It’s been quite some time since I’ve taken an art class so my recent plein air workshop was a revelation. My fellow artist Joyce has written an excellent post that includes our workshop leader Larry Moore’s demo paintings. Naturally he makes it look easy. It ain‘t. Staring into the chaos of green otherwise known as a Florida forest and trying to make sense of it was perplexing, but on the other hand nobody will know later that the tree trunk wasn’t that shape. Painting a wooded scene definitely requires the key principle: SIMPLIFY.
Spending three days trying to paint what was in front of us made me realize how long it’s been since I‘ve painted anything truly realistically. Although we were going for a more impressionistic effect (as opposed to getting every detail) we still were striving to capture the actual shapes, colors, and values. I have no problem with drawing or mixing colors per se, but did discover a real deficit in my ability to see what the values were. It was helpful to take my glasses off and look at a totally blurry image.
For example, look at the palm tree in the photo above. When Larry was doing a demo painting, I would think “That green he’s using is way too dark.” But he was right. Sure, the palm tree is green, but it’s very dark against the sky and if you don’t paint it that way, it looks flat and artificial.It’s still probably not dark enough in my painting, but by the third day I was starting to get it. The front of the house is definitely not dark enough compared to the sunlit left side. And the white trim is way too light almost everywhere. Oh well, these things take time. Trying to get perspective lines and roof angles approximately right, make the lamp post perpendicular, plus mix a bunch of colors is a lot to juggle in a couple of hours!I remembered belatedly that my camera will take a photo in black and white mode, which could be helpful when on location. One little side effect of taking this workshop is that you start to scan the landscape while driving, analyzing the highlight side vs. the shadow side of this building or that tree. Must be an occupational hazard of the plein air painter!