I’m celebrating a bit of progress I saw today when I painted plein air at Old Borges Ranch in Walnut Creek. I painted at this site a year ago and had a terrible time, titling the post of the awful painting I did that day, “Am I Having Fun Yet? Uh…no!”
Today was a lot more fun. I started the painting with a plan (described below) and stuck with it until I started rushing to wrap it up in time for our group critique at 1:00 when I muddied things up a bit since the light had changed in the scene from when I first started at 10:30.
When I put the painting in the line up with the other 14 paintings, I didn’t even cringe or feel embarrassed. It helped too, that I now understand that my plein air paintings are sketches, not finished works of art.
Here are the steps I took that seemed to work for me:
- Picked a scene that interested me with a specific focal point (the little red building) rather than just a general landscape.
- Used a viewfinder to visually crop the scene and see what would fit on my 9×12 panel.
- With a yellow pastel pencil, sketched in the “puzzle pieces” — the various shapes that comprised what I saw as layers in the depth, from the close up foreground, all the way to the most distant layer or zone of the hills and then the sky. I used a yellow pastel pencil to draw the shapes and indicate the darks.
- Squinted at the scene to better see values and find the darkest darks.
- Mixed a thin, dark, transparent mixture of paints and thinly scrubbed in the all of the darks, varying the temperature where I saw warmer or cooler shadows.
- Began mixing and applying paint, one zone or puzzle piece at a time. I started with the sky, first putting down a pinky yellow color, seeing it looked wrong, then following step 6 below to correct it, and using that method until I started rushing at the end.
- Before putting the paint on the panel I painted a smear of the color on the edge of a piece of white card stock (old business cards) and held it up to the scene to check the color. Most of the time my first mix was too light, too dark, or too warm, too cool, or completely the wrong hue. I changed the mixture, tested, and tried again until it was close enough. (More about this very helpful technique in this article by Diane Mize on Empty Easel)
- Began adding a bit of detail…then ran out of time