Guadalupe South Trail (Canyon Lake Dam, downstream): Plein Air


Guadalupe South Trail (below Canyon Lake Dam). Acrylic. 8x6ish
Guadalupe South Trail (below Canyon Lake Dam). Acrylic on paper. 8x6ish

After a bit of work on Saturday, I headed up to Canyon Lake, Texas to jog the dam a few times and brought my plein air pack just in case. Usually just downstream of a lake dam is a scenic area and sure enough there was one here too. I found a parking lot with “Nature Trail” marked on it and found fly fisherman taking up every space along a beautiful, clear river lined by cypress trees.  About 1/4 mile down the riverside trail, I found a place where the limestone crept out in an embankment, perfect for a painting. The sun was bright, temps perfect and I was ready. Upstream, a grassy bend in the river, lit up by the sun and was clearly the focus for a painting. I quickly drew in a simple plan to help guide me and when I looked up, the scene changed! Clouds?! Dangit! I sat there waiting for the sun only to see it get worse. No sun. So I shifted gears and went with an overcast painting to highlight the river rather than the sun lit grass. Twenty minutes into the painting and I was in a zone. I look up an instantly, sun!  There was just one cloud left. It was like a Hollywood movie where weather changes without warning. I’d gone too far with the painting to go back, so I used the scene for details and went with my color notes already put down. I’m so glad I did.  Later, the sun fell behind the trees to one side and I was in the shadows, similar to the overcast lighting. I took a picture for a final reference to add the last touches at home.

Reference picture to finish at home.
Reference picture to finish at home. I wanted to reduce the distraction of the tree lines and make the farthest treeline almost totally fade away. “When possible, simplify” – a plein air mantra.

Day 2:

A little further downstream. Acrylic on paper. 6x8ish
A little further downstream. Acrylic on paper. 6x8ish

Today was full sun and the fly fishermen (and women) were out in droves. In the afternoon, I planted myself just downstream of day 1 and became the “go-to” guy for fishermen to check and see if others were catching anything. I have no idea how that came about, but just so you know, the fishing was really slow. These young cypress trees were growing on the very edge of the limestone embankment and really stood out against the background trees and green lawns. The intention was to add a fisherman into the painting, but they kept moving around.  It was a perfect scene for it too, since the water was calm in the foreground producing a great reflection of them beside the trees. Next time I’ll use my iPhone to get a pic and use that as a on-sight reference in order to make them “stand still”. Fun day.

Artist Chat: Simplifying

This weekend I chose to simplify. It’s hard. When you sit down, there are a million details and all of them seem important for the scene.  Day 1 was rough.  I think over half of the time, I spent unpainting what was in the background only to paint it back without thinking moments later. Eventually, I just faded out the farthest background completely with a cool shade of gray and all the sudden the foreground snapped into focus. Day 2 I took out a big bushy brush to block in everything making it impossible to get detailed. I made me think “Do I really need this?” before each step. I was definitely out of my comfort zone, but it was worth it! Next time you’re out there, try it!  Decide beforehand what your center of interest is (small brush), and what’s not important to it (big brush). It may not produce that “finished painting” look, but if you’re out there to do a study that the time to try.


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