The first warm day after weeks of snow and ice had me itching to get out and get started on my plein air paintings. I chose Miami-Whitewater as my first stop simply because I am most familiar with it. Last summer I completed a mural of a beaver pond for their new beaver lodge exhibit in the visitor’s center, so coming and going over about a month gave me time to take in the scenery. Of course, it looks a lot different now than it did last June.
Painting at the west entrance of Miami-Whitewater Forest
I found a spot near the west entrance, looking into the park from the meadow where numerous bluebird nest boxes are set near the road. The ground was still frozen and there were still patches of snow, but the air temperature was approaching 60F. The sun was intensely bright, making it difficult to look at the unpainted white panel. I worked quickly just to get it covered and bearable to look at. Painting with sunglasses doesn’t work very well because they can alter your color perception and dampen tonal values. Once I got the base colors blocked in, I could concentrate on developing the trees and meadow grasses.
This was a busy spot, with lots of traffic entering and leaving the park. Nearly everyone slowed down to peek over my shoulder. One car actually stopped to comment. Still, in between cars, the cries of a Red-Tailed Hawk drifted over the trees, the sun warmed my shoulders, and the ground melted beneath my feet. Staying in one spot for several hours really gives you a chance to drink it in, absorbing everything. Painting as I do is an exercise in intense observation. What color is that dead grass, really? A little Sienna, a little ochre, some cadmium yellow, a bit of white…. each object must be analyzed for color, value (relative brightness or darkness), and structure. I find that painting like this makes me a much better observer of nature. Every detail must be noted and incorporated or discarded. I also have the chance to edit nature to fit my vision, or to put it another way, to show the viewer what it was about that scene that turned me on. I can add or subtract at will, although my method of operation usually requires me to put in as much as possible, as long as it doesn’t detract from the aesthetics of the scene. Once I had a person walk in front of me as I worked, and he apologized for “getting into my picture.” I told him I would just “paint him out.”
"Melting Snow" the finished painting from February 9