I’m recently home from a wonderful and relaxing getaway to Ontario (yay to a bit of travel!!) where Cam and I spent time with family and friends. Part of our trip was a week at the White family cottage on Big Rideau Lake where I planned to do some pastelling en plein air. I hadn’t done on-location painting in quite a while so I was feeling a bit rusty. So before I started, I decided to embrace the idea of imperfection in plein air painting to give myself some leeway and also permission to focus on the doing rather than the outcome.
Good thing as my first two pieces were…well let’s just say I was happy that I’d let go of outcome and accepted the idea of imperfection in plein air painting!! I was, however, pretty content with my third (and last piece).
I went for something simple. Or so I thought. Nothing is simple when it comes to plein air painting!
Let me take you on a journey through the creation of that piece….
Here’s a photo of the scene I was looking at – Brown’s Island just offshore. I decided, like I said, to keep it simple. I did this by zeroing in on the right side of the island. I liked the pattern the trees and the rocks made. I was excited to get going!
Before I got started though, I played around with some thumbnails to establish the value pattern and the composition. I did a sketch and then tried different compositional formats with value pattern.
Once I chose the thumbnail to use, it was onto the pastel paper! I carry a pad of UART 400 paper with me on short trips like this. Each piece of paper comes with its own sheet of glassine which is so handy!!
As I began working, I realised there was an awful lot of light area (water and sky) and began to wonder what I’d let myself in for! What was I going to do with it all? But I just kept working.
I began working up the trees and thought gosh there’s a lot of green to deal with. All the things we can really begin to notice as we start working!
Finally, I face up to working on the clouds. Working with my Unison Colour set (available September 2021!), I had to wonder why in the world there weren’t any greyed pastels in it. Hah hah. Right, I needed to stick with my mantra and my own advice: make the greys from mixing the available colours.
Then I moved on to the water as well as giving more attention to the trees and clouds. I also decided to add a boat as every now and again, one would motor by.
And this is pretty much where I got to while working en plein air:
Here are the Unison Colour pastels I used:
All the time I was working, I was sitting in the shade of the cottage porch so all the images above have a bit of a blue cast.
Back home, I opened up the piece to have a look at it. The grass clump on one of the rocks seemed to fight for attention with the boat. Hmmmm. In fact, my Mum asked, “What’s that?” when I showed the painting to her. So it had to go.
Here’s a photo of the untouched piece back home taken in bright overcast conditions. Quite a bit different in temperature!!
I was hesitant to get started as I knew a common tendency is to overdo the tweaking on a plein air piece once back in the studio. (Raise your hand if you relate!🙋♀️) Certainly, I have that inclination!! So, I dealt with the clump of grass. And then stepped back.
One more thing I decided to work on: I felt the horizon was on a bit of a slant and it was beginning to bug me. So I straightened it slightly and didn’t spend time being exact about it.
I can see other “problems” but I’m not going to worry about them. They are things I’m seeing that may not worry anyone else. It’s time to move on to something else!
Here’s the final painting:
And for the heck of it, let’s have a look at it in black and white and compare it to my thumbnail.
And for fun, here’s a photo of the supplies I took. We went with hand luggage only so I needed to fit my boards in a shoulder bag while everything else was squished into my hand luggage. Travelling light also meant no easel!
You’ll see in the photo above:
- My Unison Colour pastels, broken into small pieces and placed in a small box (by a different brand!) with a piece of charcoal
- A pad of UART paper complete with glassine sheets
- Two pencils (for thumbnails) and a tiny sketchbook
- Black meat tray to corral the pastels I use in the piece
- A board and tape
- A piece of foam core the same size as my board on which to tape finished pieces (covered with a sheet of glassine)
- Body shop Hemp hand cream to make clean up easier
- Small roll of toilet paper to clean pastels as I work and after the session (I didn’t take this because it takes up space and I was sure I could get it at my destination!)
- Apron – worth the space as it keeps me clean and has pockets to hold TP, viewfinder, and choc bar etc.
- Cap – always a good idea to keep sun and/or bright skies out of your eyes
- Missing from the picture (because it was old and dried up!) is a travel size package of WetOnes for after-painting cleanup
And that’s it!
I put the two boards and pad of paper together in a plastic bag and carried that in the shoulder bag (along with anything I wanted to access quickly – eg my purse, a book) and the rest of my supplies went in my suitcase which in this case was hand luggage. If I was checking a bag, I’d keep the pastels and paper with me.
The trick with plein air work is to not fiddle-faddle and fuss with perfecting things when you get home (or on-site for that matter!). This is what I mean about embracing the imperfection in plein air painting. The longer we examine our on-location work, the more imperfections we may see… and wish to fix. The problem is, we can “tidy” things up so much that all the energy and spontaneity that comes through in the plein air piece can be replaced by something that evolves into something stiff and lifeless! Ugh.
So let it be and accept and embrace the imperfections.
The thing with working on location is that it’s an immersive experience that goes far beyond creating an impression of what’s in front of you. It’s a memory-making and learning opportunity! (Click here for an example of a quick and energetic plein air painting!)
And now it’s your turn! Do you work on location? Do you tend to tinker with your piece when you get it home or do you leave it alone? I’d love to hear from you so do please leave a comment 😁
Until next time,