Pleining Air

I stole the above joke from Stapleton Kearns. His blog on landscape painting (and painting in general) is a must read for anyone who wants to learn about the craft, and the art of painting. It covers everything from materials and techniques to art history and philosophy, as well as a little rock & roll and plenty of advice on neck tattoos. There are hundreds of posts – almost all of them written at a rate of one a day over the course of about three years, with very few missed posts. It’s also piss-yourself-funny at points. I read the whole thing from beginning to end last year and learned a hell of a lot.

I’ve just returned from a ten day holiday in France. We spent a week in Burgundy and then three days in a gite in the French Alps. I took my painting gear and had hoped to try my hand at some plein air painting, but the weather was pretty miserable most of the time. Nonetheless I had a few opportunities to get the easel out and attempt to apply some of the lessons from Stape’s blog, with varying degrees of success. I haven’t really tried to paint landscape much before. In fact I can only remember one occasion several years ago, and the result of that was truly awful. I think I did better this time around, although I don’t think I’ll be invited to give the key note address at any landscape painting conventions any time soon. Landscape painting is a lot different from studio painting. You have to deal with changing light throughout the day, there’s a much greater range of tonal values outside than in the studio and you have to find a way to effectively express them on the canvas with paint, there are all sorts of fleeting atmospheric effects that you can end up chasing around the canvas for hours on end, and just the practical challenges of marshalling all your gear in the out doors can be quite trying. The hardest thing though, is trying to take the elements of nature and arrange them into an effective design. I had a couple of goes at this, but for the most part, the pictures I made are “paint-the-day” efforts. The look pretty much like what I was looking at, but they lack much in the way of drama or mystery. They are not terribly poetic.

Anyway, here they are in chronological order. All of these were painted with a six-colour primary palette, comprising a cool and a warm version of each colour. I used pthalo blue, french ultramarine, alizarin crimson, cadmium red, gold ochre and cadmium yellow pale (and titanium white alkyd, to speed drying times).

A Road in Burgundy (oil - 30 x 40cm)

A Road in Burgundy (oil – 30 x 40cm)

This was my first go. The weather forecast was not good, but I decided to chance it anyway. Sure enough, after about two and a half hours it was pelting rain on me and I had to hold the easel down with one hand because of the wind. I carried on for about half an hour after that before calling it quits. It’s kind of crudely drawn, but the arrangement looks OK, I think. I think it could use more red in it.

Bressan House (oil - 25 x 25 cm)

Bressan House (oil – 25 x 25 cm)

Painting number 2. This was a slightly better day for painting – mostly just cloudy, with patchy rain here and there. I love these little farm houses in burgundy, they are all roof and tiny wee windows. Apparently the style of architecture is called bressan. I quite like this one, although it’s a pretty “commonplace” view of the subject matter. It’s fairly well drawn anyway. I put put a dark band in the foreground to try and get some recession into the painting, although I think it could maybe do with some ploughed furrows in perspective, leading the eye up to the house. Towards the end of the day, the clouds began to break up a bit and at one point the sun threw a bright band of light across the field just in front of the house, which I tried to put in but I didn’t really get it right. I can’t quite figure out if the sky is moody and I like it, or if it’s a bit drab and I should throw some blue into it in the studio. In any case, I tried to put some perspective into the clouds to pull the eye to the focal point, which I think worked pretty well. That’s it for the Burgundy paintings.

Easterly view from La Clementine (oil 30 x 40 cm)

Easterly view from La Clementine (oil 30 x 40 cm)

“La Clementine” was the name of the gite we stayed at in the french Alps. I had to do some major geo-engineering to get those cliffs into the frame – they were actually much farther to the right. I definitely want to fiddle with this one in the studio – get some misty effects swirling around those cliffs. I might tighten up the drawing of the cliffs too. The little group of three trees on the hill bothers me, they’re all a bit similar. There is something a bit “meh” about this one, but I feel as though I could get something decent out of it. I like the colour and the handling of the foreground in particular.

House at Sunset, Sainte Marie d'Alvey (5" x 7")

House at Sunset, Sainte Marie d’Alvey (5″ x 7″)

This is the best of the lot, I think. A one and a half hour sketch painted in the evening of the same day as the previous picture. I was painting with the sun at my back, and nothing but my body to block it from shining directly on my support (which is very bad practice, by the way). So I was worried that I might have judged the colour poorly, but it turned out OK.

Cliffs at Sainte Marie d'Alvey (oil - 25 x 40 cm)

Cliffs at Sainte Marie d’Alvey (oil – 25 x 40 cm)

This was the day I’d been waiting for all holiday – the forecast was great, and I was raring to get out and paint. I pitched my easel by the side of the road and set out to capture this majestic view past the cliffs, across the hazy shimmering valley below, towards the Swiss Alps beyond. And made a total hash of it. There’s not much to say here – I bit off more than I could chew. The cloud cover was constantly changing throughout the day and I kept chasing effects across the canvas all day, rather than setting out my design and sticking with it. Ach well, until next time.


~ by cdrfuzz on June 4, 2013.

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