The purpose of this series is to understand how a landscape vista will change throughout the year here in Southern California and how my learning of the scene by painting it changes along with it. The goal is to complete a series of 12 en pleinair paintings (painting outdoor on location) that illustrates how art can be used as a learning tool for the understanding of nature and ones painting aesthetics. The plan will be to go to the Shipley Nature Center here in Huntington Beach California, where I live, and paint a pleinair painting every month. It is important to paint from the same spot every time; in this case spot 13. From the paintings, photos and my understanding of this spot, I intend to complete a large studio painting of the scene.
It took time to decide on this location. The criterion for the location is that it cannot be a common vista, that it requires rendering a large variety of textures, values and colors. In order to create a sense of depth there would have to be a distinct background, middle ground and foreground. Finally, the landscape must have the potential to change drastically from month to month. After walking the path around the Center, this spot satisfied those necessary conditions. This is a photo of the location know as location 13 on the trail map. The picture was taken in July, six months into the project.
This was the first painting in the series. It was an introduction to the landscape, a fairly barren vista with a large variety of foliage. It looked as though it had be cut back, which often happens at the center as things become overgrown and unmanageable. In any case, being the initial painting I was wonder how this view would grow on me and would it be easier to undertake in subsequent months. What I liked about the January painting is how the light moved through the scene and the brushstroke are a lot looser than my previous pleinair paintings. Not too crazy about the coolness of the motif though.
The trees are beginning to fill out though still relatively sparse. Some of the flowers are beginning to bloom which provide ample opportunity to bring in a variety of colors. I also like how things are beginning to warm up and those violet flowers were beautiful. Within the painting it remains difficult to get any detail in the branching of the bushes; this is a skill I clearly need to work on. I will also need to consider giving greater definition to the background trees. I like the range of values captured throughout the painting, as well as the warm and cool hues. The brushstroke is still expressive and appealing to my aesthetics.
This was a very strange day; the clouds were grey and felt heavy as they moved along the sky. This posed a problem unique to pleinair painting since there was a constant change in light. I had to do a lot of planning and predicting of how things would change over the course of painting. The foreground continues to be expressly derived with bold brushwork which is becoming quite rewarding and cathartic. The middle ground is looking more distinct and integrated, which shows to me that I’m learning how to paint such a scene. I’m still having trouble with those background trees!
This was a very melancholy day and rather dark. It seems the changing of the season is creating a level of stress on the plants, and I am personally feeling anxious about the changes to come. I learned a lot on this trip, about more what not to do. Having been more familiar with the scene I thought that I could block in the scene quickly and then concentrate on details. The plan was to fill the painting surface with the fully blocked in undercoat, but what happened instead was a mixing of the undercoat with the overcoat which made a very muddy and difficult surface to paint on. Eventually, I had to lay down large loaded brush strokes; this was great for expression but bad for saturation of color. But in any case, I liked the heavy mark making it produced.
This was an absolutely beautiful day; the best so far! The flowers looked happy and ready to bloom, the foliage was filling out and finally the background trees were full and robust. The previous month taught me much about approaching the scene in a holistic manner. I was not worried so much about blocking in the undercoat and allowed the under stain to peek through. Perhaps because of all this energy in the environment, and this being the fifth time I painted the landscape, my grasp of the scene as a whole produced and almost abstract work. This is very unusual, rewarding and exciting for me. I look at this experience as an epiphany for me as an Artist and as a producer of paintings. With that said, as always, I still struggle with the background.
The scene is in full bloom! I was shocked by all the growth. The Shipley Nature Center is a tendered preserve and I was very happy that nobody has removed any foliage. I met with the Landscape Director and asked her if she would wait until next year to tend that area so that this series can document the natural changes. I’m beginning to ‘get’ the background! My approach is becoming more abstract forcing me to concentrate on values, forms and inter- relationships of color; definitely less than what the object ‘actually’ is. I believe this is the fruition of the break through that happened last month, and because of this new approach I’m starting to bring background, middle ground and foreground into a cohesive abstract form. Even though my approach is more abstract, I would still like to capture a bit of detail in the foreground; not enough to lose this revelation, but enough to give a resting place for the eye and help balance the scene.
This was a very hot and humid day which seemed a little early for Huntington Beach, but in any case the plants seem to like it. The scene is fully overgrown, almost to the determinant to the painting. I would not have picked this spot if I had seen what it looked like today, but I have to stick to my criteria that the scene must have the potential to change over time. When I first saw the overgrowth, I thought, ‘How am I going to paint this?’ Strange thing is that it turned out to be one of the most rewarding paintings to date! I like the mark making, rich variety of colors, inter-related shapes and deep values that the scene demanded. I also like the depth of field captured in such a challenging vista. It goes to show that the translation between view and painting can be surprising and rewarding, one does not always have to pick a ‘pretty’ scene. From a critical point of view though, some of the balance is off between the values structure.
This was a very gloomy day, with a heavy layer of fog moving across the sky. I painted from 9:00am to 12:00pm and by the time I was done the fog had burned off leaving a glare over the foliage. This caused the problem of dealing with large shifts in light and color. To avoid changes in time and mood, Monet used to carry more than one canvas when he went out to paint; alas I had only one canvas. In any case, I like the distribution color and the force of nature that comes through this motif. Unfortunately, I accidentally brushed up against the work, so I’ll have to go back and paint that area. This is a plan for all the paintings
This was a very pleasant day. The sun was out on a clear September day, it was nice and cool. This was lucky for me because a few days later it was very hot and it would have been difficult to stand in that kind of heat. The foliage continues to be overgrown and the middle ground is almost totally obstructed from view due to the foreground plants. This forced me to focus more on the foreground. The big change continues to be the abstract way I’m approaching the scene and the heavy impasto application of paint; it is brushed on thick and direct. I’m also I enjoying the mark making and freedom of the brush stroke. The background interplay between the sky and the trees continue to be an issue; I now understand the struggle Cezanne continued to have when painting Monte Sainte-Victoire; it always looked to me like he had a continued pursuit of integrating the sky to the mountain and into the valley. He often blurred the line between the three spaces, drawing one into the other. Also regarding this painting, some additional definition in either the object or the color needs to be applied.
This was an extremely hot day and difficult to paint in. I also forgot some items that I like to work with such as latex gloves and a trash bag for my newsprint that I use to whip the paint off the brush. Needless to say that even before I started painting my attitude was a little bent. In any case, the foliage again has grown; this added the special challenge of painting objects there are very close to me as well as the background trees that are at a great distance. The plants are feeling the effect of the hot months and have lost a lot of their color, thus turning a shade of white. Because of the overgrowth the ground is hardly to be seen. This causes a problem since the warmth of the ground helps to balance the coolness of the foliage, so the white of the plants had to be used as a warming element to the motif. The trees in the background are starting to change color (never changes much in southern California) and are losing their leaves, this allows a lot of light to poke through them causing a profusion of reflective light within the shadows.
The landscape is coming around full circle now. When I started my first painting here at spot 13, I remember the redness of the background trees and that is what I’m seeing again today. The overgrowth now is astonishing, which is due in large part to the Landscape Director letting it grow at my request, but wow! In any case, I wanted to keep the free brushwork going but also put a little effort into capturing the foreground details, I believe I accomplished that goal fairly well. The painting has some interesting colors throughout the motif and the light of the day comes through well. It seems a bit unbalanced though; this is due mostly to the concentrated areas versus the abstract areas; this is what happens when one reaches an epiphany, the old and new struggle to coexist. Dealing with this will become very important when starting the studio painting.
This is the final en plein air painting from spot 13 at the Huntington Beach Shipley Center. It was a cool day and a bit windy. The overgrowth is heavy, especially the sage plants. The color was a distinct rust color which contrasted beautifully with the deep greens of the pine trees. It the culmination of a year study one that spot and the action of producing the painting only took two hours which normally takes three. The brush work was very familiar and it showed in a expressive use of the paint.
It is now time to work on the larger painting that will conclude this study and hopefully achieve the ultimate goal of retaining a greater appreciation of Southern California environmental changes and a greater understanding of my own personal aesthetics regarding that motif.