the Arts ( for the exhibition.

On Saturday morning I headed over with the idea of starting with the old railroad station, now operated as a museum. I had not realized that the museum did not open until 11 AM. I had my rolling cart to drag my ever-increasing art supplies, so I decided to use the time painting a street scene in front of near-by St. Paul's Church.

The day was sunny, and getting hotter. By the time I finished my first painting at noon, standing in the sun was unbearable, and my painting was nothing I cared to show. Chalk that one up to a warm-up. An old friend and fellow artist, Mary Jo Tydlacka, walked by and saw me--she was painting another view of this scene from the porch of the house next to the church, and she had been smart enough to set up in the shade.

Ellicott City Station, oils on canvas panel, 11" x14."
After gathering my stuff, I rolled my cart over to the B&O Railroad Museum to ask permission to set up on the platform. The lady behind the counter said that would be fine as long as I paid the entry fee of $5 and didn't block anyone. Done! I asked if I could leave my stuff there to go pick up a sandwich across the street, ate quickly and was back at the station before one o'clock. Another attendant opened a gate to the ramp leading up to the platform so I could get my cart up.

The afternoon passed quickly while I painted. Quite a number of folks, many with children in tow, came over to see what I was doing and asked questions. I explained about the Ellicott City Paint It and urged them to come see the exhibit later on. One little girl in particular was fascinated and stopped to watch me for a long time.

I finished around four, utterly dehydrated and done in by the heat. Where were those volunteers from the tourism office who were supposed to bring us water bottles from time to time? I left the station and got everything back to my car, and drove to the parking lot near the Howard County Tourism Office to get some water. I debated whether to try for one more painting or call it a day--eight hours on my feet in that heat was just about enough.

After drinking a bottle of iced water I felt better and walked about looking for another painting. There were two pastel artists right across the street from the Tourism Office doing some very nice pieces. At the corner was an antique shop that had several chairs set out on the sidewalk, and I sat on one to rest my aching feet and take in the view. The Old Ellicott City Fire Station (again now a museum) perched on a hill above Main Street would make a nice painting.

A man came out of the store and started to bring things in. It was almost five so I asked him if he was closing soon. At five, he said. Perfect! I could bring my own chair from the car and sit here. The crowds thinned out a bit after the stores closed. I was deep into painting when a lady walking by asked me if I would mind having my photo taken. Of course not, I said. Her charming accent betrayed her foreign origin and I asked where she was from--Bulgaria--we chatted a bit and she offered to send me a copy of the photo so I could use it here.

By the time I finished my painting the sun was long down and it was getting dark--it was eight o'clock and I was completely exhausted. I had barely the energy to drive home, eat some dinner and hit the sack. I was asleep in an instant.

Patapsco River Bridge, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14"
The next morning I left the house earlier, hoping to use the cool of the day to paint by the river. It was a little hazier than the previous day, but the early light was beautiful on the water and the rocks. Deborah and Maria, the two pastel artists I'd talked with before were there, and shortly after I started, another artist came by. Janice had begun her painting the day before but had not finished it, so I moved over a bit to allow her some room. Her painting was gorgeous and it received a well-deserved award. She also made a few helpful comments about mine that I really appreciated. Overall, I think this was the most successful of my four.

Quitting around noon, this time I was ready to head home and frame my wet paintings (always a tricky proposition) to hand them in that evening for the exhibition. On Monday evening there was a reception and awards ceremony--there were a lot of wonderful paintings there and all are for sale. Go see the show at the Howard County Center for the Arts; it will be up until October 15.