It was cool and sunny today with no big wind, so much nicer than yesterday for your plein air artist.
I tried to find a place in Portsmouth that was recommended to me but couldn’t find the right road so I came back to the beach and went on down to Stumpy. I walked off the path about 50 ft. towards the swamp and sat on a mossy root that was out of the muck a little and sketched. No one could see me. I wouldn’t go off the path except it’s been cold so I thought I’d be safer from things that bite.
The background trees were sunlit and the closer trees were mostly shaded. There was a little ice on the water. I stayed for over an hour to get this sketch. I might try to do a watercolor there some time while it’s still winter but I’d also like to go back to the bent tree and try again with pastels on a big paper.
I counted 4 great blue herons on my way out and an equal number of photographers. I bet Stumpy is popular with bird watchers.
Painters and poets, we all reveal ourselves through our work. When I look at this I think oh no! If there’s an art savvy shrink in the room they’ll be able to peel the layers of my personality down all the way to my subconscious which is represented here by a few inches of stagnant swamp water. I would advise you that even if you’re wearing hip boots you could sink in and get stuck in the muck.
It’s almost like feeling undressed in public when you feel like your life is shown in a painting. People who I don’t know will get to know me well.
That’s why I don’t feel the need to express my emotions through my painting. Even if I’m only trying to represent nature as accurately as I can it’s still all me there. Get 100 plein air artists to paint this scene and none will look like my painting.
This close up shows some Spanish moss on the right which I blobbed in some lines of dark green and very light green then scribbled through it with my palette knife, and some orange cypress needles done with my modified fan brush, some bark done with the modified fan brush, and some background trees painted with regular brushes taped to yardsticks.
This close up shows some Spanish moss at the top of the painting. It reminds me of a valence because I worked at sewing for most of my life. I made a lot of curtains and slipcovers but never anything as beautiful as a Spanish moss valence, so delicate, airy, graceful, and yet scary and spooky. I’d take it home and glue it to a cornice for my apartment but it probably has tons of tiny microscopic bugs in it that would come out and bite me. I’m afraid to pick it up when it’s on the ground.
This close up shows a lot of layers of paint. So many I can’t even count. Some in the background, middle ground, foreground and some yellow leaves on black sticks on top of all the rest.
It might seem like I painted every detail but I actually skipped a lot of things that I decided the painting didn’t need, lichens on the branches, stick bushes in the water and dead branches on the ground, dead leaves on the water etc.
The painting fell down again and picked up cypress needle dirt but that will brush off when it dries.
This close up shows my attempt to make sunlight on top of reflections because I could see the reflections through the sunlight. This is a calm place in a busy painting so the art viewer’s eye will find a place to rest. The eye will also go to rest in the background. So, hopefully, the Spanish moss and the orange cypress needles will keep the viewer’s eye going from background to foreground, and around the canvas again.
There’s a slight glare on the painting because my Maroger medium makes it a little shiny. I tilted it forward and that helps but the glare is still showing on the left.
I’m excited about the progress I made in the past few days and it still needs a lot more work on the bottom of the canvas. There’s a bush on the left that I tried to sketch in a couple times already but then painted over because it wasn’t working. It has yellow leaves on thin black branches and some of the leaves cover the main cypress branch. I hope I can paint that in tomorrow. It could add some brightness to the left.
One thing about painting in plein air that most people don’t know is that you have to pick where you want your sunlight to show up and where you want shadows. So many artists think they have to paint fast so they can capture the changing light but it doesn’t have to be a rush rush thing. If I hang around there for 2 hours because that’s how long my concentration lasts, then it’s time for lunch or something, the light changes a lot over that time. Sometimes the light is perfect on the branch. Then it’s perfect on the Spanish moss or another part of the painting. When you keep going back to the same location day after day you get to know when the light is best for a certain part of the scene. Then you can plan how to use the light to create your focal points where you want them. The artist has to decide. If you’re copying a photo you don’t get those choices. The art viewer will never know part of it was painted at 9 and part was painted at 11.
I tried twice to start painting the water with reflections at home and both times it was so not good. I just can’t mix the right colors if I’m not there. This close up shows my 3rd try from today and I think this will work because I did it from life not from memory.
I was very excited to get that shiny wet mud painted in. I did that mess with my palette knife, scrumbling off white and a couple shades and tints of burnt umber in with it.
I hope the sun comes out again tomorrow so I can continue the beams of light over the water. My water should be dry enough tomorrow that I can put a layer of Maroger medium on top of it without smearing the reflections I painted today. The plan is to do a real thin glaze of white on top of the water going out on the same angle as the shadows from the trees. If I can make the glaze thin enough so that some of the reflections show through maybe I can make the effect of sunlight on water. If it works it will be an accomplishment for me.
After I’m all finished with the water I’ll have to continue the cypress branch sticks all the way down to the bottom of the canvas with bright orange foliage over the water. Then I have to do the Spanish moss last. So, maybe next week I can finish this. It depends on the weather. They’re calling for rain on Mon.
I started painting the swamp water at home but I’ll need to do more work on it before I can finish the branches that cross the water. Those thin branches will need another coat of paint and some orange cypress needles. (not sure if you call them needles but they don’t look like leaves either.)
Tomorrow I’ll work on the mud. I’m looking forward to that. It has bright sunlight going across it on an angle with shadows from the trees. Then the sunlight continues across the water with tree shadows continued. That’s still a lot of work before I put the orange in the fore ground over top of the water. So that’s still a lot more layers of paint.
When I got there today and compared what I had finished on the background last week to the colors of nature I wanted to warm up my background trees so I used my modified fan brush and lightly brushed in some new bark colors.
It was fun to do the highlights on the leaves also with my modified fan brush.
It was windy but the overlook is somewhat sheltered and my painting didn’t fall off the easel. I was standing way back from the painting with my brushes taped to yardsticks and didn’t have to worry because sometimes when it’s windy I have to keep a hand on the canvas. It was cold too.
Then when I was packing my things to go home I had the painting propped up on the deck and it fell down! It didn’t leave any paint on the deck but it did pick up some of the fallen cypress needles which stuck to the wet paint. You can see the dirt in the photo. when it dries the dirt will brush off.
This is my modified fan brush next to a blob of brown paint on my palette. I cut the bristles zig zag. It’s great for painting in 15 dots and a smear all at once, or rough lines. I use this brush all the time. It’s one of my favorites. You can get so many textures and they’re easy and fast to make.
That’s how soupy I like my paint for building up layers. I add a few drops of terpenoid and mix it in well with a palette knife.
I’m excited about my progress on the swamp background. It needs more work because I didn’t paint the Spanish moss in the background trees yet. I started on the foliage in the middle ground and didn’t start on the edge of the water which is in the foreground. The cypress branch in the foreground is almost lost because I painted background trees right over it in places. I can bring it back. That’s one thing I enjoy about oil paints. You can start out with thin glazes and slowly build up more opaque thicker paint and cover your previous lines.
I’m taping my brushes to yard sticks and standing way back to paint. There are places the brush went out of control but it’s ok. I’m getting better at controlling the brush from 3 feet back.
Here’s a close up of some background trees with a texture added to represent bark on the closer trees. It was fast and easy to paint that texture with my modified fan brush.
I don’t know how well my grays show up in this photo. The grays don’t look flat to my naked eye. This is something that a lot of artists don’t enjoy, all the gray in the landscape around here in the winter, but I like it and I’ll try to capture it. The way to keep your grays nice is to mix equal parts burnt umber and ultramarine blue to make black. Add more brown and you get a warm black. Add more blue and you get a cool black. Then to get the pearly effect you alternate warm grays and cool grays, lighter grays and darker grays. You can add some gray to your background green and it makes that green recede compared to the green in the foreground which doesn’t have any gray added. Knowing how to work with grays can help give the illusion of depth in a painting. I mean if you’re interested in creating that illusion, but I realize it’s an effect not appreciated in modern art and every artist does their own thing. I bet out of the few thousand students that ever attended YAA I might be the only one following the old ways and I am trying to mix it up a little by taping my brushes to yard sticks and sometimes playing around with mono prints.
This is only the first step in a big job, my underpainting. I lugged my stuff out to the overlook twice and stayed for around 2 hours both times, didn’t finish my underpainting yet. Maybe I can work on the bottom of the canvas at home. That’s the swamp water with reflections of trees, barely sketched in.
I took my yard sticks and taped my brushes to them so I could keep my brush strokes looser and try to paint like my favorite artist, Matisse. Standing way back from the canvas helped me visualize where to paint the big brown branch which will be the focal point of this painting. It’s easier to see the painting if you stand back. It’s fun but the brushes go out of control a lot. A few people came out on the overlook. If they saw the yardsticks with paint brushes taped on them they didn’t say anything.
It got a little windy and cloudy so I quit for today. The overlook is protected from the wind so it wasn’t a problem. It’s supposed to rain tonight and be colder tomorrow. I might be able to go back out there tomorrow, but I don’t know. Colder is better as far as I’m concerned because less people will be on the trail and I can take the cold weather better than the horrible heat and humidity of summer around here.
This could take some time to finish depending on the weather, and I don’t want to go over there to paint on Sat. or Sun. but I’m glad I got a start.
You can find all of my cypress knee models in the photos below.
This is my latest place to hang around sketching. Look how tiny the knees are in this picture. I could never see them well enough to draw them if I had to copy a photo. Maybe if I was a better photographer…
You can see the pollen on the water but it’s not swirling so nicely any more since it rained. A slight breeze is keeping the pollen moving and changing designs all the time.
. This is the tree I drew last but it was cloudy that day. If you compare this photo to my sketch you’ll see I didn’t draw all of the sticks around the base of the tree.
I think this tree is pretty because it has Spanish moss in the branches and another kind of moss is going up the trunk.
This photo shows a knee I didn’t sketch and pollen clumping up at the water’s edge.
Next week I might go back to the botanical garden to draw. I’m missing some spring flowers. The knees will be the same all year.
This spring I have a new attitude. Every day I feel so lucky. I’m so thankful for my good health and every day I’m glad I ain’t dead yet. I used to take it all for granted. Does that mean I’m getting old or is this the new “normal”?
It seems so ironic to me that I’ve lived like a hermit for years and finally got used to it. Now, I wish I could help the society that rejected me. I can’t hurt it because there’s no one around for me to infect even if I was an unknowing carrier of a deadly virus, but I’m sure I’m not. Society rejected me. We don’t need to go into all that. That’s why I’m an artist. It’s ironic because once I took a personality test that said I’m an extrovert and here I am reclusive. I don’t see myself as an introvert or an extrovert but dead center between the two. I like people, I’m just not trying to be with them. That’s working out for me now.
ok. enough philosophizing, back to the important job of moving.
Yesterday was cloudy and cool. I was glad to get out and sketch because today it’s raining. There’s another great view of the swamp with a bench off the main trail where I’m planning to paint. The cypress knees have a lot of lichens and a lot of the knees look like fingers pointing up. This is only the first sketch. The painting might not happen until next winter, I don’t know. I also want to sketch Red Bud trees this spring and I’m packing to move. I’ll need around 30 cypress knees sketched in advance so I can arrange them in a swamp composition. This is only the first three. The chalk on this sketch is the lichens.
Every time I move, which is pretty often, I give away or throw away paintings that I’m tired of looking at. Last year I put a painting on the bench at the elevator in my building with a sticker on it that said “free”. I was glad to see the painting got grabbed up quick. Then another day I left the building and noticed a 6 pack of Corona with two missing sitting on the bench. I left the beers there because I’m not a drinker of alcoholic beverages. The beer was still there when I got back later and I wondered if the person that took my painting wanted me to take the beer, so I took it. I did drink a couple of the Coronas when I moved and enjoyed them. I mean, I can drink, I’m just not really into it.
A year went by and now I’m moving again because the apt complex is clearing everyone out for renovations. Oh well. I still have this one beer and funny, it’s a Corona because now the Corona virus is on the news all the time. So, if I drink this, I’ll be immune, right? (just kidding) Are you worried about catching the Corona virus? I don’t think I’ll get it. It seems like every year there’s some new health scare to worry us. I remember years ago when a lady at work got mad at me for saying there’s no chance I’d ever catch HIV. Then there was also bird flu, swine flu, SARS, Ebola, mad cow, etc. I don’t even get a flu vaccine, but I’m not exposed to many viruses, and only had a couple colds in the past 17 years.
Since I finished my magnolia painting, I’ve been treating myself to the foods I love as a reward. I bought this little chocolate dome at Wegmans. It was worth the $5. It’s chocolate mousse on top of a soft chocolate cookie and covered in soft dark chocolate icing with a chocolate curl. That thing was delicious.
This is rhubarb. My Dad used to make a great rhubarb custard pie that I always missed. Last year I found the recipe online and it was so good, way better than the rhubarb strawberry pies you can buy. Darn it, I’ve already packed my recipe box, but I think I can look it up again.
When I got there around 8AM, the trees in the background had that nice broken light but the cypress knees in the foreground were in the shade. I had to start with the background and by the time I worked my way across the painting marking in light and shadow areas it all changed and the knees had good light, so I could continue defining light and shadows in that area. The light wasn’t good on any area very long and I work slowly so this isn’t reality but kind of idealistic.
I hear so many Plein air painters talk about capturing a moment and I can’t do it. Instead, I like to think I’m stopping time. It’s not really magic but an illusion. It seems like if I had to capture a moment I’d have to paint fast. The way that works for me is to slow waaaay down. Keep going back to the same place at the same time of day and the light will be the same. You can have 50 hours of 9AM to 10AM over the course of weeks, or, in my case months. Imagine that! If I’m there for 50 hours off and on, I’ve collected 50 hours of me not moving much or working fast, but standing in that beautiful spot. It’s mine boggling. It’s like breaking the laws of time and art and getting away with it.
I say I’m breaking the laws of art because it’s obvious I spent the time on this painting and the overlords in the art world don’t like to see a painting “labored” over. They think art should be fast and fun not hard to do and time consuming. They don’t understand a labor of love. They don’t understand that it’s good for your self esteem to work hard on something and finish it.
Also, I’m using my small brushes. oh no.
This cypress knee is the star of the show. the other parts are back up singers and musicians. Darn, this photo looks a little blurry.
This clump is working as a secondary focal point. It’s good to have something happening in the shadows because the viewer’s eye likes to rest in a shadow then go back around to the brighter contrasts in the light.
There’s another great view in the swamp I’d like to try to paint. The cypress knees are half green because they’re covered with lichens.
A lady walking on the trail behind me stopped to take this photo and emailed it to me. I think it’s better than my photos. My painting kind of blends in with the scene.
I’m so excited! It was nice out this morning and I made some good progress on it! I’m almost done! Just another week or so, after all this time! I think it was in Nov. I started drawing for the painting. And for so many years I wanted to capture the scene.