This exercise will require some time and some efforts especially as it was getting cold outside. I decided to paint a place not far from my Swiss home in Bern. Close there is the ancient river Aare. In summer time the river is full of water but in fall time the water is low and one river bed is dry.
A place that I know quite well as it inspired me for my personal project in the Drawing 1 course unit – click here.
Oil on canvas – sized and gessoed (44 x 60 cm)
Initial site walking and exploring space
First I was walking around the site and sketched in one of my sketchbooks various perspectives and impressions from the environment. Eventually I came to the spot in the dry river bed that intrigued me by the afternoon light, some fog over the river (parallel to the dry river bed and in the back of one of the below photos) and the shapes of the trees that looked somehow as if there were not alive. Though living nature it was a calm and serene atmosphere that reminded me at times of still life. Quite an impressionistic experience. Perhaps an impressionistic painting approach would be great here? I was intrigued by the longer shadows and took even a picture with my own shadow between the shadows of two trees. I could envision already various paintings.
First sketches around and finding place to paint:
I looked more at two possible viewpoints, nearly from the same standing point but turned 180 degree. I made some rough pencil sketches and a color study in watercolor of both views.
I felt intrigued by the second viewpoint especially by the low horizon line and the cut of space between the first horizon line and the people in the background. It could be seen as they were sitting on the ground, but actually there were around 100 meters between the two places. Eventually I decided to go for the first one due to its more colourful and impressionistic style. The second one I will use for the following exercise on Project 5 Exercise 3 ‘Working from a photograph‘ .
Compositional thoughts – rule of third
I was looking at compositional ideas and found out that intuitively I already selected with my first rough sketches a composition that went well with the rule of third. I will not apple this mathematically but rather intuitively.
Oil Sketches and first experience painting outdoors at low temperatures
The next day I was ready to start with my painting and prepared smaller boards and oil paint. It was already later the day and quite cold.
I had to stop this due to the temperatures. I was frustrated as the sketch didn’t go as thought. The oil paint was so thick (temperature?) that even with turp it was hard to paint. Blending paint on the surface was nearly impossible. Placing the paint and leaving it there would be better. Anyway I captured the key colors, the contrast and the got the tonal range more or less right. I returned home – a walking distance of around 1km. My fingers were cold and after having a hot tee I felt better.
I did some reflection on my approach and how to paint. I spend the following day with planning my next trip outdoor and my painting approach
a) single color blots onto the surface (a kind of Bonnard etc) without outline, shapes as mere changes in color and light. Example: Pierre Bonnard ‘Landscape at Le Cannet‘, 1945
I found an article about Bonnard and when he took Maurice Denis’s words further than any other member of the group Les Nabis: “A picture – before being a war horse, a female nude, or some anecdote – is essentially a flat surface covered with colors in a particular order.” (from: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-bonnard-pierre-artworks.htm [accessed 30 Nov 2016] I was thinking that this would be my approach outdoor with colder temperatures as I just need to place on blot of paint next to each other without blending.
Another approach though I haven’t found the right way to do it yet:
b) scrapping additive and subtractive with inclusion of found objects, painting with pebbles.
For the latter one I experimented with collected dry leaves from me last trip outdoor, rolled them between my hand for a coarse grinding and mixed it with acrylic medium and a bit of sienna pigment (for colouring) onto boards (photo taken on site the other day)
I kept them at this stage believing that I will return to them later- perhaps to use those as the support for another painting
Getting ready and painting
I prepared two canvas, sized and with gesso applied, taped to a self made board for my outdoor painting day. I found this much more handy than working on boards that are hard to transport (if not having a magic transport unit). The edges are free of support and my spacers made of cardboard are keeping both side apart.
The next day it was a bit warmer and my spirit was high so I went after lunchtime outside, preparing my place to paint, walking around to get deeper inspiration and did some sketching before starting to make my painting.
Tonal sketch in acrylic
I did a rough tonal value sketch in acrylic to have a better understanding about the range and possible visual impact on my painting. This I kept as a reference for working in color,
Work in progress:
Oil on canvas – sized and gessoed (44 x 60 cm)
I started with a rough sketch with oiled charcoal and applied a thin ochre wash over the white canvas for blocking in first impression of value range. I followed my initial thought to paint on location somehow in the spirit of the impressionists and P Bonnard with placing my colors with a brush in more or less smaller blots onto the support. Overall I wanted to keep a contrast between blue-violet and orange-red in the image. In the foreground I made some rough thicker blots to represent the vast amount of pebbles on the ground. At the end I refined the sky to be more coherent with the rest of the image.
Overall I do think I captured my overall impression, at times I find it hard to manage paint and to find an appropriate visualisation of the foreground. A ‘nice’ painting, and wonderful experience with outdoor painting. Compared to my drawing experiences outdoors I found it much harder to paint outside, perhaps due to the amount of paints and things to plan and to keep in mind.
I was wondering about tonal values and – as this painting is rather a representational though impressionistic painting – how much I have captured and should have captured the full range of tonal values. I did a comparison of monochrome, desatured (with Photoshop Desaturation filter) images: my painting, a photo of an late afternoon scenery, my tonal sketch, and two paintings of the ‘Landscape in the South’ at Le Cannet by Pierre Bonnard (1943, 1945):
=> the full range of tonal values doesn’t seem to be that important when bright colors are applied to the image as the color as such is becoming the dominant visual distinguishing factor (see Bonnard). Though I applied darker value in the foreground and lighter values in the background (aerial perspective). As I didn’t put emphasise on drama but color, I am pleased with the tonal range.
Parallel project outdoor
In parallel to my oil painting I worked outdoors with the second canvas in a different approach. To find a more embodied and physical engaging approach to outdoor painting. I collected pebbles from the ground and dry leaves and used them alongside some acrylic paint to make another artifact painting: “a simple object made in the past or a result” or “effect that is produced accidentally”.
I was careful not to spoil nature and collected all items into a bag and took them back home. An approach that I find important when working in nature to leave the place as found in the first place – no traces. However, I could reflect on the ‘no traces’ idea I still think that we should not spoil it. Eventually with all items removed from the support the resulting image is rather an abstract presentation of the traces left – with my own human presence in moving them around on the surface.
I took my prepared ‘Artefacts #1‘ series from the day before with me and placed them – they were completely dry – into a shallow spot with river water and placed them afterwards on some ground to see how much the surface absorbs nature.
There is not a great difference, some particles were picked up. As I didn’t apply a glue or medium onto the surface first in order not spoil nature I was asking myself how to get a ‘print from nature‘ or traces onto my support. I was thinking about decalcomania again and was struggling to apply paint on nature for grattage. I think I have to look with fellow students on possible solutions. So far I kept them as they are ‘Artefacts #1- series of three‘ and ‘Artefact #2‘ .
I call these stages ‘Intermediate spaces’ in relationship to the space between the outdoor view and my place of making outdoors. As well as to the space outside and inside my of me. The intermediate space between publishing this post and possibly the final make.
Artefacts #1- series of three‘:
Learnings and experience of painting outdoors:
I enjoy sketching and drawing outdoors since taken Drawing 1 course unit. Aligned with this experience my first thought was to pack my stuff, get out and start to paint. How wrong was I. Or perhaps not an enough experienced plein-air painter.
As I am quite familiar to work outdoors with pencils, watercolor, ink pen, and water bottle I didn’t find it uncomfortable to being interrupted from time to time by passing pedestrians. Mostly they are curious and shy.
It took some more planning to work with paint than with drawing tools. My paper support could be rolled and placed on any surface. With painting, I had to use a rigid support. To work larger scale with boards is a heavy endeavor. I was happy to make a salvaged lightweight carrier for two A2 format flat supports. Making spacer out of same material was an easy and quick fix, but in the future, I should rethink this as the fluid paint made the taped spacers loose.
I worked over three days outside. First sketching loosely with taking only a small sketchbook, pens and watercolor set. Second making small sketches in oil or acrylic with a more planned setup. At this stage I could experience weather conditions, my painting place and my working approach. The third day I prepared all for a larger scale painting in oil. I planned sufficient time, to be on site earlier so to be ready when light conditions are getting to a similar effect as on the second day. Although each day weather was different (temperature, clouds, humidity on ground level) I already had two days of site memory with me that I could build on.
My painting approach was quite different to studio painting. I enjoyed working with simple and faster mixed colors and with smaller brushes. I used a paper palette, the restricted space for mixing was a challenge for me, at times the paint ran together and resulting into a muddy color. My easel was handy although not as sturdy as my easel in my studio or a flat wall or floor. I had to be careful with my painting pressure. The cold temperature outside challenged me working with oil paint.
Overall I see that my painting tended towards representation. I felt to abstract on site the view in front of me quite challenging. What would be my approach? Either with significant preparation and then faster execution. Or to be on site and let the flow of my embodied site experience go into the painting. For that I think I need to have more practice and have already applied a certain personal voice and approach to my way of painting.
What I take from this exercise for the future:
- Thinking in advance about my approach and keep it simple.
- Taking only minimal stuff and a limited palette to be more focused on painting.
- Getting familiar with a place in advance to overcome possible hurdles and challenges. Like outside temperatures and which medium to use
- Take time and do not rush.
- Working more with restricted space to be more effective in paint mixing. Applying a palette routine when working outdoors or with limited space. Could be useful for hotel rooms as well.