Plein Air Painting

"Being Truthful to the Moment"

I read that you return to paint some locations several times as you get to explore it in various lights and times of day. When I paint at the same location my paintings look very similar. Do you have suggestions about returning to a location and painting in a fresh way? 

--Cayucos Workshop Artist

Thank you for your question. It is one that I have been asked a number of times. The other question that seems to go with this one is don't you get bored with visiting the same locations? Both questions can be answered with the same answer.

On location I am excited to be in the air and ready to solve problems. It means being in the moment when nothing else matters.  I have a connection with my subject matter, the changing light and a goal that I call my intent. If I am in that mindful spot, my paintings will not look alike even though there is a similarity. The beauty of painting on location is that with given light conditions, different seasons and changes in the landscape due to a number of different reasons,  there will be differences.

Breaking my answer down even more concretely: 

I think of my location paintings as field studies. I am a student learning all I can before I take on the task of making a painting. With that freedom I can set my sights on a goal.. I have an intent. I don't consider field studies as unfinished work... all my plein air work is a "field study".

If I am working on color, my composition could be simple or complex but not the main target of my work. If I am getting to know a location I will do a lot of drawing and composing in my sketchbook using different formats.

After visiting a location the day before, I generally have a good idea of the colors families I will be working with. I have also explored the land I am working on and hopefully seen it as the day changed so I know the direction the sun will travel and the time I will have light vs running into early darkness due to valleys and canyons. I make an intention. It could be capturing the morning light as the sun comes over the mountains or how the trees shimmer in the afternoon light. How do I paint that? How do I compose the idea to make the shimmering trees the focus and yet a part of a larger thought? A painting that features the trees  versus a portrait of trees. After a couple field studies and time on location I am ready to create a larger painting. I know the time and day to go out and the format I want to use to express my idea. If there is complex drawing or designing involved I have done the footwork to understand what is needed.

Knowing that my paintings are for my library of knowledge and not a gallery or event.... or a painting demo to sell to students, sets me free from the idea of a product.   As you saw in the class, the demo is to teach the knowledge I have gained and impart it visually and verbally. Again painting with intention is the only way I know how to work that keeps the paintings fresh and keeps me honest with the situation at hand.


Adding to Your Library of Knowledge


Workshop Question:
Why do you use transparent paint with a mixture of odorless mineral spirits and alkyd based medium to start your paintings?

Why break down opaque paint when I have paint formulated to be transparent? The small amount of alkyd helps the paint set up on the canvas readily taking the next layer of paint. The bond created between the pigment and the canvas is stronger than thinning the paint with solvent alone. The under painting glows instead of becoming chalking looking when it dries. If I cannot get to painting the next layer. . .I still have the composition ready to go in the field the next day or the studio. The painting featured was painted with transparent pigments to start. I used transparent yellow oxide, ultramarine blue, quinacridone violet, quinacridone red, and viridian. There may also be a touch of a transparent red oxide. 

When I'm ready for opaque paint, I can add white or another opaque paint to change the paint from transparent to opaque.

This painting is featured as a transparent example in my book
Oil Painter's Solution Book, Landscapes, page 128-129. Following is the progression from location work to the completed painting. The painting was completed in the studio. It was more than a 4 day painting.... the studio work is where the layers were built up and the colors adjusted. It is SO important to me to use the same pigments while these large paintings develop. More on that in another blog post.

Day One on Location
Under painting 26 x 30 oil primed linen canvas 
Page 129

Day Two on location

Day 3 on Location 

Winter on Hollister Peak,  Private Collection