Plein Air: “Keeping it Simple” at Miller Springs

Foxglove sketch. (~6x8"ish) on acrylic paper.
Foxglove sketch. (~6×8″ish) on acrylic paper.
stephenwilliamsonprickypear
Prickly Pear in Golden Field (6×8 acylic on paper).

Perfect weather, hiking sandals, a pack full of paints and ready… it was time to get back and continue my Miller Springs series of sketches.  This time I had a single goal: “keep it simple”, by that I mean something with a clear subject that I know I can paint in an hour.  If you feel unmotivated, here’s an article I read from the website I practice figure and portrait drawing that will help:   “New Year’s Practice Resolution”… which links to this article (also great): “Focused Practice: an Exercise for Real Improvement in 33 Days”. By the way, this is an amazing website! It’s deserves any promotion I can give it.

I went out looking for anything “simple”, and about 1/2 mile from the trail head ran into this Foxglove flower.  It’s very noticeable and often found along a road-side (look for bright, thick multiple flowers along a stalk). I thought, “This is simple, and I can keep it under an hour”, then questioned, “What if people see me painting flowers?. I’d have to hand in my man-card, but wait, I can explain this is a “man-plant”. It contains a powerful medicine called digitalis that can make your heart feel like thunder in your chest… man plant. See? Do I get to keep my manliness?”.  (Side fact: it’s also how modern drugs began, and yes, I talk to myself).

Just as I finishing up about to add some final details, an old man came hiking around the corner looking at me curiously, about to say something and realized he lost his truck keys. He had that look of doom. I packed up and we backtracked trying to remember where he went (lots of cross trails) and there was his key, in the middle of the path.  Doom to elation in two seconds flat. Good feeling. I never lost my man card.

I wandered off to find a different “simple” scene and came across the “perfect” scene for the day. It was around 6:30 and the setting sun was reflecting off the golden grass that resembled a field of oats, highlighting their tips where the seeds were. A cactus patch was right in the middle, back-lit from the sun but lit up on the shadow side with the reflections from the golden grass. Plus, it had a dark background with the woods close by.  I popped out me gear, saying, “Keep it simple, keep it simple.” and just as I sat down to make the first sketches, a enormous horde of gnats discovered me.  They were in my ears, nose and always trying to get to my eyes.  Not willing to give up this scene, I squinted and used the eyelashes to keep them out, blew them out of my nose like a whales blowhole and tried not to swat unless they were actually going inside my ear. I’m stubborn and this really was a fantastic scene.  After about 40 minutes, I decided I’ve achieved “simple” and packed up faster than I ever have before.

Despite the gnats, it was a great day and although I can see how I could have done more, I achieved what I went out there for “simple”.  Now, time to get some bug spray in my painting kit.

Artist Chat:

Palette: cad yellow, cobalt blue, alizerin crimson, mars black, titanium white (acrylics)

I drew sketches with an HB graphite pencil lightly while looking for values that were either “dark”, “middle” or “light” in order to emphasis the focus (the main group of flowers).

For the Foxglove: I blocked in color quickly (5 min) keeping it simple to about these three values, starting with the “dark” background, “middle” leaves and background flowers and then punched in “light” flowers.  I kept everything just about black or white in case I needed an extra dark or white later.  This base dried quickly. Then I mix up thick paint and carefully, but boldly apply details in the petals or leaves in as few strokes as possible.

Cactus patch and grasses: same process applied for this one, but I had enough time to get a bristle brush and flick on grass, lightly loading the brush and grazing the paper against the bristles. The foreground highlights were added with a liner brush for the “oat seeds” and cactus highlights.

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6 thoughts on “Plein Air: “Keeping it Simple” at Miller Springs”

  1. Thanks, Maria! It’s always a fun adventure out there. I think a lot of what I love about painting outdoors is the unexpected things that happen that make the experience so sweet. (gnats and all)

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