Plein Air: Under the Overpass at Nolan Creek

The first painting of the day was a fun color study of moving water in and out of the shadow. (~6x8" Acrylic on paper)
The first painting of the day was a fun color study of moving water in and out of the shadow. (~6×8″ Acrylic on paper)

After finally getting past the worst case of chiggers I’ve ever had (thank you Borden Lake), I took a jog near the house and crossed over Nolan Creek on the overpass. Normally, you can smell this creek hundred of feet before you get there even in a wind, but today it was clear and … well, reduced from pungent to semi-odoriferous.  Not ready to tackle another bout of chiggers, I decided to get my painting pack, get on the bike and look from spots along the sides of the creek’s rockbed.  I wore boots and jeans just in case (chigger deterrent) and looked a bit strange riding on my mountain bike dreaming it was horse, but it’s in the name of art, right?

Reference photo
Reference photo
Um, boots on a mountain bike.... yeah.
Um, boots on a mountain bike…. yeah.

Scanning the area, I saw some rapids moving from the shadows into the sunlight, which make a full spectrum of color and motion.  In the water shadows, I saw the steely-blue reflections of the sky countered by a dark green. As it moved into the light, it became a washed out yellow-green, but in the mid-shadow just it entered the sunlight, there was a translucent glow.  If I could capture that glow and the sense of motion, nothing else in the study mattered.

There’s a reason most painters avoid moving water. It’s dang hard to paint. But this is what distinguishes the great painter, such as Zorn and Saergent.

This is the second color study done of grasses on a bed of limestone rocks with the creek behind it. (~6×8″ Acrylic)

After feeling like I caught the last scene, I was about the head back when I saw this clump of grass casting a shadow on the rocks in the setting sun. The lit part of the grass seemed to sweep the light into the air against the dark background, like a dramatic pose. I figured I had a good hour of “good” light left and quickly painted the basic colors of the shadows and lit portions of the scene. It didn’t take long to work in some detail with a variety of brushes and “poof”, it was done.  It’s nice when that happens.

Reference photo of grassy scene
Reference photo of grassy scene

Another inspiring day!

Artist chat:

Palette: Ti white, payne’s grey, cobalt blue, curelean blue, cad yellow med, alizarin crimson.

It was a battle with the water.  The reflections in the shadows seems to defy logic being a midtone, but seeming to be a highlight next to the dark colors of the water.  Squint and look at the whole scene to see how “dark” it is compared to the light areas. As far as how to apply the brushstrokes to emulates moving water, I’m a rookie and hope you have advice for me! Keeping the banks relatively grey kept the emphasis on the focal point where the water moves into the bright yellow-green.

The clump of grass was pretty straight forward, but there is one note: I kept the background greens cooler and closer to a midtone, so the bright, warm sunlit side of the main clump had definition. Also the hint of dark shadows on the foreground clump were darker then any shadows in the background to punch it forward.  Hope this helps!

If you don’t see anything to paint, squint and look for the composition (darks contrasting lights).  More often the problem is that there’s too much to paint.  Keep it simple.


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