Monday, September 1, 2008

En Plein Air

This last Sunday, I joined the nice folks from the Missouri Plein Air Painters' Association as they painted at the Johnson-Shields Recreation Area along the Mississippi River. I chose to look across the river and paint the bluffs along the other side that make up the west side of Alton, IL (see above). This was my second time actually using my pastels outdoors. Usually, if I draw outside, I will make a value study with pencil which will then be turned in to a painting in the studio. However, as with any painting, one of the challenges is to decide what message you want to convey - what is the painting's story? In this instance, there are actually quite a number of homes along the top right of the bluff, the Great River Road runs along the base (and is often flooded when the river rises more than 3 or four feet!), and there is a whole lot of industry to either side of the section I painted. I ended up deciding that it was the bluff itself that drew me to paint that particular location, and so everything else had to be simplified. A huge smoke stack, a conveyor belt with a big pile of gravel, and telephone poles were taken out from the left, and just to the right is a huge section of grain elevators and a gaudily painted riverboat casino.
But that day it was the cliff. When I arrived at about 10:00 am, the protruding parts of the bluff were in sunlight, and the rest in shade. However, by the time I set up, decided what to attack, and found my vine charcoal, I could see that the rest of the bluff face was slowly entering the sunshine. Therefore, instead of starting with the sky as I usually do, I set about quickly putting in the lights and darks of the bluff before the light changed too much. The houses went in last. I saved them because I wasn't sure I wanted to add them, since I don't usually put manmade structures in my landscapes. However, the bluff was just a bluff without them, and I think they make a pretty good addition - a spot of color if nothing else - and it gives the viewer more details about this particular bluff. Without the homes, it could be any bluff. By the time I left at noon, the painting was as you see it. I'd give it about a B-.
While the result may not be my favorite, the experience was fantastic. As my schedule allows, I plan to join these guys every Sunday, although it will probably, in reality, only be about once each month. I'll keep y'all posted!
Keep stretching those boundaries!