Richmond skyline / charcoal sketch

My pretty city as seen from Legend Brewing Co.

My pretty city as seen from Legend Brewing Co.

Legend put out a call to artists for their participation in James River Days, scheduled for this summer. The city has a lot of events planned along the river. This art show isn’t until Aug. at Artworks, but I need to get started. We’ve had a lot of rainy dreary weather lately, which isn’t good news for your plein air artist. It seems like we only see the sun twice a week and not for long.  This weather pattern can’t last much longer.

I’m excited for the chance to draw at Legend! It’s a great view of the city, and it’s friendly and safe. They have a good reputation for their craft beers too.

My plan is to transfer this sketch onto three 12 x 12 canvases and paint a triptych. I’ll have to draw it again with charcoal on the canvases and make more corrections before I start on the underpainting.  You can see the smeary places where I made corrections and the charcoal didn’t erase very well. And I taped four pieces of paper together to get the drawing up to 36″. I tried twice to get a start on the sketch and didn’t get anything I could work with until the 3rd try. Then I used the width of the Federal Reserve building (the tallest one) as a unit of measure to check the scale as I went along from West to East adding the buildings. It might not be exactly accurate, but it’s not too far off. The temptation when I’m trying to draw buildings is that they keep getting bigger as I go along. That tells me my drawing is out of control, stop and check the proportions again. So, sometimes I check the proportions by measuring with a pencil held out at arm’s length, and sometimes I just eyeball the scale.

It’s going to be a challenge to paint this.

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Abandoned Duck Blinds / oil

One day in the swamp / my plein air experience

One day in the swamp / my plein air experience

One day I was on the trail working on my painting and a lot of people stopped to talk to me. They asked me questions like, “Are you taking a class?” etc. I wonder why so many people ask me that question. Anyway, I thought the people were very talkative that day. When I got home I was shocked! I caught sight of my reflection and there was a thick streak of sky blue across my forehead and spots on my chin and cheeks like WARPAINT! I don’t know how I got it on my face because it wasn’t on my hat or gloves or hands. I bet it was there the whole time and no one told me. They looked at me in amazement! hahahaha That’s the kind of weird thing that happens to me that doesn’t happen to anyone else. Oh well, good for my reputation, right?

James River with 295 Bridge / oil paint and photo

One day in the swamp / a plein air story

One day in the swamp / a plein air story

Does Realism show reality? Is my work Realism?

Does Realism show reality? Is my work Realism?

I wish I could answer yes or no but I can’t decide.

On one hand I’d say no because reality changes so fast and I work slowly. I think of a photo of being closer to reality than my painting but the camera lies. My naked eyes lie too. The camera can’t show depth as well as my naked eye sees it and flattens the colors too. Then on the other hand, as I’m trying to paint what I see, I’m making decisions and changes every step of the way that take the painting away from reality.

When weather permits, I go to the same place at the same time of day and work on my painting for a few hours. Some times the tide is out at noon and some times it’s in at noon. I have to decide which tide I want to paint. I wind up painting over what I did the time before, or faking the water when it’s all different. It’s an experiment. If it looks convincing I’ll try to do that again and if it’s not good I give up on that one and try something else.

ok, here’s the story.

I was walking down the trail towing my art supplies and a man who was walking back out stopped and said to me, “It’s not a good day for painting down there. The tide is out. Way out. I’ve never seen it so low. It’s a mud flat.” He wondered what phase the moon was in. I didn’t know about the moon. I said, “That’s ok. I’m not working on the water today. I have to do the background trees first.”

It was windy and cold that day and I had to mix some colors before painting. I took the lid off my palette and put it on the ground. Right away the wind blew the lid down on the mud about 10 ft. out. I had to climb down a steep slippery muddy hill about 5 ft. then step on two logs that are usually submerged to reach the lid. I was glad I was wearing my hiking boots. I didn’t fall into the muck. Then I used vines to pull myself up the hill again.

We had a lot of wind and that makes it difficult, but if the sun’s out I want to try to make some progress on the painting. It’s not only that the wind blows your supplies away, it knocks down your easel and painting if you forget to hold on. It blows all kinds of debris into your paint and onto your wet painting. Most of it comes off easily when the paint dries. Mother Nature doesn’t make it easy for the plein air painter.

the Marsh in April / oil

marsh in april
I was standing on a thin strip of ground between the road into Henricus and the swamp. A few of the people driving in and out watched my progress. I was there for 10 or more days for a few hours at a time. Some people stopped to tell me they like my painting. Some of the guys asked me if I was planning on painting any ducks in. I said maybe not, but if someone wants to buy the painting and they want ducks I’ll paint ducks. 😉

the Marsh in March / oil

It's prime time in the swamp for bird watchers.

It’s prime time in the swamp for bird watchers.


I often see bird watchers and photographers there. It won’t be long till the water fills in with green plants and MOSQUITOES! I think I have time to finish one more painting in the swamp before it gets too green and buggy. Here’s a list of the wildlife my friend and I spotted in about and hour.
deer
turtles
muskrat
Canada Geese
Great Blue Herons
Ring Neck Ducks
Coots
Mallards
Shovler Ducks
Red Wing Blackbirds
Sparrows
Sometimes I also see Bald Eagles, hawks and ospreys
I like the Coots and next year I want to do field studies of them, but this year it was difficult enough to do the landscape without the birds.

Marsh With Ice and Snow / oil

See the pix below stripping off the layers of paint all the way back to my underpainting

See the pix below stripping off the layers of paint all the way back to my underpainting

“Painting in the couch” works well if you want a variety of textures in your painting. You can do a bleed with oil paint in your glazes. But one thing I enjoy about this technique is the way I can get a long skinny line by scraping the paint with my palette knife. The medium on the canvas wets it a little so the paint has less drag. When I don’t want a bleed I work on the wetter areas first and when the “couch” dries a little I can thin my paint with turp and paint a skinny line without it bleeding and the paint flows nicely. So you can compare the texture of the cat tails to the texture of the trees. It’s fun to make different textures.

glazes on top of glazes / marsh with ice

glazes on glazes marsh ice

It’s kind of gray around here in the winter when the weathers gloomy but when the sun comes out you see more color.

I’m mixing my colors in plein air every day and when I compare my color to what I see , I think it’s ok so I use it. Then the next time I work on the painting I think, that’s too dark or that’s too light or warm or cool. The first color wasn’t right but it’s not too far off, so when I paint another glaze on top it’s close to what you see.

The naturalistic colors are probably what make people see my work as Realism. It doesn’t really look like this though. If I post a photograph of the scene you won’t see this.

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