One of the reasons I love where I live is the incredible views we have from our deck. On a lazy summer afternoon, clouds building silently in the azure sky, a soft breeze whispering through the trees and fields, a meadowlark singing in the distance...all is well with the world!
I am involved in two plein air events this summer, so thought I'd better practice my "on location" painting skills. One of the pitfalls of painting from life is that you are painting a constantly moving target. Oh sure, the lay of the land stays the same, the trees don't (usually!) jump up and move off...but the clouds move, the shadows move, the colors shift as the day progresses...and, of course, if you are painting animals in the scene, they DO move!
One of the biggest challenges in plein air painting is to rough in the "design" of the painting: where are the shadows and sunlight? What "story" are you trying to tell about the scene you are painting? I pretty much have to get everything down in about a half hour, and then force myself not to look at the scene again, except to define rock formations, trees, mountains - in other words, to refine the drawing part but NOT the colors and values. Those I refine only by what is working/not working as I tell my story.
For instance, in this painting, the focus in on that beautiful golden yellow field glowing in the afternoon sun. Everything else in the painting has to support that. As I was painting, the shadows shifted, the clouds built up and actually muted the yellow field. At one point the clouds were quite dynamic - and I almost "lost my head" and started painting them - but as I did so, I realized that I was taking the emphasis away from the field and putting it in the sky. So I had to refocus and remember not to change my story mid-painting!
For me, painting is like meditating. As I practice mindfulness, I find my mind starts to wander. Instead of just "being," I am making mental lists, thinking ahead to something I have to do later. When I find myself doing that, I gently refocus on my breathing, which brings me back into the present. When painting outdoors, the "present" is the painting itself, the emotion and mood I wish to evoke. Everything else is distraction - the things that change outside of the painting have to be let go, as I breath in the experience of being outdoors in nature: the warmth of the sun, the buzz of insects, the stillness...or perhaps the rush of the wind, the dance of trees, the swirl of clouds...and breath out, reaching further.
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