Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A New Approach: Mini Paintings

After the workshop with Jason Saunders was over, one of the biggest lessons I learned was how much I did NOT know about plein air painting. This was my weakest area, so I felt that if I focused on the weakness, I would improve in all areas. Plein air painting requires finely tuned vision and rapid, accurate judgment; just the effort of trying to paint something at all exercises those skills. So I think I can make the biggest jumps in my overall painting ability by focusing on what requires the most from me.

That means there will be a lot of minis along the way. (Minis are canvases smaller than 8x10; I work anywhere from 3x5 to 6x8.) Painting mini is a great learning tool, because it gives you less area to cover, and therefore more time to actually accomplish something in a single sitting. They're small enough to discourage noodling around with details, while plenty big enough to capture the "effect" of the scene in front of you. Technically, the effect is the overall pattern of value and temperature (light/dark and color), with attention to differences in edges. On a less technical note, capturing an effect means when you step back and look at the little rectangle of paint shapes, you feel a similar psychological reaction to this landscape that you would toward the real thing. You feel the arid, sunniness of the day, or the magical sensation of reflections in a pond, or the moodiness of storm clouds over a lush pasture.

I didn't expect to get anywhere near that accurate with my mini's; I just knew I needed a way to get a large number of attempts under my belt. I hoped that with repetition and occasional mentoring I could make improvements on this daunting subject.

From May to September I painted too many mini's to post without drowning the viewers in repetitive greenscapes, often multiple views of the base of the same tree. I'll start of by posting selections from paintings carried out in my yard at home.

This is a view of my next door neighbor's yard. I love backlighting!!
Also this neighbor's yard. He said he was about to mow down some "weeds," but decided to spare them, and they ended up producing these cute, pink flowers.

Now we're seeing my yard. In this painting, I struggled to capture the essence of dappled light on grass. I found it very difficult to keep the contrast pumped up without 1) bleaching out the highlights, or 2) desaturating the darks. Pure blue and yellow wouldn't get the shadows deep enough to contrast against green highlights, and I couldn't add white to the highlights without creating a bleachy look. So I would add red to the greens, and then I would lose the green vibrancy. My grass highlights appear very yellow, but if I made them greener, they wouldn't stand out against the shadows. Such is my constant dilemma in landscape painting!

Here's this confounded tree that I painted over and over...

Uh-oh, I'm getting bleachy highlights at the base of the tree.
This one actually has a nice effect when viewed at a distance.
Here's a view of the back of the house. The odd structure resembling a cross between an Ent and a telephone pole is my boyfriend's wooden dummy (a martial arts training tool).

I call this one "Wet Friday" because I painted it on a Friday after a refreshing rain, just before time to watch my favorite show, Dog Whisperer. The wetness brought out the colors of the different trees across the street, and the setting sun put a rusty glow on the cedar trunks and fallen pine needles.
Here's the front yard, with my boyfriend's car adding a mechanical element.
Here's my attempt at painting the roses in our front yard. This was about my last chance, since they were starting to wither and fall. I just couldn't capture their blooming, red-pink brilliance. You can see how I tried from the piled-up paint!
More paintings of the bases of trees. These are two trees I love in the back yard. They seem like door posts on a fairy portal. (Did I write that out loud?) The grass–well, weeds–that grow between them in spring in early summer are always very frilly and dense. Evidently it's late summer, because it looks like they're starting to dry out and become patchy.

This is my other next door neighbor's yard. I always love the way the sun hits his yard as it sets.