Thursday, May 5, 2011

Spring along the Animas River - pastel painting, 9x12" SOLD

Spring Cottonwood Along the Animas
9x12" - pastel on black Strathmore paper

Today was a picture-perfect spring day, and just too nice to spend inside painting, so I decided to head to one of the most logical places to paint - the Animas river.  This view is about 1/4 mile walk down the Animas River Trail, a multi-use paved urban trail that runs along the river.  The east side has this fantastic slope that has layers of pale sandstone sandwiched within softer mudstones.  I knew shortly after we moved here that I had to paint this area of the river.  So, it made sense to kick off the plein air season by painting it.

On the previous plein air excursions I've been on, I either lugged along all 3 of my pastel trays (home-made, from foamboard), or just brought the 90-pc. NuPastel set, neither of which was really satisfactory.  I decided to make up a dedicated travel set, using an empty 72-pc. Unison box with the foam insert.   It will need adjustments and additions here and there, but the colors were good for the task of today's painting.

Speaking of plein air vs. studio painting...I subscribe to Mitchell Albala's newsletter blog, "Essential Concepts of Landscape Painting".  It's a great resource, meant also as a companion for his book on landscape painting, and I always glean practical tips or good philosophical advice from his posts.

His most recent post was an excerpt from an article written by accomplished landscape painter Matt Smith for Plein Air magazine back in Jan '05 [and now back in print!].  In the article, Matt talks about the importance of both studio and plein air painting, and the synergy between them.  This really struck a chord with me, because I have found value in both, but for different reasons.

These two paragraphs by Matt articulates the reasons perfectly:

"...As time progressed, I began to paint subjects of increasing complexity. I started to realize the importance of studio time as a factor in improving my field work — just as my plein air paintings are intended to improve my indoor work. Simply put, I learned that the two are synergistic. For me, one cannot exist without the other.

My time in the controlled environment — my studio — allowed me to develop paintings over days and weeks, rather than an hour or two, as is the case in the field. I was able to focus on academics: the basics of drawing, value, design and color. When I returned to the field, I experienced a renewed confidence and a realization of the importance of balance between field and studio."

I get so tired of the attitude that exists among some artists stating that plein air paintings are somehow  superior to those done in the studio, and that studio landscapes are some sort of bastardized form of painting.  How absurd.  And insulting to countless artists.  The importance of painting from life cannot be emphasized enough as far as developing one's skills of observation and understanding and seeing local color, and in an ideal world, I'd paint from life all the time.  But, the reality is that it is not possible or practical for me to do so; it would significantly limit what I'm able to paint.  I have found great value in painting landscapes from photos in my studio as well, so it's nice to see one of the premier contemporary landscape painters explain why he thinks both are important.  As he says towards the end of the article - "...a good painting is a good painting."  

Here is the rest of the article on Mitchell's website - definitely worth a read.


  1. One of the reasons this studio painter goes outside is because the great masters did, especially artists like van Gogh and the current guy named Wolf Kahn.

    Sonya - I can't say enough good about this painting. It is just marvelous. The spring greens against the gray shale is a wonderful thing, and your composition is so good. I wondered if you eyeballed that composition, or do you sometimes use a viewfinder?

  2. An excellent painting. Somehow it reminds me of a less-abstract Casey's! The abstraction in the foliage is great, and the values and colors of the grays are very satisfying.

  3. Hi Casey - the fact that the landscape masters went outside is definitely a reason the rest of us should follow suit. Then, I think of Degas, who painted many of his masterpieces from photos, and don't feel bad about using them.

    Thank you for the generous comments about this painting. As is often the case, I went out with no expectations of success, but it evolved into something I ended up being pleasantly surprised by. Funny you mention viewfinders...this was the first plein air painting where I used one - a 3:4 cut out of foamboard. It was most helpful.

  4. Thanks, Jala - I appreciate that! This painting really represents the direction I want to go with my landscape work as far as degree of detail (minimal) goes. Painting on location really forces you to get with the program quickly, which keeps all the distracting detail out.

    I used a Richeson Handmade for that shale slope and the green of the river, and some of the MV T-storm grays for the sandstones. I can't live without them!

  5. This is one of those paintings where I say to myself, I wish I had done that -- just beautiful.
    As far as plein air "holier than thou's", it's just an opinion. Doesn't make it right, doesn't make it wrong. You should do what works best for you.
    After all, what's the fun of making art if you can't break some rules -- might as well work at a desk and push paper!

  6. Thanks so much for that, Dan; coming from you, that means a lot. I know exactly what you mean about saying "I wish I'd done that".

    And you're right about the "opinion" re plein air. I think it is great that there appears to be an increasing trend towards plein air work (like paint-out competitions, etc.), but I just don't want to see it supplant studio works as far as perceived value goes ;).

  7. Sonya! LOVE the painting - really wonderful, really captures the scene.

    Your post comes at a perfect time for me, as I am struggling to get back to painting outside and trying to find its relationship to the type of studio painting I am doing now and where I want my work to go in general. Thanks for the resources - I am checking out the links.

  8. Thanks so much, Debbie!

    It sounds like you're in a similar place as me re your work, and so I'm glad that I posted the links. I hope you find them as useful as I did/do. I hope to spend much more time outside painting this year, weather permitting, and even if the results are sometimes duds, I know it will be hugely valuable to my work overall.


Your thoughtful comments add value to this blog - thank you so much for taking the time to leave them!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...