Friday, March 25, 2011

Lions and Lambs

Spring is here. Its snowing every other day...March came in like a lamb and is leaving like a lion. Its now that in-between season. Every other day snow and ice change to water and mud.  Rubber boots are good footwear for this time of year! 
In South Berwick, Maine the snow disappeared from the open fields this week and the farmers were out and about on their tractors. Subtle hints of green were showing in the golden grasses.

 It was a typical New England spring day. In minutes it went from warm and sunny to chilly and cloudy.

We headed out to paint a nearby farm as we knew we only had a couple of hours before the next snow storm moved in.  Marcus drove to the golf course parking lot where we set up in an open sunny spot next to the car. 
As I was opening my easel a big ominous cloud bank started to move in on the western horizon. Marcus quickly got down to business sketching. He kept his back to the wind, the sun kept him warm.

I sketched the scene in charcoal.

I made notations with watercolors. 6x8 on 98 lb. mix media paper.

 I needed to face the sun to keep the glare off my panel and palette.

I made two more charcoal sketches.
I didn't have a canvas to paint a panorama, but that's not a problem with a sketch book. I just draw the size and shape I want my picture to be. That's why I love them, they are so versatile.   
3x7 watercolor on 98 lb. mix media paper 
Today I planned to paint my oil sketch in sensitive grays. 

I usually have an objective when I go out to paint.  I'm currently teaching a class on color so I wanted to use colors and relationships we are studying.

The wind was blowing steadily now, bringing that weather change in from the west...

The light kept getting paler and cooler.

I placed the color notes quickly and kept moving. 

Soon a thin sheet of clouds covered the sky with just small bits of blue peeking through.  

With the sun gone the temperature quickly dropped. This year it feels like a real old fashioned spring with chilly nights and warmer days.  The sun is bringing out the red buds on the tree branches and mud season is truly here. Crocuses are in bloom in on the south side of my house. It may not feel like it now but before we know it everything will soon be green! 
       6x8 Charcoal & watercolor on 98 lb. mix media paper. 


Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring Fever

Its happened ! Even here up north where we still have 3 feet of snow in the woods and all over our was 52 today and the snow is almost gone from the marshes...

On the Mousam River in Kennebunk, ME the high tide left bits of ice stranded up on the edge of the marsh. The open ocean is just on the other side of that small peninsula.

I decided this afternoon was perfect for sketching. It was so beautiful I wanted to go to as many locations as I could. 

When we stopped at the Rachel Carson marshes in Kennebunk it was low tide.  

It so nice to be out when its  peaceful and calm. There was just a hint of breeze coming up the mouth of the river from the ocean.

Sketching with charcoal on multimedia paper is my latest thing. I like to try different materials and mediums. I'm going to paint these sketches with watercolors back in my studio.

The tides this winter changed the shoreline of the river. Small islands are forming along one edge. Nice shapes...I'm going to paint these for sure! 

Sketching trips like this are great.  I get to scout old and new locations, see the changes and see what catches my eye.  My equipment and supplies are so compact I can carry them in one hand. 

I am a student of the sketching /drawing school..I can never sketch or draw enough.  It is such a liberating activity... free of the pressure to have to make something...

...and I end up really seeing things, sketching them over and over and seeing them differently each time...   

You get to to know your subject intimately, all the nuances of light, weather, temperature, chroma, value... 

It becomes something of yours...something beyond a depiction of a place.  

Marcus drove us around on this sketching expedition. We were traveling instinctively. He turned down a road that took us to the end of the peninsula we earlier saw from the marshes.

At low tide you could walk out to Strawberry Island.

I set up my paints for a quick oil sketch of the sun on the water.

Marcus sketched leaning against the side of the car.

The challenge of this situation was the back lighting and unbelievable reflection on the water.  It was blinding.
I wanted to do a small sketch with just yellow, red, blue and white and mix all my lovely sensitive grays from them.  I'm teaching a color class and want to show them what a limited palette can do.

The last stop on our wander was the town dock in Kennebunkport.

The parking lot was empty. In summer this place is packed with trucks. It was quiet, the harbor was empty, almost all the lobster boats were dry dock somewhere.
 The tide was coming in and the moon was rising.  It feels like spring.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Traveling, Sketching & Painting in the Great Outdoors

When I arrive at my painting location I always grab my sketch book and start to look around. 
After a bit of wandering something usually grabs my eye so I stop and set up my gear. If its at all possible I like to paint near my car, then I don't have carry a bunch of stuff and I can set up in minutes and get started.

I do two or three sketches right away. I use ink, gray markers, charcoal and now my latest newest sketching tool is a mechanical pencil! I love how smoothly it moves over the surface of the paper. 

I paint in watercolors, acrylics and oils. I learn a lot by painting the same subject in different mediums. 

After I do several sketches I like, I usually pick one and use that one as the "map" for my oil painting.

It isn't unusual for me to go home after a plein air outing and paint a watercolor after I've finished an oil painting on location. 

I think the most important thing I've learned from painting in plein air is that my eyes always see everything differently than the way a camera does.

I never got into a habit of painting from photographs so when I decided to paint landscapes I just went out side to do it.

It was a shock to go outside at first. I didn't have any painting equipment so I just grabbed an aluminum easel from my studio and threw my paints in a canvas bag and lugged the whole thing out on location.

When I saw the potential of painting outside, and thought I might really like it,  I broke down and bought the cheapest gear I could find.  I found a Julien french easel on sale for half price.  

Little did I know I would become totally hooked on plein air and I would only want to paint outdoors !

I didn't sketch when I first painted en plein air.  I was always in such a hurry, afraid the light  would change and I'd better grab it fast.   
At some point I started sketching. 

The sketches evolved from a way to get familiar with a location, to a way of seeing the location intimately, to seeing the sketch as a unique part of the whole outdoor process and a finished statement in its own right. 

I went from painting exactly what I saw, to interpreting what I saw, to transforming what I saw...

I really like to go out and paint in all kinds of weather and lighting conditions...

I look at how other painters handle winter scenes, lighting conditions, rainy weather... 

I especially like seeing how artists painted the same or similar landscapes  that I paint...

So of course I love looking at any of the great painters who lived in or came to paint in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.

And I love looking at the Russian painters work as they  painted some great winter scenes...

They painted some snow scenes that make my locations along the coast look like a temperate climate... 

I'll often be on a location and think of another painter who painted long ago in the exact same spot I'm standing in... once I was in the White Mountains looking for a place to paint so I pulled off into a road side rest area to look around.  I glanced up at the mountains above me and saw a totally familiar sight, but I knew I'd never been there before.  As I stood there staring I realized I'd seen a painting of the scene in front of me that had been painted in that exact spot 100 years ago...