When I think of paintings by Christine Debrosky, I think of a masterful use of dull intensity to show off bright colours in the landscape. I admire both her plein air and studio paintings. So I invited Christine to write a guest blog, leaving the topic up to her. She said yes (yay!!) and said she’d like to share her thoughts about how her plein air work influences and informs her studio work, and vice versa. And I said, go for it!
Don’t know the work of Christine Debrosky? Here’s a teaser!
And before we get going, here’s a wee bit about Christine!
Christine Debrosky Bio
When the art teacher at Graves elementary school took her 4th grade class outside to draw trees on a lovely spring day, Christine Debrosky was hooked.
She progressed to oil and watercolour, taking lessons at an early age.
She was introduced to pastel in Albert Handell’s Woodstock NY studio, and that changed things. Since then, her work has been in numerous invitational, juried, and gallery shows across the US and Europe, earning numerous awards and recognition along the way. To see more of Christine Debrosky’s work, check out her website.
Take it away Christine!
We’ve all seen articles and posts about the merits of painting en plein air versus working in the studio from sketches and references. To me, both methods have value, and I prefer to think of each discipline as working hand in hand. Like many artists whom I respect, I’ve made a life long practice of incorporating both ways in my pastel work. Each is important in its own right; each way influences the other.
Simply stated, plein air work is invaluable for the lessons learned in direct observation. I believe that there is no better way to learn about the nuances of light and colour in the landscape.
A photo can not capture things like the richness of reflected light, the textures of various landscape elements, the edge quality of shadow, etc. And of course, there’s the freshness of an immediate response while actually being in the landscape. I’m out there feeling the breezes, the sun on my face, or the chill and damp of a cooler day. I’ve gone out in all kinds of weather and conditions…all to find out whatever I can about my chosen subject. I’m reacting tomysurroundingsandlife as it is happening. And I’m ever learning!
In the studio, design and sound technique comes to the forefront. My goal is to make the best painting that I can. I have the time to incorporate lessons learned over the years, in a slowed down contemplative process. The principles and elements of design are considered as to how they will work in my painting. There’s a lot to think about: line, shape, colour, edges, value, direction, movement …and the list goes on.
In the studio is also where I can experiment with new materials and techniques. We’re fortunate in being artists at this time, as material manufacturers are always enticing us with a vast array of wonderful new products! Particularly since I teach, I think it’s important to be familiar with new materials as they come along. I just may find my new favourite pastel in the process! Being outside, on the other hand with quickly changing light and action, is no place to struggle with unfamiliar paper, sticks, or methods.
Every painting that I do starts with intention. When outdoors, it’s often to capture the light effects, or to get better at rendering a particular motif. It’s about observation and learning.
In studio, the ideas expand to include the conveying of a particular mood, or to show the viewer the awe that I felt. Over the years, my focus has shifted from rendering specific subjects to rendering the way that light and shadows play across the motif, no matter what it is. The subject has become secondary to the dance. My plein air work has afforded me invaluable insights into the dance steps! I could never have learned them in working with photos alone.
Whenever I post photos of my easel and subject on location, or of me painting outside, I’m asked about my set up.
I have been through many different versions over the years, and at present I’m using an All-In One pastel box that accommodates my papers, so no boards necessary. My particular box will only hold the thinner sticks, so I bring other small sets of the chunkier pastels. My tripod, a Sienna, clips on the bottom, to which I’ve attached a rock bag. (We do have strong winds here in the high desert!)
I’ve foregone an umbrella as it can act as a sail. Instead, I make sure that my box and painting surface is situated so that it they are in shadow. It’s important to see colour correctly. I also take a shoulder bag which can accommodate small sets, my Richeson Debrosky artist’s selection of “Sunlight “ and “Shadow” – these I clip to the sides of my open box. I also carry water, snacks, masking tape, handi-wipes, etc, but do keep my supplies to a minimum.
If working en plein air is new to you, have pastels specifically dedicated, papers cut to size for your plein air outings, and equipment always packed up and ready to go!
Back in the studio I have the luxury of having hundreds and hundreds of sticks to choose from, as well as a rainbow of papers and other supplies at hand. I’m fortunate in that I have the room to have two or more easels set up at the same time. And, it’s so nice to have the comfort of heat or coolness, especially when it’s 105 degrees Fahrenheit in my home of Arizona!
Regardless of whether I’m outside or in, observation is key. I’ve developed a really good visual memory. One of my go-to quotes is, “ You can observe a lot just by watching“ ~ Yogi Berra.
Many of my nocturne paintings have been done from direct observation; just watching, and then executed the next morning entirely from memory.
Many of my studio pieces done from photos rely on what I remember from taking a few moments to soak it all in when I don’t have the time or opportunity to sketch. My visual memory is a skill that I’m so thankful to have developed before the advent of such good phone cameras that can capture night scenes so well. The photos that I do take to work from are enhanced by my taking the time to visually immerse myself in the scene before me, if only for a few moments. I suppose that I’m really painting in my mind when I simply watch.
Having said that, because light and shadow is such a driving force for me, there are effects that only last a few moments at most. These are usually the most dramatic, and often happen at the “edges of the day.” This is when I rely on the camera to quickly capture such short-lived inspiration. As the white rabbit lamented, “There is no time…no time!“
These seductive times of the day are infused with a rich glow. My photos allow me to develop my painting ideas in the studio, to fully realize my goal of conveying the “wow” factor to the viewer. A key component to my work is sharing the sense of wonder…it’s a driving force and the reason why I paint.
For me, there must be a connection forged between me and my subject. It’s for that reason that I will often have my plein air studies from the same location out on a specially designed shelf visible while I’m working on a piece from that locale.
My studio piece may not be the same time of day, but having the field studies there takes me right back to actually being there. The experience of being there is what I’m really trying to paint. Sometimes, I’ll have field studies from a different place out but where I’ve captured a particular effect which I’m incorporating in to my studio painting. I might call these studies light notes.
Going out and painting elements of the landscape is quite valuable and productive. I have numerous studies of trees, rocks, clouds and even of just shadows, which are fun to paint. It’s surprising to note just how much colour there is in shadow…particularly at the edges.
When I go out on location, I do not set out to produce a great work every time. Quite frankly, many times they are terrible. The point is to find out what I need to know. And sometimes I do produce little gems. However, I never regret going outside to paint, because I will have gained insight. And it’s always an exhilarating experience. It feels like flying by the seat of my pants!
Well, once I did regret going out. I had a large plein air box with me -16×20 inches with a heavy duty tripod on a windy day. A gust came along and blew my entire set up over even with all the weight. To make matters worse, I was painting next to some raspberry brambles, and of course the pastels ended up in the tangle of branches and thorns. All of us who do go out en plein air have a few horror stories!
In studio, I do set out to produce good works with the exception of the times I experiment with supplies or technique. I write out an intention for the painting that I’m working on. Sometimes it’s a sentence or two; other times it is just a few key words. It’s often something like, “The first splash of sun…warm grey shadows …the fresh promise of a new day.” I don’t always achieve what I’ve set out to do, but at this point, I do know whether a painting is working or not. If not, I will start another piece or set my current work aside for a while. And when it’s working, I’ll know that I’ve finished when I achieve my intended goal for the work.
In studio, I’ve developed the valuable skill of self-critique. Monet said something to the effect of there are two artists who paint his works: One artist to paint it, and another to take it away.
I’m often asked how many pieces I produce in a year. My plein air works do outnumber my studio pieces by about 5 to 1. All told, counting my studies in the mix, it’s generally about 50 works.
A painting goal that I set for myself some time ago is to have my studio work have the fresh impression of the outdoors, and my plein air work have painting issues resolved. They’ve gotten closer over the years.
To sum things up, my lessons learned from direct observation outdoors come with me into the studio. It’s like I have outdoor Christine telling me things over my shoulder. And, my work in studio over the years, in learning principles of good painting and the development of sound technique, go outside with me every time I set off on a plein air adventure. Hand in hand.
Doesn’t that get you all excited to go paint en plein air?!
Christine Debrosky and I would LOVE to hear your thoughts so please do leave them and any questions you may have as a comment.
Until next time,