Sunday, July 31, 2011

Greenbridge Boat Ramp

Greenbridge Boat Ramp, oils on panel, 9" x 12"
Today the Howard Plein Air group met at another location new to me--the Greenbridge Road boat ramp by Tridelphia Reservoir. I was running a bit late and by the time I got there, the other painters were all set up and working. They had chosen the north-facing side of this shallow cove where one could stay cool in the shade--the weather reports were calling for the thermometer to hit a hundred by afternoon.

The greenish-blue tint of the water looked so inviting set against the white-hot light reflecting off the reservoir, it was tempting to jump right in and forget about painting. But the local authorities frown upon that, since this is our drinking water.

I set my easel on the slope above the cove and included the figure of one of the other painters on the shore along with the boats. I was surprised by how easily the trees went in, they practically painted themselves. The water and reflections were harder, gauging the right values and colors. A cooling breeze coming from the trees helped to ameliorate the mounting heat as noon approached.

As I was finishing I happened to glance at the water and there, easily visible in the clear water of the cove, was something very large swimming close to the surface. A golden brown color similar to the tree trunks, and wide--it must have been a catfish--but of such a size, it was downright spooky! The thing actually left a wake. Maybe swimming here is not such a good idea after all.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Small Studies in Pastel

Summer Storm, pastel on Wallis paper, 6 "x 9."
I love watching the sky when a storm is approaching. For some reason, this usually happens as I'm driving, and our roads present great opportunities for panoramic views. Unfortunately, I rarely have my camera with me, and perhaps that is just as well--it might be too dangerous to get distracted trying to capture the fascinating play of light and sudden changes in the weather while driving. This is where memory comes in handy--I try to memorize every striking color combination and subtle, seemingly impossible contrast, texture and shape.

One recent evening driving home on Route 108, the summer storm was particularly dramatic: sheets of rain were dropping from one side of the low-lying clouds, with very cool bluish-gray clouds against the lovely soft orange where the sun was setting. I tried to etch the colors and shapes in my mind so I could reproduce them when I got home, but I didn't get a chance to work on it until late that night, on a small scrap of Wallis paper.

Sun in Lawn, pastel on Wallis paper, 9" x 6."
Next Saturday I did a study of the early morning light filtering through the trees in my back yard. At this time of the year a long sunbeam appears across the lawn next to the cedar tree that was split two winters ago. The radiating shapes of the light seem to be charged with meaning, like the visual embodiment of a badly-needed ray of  hope.

Evening Light in the Trees, pastel on Wallis paper, 9" x 6."
This last one I dashed off looking out my studio window as the sun was setting--the shades of the leaves against the golden light beyond were so lovely and so impossible to catch! I really enjoy these small studies where I can go hog-wild with color and freedom that I would not dare elsewhere. In a larger painting there is more at stake: investment in time and materials, so one feels more constrained to think about the rules, to turn in a "good performance." Sometimes this doesn't work to our advantage.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Ellicott City Paint It 2011

Storm in Ellicott City, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 16."
The Ellicott City Paint It took place last weekend. I was one of the juried artists, and this year we were to submit two of our best pieces for the competition. The show will be on display at the Howard County Center for the Arts until August 25.

The competition was terrific--it was challenging and stimulating to compete against so many accomplished artists. After seeing all the work produced over the weekend, my impression was that the quality of the artists and work was even stronger than last year. The top prize went to a young lady from Rockville who is really hot--she also took the first place at Easels in Frederick recently--Hiu Lai Chong. I had met her last year and was impressed with her skill, but this year, watching her work on her award-winning piece was a real eye-opener!

It was great fun to run into a number of artists I'd met at other plein air events these past few years, and seeing how their work has evolved was also very inspiring. It's an honor to be among these artists.

Hi Ho Silver, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9."
My own work was not very strong this year--I painted four pieces and these two here were the best of the bunch, but definitely lacking in the drama I had hoped to capture. They show what a long ways I have to go before I can aspire to enter the winners' circle. That's wonderful part of these events, how it makes us all strive to do better, to catch the excitement of the light, the subject, everything about painting en plein air.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Rare Summer Day

Summer at Daniels Area, oils on canvas panel, 12" x 9."

It was one of those rare summer mornings, unusual for the DC area--cool and with the air so clear it felt more like early fall, or perhaps Canada. The Howard County Plein Air group was painting at the Daniels Area of  Patapsco Valley State Park, a favorite site of mine.

Deborah Maklowski was already set up and sketching when I arrived, and there were a bunch of young women putting out canoes on the river. A canoe transport trailer and cars took up all the room in the parking lot, so I pulled up by the side of the road to park. The girls were from Baltimore's inner city on a special job corps program, and most of them looked as if they'd never been on a canoe before. Eventually, they and their leaders launched off on their trip and things quieted down some, although people came by all morning to launch kayaks, canoes, and even one inflatable boat. It was a great day to be on the water.

I wanted to get as close to the water as possible, but it was hard to find a spot out of the traffic. I managed to set up my easel on the slope of the bank under the thick shade, adjusting the tripod for the steep slope, and sketched out my composition.

I usually start my painting with the sky to establish the light, but today I started with the tree overhanging the water, going in really dark, then painting the areas around it, adjusting the colors against it. I think the approach worked in general, but I would have liked to get better modeling of the tree itself. I should have tried for more variation between the color of branches closer to the viewer and those farther away, to give the tree a more three-dimensional effect. As I strive to do better with each painting, every time I achieve one thing I see other missed opportunities. When does one finally--if ever--manage to get it all down?