Friday, May 27, 2011

The View from Eagle Cove

The View from Eagle Cove, pastel, 9" x 12."
The Howard County Plein Air Group painted yesterday at another location entirely new to me: the Eagle Cove School in Pasadena. The school is just before the causeway leading to Gibson Island, an exclusive gated community on the Chesapeake Bay. I've heard of Gibson Island many times, but have never actually been there, nor this particular neighborhood across the channel. The leader of our group, Deborah Maklowski, happened to know Mary Ellen Geissenhainer, the art teacher at this small private school formerly known as the Gibson Island Country School, and our group was invited to paint on the school grounds.

The yard at Eagle Cove School.

I arrived a little before 9:30 AM and found Deborah and one other artist already there, walking around looking for a place to set up. The day was hazy and promised to be a scorcher, but the best view to my mind, was by the school yard fence overlooking the cove, where there was no shade. The others chose to set up under the shade by the driveway, but I decided to go with my first instinct and set up by the fence.

I rarely paint with pastels en plein air, mostly because I have yet to assemble a professional traveling kit for them, but this time I brought my set of Sennelier half-sticks and the old Grumbacher set of pastels I inherited from Mum (my mother-in-law Margaret). I set up my Guerilla Painter box & tripod and laid the Sennelier box across the palette, leaving the Grumbacher box on the ground. I had to bend down periodically to select the Grumbacher sticks I wanted to work with, laying them on the palette. A sheet of Wallis paper mounted with adhesive onto a piece of archival matboard was my surface.

I wasn't sure just how to tackle the painting--I haven't had as much experience with pastels as with oils or watercolor, so I have not developed any specific method of working. I constructed the main features: the lines of the trees on the right, the water and  horizon, the two boats as the focal point, the near shoreline. From there on I was all over the place, filling in the lights on the tree trunk and drooping branches, then a bit of the darks, a peach wash over the sky overlaid with light blue, coloring the far shore, a lilac wash over the water. It didn't look like much at first, but gradually the painting began to emerge.

I'm so used to mixing my colors in oils that trying to select just the right val-hues in colored chalk seemed impossible--the water was too purple, and needed to be toned down with gray-greens and blues. The touch of blue-green in the bushes in the foreground appeared garish at first, but after consideration, it's a gorgeous color and it works, so I added some touches of the same color to the tree foliage. Voila! It was so much fun, I must try it again real soon.

Looking at Gibson Island across the water, we artists wished one of us knew someone who lived there who would invite us over to paint, so we could cross the causeway to explore this intriguing place. How about it folks--any one reading this who lives on Gibson Island? Would you please invite a group of plein air artists to paint on your island? We'd love it!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Plein Air Olney's Sandy Spring Museum Garden Paint-Out

Woodland Garden, oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14."

This past Saturday was Plein Air Olney's first paint-out of the season. The twenty participating artists were to choose locations from five beautiful gardens on the Sandy Spring Museum Garden Club Tour. Afterwards, we would have a wine and cheese reception with a display and sale of the paintings on the grounds of the Sandy Spring Museum.

After our panels were stamped at the check-in, I headed to the first garden off Mink Hollow Road, owned by the Gleysteens. Their large garden extends over a steep wooded hillside and is artistically landscaped with many shade-loving plants, stone walls and paths. The rear of the house with its two-story deck overlooks a wonderful pond with a small waterfall and a bronze heron sculpture. There wasn't much color in this garden other than greens: most of the azaleas had finished blooming, only the blossoms from a few rhododendrons shone here and there, but the cool shade was very appealing on a day that promised to get warmer.

I chose this view looking down the hill, focusing on a rose-pink rhododendron with the morning light filtering through the trees. Greens are always hard to deal with and the variety of hues was so great, it was a real struggle for me, but I think I managed to get the light and atmosphere of the place.

Shades of Purple, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9."

In the afternoon, I drove back to Sandy Spring to pick up my box lunch and decided to stay on the museum grounds to paint their lovely wisteria twining on a trellis surrounded with irises. The shades of purple were too marvelous to pass up! By then it was getting hot, and trying to stay in the shade, I didn't quite get the composition I wanted. The horizontals of the trellis tend to interrupt the flow of the eye, and I wasn't able to put in the variety of colors I would have liked. This is a painting that one could revisit, perhaps from a different angle, or with different light.

The reception and wet painting sale were fun--all of us artists got to see what the others had painted and helpful comments were freely solicited and offered. There were some sales (though we all would have liked to see more buyers), and the sangria, wine and cheese were delicious!

Contact artist for prices at

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Daily Paintworks Challenges

Rosebud, oils on canvas panel, 5" x 7." $75.00
Husband's Old Zippo, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9." $75.00

I discovered the Challenges on the Daily Paintworks site recently and have been enjoying taking them up. Above are two of my entries submitted to the challenges. All of the artists' submissions on this website are so accomplished, it's hard to compete, but I'm hoping participation will bring me a bit more exposure and sales, as well as helping me gain greater skill as an artist.

You can see here all the entries to the A Valentine's Day Rose Challenge and The Zippo Challenge.

Any artist can submit to any of the open challenges; all you have to do is register on the site, sign in and upload your image--your entry will be posted after it's approved by the site administrator. I highly recommend this to all my artist friends: have some fun and challenge yourself today!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Iris Season

Irises in my Garden, oils on canvas, 12" x 9."
Irises by the Fence, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12."

This week the bearded irises in my garden are blooming--for years I've been promising myself to paint them from life, but their season of glory is so brief, it was only this year I finally managed to get around to it. I've been going out early in the morning to capture the blossoms at their freshest. An added bonus is being surrounded by the wonderful perfume they exude.

The iris with lilac petals and deep purple falls is an older, very fragrant variety that my mother grew in her garden and gave me years ago--I brought it here from my garden in Sandy Spring. The blossoms of the deep maroon variety that was here when we bought the house are showier, but not as fragrant. They are both lovely, though.

I prefer the second painting: I think the effect of the sunlight filtering through the trees catching just a few blossoms works better than in the first painting. My blossoms in the first painting are too evenly spaced--I should have thought more about placement and composition. I had a wonderful time painting them both, though. I hope the blossoms will last long enough to try for at least one more painting.

I'm tempted to plant a third variety of iris for next year--what color should I choose: yellow, pink, or a blue and white bi-color? There are so many beautiful varieties to choose from!

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Church at Oella

The Church at Oella, oils on canvas panel, 9 " 12."
Last Friday the Howard Plein Air group met at Oella, an old village just north of historic Ellicott City dating from the early 19th Century. The town has an old country store and a quaint little church (Wikipedia says it's the historic Mt. Gilboa AME Church) down the street across from the store.

It was a brisk day and the greens of the new leaves and the grass just sparkled. I chose to paint the church because the curve of the street beyond made such an appealing composition (unfortunately, my placement on the canvas cut off the top part of the steeple). Despite this, I think the painting works: keeping the cool violets of the shadows against the warm colors of stone as pure as possible conveys the vibrant scene. I added part of a blue truck parked next to the church for extra punch.

In the afternoon I went back to Brighton Dam to paint another view of the azaleas, but the results weren't good enough to post. Below is a version of the color revisions of previous week's painting--I repainted the trees across the water to blue-green and brightened parts of the foreground for a sunnier look.

Azaleas at Brighton Dam (revised), oils on canvas panel, 11" x 14."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Azaleas at Brighton Dam

Azaleas on a Hill, oils on canvas panel, 9" x 12."
Azaleas at Brighton Dam, 11" x 14."

The Howard County Plein Air group kicked off  its painting year with an outing to near-by Brighton Dam last Friday. The day was sunny if a bit brisk and windy, and azaleas in a multitude of lovely shades covered the hillsides sloping down to the water.

I painted there last year, and everywhere one looks is so gorgeous, it's hard to decide what view to paint. The morning sun shone through the oak trees lining the eastern shore, setting off the tender green of the young leaves. I chose to compose my painting looking through the tall azaleas near me out towards the water (the lower painting) and started with the colors of the flowers, working my way around the painting back toward the distance. Unfortunately, I lost the effect of the light in the painting, and the colors got a bit muddy--not a very satisfactory result. I'll probably repaint this one and see if I can improve upon it.

I went back there the next day to try another painting, this time in the afternoon. In the upper painting I chose a view with masses of azalea bushes stepping down the hill to a path. The effect of the afternoon light slanting through the trees works much better in this painting, giving a true sense of the colors of this beautiful site.

I'd hoped to get back there again a third time before the weekend was gone, but the weather turned and a light drizzle started this morning. I hope to get back there one more time this season before the azaleas finish blooming.