Plein Air and Sudio: Live Oaks and an Old Barn (Weimar, TX)

 

An old barn and live oaks in Weimar, TX (5×7″ oil)
 
This is a scene of huge live oak trees surrounding a barn just outside of Weimar, TX. With about an hour and a half left of sunlight, I quickly sketched this scene. I really liked the way the oak trees curved up around the barn, sort of framing it. 

Here’s the five minute value sketch to organize my plan of highlighting the barn making it a focal point: 

 

value sketch
 
And here is the scene:

 

actual scene (reference pic)
 
As you can see, I decided to darken the sky and brighten up the right side of the barn. Doing the pre-sketch was hard since I was in a hurry, but past frustrations have taught me those five minutes spent with the gray markers will almost cut the painting time in half and save a lot of frustration. 

About half of the way through, a random dog came up to me out of nowhere, barked and pooped ten feet from me before taking off. So, I spent the remaining time with that fresh scent. About an hour in, a man pulled up and said he lived on the ranch across the street and invited me to check out his huge oak trees. I put in a final 10 minutes, packed up and met him at his house. On the way I saw the dog in the road to the house with what looked like a grin. Ha. Mr. Janeske drove me around his property and on top of the hill is a huge, spanning oak grove with distant hills and trees behind it. Amazing scene! I told him I’ll be back for sure when the weather is right (it’s going to rain for the next week). I’m excited! 

Update: I worked on the large scale version of this study yesterday at the New Ulm art festival and it sold before I left! Here’s an iPhone pic of the finished painting (I need to get a better pic later). 

“Ol’ Barn on Sedan St” oil, 16×20
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Plein Air: Weimar, TX (“Gracie’s Lantanas”)

 

  

picture taken indoors (no glare)
 In my grandmother’s backyard is a Lantana bush that was just about knee height with 4 fours in 2012. I had planted a garden there to fend off boredom while I went through chemo and left this little sprig alone. It obviously loves it there and is now a 6′ by 5′ bush sprawling out everywhere.

It was a perfectly lit, halfway out of the shadows, which really made the flowers and leaves pop out. Although painting flowers doesn’t really inspire me, it’s perfect to learn from. The flowers are pure, saturated color, which makes it easier to mix up greyed out (or “muted”) color for the leaves. I decided to go darker for the shadows, rather than try to suggest much there. My main goal was to learn brushwork.

Hopefully, I’ll be comfortable enough to start doing some landscape studies with old barns and cattle. The spring greens and golden color of the molting oak trees are hard to resist!

Plein Air: Nolenville, TX with Oils!

 

“Roadside Daisies” 5×7″ oil
 
This will be a quick note, but I got so tired of fighting with the acrylics drying and fading yesterday, I decided to test out some water soluble oils with a simple subject. It’s a lot different, but I love not having to rush to get the paint smeared on only to return to a dried pile of mix. I may return to acrylics at some point when I need to, but it’s a nice break. It seems that the oil blends so much better, I may be able to reach another level of expression in the subtle variations of cool and warm grays. I found a way to store wet panels very cheaply, and will show this in the next post. Can’t wait to get back out and try again!!

Plein air: “Less is More” Harker Height, TX

  

The scene: is of a pasture in Harker Heights, TX in the springtime with a herd of cattle and a tree line in the distance. The sky was cloudy only letting in a few seconds of sunlight, highlighting the cows. I had to be fast and try to memorize what it looked like. 

The experience: I’d just had a chat with a good artist friend about the “less is more” theme in painting. A good composition, meaning the right design and technical aspects, can hold a painting together so that it just looks right, even without the details. If you are on Instagram, look up @jeremyduncan and you’ll see much better examples of this concept. In the process of building a painting, this simplified version of the scene is the foundation to build on, exactly like the framework of a house. If the foundation of the painting is bad, no amount of detail is going to improve it or translate the emotional sense of the scene. In fact, details on top of a poor foundation will look overworked and leave the viewer confused, asking, “What is this about?” or “What am supposed to feel?”. On the other hand, well placed detail on top of a solid foundation will leave a clear sense of what it feels like to actually be there. 

I’m really looking forward to doing many more, similar “less is more” sketches!

Plein Air: Rocky outcrop near Westcliff, CO

  
The scene: in an area about an hour north of Westcliff, I hiked along a ridge line to the top of a mountain with this rocky outcrop. In the background are the Sangre de Christos mountains. It’s a striking view to look at with the rocks in the foreground in contrast to the distant blues of the far mountain range, giving you a sense of just how tiny you are and yet honored to be even a small part of it. 

The experience: I’d hoped the sketch would be something I could give to my friends while visiting them at their mountain home, but it needed a lot more touching up back in the studio (the image you see above). A bit frustrated that the sketch wasn’t what I’d hoped for, I packed up and headed back for dinner not realizing my wallet had fallen out. Unfortunately, the spot I painted from was about two feet wide with about a twenty foot drop off on one side and a large, thin crevice from about ten to thirty feet on the other. The next day, I hiked back up and found the wallet at the base of the cliff with my credit cards and drivers license missing. There’s zero possibility of another person stealing it because of the remoteness of this place. What happened was a mystery at first… Then we discovered chew marks on my leather wallet. Pack rats living in the rocks likely took those cards into the crevices. If they wanted to take my identity and order an year’s supply of mouse food, they now have the finances to do it. I’m certain they left the chew marks as evidence just to mock me. : )

Before heading back to CO Springs, I saw a view from the owner’s porch that seemed like a great composition with golden grass leading between the cedars and pines towards the view of the mountains. Deciding to go big (16×20), a couple of hours later it actually turned into a decent sketch that they really liked. 

  
Turns out they had wanted a painting of that scene for a while and the colors in this sketch matched the colors in their home. Some things are just meant to be. They’ve now named the rocky outcrop with the devil-rats Williamson Rock. Ha. Good times and always an adventure.

Plein Air: Garden of the Gods 

 

first scene by the main parking lot
  
2nd study by parking lot 12.
  
notan and contour line sketches
  
color mapping
 
About the scene: I sold a small painting yesterday, and the women who bought it commented that she had the sense that she was there because she’s so familiar with the area. Her comment was exactly what inspires me to continue. I was so encouraged by this, I went out to Garden of the Gods to find some scenes others may connect to. The first scene was painted by the main parking lot just to the right of the large cliff face. The sun shone down from the left across the rock, striking those familiar highlights you see everywhere in this area. The red rock against the green grass and shrubs and against the cobalt sky was striking. I wanted to catch that feeling. 

After about an hour and a half, I was heading around the loop in the park to exit. When I got almost to parking lot 12, I saw a strip of rock was back-lit against the gray-blue haze of the mountains and the green of the trees in the foreground. I couldn’t pass it up. Round two. The tip of the rock where it juts out on top to the right side was an instant focal point to anyone who looks at the rock formation, so hopefully someone will see this sketch and know where it is. About another two hours flew by. It’s amazing how fast time flies when your totally immersed in the joy of the moment. 

Artist Chat: As a part of the studies, I wanted to try doing quick Notan sketches with greyscale markers, contour line sketches and a color map to really focus me on what and how to approach these scenes. There is so much visual information in a scene, breaking it down helps the technical aspects. When I finished these sketches, I did a quick monochromatic underpainting (fast dry), and followed this up with color matching the value of the underpainting. The result was that I actually spent less time than I normally do without these initial steps. The painting also feels much fresher with bolder brush strokes. 

Plein Air: Cliff by Garden of the Gods (CO Springs)

   
  
    

 About the Scene:  This scene is just north of the Garden of the Gods entrance on the opposite side of the highway. Around 2pm, the light hits the tops of the trees, brush and tips of the cliffs producing amazing shadows and form. The shadows of the cliffs are lit up by the sunlit grass giving a luminous warmth along with the cool colors. There was details I couldn’t achieve with the rough canvas surface, but that’s solved by just going back out with a 16×20 canvas and giving this another go. From a personal standpoint, this was a bitter-sweet experience. I find so much personal inspiration in these mountains that it’s just feels like “home”. However, it’s been a real challenge to keep employment with limitations with word comprehension and numbers resulting in misunderstanding of instructions and mistakes. I understand this just how my brain functions now, but it means I’ll likely need to leave this amazing, inspiring area to go back home for another year or two until I can find some way to have financial stability. Im hopeful learning web development may be a solution. We’ll see. 

Artist Chat: Shown above is the process I’ve found works well for acrylics, doing a grayscale underpainting (which dries quickly), then finding the right colors in that value. This allows me to see the composition and make changes before introducing color. 

Plein Air: East Plum Creek in Castle Rock, CO

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The Experience: It was about 4 degrees last night, but warmed up to at least 20 by 9am, so Jamie (local artist friend) and I went to a PAAC (Plein Air Artist of Colorado) event in Castle Rock, CO. The plan was to find scene along the East Plum Creek that runs through town and honestly, at first, I didn’t see much. There was a bunch of leafless trees with what looked like a frozen over creek. But when we walked around a bit, all the shadows in the snow and the dark contrast of the creek running thought it made for really neat designs. I guess the mind needs to shift into a different way of seeing opportunities in unfamiliar areas, and then suddenly there too much to choose from. I settled on a scene where a shadow was cast over the shallow creek with snow covered boulders alongside. Great combination and simple enough to really dig into the details of the scene and capture those deep yellows under the water. Anytime you see a deep yellow and light blue (snow) in a scene, it’s going to have a “vibration” that appeals to the eye.

After we finished, it was time for some grub, so we ate at the Taco (something) restaurant. Mmm. If you ever stop there, get the taco salad with Fajita meat. Awesome. Thanks for the taco salad, Jamie!!

Artist Chat: In snow scenes, I’m learning its a really good idea to first mix a light gray-blue and mat it over all the snow to ensure you have enough room to hit highlights at the end. Also, to gauge how “light” to mix the snow color, find the darkest dark and figure out how many steps in value it is between the snow and that area. The rest is just finding the shadows much as you would if you were painting a blanket. It ripples much the same way. To mix up a good snow grey, try using ivory black and ultramarine blue with titanium white.  Mixing this combination in different amount allows for most of the shifts I see. When another color, like a green tree, is near, there will be hints on that in there too. Hope it helps!

 

Studio: Colorado Springs Winter Scenes

Here’s a quick update with some snow scene’s I’ve been busy working on from plein air studies. It’s amazing how many colors are snow! I thought, “Well, it’s white…”. Wrong. It’s reflected blues of the sky, greens from trees and grays. The only thing that could be “white” is the parts that reflect the sunlight right at your eyes. After scouring through many Josh Clare and Clyve Aspevig’s master works, I’m slowly coming to understand how to show the roundness and ripples in snow.

The first work is of a scene along Sandy Creek I saw a few weeks back. After a snow, a shallow part of the creek froze over mostly with some icy parts. The grass poked through the snow, reflected reds, bronzes and yellows. Pretty stunning to see against the blue backdrop of the Rockies.

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“Winter Gold along Sandy Creek”, 16×20, acrylic on stretched canvas

About two weeks later, I was invited to a small family cabin near Woodland, CO. The snow was so deep, snow shoes were pretty much mandatory off the path from the road to the cabin. So, I experienced snow shoe plein air for the first time. (Thanks for the snow shoes, Sean and Holly!). After a semi-quick sketch, I later scaled the scene up to this 16×20:

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“The Mikulas Family Cabin”, 16×20, acrylic

I loved the shadows of the trees running up the hill towards the cabin and that deep yellow of the cabin against the cobalt sky.

The next week, I was antsy to get back in the snow shoes and went out to Palmer Park after another great snow. I found some huge snow covered boulders and then noticed this bush with dried up orange-ish leaves that stood out brightly against the deep blues of the background snow. It somehow seemed intimate, like a portrait, so I dove in. After freezing my fingers, paints and water basin, I had enough information to finish at home. Warmth. Ah.

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“Snowfall in Palmer Park”, 9×12, acrylic on hardboard panel

I’ve since been out to Garden of the Gods… (I HAVE been busy!)… and, well, I’ll leave that for the next post. : )

These paintings will be available from my website: www.stephenwilliamson.com.

Plein Air & Studio: Snow at Palmer Park, Colorado Springs

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“A Moment of Warmth” 16×20. (Studio work)

Location: This scene is from Palmer Park, located in the center of Colorado Springs. If you’re familiar with this area, this is by the Templeton Trail entrance on the main path winding around the park towards Austin Bluffs St..

My Goal for this Painting: I wanted to emphasize the sense of a cold, crisp snow scene with the warmth of sunlight on the little tree.  I also love the contrast of light and dark snow provides and wanted to used the grass and sunlit snow to invite you into the scene.

The Experience: I’ve been drooling over snow scene paintings of Clyve Aspevig, Micheal Godfrey and a recent one from Kathleen Dunphy and had thoroughly reviewed the “how to paint plein air in the snow” articles from other artists. I was more than ready.  There was a snow storm last week and just enough snow left in the shaded areas to improvise a snow scene, so it was time to test the new winter gear. I was toasty in three layers of pants, five layers up top with a tshirt, thermal underwear, a wool shirt, puffy down coat and a shell jacket. My feet were comforted with liner socks, expedition mountaineering Smartwool socks in thick wool lined “pack boots”. To finish off, I donned a windproof fleece beanie. Like I said, I was more than ready. I also got to test out my new field easel similar to the one Joshua Been designed. Many thanks, Joshua! It works great!

After walking down a trail, feeling the snow crunch under well cushioned feet, I found this scene (but the little tree was lit up at the time):

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Although the actual scene wasn’t so dramatic, it provided enough information to express the “feel” of the scene in my sketch. I could see it in my mind and knew I had minutes before the sunlight left and much of that information was gone. In no time, I set up my new easel, hung my bag and scattered my painting gear randomly in the snow next to the main trail. Within ten minutes I had a sketch and background filled in, ready to figure out how to paint snow and focus on the tree.

The sunlight left and it was instantly cold. I put on my extra poofy down jacket and shell looking about twice my normal size. Of course this is when a group of trail runners passed by in shorts and one without a shirt. Feeling less than manly, I said, “Well, at least I’m warm” to boost my ego and get back to the scene.  Over the next hour and a half, I patiently added the tree and snow with deliberate brushstrokes backing up from the easel, mixing paint and then adding the stroke. It’s a very refreshing way to paint, rather than dabbing colors anxiously, unsure if it’s the right thing to do. After two hours, I felt the slightest hint of cold in my feet buried in the snow and my water dish for cleaning brushed was icing over. With a mark of approval to the new boots, I packed up and left smiling.

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The field sketch

Many people think it’s crazy or extreme to paint in these conditions, choosing to be comfy with the heater on in their studio, but there is simply nothing like painting while experiencing the scene. Every sense felt and seen somehow influences the painting and this little sketch was a product of joy. I liked it so much, I went home and scaled it up onto a 16×20 canvas before heading to bed.

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Another great day!!