While driving to and from work at an artist’s studio in Columbus, TX, I pass by many fields with cows. One field in particular is on the west side of the road and the cows hang close to the fence, back-lit by the sun. When I saw this young cow with the fuzzy hair on the ears lit up like they were glowing, I hit my brakes, rolled down the window and caught this pose just in time. A couple days later, I needed a painting to start on my Friday “artist-in-studio” sessions at the local Live Oak Center. I propped up my laptop on a table, and got started. That was a few weeks ago, and since then, this painting has hung around the kitchen at home. It seems if I see it around in passing, my mind works on it and when I see it again, I think “this needs a cactus”, or “I need to change the background cow’s color. The last time I passed it, it just seemed like it was done. I had the goal in the starting point to add color into the shadows on the main cow to draw interest and past that, I really didn’t care. It was a simple goal and if the rest of the surrounding parts support that cow as the main character, it’s a success. I was going to name it “Moo”, but I think a gallery would prefer “Afternoon Grazing”. Fun times.
I did a bunch of sketches today. The day started with a hazy, overcast sky, which greyed down everything, but it also enhanced the appearance of trees in the background looking like they were miles off rather than just a few hundred feet. I drove up to a scene right outside of Weimar, TX and had some trouble with all the colors being so close to grey, but it was a good warm up:
I went and worked for a couple of hours and saw the lighting just get better by the minute. The Weather Channel app was calling for rain three days in a row starting tomorrow, so I went out to do some quick studies hoping I’ll have some good ones to enlarge tomorrow as an “artist in residence” in the Columbus Art Center. I drove just outside of the Columbus city limits along the highway and tuned off on a road that said “no outlet” and was full of cracked pavement with a lame attempt to fill it with gravel. Perfect. It led to a gate along a fence with a scene full of depth. Here’s a couple small studies from that area:
That went much quicker than I thought, so I headed back to the highway, and somehow found myself in a Beason Park, in Columbus, a place I’ve painted before. Huge oaks! I set up to do the same thing with close up trees and distant trees, but I’d be in the oak grove with soft spotlights through the leaves on the green grass. When I checked the distant trees closer, I saw the tower of the famous courthouse poking through the tops of the trees like a postcard image. It was a no-brainer. After a 5 minute value sketch and a ten minute color study, I got out an 11×14″ canvas panel and tried my luck. It would be a perfect scene for tomorrow! After about 2 hours, here’s what I ended with:
About the flower: This is the “Prairie nymph”, my 6th of the Texas Wildflower Series. It’s a part of the iris family and it pops up just above the grass line with its unusual three pedals. Somehow, this flower will know it’s about 9am and open up from a tight, curled up ball, bask all day, then around 5:30-6pm, close up for the night. It happens pretty quickly, so I’ll try to set my iPhone on timelapse (1 hr sped up to 1 min) next time I see one.
Notes of the day: Finally it was a sunny day and perfect temps after almost a week of clouds and rain. I was at work, but found open times to get the brushes flying. I began around noon, so the sun was directly above with the pedals shading the stems and grasses under it. I scumbled in a light watered-down background of greens, blues, browns and just finished adding in the pedals before getting back to work. By the time work was done, the flowers had bundled up, so I made my best guess by looking at the grasses and other little small, ground cover weeds around it. Not ideal, but it was enough to capture the feel of it. My top priority was keeping the pedals lighter then the grasses to stand out, but maintaining some balance with highlights of green here and there. When finishing up, I paid attention to the edges of the pedals, softening up those receding and sharpening those coming out towards me. Felt so good to paint again. Sometimes that last 10% of effort to “finish” a painting makes all the difference. I have such a hard time knowing when to stop, but I backed up and it just felt like it did when looking them in real life; not too bright, but noticeably unusual.
Here’s another one for the Texas Wildflower Series. This flower, called “Tickseed” is a flower that grows so thick, it can blanket an entire field. This was located in Columbus, TX on the property of another artist I’m helping with a project. It’s an herb, but unfortunately she said it stinks like something rotten when she mows.
As for the painting side of learning to use oils, I found out he hard way yellows are semi-transparent. I layered that cadmium yellow hue so thick, it wouldn’t even stick anymore, but found I had to let it dry at the house and add more layers a couple of days later. I think next time, I’ll just wipe off the underpainting to the white surface where the pedals go beforehand.
Onto the next!
This is just a quick post to show the previous and then final work from the plein air painting done at Columbus Elementary School (Texas). As you can see, I mixed up a richer dark grey to fill in the shadow areas in the tree and worked a bit on the kids and PE teacher to make their poses more natural. Lastly, I found a rich, bright green to really touch on the difference between the oak tree leaves and grass.
If the tree could only speak and tell of all the kids who’ve played under it in the past 300+ years… what a story it would be.
Yesterday’s drawing of the Live Oaks really helped with today’s Plein air work. It rained about 4-5 inches last night and the tree’s bark was so dark it was hard to see any form at all. I added highlights to the bark at home from what I remember of the sketch (see yesterday’s post). The old car parked at just the right spot, and apparently is well known by the folks passing by to chat. This is a 16×20″, which is pretty big for Plein air work, but my job is to “be seen” and get onlookers into an artsy mood for the festival.
Oh, and I found a great use for my Go-Go Gadget bendy clamp arm! It held my pallet perfectly! I think I’ll make a few more so my easel looks like Doc Ock. One for a sun shade, one for my iPhone to get Timelapse shots… A cup holder … fuzzy dice… important stuff.
Columbus, Texas hosts an annual historic event called Columbus Folk Fest. This year they are sponsoring me to Plein air paint. Going along with my current “portraits of nature” series, I decided to paint many of the huge Live Oaks in town. These are 200 to 400 years old and some of the largest in Texas, with gnarled up trunks, and branches that spread out over 100+ feet. Folks here know their history and love the oaks, so hopefully they’ll like these portraits when I’m done.
I’m doing sketches at first and then attempting a block-in for a painting now.
As a quick side story about this painting, my first attempt of a big oak painting was a fail. Big time. I was in the center of town near the courthouse and knew I needed to stop and escape the public eye until I understood these trees better. So I found another big tree at a schoolyard where kids run around it. Perfect scene. I tucked away to the side to paint and an hour into it, I’m really struggling. It looks like blots of abstract colors all over in an attempt to be a tree. All of the sudden all these cars line up behind me, the PE teacher blows her whistle and runs over to tell me my parked car is holding up the line of parents to pick up their kids. Unfortunately, my easel stands like a display in full daylight and while I move the car, slowly, one by one over fifty cars stroll by and look at the abstract mess. If I was with another painter I’d stand back and point at him. I heard one man suggest another tree. Oh well. I’ve been here many times before and know it takes a hundred little mistakes to break through and figure it out. The struggle is part of an accomplishment.