I have a theory about the paths we take in life, and how important it is to notice what I call “Angels Holding Up Signs” along the way. Sometimes those angels take the form of a person offering helpful information or silently pointing the way by example, an intuitive thought, or an unexpected turn of events that makes you pause. When I see or hear an angel holding up a sign, whether it’s “Yield”, “STOP,” or “Go This Way” with an arrow, I consider it a gift and give it serious consideration.
Disclaimer: I’m not a New-Age angels and crystals sort of girl. But I do believe there are angels all around us; good, kind, generous people, like Adam at Kragen Auto Parts today who helped me dispose of gallons of old motor oil and their containers that had been abandoned in my garage (long story; don’t get me started!). Thanks Adam!
…And like the angels who’ve held up signs in my art life lately, including Kathryn Law and Ed Terpening who’ve both helped me to a breakthrough in my understanding about why simplifying is important in oil painting, especially when painting plein air. I’m always attracted to details, and so I’ve fought against that principle, and then fought my paints trying to put those details into my paintings.
Then I saw these paintings (below) by Ed Terpening on his blog, Life Plein Air, made during a workshop in which the instructor, Peggi Kroll-Roberts, challenged the class to break the scene into as few large shapes as possible and paint those shapes with a large, fully loaded brush in one brush stroke.
Each study evoked in me a mood and my mind created a whole life story for each of these women. A mom at the beach trying to keep her kids in line; a sad, matron, wondering where her life had gone; a glamorous, young society lady at the country club watching a tennis game while sipping a martini….
How did so much come from such simple paintings? Leaving out the details left it to my mind to fill them in. This is something I so needed to learn: that simplifying and omitting detail doesn’t make a painting boring—it lets the viewer’s mind play and be creative, making for an exciting, rewarding experience. Thanks, Ed, for holding up that signpost!
Another sign-toting angel came via email this week: a request to purchase this plein air oil painting I made last summer at Lake Temescal. There I was at the crossroads, wondering whether to give up plein air oil painting, and this angel popped up with a sign saying, “You’re on the right path, don’t turn back.”
And now about my process with today’s painting. First I tried to simplify by painting large color shapes with the plan to create a color study for a work to be done in the studio. I also focused on the composition, picking a focal point, being careful not to divide the canvas in half as I have a tendency to do, making the subject (the water) the largest portion.
Here’s how it looked when I’d covered the whole panel:
I’d worked quickly, using a palette knife, going for big shapes of color. I should have stopped there and gone for a walk. But instead I messed around for another hour and muddied up the design and the colors:
But the great thing about palette knife painting is that it’s easy to scrape off passages and repaint them. So later that evening I put the photo of Phase 1 on my computer monitor side-by-side with a photo of the scene and worked on the painting until I was satisfied with it (as posted at top).
And I’m very happy with another breakthrough: the way I was able to enjoy the plein air painting process without worrying about making a Painting with a capital P while I was out there.