Plein Air: Broken Down House (Weimar,TX)

It’s shorts and t-shirt weather here in Weimar with full sun. Hard to believe it in the first part of January, but I’ll take it! I rode my bike down the frontage road to I-10 and found an old run down house crowded in some trees. I don’t normally paint houses, but it’s a good challenge for this year. There’s too much potential for painting run down homes around here. Might as well step out of my comfort zone and learn to paint them! 

After watching a video tutorial by George Strickland, I began to see the very subtle shades of reflected light on the white, chipped paint. Blues, greens, yellows… it’s amazing to see something that didn’t appear to be there before. Kind of unreal.  He teaches to emphasize these variations to add interest to an otherwise flat wall. The green-blue reflected light under the roof of the front wall, and the bright yellow under the eve of the side room near where the sun hits, are examples. In his video, he works back and forth, adjusting the colors from cool to warm and back again until it just looks right. His work is amazing.

I battled my fast-dry acrylics today with the unually dry, warm air. The piles of paint formed a thick wall on the outside as it dried so I’d have to push my finger on it to make some fresh paint ooze out of the bottom side. By the time I finished mixing, I’d have one swipe with the brush before my freshly mixed paint was dry. Time to break out the slow-drying acrylics or just move to oils! Either way, it made for a fun day. 

I’m also learning video editing and hopefully I’ll be able to start up a YouTube channel and start posting some of the adventures. 


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 Colorado Springs: Palmer Park by the Stables


Location of the Scene: This is in Palmer Park, the central park of Colorado Springs. In the middle of the park on the western side, there are some horse stables. Looking up at the cliffs from the stables, these towers are a striking display of yellow, bight tans and oches against a deep cobalt sky. Hard to miss.

The Experience: Today was perfect for getting outside, so Sarah, Luke, Aja (dog) and I went to Palmer Park. Luke and Aja stuck around the entrance to explore and Sarah and I headed out for about 5 miles of trails.  Due to my superior, in-built navigation system, we got lost, wandered through a neighborhood, trespassed, fought brush and cacti to relocate a trail and by mile 7 were back at the car.  Always an adventure.  While on part of the trail I was familiar with, I spotted this scene near the horse stables. After Luke, Sarah and Aja left, I headed back.  At 2pm, the sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. When looking up at the tans and whites of the cliffs, the angle of the sky at that viewpoint is a deep cobalt blue. This following picture of Sarah on some cliffs, shows how much darker the sky is compared to the cliffs:


Not able to find a shady spot was my first mistake. The sun and low humidity dried my paints so fast, many times the paint never left the brush onto the 6×8 panel. I’d look at the brush to see what happened and there is was, the pristine gob of paint, just the right value, hue and saturation, delicately mixed … and dry.  I dunked my brush in the water, mixed the paint like a mop with suds and resorted to doing a watery color painting for the next couple of hours. It was an onslaught of silent swearing, and at the just the right moment of anguish, my tripod chair busted sending me to the ground in an awkward feet-out, head-down position. Luckily, mountain bikers were passing to make sure I was okay.  Two inches to the right and I would have nailed a cactus. Phew. Forging ahead in a crouching position like a cat ready to pounce, I mopped on the last few bush strokes, throwing in some rocks in the foreground and called it a day.  Frustrated, I remind myself, “fighting through the frustrations make me a better person”, then think “who says that??”. I gotta quit that goody talk and kick a rock like a man or something.  This is when you know for a fact you love painting. Nobody in their right mind would return unless the sense of awe at nature and the hope of catching just a glimpse of that with paint was so much sweeter than frustrations.

Artist Chat: All in all, the little 6×8 study didn’t turn out bad.  I wanted to capture the bold, bright cliff structure against the sky and bring it into perspective with the green-grays of the grass and brush. No doubt this will come in handy if I build a scene in the studio needing these color notes. My palette was ultramarine, yellow ochre, lemon yellow, red oxide and titanium white. Next time I’m going to try using only Golden Open paints aside from the red oxide. I really think the slower drying time will be a perfect match to the climate here (and avoid kicking rocks in frustration).  The hardest part was figuring out the value and hue of the shadow side of the rocks. The layers in the rock switched from ochre to yellow to tan, each having a different shadow color. Then there was the indirect light producing yet another “glow” in the shadow.  Finding the right value, then adjusting the color was the key in the end. It took a couple layers of paint to get it, but it worked. If nothing else worked in the painting, this was enough to make this painting useful as a tool.


Me with my painting kit with Cheyenne Mountain in the background.

Chalk Ridge Falls: Messy Plein Air Study at the Magic Hour

Chalk Ridge Falls (Plein Air) 9x12 Acrylic.  Had about an hour for some quick messy fun.
Chalk Ridge Falls (Plein Air) 9×12 Acrylic. Had about an hour for some quick messy fun.

This is a scene from Chalk Ridge Falls, where the Lampases River connects to Stillhouse Hollow Lake down from the dam. There’s a magic hour where the sun hits the cliffs down by the lower stream.  If you blink too long the shadows have already changed.  After spending a few weeks on a single commission painting, it was a welcome change to just slap big wads of paint down and not think twice.   This is the big difference between “plein air” and “studio” painting.  Here’s the actual scene below. I added a few needed details as soon as I got home and called it finished.  It’s so tempting to go back in and “fix” things, but “messy” is the joy of plein air.

Here’s the scene just after the hour of sunlight on the cliffs was gone. My pallet looked like it was mauled by the Tasmanian Devil after this rush of painting.

This is also preparation for the first week of October.  I’m fortunate enough to have a week long workshop with John Cogan in Palo Duro Canyon State park (thank Mr. Chapman!!).  This is a HUGE deal for me.  He’s like a Micheal Jordan in the outdoor acrylic painting world. I want to be ready, so a big part of this exercise was seeing if masonite board would be a good panel to bring, It was smooth as butter. Awesome.