Grace en Plein Air

International Artist - - Contents - By Carol Arnold

For me, plein air paint­ing is the most chal­leng­ing way to paint, and the re­wards are even bet­ter! When I’m in open air stand­ing in front of the live model—feel­ing the warm breeze of the sum­mer air, hear­ing the sounds of na­ture—it is a mo­ment in time that I’m cap­tur­ing and want to share with you, the viewer. Also, if paint­ing a model in a land­scape isn’t hard enough, there can be flies, the clouds go­ing in and out, per­haps rain, snow and the chal­lenges go on and on; they are all worth it. Each time, there are learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences that are so valu­able, and you can only get them by ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it.

I took time to set up my daugh­ter Grace out­side in a pose that I thought was in­ter­est­ing. I made sure I loved the way the light was hit­ting her and that she was com­fort­able. The pose is one of the most im­por­tant parts of paint­ing peo­ple out­doors for me. Next, I chose a light­col­ored cloth to put be­hind her and draped it over the clothes­line. When ar­rang­ing the flow­ers around her, I again took care to find the pat­tern, col­ors and val­ues that helped to cre­ate the paint­ing in my mind and would be great to paint.

Be­fore I be­gan paint­ing, I thought about how I was go­ing to paint this, what this paint­ing is about and how I’m go­ing to re­lay my mes­sage to the viewer in my art­work with paint. I have four tools I am us­ing: val­ues, draw­ing, color and edges. I start by find­ing my light­est light, dark­est dark, soft­est edge and sharpest edge. Squint­ing is a great way to find these things and sim­plify what is in front of me. It also elim­i­nates un­nec­es­sary de­tail and groups the val­ues into man­age­able shapes and pat­terns.

STAGE 1: I be­gan with lay­ing a cool, light value over the en­tire board. Do­ing this tones down the white and helps in deter­min­ing my other val­ues. The light is fil­tered through the white sheets and is rel­a­tively cooler than the ar­eas in shadow. I put a flesh tone down loosely with­out com­mit­ting to where the edges of her head would be and keep­ing the edges soft.

I put my dark­est value, the hair, in next so I could use it to com­pare and de­ter­mine the val­ues in her face. I blocked in the eye sock­ets, be­ing care­ful not to get into any de­tail, and con­stantly com­pared ev­ery­thing I put down on the board to ev­ery­thing that’s al­ready there, ask­ing help­ful ques­tions like:

• Is it lighter or darker?

• Is the color more red, more blue or

more yel­low?

• What about the edge? is it softer or harder? I look for a great shape, like a tri­an­gle or a color that is easy to see and put on the can­vas, and some­times the color is right out of the tube. These things help to get the not-so-easy things be­cause you have all the cor­rect things to com­pare it to. Ask­ing ques­tions will help you paint faster be­cause you’ll get it right the first time and won’t be wast­ing time cor­rect­ing things.

STAGE 2: I’m get­ting the shapes of the eye sock­ets and plac­ing the eye­brows, nose and mouth with no de­tail, open­ing my eyes to see color but squint­ing for value shapes and edges. The edges are very soft in the face, and I need to keep them that way. You can see here how adding a lit­tle more color to the back­ground and the hair soft­ens the edges. I’m think­ing two di­men­sion­ally. It’s very im­por­tant to paint the back­ground in along with the head. I’m think­ing about one shape and color meet­ing an­other shape and color. Each have a color, value, shape and edge.

STAGE 3: You can see the large rec­tan­gu­lar shadow shape from the head and neck an­gled to the left, and now it’s easy to see a tri­an­gu­lar shape next to it on the right side of her neck which is in the light. The edge where they meet is soft, but look at the edge where the chin meets the neck; it’s a harder edge than that, but softer than the edge on the op­po­site side of that tri­an­gle. Do you see how com­par­ing ev­ery stroke to what is al­ready there is so help­ful? It gets eas­ier with ev­ery cor­rect stroke be­cause you have more cor­rect things to com­pare the next shape to.

STAGE 4: The hy­drangeas were so much fun! The sub­tle col­ors of green, yel­low and pink were gor­geous. I re­ally had to squint to get the larger shapes and sim­plify all that was go­ing on in there. I didn’t want to put too much at­ten­tion on them; I wanted the at­ten­tion to be on the fig­ure. The light back­ground made it eas­ier to cre­ate those soft edges. Re­mem­ber in the be­gin­ning, I took time be­fore I started this paint­ing for the en­tire setup! It re­ally helps. Then I painted a few of the green leaves and with a pa­per towel, gen­tly wip­ing them out. The re­sult is the sug­ges­tion of the leaves with­out paint­ing ev­ery leaf, and look at those edges!

STAGE 5: This paint­ing took mul­ti­ple days to com­plete. When the light changed, I would stop for the day and re­sume the next day or on a day with sim­i­lar light. When Grace couldn’t pose, I stuffed her dress with clothes and set it up in the chair as close to her pose as I could get. That al­lowed me to still work on the paint­ing as if she were there; I just couldn’t work on the head. When she was hot, I got a bucket of cold wa­ter for her feet and a cold towel on her back. When the dog ate the plant, I got an­other one. There are many chal­lenges with plein air paint­ing. How­ever, I’m up for those chal­lenges be­cause the re­sults are like noth­ing else!

STAGE 6: Plac­ing an ac­tual leaf on my paint­ing is a great way to see if what I’m try­ing to do will work with­out wor­ry­ing about hav­ing to wipe it out if it doesn’t. Any­thing goes (al­most any­thing) when you’re paint­ing. If it helps get to your vi­sion, I’m all for it!

STAGE 7: Fi­nal paint­ing: Grace en Plein Air, oil, 20 x 24" (51 x 61 cm). When I brought the paint­ing in­side I could see it needed a few touches. The hair around the out­side needed to be soft­ened, but the paint was pretty dry by this time. In or­der to achieve the same beau­ti­ful soft edges that I had done be­fore,

I had to paint wet into wet. I re­painted the area of the back­ground where the hair was and then re­painted the hair over it. I checked the over­all paint­ing for any hard edges that should be soft­ened or soft edges that should be hard­ened, as well as any­thing else that stood out that shouldn’t. Turn­ing the paint­ing up­side down and look­ing at it in the mir­ror also helps to see if any ad­just­ments are needed and where.




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