I don’t know about where you are, but here in Victoria, it’s still toooo damn cold to go painting en plein air! That’s why it was so lovely to work on location while I was in Mexico (I’ve been back just over a week). I painted en plein air a number of times, partly for the pure joy of it but also in preparation for my workshop in Spain in a couple of months. (You can read more about the workshop here -there’s still space so why not join us??) One of the things about working en plein air that I love is that you can change things up.
When painting en plein air, think about the composition and change things up as you need to. You don’t have to copy exactly what’s there. Putting everything in exactly as is probably won’t create an interesting and well-designed piece. You, as the artist, can take liberties and move things around, make things larger or smaller, change the colour of objects. In fact, I’d say it’s your function to do so! You need to ask: What do I need to do to make this painting work?
So, here’s the scene I came across to paint. There was lots of solid and barely unchanging shade to set up under (very important!) which made painting this scene a no-brainer. So what caught my attention? The pink wall, the pattern of shadow and light, and the tree – its pale greenness, its softness, the shadows it created against the wee hut.
Next up, a thumbnail sketch! This is one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with the scene. As you sink into seeing, simplify what you see into big shapes. Spend time observing to truly understand your subject and why it is you are painting it. This is also a good time to change things up!
And here’s my easel all set up, the thumbnail in front of me, my collection of pastels at the ready!
Now to put a few indicator lines on the paper. I don’t want to draw in everything. All I include are things that are important for marking the location of everything within the piece. But do you notice something different between the thumbnail sketch and this initial draw-up of the scene?
Remember when I said I loved that you could change things up when painting on location? Well this is one of those times. I realized that everything zoomed out to the right and to help keep the viewer in the picture, I added a waste bin at bottom right. I’ve only barely indicated it so I can easily change it out.
Now it’s time to choose three colours for my first layer of three values. I chose the dark red because I wanted it to peek out and provide a solid base for the dark greens of the background trees. It also was then used for the other dark areas. The light value shows here as yellow because I thought it would be a great base for cooler pinks that I might choose. And the middle value is blue primarily chosen as a cool colour to use under the warm greens of the foreground tree.
Using a piece of pipe insulation, I rub the colours into the paper and thereby get rid of the overall light colour of the paper. You can also see why I don’t draw in a lot of detail as it would just be covered up or rubbed out at this stage. But I still know where the main shapes and subjects fall.
While working on this painting, I pretty much forgot to take a number of progression shots. Luckily I did take the next one. It shows how I added the second layer of greens to the various trees. You can also see the pink wall and the cast shadows indicated.
At this point I’m pretty sure I was having that UGH feeling but I pushed on knowing this was just that place and time all paintings go through – the ugly phase! You know. It’s when you think the painting is not looking good, that it’s not going to work out, that you may as well stop while you’re ahead. But this is the time to breathe, look deeply at the scene, see what’s there, make some choices, and keep painting!
Let’s have a look at it in black and white to see how well the values are sitting.
Between this stage and the end, I change things up. I decided that the cast shadow of the tree on the thatched roof was too dark. I also decided against rendering the brick wall (I did start on this) and chose instead to pretend that the wall of the building was painted pink like the wall and had a similar surface. I did this because I thought the pink wall on its own would call too much attention to it, taking the viewer’s eye away from the main subject of the tree and cast shadows.
What else did I change up?
When I change things up, I try to do it for a reason. For instance, right from the start, I shortened the length of the building because I wanted to fit in the pink wall and my paper wouldn’t allow that if I kept the same proportions. Well I guess if I made everything much smaller, it would have all fit but then I would have had a lot of trees (and maybe even sky) which would just detract from what I was interested in showing in my painting. Can you see that?
Can you see any other changes? Look for other changes I made from the middle stage to the end. And also from the original source itself. Leave me a comment below telling me the differences you see!
The ability to change things up when you’re painting is one of your prerogatives as an artist. Just because something is there doesn’t mean you have to paint it. Just because it isn’t in the scene doesn’t mean you can’t paint it in! You want to get to the essence of what it is that attracted you to paint the piece and you want a successful painting that, when it’s removed from the location where you painted it, can be viewed and understood in its own right.
Let me tell you again: you have the power as an artist to change things up!!
And here are the pastels I used:
And just so you have it (it may help to see where I change things up from the middle stage), the black and white version of the end piece.
By the way, I am not stuck on the title and would be happy to hear your suggestions! Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments.
You know I love to hear from you. So tell me, do you find it easy or difficult to change things up when painting? And remember to let me know what differences you see between the source and middle stage, and the middle stage and end painting!
Until next time,