Plein Air and Goals
8 x 10
The weather was perfect on Friday morning so I went out painting in Kananaskis with fellow paint- obsessive, Bobbi Dunlop. We set up at Elbow Falls, ignored them, and painted the river. Actually, we’d intended to paint the waterfalls but the path to the viewing area was roped off because of the amount of ice on it. It didn’t matter. The river was glorious.
Over the past two weeks, I’d made a list of do’s and don’ts for plein air painting to help me avoid the common pitfall: overworking what should be fresh and swift. Among other things, I’d vowed to leave the darks as simple, largely-transparent passages; to place the focal point quickly, before the light changed; and to use big brushes till the end.
I’ve talked before about the benefit of having a goal for each painting, and that list making reminded me to follow my own advice. Sometimes, in the excitement of starting a new piece and deciding on technical issues like colour, composition, and brushwork, it’s easy to forget this step, but having a goal is crucial to figuring out when a painting is done. When you’ve achieved your goal, it’s finished. Paint beyond that and you may be gilding the lily.
The goal for this painting was to capture the crisp, clear light of the winter sun on the river and to do justice to the cool shadows cast by the trees on the bank. I kept the tonal range high to allow the highlights to pop, and made sure that the colour of the river was warm and pure. The snow shadows were the most fun as I could explore a wide variety of blues: warm, cool, greyed and pure. While it was incredibly tempting to keep tweaking tree shapes, I forced myself to stop when I felt that I’d achieved my initial goal. This was not a painting about trees and I gave myself a mental handslap when I reached for a small brush to “just do one more little thing…”
The weather turned cold and windy and the blue sky changed to white before this painting was fully done, but I had some key colours placed everywhere so I could get it finished with my goal intact.
Maybe the next one will be a painting about trees.