By the end of May, Florida gets hot. Week-long organized plein air events aren’t even offered during the hot months, and the most intrepid plein air artists migrate northward to paint in cooler climates. I’ll still sneak out to paint with my local group occasionally. But mostly during the warm months I morph into a temporary hermit as I duck inside my summer studio cave.
But oh, while the weather was cooler, I created some awesome paintings out in the marshes and in the oldest city.
Flagler Beach Paintout
I was honored to take first place in the Flagler Beach paint out with my painting, “Still Water Reflections.”
It’s always a surprise and delight to receive recognition, as there are many talented painters out there. I kind of float on a cloud for at least a week after a win. This was painted at the side of an alligator-filled marsh, under clear skies and a sizzling sun. Thank goodness for thermos bottles of ice water.
St. Augustine Paintout
A couple of weeks later, I participated in the St. Augustine plein air paint out. The city was energized by over 50 artists who painted the scenic streets and historic buildings. I managed to finish these three little paintings. The last one, Quiet Pathway, came home with a lovely award from the St. Augustine Art Association.
Last week, I painted in the gardens of the historic Fatio House in downtown St. Augustine, Florida – a museum surrounded by beautiful Spanish Colonial-style buildings. I often paint small when I’m in the field to get the basics quickly. If I like the painting after I get back to my home studio, I’ll often repaint it in a larger size. Here’s my progress on a tiny study:
I’ve just created a lovely group of minis – small plein air landscape studies of trees in the wind. More impressionistic than abstract, these trees have a soft energy, blowing leaves and shimmying, dancing in the breeze of the day. It’s been quite a nice winter in St. Augustine, Florida and I’ve been out and about doing these quick landscapes more often.
These landscapes are small – 5 x 5 inch studies, and very affordable. They are for sale online at my daily paintworks page.
It helps to do a quick 30-second 2″ thumbnail sketch before starting a painting. With a quick thumbnail, you can work out the composition, play around with different cropping, and indicate the lights and darks before you ever put paint on the canvas. I refer to my thumbnail sketch often as I start a new painting. It’s a plan. It keeps me grounded. And it speeds up that paint process.
A great thumbnail makes all the difference in creating a successful painting. I don’t get lost as much. It’s become a critical part of my process.
But I’ve found over time that I needed more than just a black and white sketch. It just wasn’t enough. I needed to include color in my initial design. Without a good color plan, my larger paintings got lost in grays and browns and mud. These setbacks could take weeks for me to muddle through. So, while I still do pencil sketches for everything, I’ve also started painting small 5×5 color studies in preparation for large-scale work. It saves loads of time, and just like the pencil sketches, they keep me on track.
My new 5 x 5″ small color studies are really full-blown mini paintings, and I’m selling them on my online gallery at Daily Paintworks.
Changes… While my roots are in soft impressionism, I’ve been going in the direction of abstract for years. I’ve always appreciated and used techniques of abstract landscapes – painting very high horizon lines, graphic shapes, and unusual compositions. But recently I took a surprising leap into exploration of more abstract forms.
I’d gotten into a rut. Take trees, for example. I’ve done lots of plein air painting, and trees are always there. Trees and more trees. Again and again. They’ve become, well, boring. I desperately needed to find something different to do with trees.
Breakthrough: Out by the marsh painting with friends. I didn’t want to paint another marsh scene. Not another tree. I sat there. I couldn’t paint it. I was frozen in my painting chair as I gazed out on the familiar scene. Then, the trees moved in the wind, as if to say, look again. That moment, I started to really see them. Something changed.
My hand started moving on the canvas. The trees were moving. Fun. I gave them a party. That day, they threw confetti into the wind. They stretched. They danced. And my whole world shifted into something different. I’m seeing in semi-abstract now. And the fun begins again.
This is a new painting that’s in a semi-abstract style. This landscape shows a stormy day at the beach, with a path leading you toward the back. Grasses blowing. Subtle pops of orange and blue.
I call it “The Path”. I have been creating lots of paths in my landscapes lately. I’ve always known that a path is a fabulous way to draw the viewer into the picture. It’s a way to naturally move the eye from the foreground and lead it inward. It beckons the viewer to come closer. Stay a while. Explore the painting. To further pull the viewer in, I added my little “pops” of color, added at the point of interest at the end of the path.
Here’s a brand new painting in my semi-abstract style. You still know they’re trees. But they’re in a new reality landscape, shifted reality. This one shows my little trees having a great party at the bottom, throwing confetti and blowing in the wind.
I call it “new way” for two reasons – first, because it’s a new way of my looking at the world – in a semi-abstract way. Second, because the path, or road, in the painting will take the viewer, or the traveler a new way into the distance, through color and light and pattern.