A plein air painting in 20 minutes? Why not!
Ever had a burning urge to paint, to sit down and paint something, anything? I know the feeling really well! Yet so often we succumb to the excuses we’ve made like not having enough time. It’s amazing how we create obstacles to prevent ourselves from painting. And so we end up NOT painting when our soul yearn to express creatively.
So, picture this: the village of La Manzanilla, Mexico, a brilliant turquoise wall patterned with flickering shadow and the light from a fast descending sun, a gentle breeze blowing. I yearned to paint! But the time, the time was short to capture this experience. I turned away. “Another day,” I thought but that part within me that yearned to paint made me turn back. Damn, just do it!
I grabbed my sketchbook and pastels and got to work. And yes, I actually created a plein air painting in 20 minutes! I think it’s one of the fastest plein air pieces I’ve ever done. The thing is to treasure and enjoy the process and not worry about the outcome.
Let me take you through the sequence.
Here’s the scene I painted:
First, even with limited time, a quick thumbnail. This allows me to check my composition and delineate the three main value areas. You can see from the thumbnail below that much of my pastel painting will be in a middle value and that there will only be a few dark areas. You can also see how I compressed what I saw into a narrower format.
With time racing, I didn’t spend much time on drawing up the image in vine charcoal (but if you know me, I rarely do anyway!).
I’m not sure why I didn’t use the green/blue colour used on the wall on all of the middle-value areas. I’ll blame my decision on lack of time!! Also, I was beginning to get frustrated with the lack of mid-value greens in the Sennelier set. (You can read about my colour frustrations with my other plein air piece here.)
I moved along, starting to layer. I added the palm frond in the only green mid-value colour I had available. There is a warm
I’m working fairly intuitively now. This is what the limited timeframe forces you to do. You paint with a mix of rational perception and feeling. Also, having a limited palette helps with painting more
You can see I like the pattern of shapes created beyond the gate and I’m spending a bit of time on that.
I’ve brought in a dark dull olive/green in the overhead tree canopy.
And with time moving along, I shifted into getting the values right AND mark-making. There’s something vibrant about life in Mexico. It exudes energy and aliveness and I think my marks reflect that, if unintentionally. My painting became more about pattern and light and colour and texture than it did about a careful rendering of the scene in front of me. It was influenced both by my emotional reaction to the scene and the rapidity of creation for sure!
In the end, I decided to leave the piece untouched. I was tempted to work on it once I got back to my home studio in Victoria, BC, but I knew that if I started to tinker with it, I would surely diminish some of the boldness and life I see in it now.
One thing that made this plein air painting in 20 minutes happen was having materials at the ready. I travelled to La Manzanilla with a small box of pastels (Sennelier 30 half stick collection), a few sheets of UART paper, and a board on which to support the paper. All of these materials were out all the time and easy to access so I had NO excuse due to unavailable materials!
Sooooo, what did you think? I’d love to hear how this idea of rapid plain air painting strikes you. How fast do you work when outside? Do please leave me a comment!
And I leave you with this: I challenge you to do a plein air painting in 20 minutes!
Until next time,