Archive for February, 2009

Winton Woods, February 25

February 26, 2009

It’s been nearly two weeks since the last time out. Winter has been battering us again, leaving sheets of ice on the creeks and ponds, and the cold keeping me indoors. Finally, a warm front arrives, and I’m venturing out with the easel. 
I found a nice spot across from the Kingfisher Trail on the west side of the park, next to a creek looking past a nice exposure of local shales and limestones. The shadows of trees streak the ice, adding some nice linear movement to the scene.
Once again, I’m after the light here… the sun leaking over the edge of the cliff, leaving the cliffside in cool shadows, with sun warmed leaves glowing at the top.  The sun and clouds played tag, frustrating me at times when the light would change abruptly. 

Painting at Winton Woods

Painting at Winton Woods

 

 

Shadows on the Ice, Winton Woods

Shadows on the Ice, Winton Woods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was a quiet day as I painted. There were a few walkers, and a Coopers Hawk streaked by me so close I could hear the wind whistle in its feathers. 

 

 

The painting I came up with:

Winton Woods, February 13

February 15, 2009

Another beautiful February day called to me like a siren. I do have a lot of inertia when it comes to going out. The studio is comfy, and I can sit with my coffee and the stereo, and not be concerned with approaching clouds or a group of rowdy school kids. However, there is something about the rarity of nice days in winter that make them irresistible.
I headed out to the county park closest to my home in Northside, Winton Woods. The lake attracted me first, but I just couldn’t find a scene that really called to me. I moved around the park until I found a nice streamside scene in Sycamore Valley, with exposures of limestone and shale next to the water, and some great sycamores lending some color to the otherwise drab scene. I had to climb down into the stream bed with my easel to get the right angle, not an easy thing to do. Once I got set up, the painting went fairly quickly.  

Painting at Sycamore Valley in Winton Woods

Painting at Sycamore Valley in Winton Woods

 

I have to get my self in a different mindset from my studio work when I am working outdoors. I see all sorts of cool stuff I’d like to add to my painting, but having only a few hours forces me to eliminate a lot. I think it is a good exercise for me, as I tend to become lost in the details at times. I also get a bit more technical in the studio, using airbrushes and other tools unavailable to me in the field.  I still work in a fairly tight style compared to other plein air artists, who sometimes tease me. “John, you need to loosen up!”  My retort is always, “You guys need more discipline!”

I got the scene laid out pretty quickly, then focused on the details, and the layering of various light effects. There were shadows from trees stretching across the creek, reflections in the water, and rocks under the water.  The sun on the underbrush by the side of the creek required some thought about layering color, to keep it from being just a collection of branching squiggles in black and white. All of these problems require some analysis and experiment to get it to work.

Sycamore Valley, February 13

Sycamore Valley, February 13

Miami-Whitewater, February 9

February 15, 2009

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

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

"Melting Snow" the finished painting from February 9

The Plein Air Project

February 15, 2009

I have begun my Hamilton County Parks plein air project, with plans to paint in nearly every one of the 17 Hamilton County Parks. Of course, I will concentrate on natural scenes, so if a park is mostly sports facilities it won’t likely become a subject for me. Some paintings will be of recognizable landscapes, iconic views that every person familiar with our county parks will recognize. Others will be small vignettes of natural scenes that won’t be so recognizable as a particular park, but all will be done on location in county parks. 
By doing the project over a year, I will be able to sample each of the seasons and what they have to offer as eye candy. Each park will change drastically over the seasons, so I will return to certain locations to do them over as they evolve over time.  The original paintings resulting from this project will be on display (and available for purchase) in October of 2009 at the Sharon Centre in Sharon Woods Parks. 
Plein air (French for “fresh air”) paintings are often very enjoyable to do. Doing an entire painting in one sitting (or standing, as the case may be) gives you a fresher, more lively style. You get to hang out in a beautiful spot for several hours, with a great excuse to just stand there and observe. Of course, when weather, insects or fate decide to intervene, it sometimes isn’t so pleasant. While I often enjoy interacting with people who happen by and are interested in what I’m doing, sometimes folks can get annoying or just interruptive. Painting is, after all, an intensely focused occupation. Sometimes the paintings just don’t work out. What might look impressive to the eye doesn’t always translate so well on canvas. Or, maybe I’ll have an off day. When everything clicks and the painting looks good, it is a great feeling. 
If you have suggestions of places in our county park system that you would like to see as a landscape painting, just add your comments. I won’t promise to do every place that is suggested, but I will certainly take a look at them. If they cause a little spark in my imagination, I’ll set up the easel.
So, check back every week and hopefully, I will have something new for you to look at.

Painting at the west entrance of Miami-Whitewater Forest

Painting at the west entrance of Miami-Whitewater Forest