Tag Archives: plein air

A Portrait of the Poser as a Young Tree / mixed media

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Not to disrespect the tree, but why am I calling it a poser? The true identity of the tree is below.

This is another try at sketching  with oil paint sticks. They’re like big oily crayons, so it’s impossible to draw a skinny line or a small texture with them. They force me to draw fast and loose. One good thing about taking my oil paint sticks out to sketch in Plein air is that I don’t need to take my pallet, turpentine and brushes along. The bad thing is that I have to make do with the colors I have and can’t mix the colors as well on the paper as I would like to.

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This is an older tree of the same family. They’re called, Hitoki Falsecypress. The one I sketched is about 4 feet tall. So I’d tell the small tree,” There’s no need to feel bad about not being a real cypress tree, little poser. Some day you will be as big and respectable as your beautiful neighbor.”

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Holly Receptors In The Brain Of Your Plein Air Artist / mixed media

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I could have titled this, “Deciduous Holly” but then the art viewer would dismiss it as just another drawing of a twisted bush. Allow me to interpret it for you.

A few years ago my daughter lived in Atlanta GA. and when I visited her one time we saw a show called “Bodies” at the Atlantic Center. These Chinese mad scientists had taken some John Doe bodies in China and dissected them in unique ways. They injected bright dye into the nervous system then eliminated all the rest of the body’s tissues so all that was left was the neon nervous system in 3D body shaped plexiglass.  They did the same thing to the blood veins. Imagine a clear body where the whole nervous system is visible. I found it a little disturbing. One display had an arm sliced across sections and spread out so you could see the bones, muscles and other guts of the arm going down the extended length of it. I thought if I had a few of those arm cross sections I could use them as coasters since they were in plexiglass and colored so nicely with no smell of death.

Coincidentally, they were running ads on TV for a pill that supposedly stopped the “nicotine receptors” in a smoker’s brain from working. If you wanted to quit smoking, you could take the pill and quit the habit / addiction of smoking. I wondered what the nicotine receptors looked like. I doubt there are really nicotine receptors in the brain at all. I guess if an artist challenged a mad scientist to show the nicotine receptors the scientist would slap a brain out of a jar of formaldehyde onto a plate and make some cuts into the gray matter and say, “There are your nicotine receptors”. Then later, I heard of opium receptors or some other bad kind of receptors in your brain. It seems like there are receptors for all kinds of things in your brain. Everyone started jumping on the brain receptor band wagon. Then there must be receptors for other things that give the brain pleasure, like eating hard shell crabs, or looking at a pretty bush in the winter.

These days, a lot of times I draw trees with bare twisted branches and it reminds me of the neural network of the brain. And when I stood in front of this bush to draw it, those holly receptors went off in my brain giving me a feeling of pleasure. The red dots on my sketch are the holly receptors. The art viewer might see the red dots as merely berries and be bored with the sketch, because that person wants to see not only a tree, but the suffering of the artist depicted in the sketch, or some story illustrated through the art. They would never know this is an illustration of the holly receptors in my brain if I didn’t tell them. This is where you, my WordPress friends, have an advantage over the other art viewers out there. Because now you know some of the things that went through my mind when I worked on this drawing, but if I frame it or use this sketch to do a painting, others won’t see the receptors.

Deciduous Holly / unfinished sketch charcoal and chalk

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This bush is a bright spot in the garden with clouds of red berries floating over twisted bare branches. The sun was out yesterday and today but it’s a little too cold both days to stand outside sketching for long. I could go back this afternoon if it warms up a little, or I could try to fake it at home with a larger piece of paper since I have this much visual information. Yesterday this bush had me confused with trying to see how the branches overlap and how they continue across the paper. I had my small sketchbook and couldn’t draw small enough to have room on the paper for the red berries, since they are hanging away from the main stems.

Today might be my last chance to sketch outside for a few days because winter precipitation is coming our way. I’d go to the arboretum and work on my painting of the Chinese Paperbush, except last winter when it was in the 35* F. range, like today, the glass on my pallet cracked in the cold. So, my two choices for today are either bundle up and take my charcoal to the botanical garden like yesterday, or stay in and sketch a model horse.

Chinese Paperbush / unfinished

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The bush will bloom soon. I saw it last year at the VA. Tech Arboretum right across the parking lot from my apartment, but I had another painting started at the time, so I planned to paint it this winter. The arboretum is convenient  now, but I’m planning on moving again. I’m excited to try capturing this pretty bush while I have the opportunity.

There’s not many people walking in the arboretum. I  took my yard sticks along and taped my paint brushes to the sticks so I could stand back and paint ala Matisse. If anyone saw me do that they might think I was crazy. It actually made it a little easier to paint that way than it was to sketch it with charcoal from a normal  distance . I felt secluded from view between trees, too.

I need to go back tomorrow if it’s sunny and work on the bush again. The light didn’t last long but it was brightly lit for an hour.

To do the background, I went to the arboretum with my paints, pallet and pallet knife and mixed the colors in Plein air then came home and painted it from memory, with my paint brushes taped to yard sticks. I really am starting to enjoy the extended brushes.

It only took a couple days for my background  to dry. This is the traditional way of painting except for the extended brushes and thick paint in the background. I used my Maroger medium today, covering the whole canvas with plain medium and painting my branches into the medium, which is called, “painting in the couch”. The medium “couches” the paint. The old masters used some variation of Maroger medium and they also painted in the couch. It makes the canvas slick, so the paint flows nicely.

If you like the smell of oil paint you will love the smell of Maroger medium. If the idea of inhaling toxic fumes scares you, then Maroger medium is not for you. It has lead when properly made but there are different recipes. The lead in the medium won’t hurt you unless you eat it. Cooking up a batch of Maroger medium indoors could poison you. I love the stuff. It’s great for painting in plein air. When I paint at home I run my can fan, which is an industrial strength air scrubber. If my hands get sticky I just stop and wash my hands. I remember hearing stories about a guy who got lead poisoning in PA. cooking Maroger medium but mainly people at the Adamstown hat factory. That’s where the saying, “mad as a hatter” came from, lead poisoning. I feel saner than ever before in my life, so, it won’t make you sick if you use it safely.

Torch Lilies / mixed media

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Look what’s blooming like crazy in Jan! It’s so bright I used my florescent oil paint sticks. They have a big clump of these Torch Lilies at Norfolk Botanical Garden. A gardener told me they started to show buds a month ago then last week they really opened up!

It’s so nice to stand there sketching and take in the colors on a gray day like today, and tomorrow it’s supposed to rain, so I’m glad I got this sketch today. I did the watercolor background when I got home.

Windswept Trees / oil

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It’s raining here today so I enjoyed staying home and finishing this painting. I did the sketch weeks ago in plein air and painted at home ala Matisse, with my paint brushes taped to yard sticks, so I was standing back from the canvas and trying to control my brushes, which don’t always go where I want them to from a yard away.

I’m not going 100% modern on this painting since I used my Maroger medium and black to make the dark green grey of the trees. But I am going more modern by using my big brushes taped to yardsticks.

At art school, long ago, they told us to use black. The old masters used it, so it works ok if you use black like they did. And more modern artists, even Manet and others of his era used black successfully.  To make a black that isn’t dead they told us to mix equal parts Burnt Umber and Ultramarine Blue. The Ultramarine Blue is your darkest cool color and the Burnt Umber is your darkest warm color so you get a neutral black. If you need a warm or cool gray you can mix any other color into this black. We also were taught to use gray in glazes and if you layer warm  colors over cool colors, or cool over warm, after waiting for the first glaze to dry, you don’t get muddy colors but the viewers eye mixes the colors.

Sometimes you can’t just throw away the lessons of the old masters. I like to use the best ideas from the old and the new. Painting like Matisse, with the brush taped to a yardstick is fun and freeing. I’ll get out to draw and paint  in plein air again real soon, but I got distracted by bad weather and other fun art projects to do indoors. So, I was glad to finally finish this painting after waiting weeks for the background to dry.

Battery de Russy / charcoal and chalk / corrected and extended

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Funny thing about a woman that goes out alone to sketch, am I in danger or am I the danger? As an old white girl, I’m not usually  looked at as a suspect, but security is watching me.

Fort Monroe. It looks safe to me. Every time I’m there I see so many security cars go past me. It might be the same car again and again, I don’t know because I don’t pay it any mind. I’m just standing out there trying to sketch. Or I’m sitting in my car taking a break. Yesterday the security car pulled in behind my car and sat there for a few minutes. I thought he was running my plates. Then he left. Did he look me up? Did he find me on google? A couple times I saw a cop stop on the other side of the street and take a photo. I ignored him. I don’t know if he took my picture or not.

I chalk it up to people not seeing an artist sketch in public alone, so they don’t know what to think. Yesterday a guy (civilian) drove into the same empty parking lot I was parked in close to the battery and got out of his car. He asked me if it was ok to park there and I said,” I guess so.” He told me he wanted to take pictures and he walked over to the battery. I got in my car and took a little break.

A few times in my years of sketching in plein air alone, I thought perps were checking me out. I didn’t get robbed. Sometimes these characters talk to me but I’m not afraid of bad guys, so I’ll talk. Once I thought a perp was planning on robbing me but changed his mind when I saw him and didn’t act afraid. Then he saw I’m left handed. A lot of criminals are superstitious. Maybe my being left handed saved me that time, but I don’t like to push my luck and I didn’t go back to that spot in Richmond overlooking the James.

I wish one of those security guards at Fort Monroe would talk to me so I could better assess the situation. Should I finish this sketch? I kind of wanted to try to paint the battery. I wonder if they think I’ll try to go into the battery, which is off limits. I’m not interested in going in there. It looks spooky, but I’m not superstitious.

It might take some time for me to become a fixture there like I do at other places I hang around drawing. Maybe in the whole 400 year history of the fort no one has ever just hung around drawing. but a lot of people take photos. why don’t I just take a photo like everyone else? Taking a photo won’t help me improve my drawing skill like trying to draw the battery freehand will.

another beautiful view of the marsh at False Cape State Park / charcoal and chalk

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This spot is good because I can get off the road without stepping in the tall grass which is home to ticks chiggers and snakes. They have benches and overlooks where you can be safe out of the grass. The marsh is on both sides of the road for miles and it’s beautiful all the way, especially with the Fall colors.  This is the best time of year to see it but they close the road for 6 months so the humans don’t scare the migrating birds.

I’m getting better at riding my bike on the gravel road. I can avoid the bumpy parts. But I’m trying to think of a way to take paint in there on my bike so I can do it in color next year. I might fill up a book with charcoal sketches  before I decide what to paint. I could take my plein air gear and paint at the Back Bay visitor center when the roads are closed because it’s real pretty right there at the parking lot too.

You have two ways to get into False Cape from Virginia Beach. First, is the road through Back Bay which is closing Nov.1, then there’s the beach. You can get there by boat, but a 3 mile walk on sand then the 3 mile walk back out would be too much beach walking for me to enjoy. Plus, the cape is around 10 miles long, so I’ll never get to the end of it on foot. I’ll go back down the East Dike Rd. on my bike in the spring. Then the West Dike Rd. will be open too. I’ve only lived at the beach for one year, so I haven’t finished scouting the whole area. There might be roads I can find leading in from North Carolina. It’s not very far.

And this isn’t the only beautiful marsh here. I’ll ride my bike down the Cape Charles trail  as long as the weather stays mild. First Landing State Park with the Cape Charles trail is closer to home than Back Bay and False Cape, and open all year. There’s a pretty marsh at the end of that trail at 84th St. It goes on for a mile or so. I’ll never get tired of looking at the wetlands.

Bay Scape / oil

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Should I call this finished or should I paint a ship coming in? I have the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel in the painting. Should I add some pelicans on pilings? Maybe some happy little pelicans flying away in the sky?  Or a guy wind surfing?

I tried three times on the sky till I finally got something I can live with. The first time I tried to make a blend of lighter blue on the horizon to slightly darker blue over head without using glazes. I tried to make my blend with thick paint, blending the values wet instead of letting it dry and going over it a few times with glazes to get my blend. That didn’t work. I think blends are difficult.

Then I tried to do the sky with dots like Pointillism. That didn’t work either. I want to try Pointillism but I’m not sure about the proper technique. I’ll try Pointillism on an easier subject some time soon.

So then I tried to do clouds with some blue sky showing through and that looks better.  I used my Maroget medium and glazes on the sky. I like my clouds to look light and fluffy without hard edges. Now, how about that water? I don’t know, I might try again. I’m open to suggestions on it.

I took my painting supplies out to the beach at First Landing State Park a few times when it wasn’t too hot and not too crowded and mixed my colors there, but mainly painted it at home from sketches. Sand got on my painting but I got most of it off when the paint dried.

Bald Eagle after William Turner / charcoal and chalk

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This is my second try on a larger piece of sanded pastel paper. I think it looks better than the first one which I tried to draw on a smaller sketchbook. This time I took my easel and drawing board with the large paper  instead of holding a sketchbook in my hand like I did on the first try. It’s easier for me to work larger. Compare this sketch to my previous post and tell me if he looks better this time. I’m not sure if the proportions are exactly right, but not too far off.

I thought the sculpture was by David Turner but it was done by his dad, William. I can’t tell their work apart. They both make the most beautiful wildlife sculptures out there.

It’s great to draw the Turner guys’ sculptures. I think I see some kind of attitude in my bird’s face, but that could be my imagination because I was only trying to copy the bronze, not put my own personality into the drawing. With all that beauty out there for me to copy it takes the pressure off an artist to be “original” all the time. And copying some other artist’s masterpieces is improving my drawing skill slowly but surely.

Even if an artist tries to copy as closely as possible, they still put information about themselves into the drawing. I can’t avoid it. The savvy art viewer will see it. Know what I mean?