One of the things that I’ve learned to do in a live session is just to keep plugging away at it, even if you think it’s going badly. At least half the time, that work will pay off and the painting will turn the corner. This one started off with my trying a background color on my canvas and being shocked at how much it affected my transparent colors. I also had trouble deciding on a composition, then just couldn’t get the balance right between the space the guitar took up and the figure. There was a lot of commotion in the session that was distracting me, and it was hot in the room, too.
But perseverance has its rewards, as does belief that you might be able to pull it out of the bag. And after a couple hours, suddenly, BAM!, the painting started to come together. This is just a quick study (2.5 hours), but a few minor tweaks like toning down those shoes, and this is a keeper.
I’ve been wanting to challenge myself for a while, so this month, I decided to take the plunge. I signed up for the Strada Easel 30-Day Challenge, which has an added twist in that you must draw or paint from life each day (not from photos or imagination). Well, it’s been hard, but here’s what I did. It should be noted that many of these are not finished, nor ideal. The point of the challenge is to discipline yourself to paint every day. Even if you don’t feel like it. Even if you think you don’t have the time, because you can almost always find time. I probably made it a little harder on myself than it had to be, by painting more complex subjects every day. I also painted more paintings than are show here, lol. What can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment! What are you doing to challenge yourself artistically?
Truth be told, most every plein air painting I’ve ever done has been a struggle. Even though I spend a lot of time painting figures, I do feel like plein air is worth doing. For realist painters, plein air (painting “live,” directly from observing nature, rather than in a studio) is great for learning composition and also for learning how to carefully observe, because the brain does play tricks on us. Side benefit? Painting plein air means you get to hang out in the fresh air on a sunny day. But it’s hard. Damn hard. Usually my internal mental dialogue has gone something like this:
What a beautiful day!
Should I paint this? Or this? Is there shade?
Is there a bathroom nearby?
Make a decision; you’ve got to paint something.
Wish I could set up faster.
Horizontal, vertical or square?
Forgot to get the paper towels out.
What am I looking at? Am I going to be able to draw this?
Forgot to get my glasses out.
No room for my glasses on my setup. Top of the head, it is.
Maybe I need the umbrella after all.
Hope the umbrella doesn’t tip over.
What am I looking at?
How am I going to simplify that?
What color is that? Why can’t I mix that green?
This painting sucks.
Why are other people so good at this? Will I ever get good at this? Why am I doing this to myself?
Oooo, the light just got brighter. So pretty. Let’s capture that.
The light changed. Keep going or quit?
Oh, man, people are approaching. I hope they don’t stop. This painting sucks right now.
Damn, they stopped.
They must be so disappointed. I’m so embarrassed.
Will I ever get good at this?
Keep going. Light is back. Besides, you’re here already.
How come I can’t mix that color? Why is paint so inadequate for light?
Is the shadow as blue as I am seeing?
I’m sweating. I need another shower.
My canvas is in full light. Gonna affect the color.
Move the umbrella. Again.
Warm or cool?
Is that a bee?????
Contemplate if I can Epipen myself. If not, wonder how long it will be before anybody finds me.
Fresh look at painting. How is it possible for that tree to have too much detail and, at the same time, too little? Amazing.
Am I getting sunburned?
Out with the crazy lady flap hat. Protects my neck and face, but looks batty.
What am I looking at? What color is that? How do I separate the greens?
Titanium or flake white?
Flake white replacement.
Shoo mosquito. Get bit anyway.
The Liquin is getting sticky.
That green. Cad yellow and cobalt? Viridian and cad red? Why can’t I mix the right grey? Is that shadow really that blue?
Too much detail. Scrape.
Better. But still awful.
Maybe not totally awful. I like some things about it.
Why is everybody else so good at this? I feel like such a failure.
Why don’t the other painters I know struggle with this?
Okay, most do.
My feet hurt.
Values. Are they right?
Of course not. Fix.
I feel like someone is watching again. Should I turn around?
No, sir, painting is not relaxing.
Hope that dog is friendly.
Wait. The couple who’ve decided to make out and are blocking my view, will hopefully move. I was here first.
Stand back; assess.
Light is going.
Panicked last few strokes to capture the light. Am I ruining it?
Light is gone.
Sigh. Time to pack up.
Better scrape the palette and clean the brushes now. I won’t feel like it later.
I hate this painting. Why do I do this to myself?
Should I scrape it out now?
Wait. Sometimes I change my mind later.
I’m sweating. I do not look attractive right now. I hope I don’t run into anybody I know.
It’s a beautiful day.
Carefully stow wet painting.
Where’s the bathroom?
NEXT MORNING …
Guess I should look at yesterday’s painting to see if I can learn anything.
25% OF THE TIME:
It’s so bad. I suck.
49% OF THE TIME:
Hmmm. It’s not as bad as I thought. Put aside until I decide if it’s salvageable.
20% OF THE TIME:
Huh. This might actually be good with a few tweaks. Who knew?
5% OF THE TIME:
Shocked. Good as-is. Why do I beat myself up so much?
1% OF THE TIME:
When I finish, I think it’s decent.
What’s your process?
Fellow painters, weigh in. Does this sound familiar, or is your plein air experience different?
Out again, trying to get used to my new plein air setup. Belle Isle was packed, so I headed to the lesser- visited side of the island. Something about this tree, with its patchwork bark, and the picnic table, completely neglected and overgrown, spoke to me. Started plein air, but unfortunately, the light abandoned me after about 35 minutes. Finished in my studio.
Who knows why some people inspire us to paint well and others don’t? The longer I paint, the more I suspect that it is a combination of a great pose and also my own personal level of intrigue with the model. I painted two paintings on this day. In the morning, I didn’t paint well at all, but in the afternoon … like a happy pill, the antidote appeared. One of my all-time favorite models was booked for the afternoon session. I find her super intelligent; a great combination of smart, thoughtful and nice. Big plus? She holds really still. And then this painting happened without much struggle. Pleased with it overall, but might do a couple tweaks; haven’t decided yet. Alas, no camera ever makes a painting look nearly as good as it does in real life, and Photoshop is woefully inadequate for helping. The contrast is always too much, no matter how you fiddle with it. The human eye is so much better than a camera. 18×14, oil on canvas. Can’t wait until she comes back!
Oftentimes, I do better when I put less pressure on myself and start a painting with a “whatever happens is okay” attitude. That happened today because I had 6 hours on this pose, double the usual time. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do to counter the red, just couldn’t deal with another red and green painting today. So I went for the grey and burnt umber. Great model today; it isn’t easy to hold the same pose for six hours. Untitled, as of yet. 14 x 11, oil on linen.
Three years ago, I signed up for my very first art class. It’s been quite the journey since then. I feel like I’ve made great strides, but still have so far to go. This portrait was finished yesterday. “Santa’s Daughter,” 16×12, oil on linen. Happy 2016, y’all.