Tag Archives: Painting

Now, They’re Mine

A few months ago, I decided to take some of my older paintings out of circulation. At the time of their completion I was quite happy with them but not anymore. At first I felt like I was just tired if looking at them. Still I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Some I could sand down, prime and reuse the surface for new paintings, but some I still liked. I found a place in the basement for them, still feeling like there was something else I should be doing with them.

Then today I revisited a few. I decided to hang them up in my house. Now though, instead of looking at them with a critical eye, they looked like old friends. The harshness of ousting them from the fold has passed. They are memories of having reached new strides and finding beautiful places. They are comfortable in my home and I’m happy to have them. They received many compliments which boosted my confidence so I could push forward. So, no matter what artistic merit they may lack, my walls are filling up with these gifts to myself.

There are two in particular I’ve chosen. The first is called “Autumn Hayfields”. It’s a scene from a back road that my son use to take to go to his girlfriend’s house. He told me it was a pretty spot and that I should check it out to paint. I drove where he suggested, but I also told him not to drive back roads, in typical Mom fashion saying he could crash and no one would ever find him. Of course he didn’t listen, but I needed to say it. When I arrived at the spot, it really didn’t look like much. Still, I though, he has good taste, I figured I’d try again another day. It was a beautiful Autumn day when I went again. All of New England is picture perfect on such days probably. So was the spot Mike had told me about. Between the scene being at my son’s suggestion and day being so glorious  this painting is an old friend and welcome in my home.

The other is called “Bend in the River”. This one is of a place not far from my house and a road I’ve traveled many times. It’s special for a couple of reasons. I came upon the spot early in the morning, not being a morning person, seeing the sun’s effect so low in the sky is usually only at sunset for me. But I had dropped my husband off very early as he was about to fly to China on business for three weeks. Being apart for that long and in winter time when anything can happen here, I thought I would just throw myself into my painting with a new vigor to help the time move more quickly.  To that end I had brought my camera with me for the early morning drive. Seeing the light of the rising sun on the trees was beautiful. But also, that scene along the river is almost impossible to see anytime but winter. When the trees are full of foliage, the river disappears behind them. I hadn’t realize there was that bit of wilderness just off the road. When my husband got home from his trip I couldn’t wait to show him the new painting. He took one look at it and said “Wow”. Another milestone had been reached – this one was a keeper, and so, now, they’re mine.

The Perils of Plein Air

No matter what your line of work, there are phrases that are so commonly used that you forget that maybe other people are not as familiar. Painting “En Plein Air” just means painting outside. It has become increasingly popular of late but was also made very popular by earlier artists in the late 19th century. The French Impressionists were among those who favored painting en plein air. Before that paint was made in the studio before painting. While some of the early plein air painters did mix their own paint and packed it to bring with them it was really when paint was put in tubes that made the difference.

All that being the case, I have been working at my plein air painting almost from the beginning. I keep trying to refine my style and my gear. As with any painting I start hearing voices in my head when I work – the voices of every instruction I’ve ever learned, with many contradictions thrown in for good measure. Too much color, not enough “pure color”, too much detail, not enough detail, so, short of screaming back I just keeping working at trying to make good pictures, everyone agrees that’s the idea.

Now, lets add in the elements, yea, those elements, earth, wind and fire. There is the romantic ideal, painting the beauty of nature on a glorious day, and then there is the reality. Even on the best days, nature happens. Let’s start with wind, there’s the nice cooling breeze that keeps you comfortable and there’s the wind that knocks you’re painting to the ground, giving it that nice textured look with the dirt mixed into the paint. A real authenticity to your earth colors. Of course, with the proper set-up, you’re painting will be secure, but the wind will still be a factor. Those lovely clouds you’re trying to capture, well they are floating along in that breeze. Either paint quickly to get them as they are, or you kind of “wing” it.

Those floating clouds also tend to change the light even more quickly than the sun as works it’s way around you. Again, you must decide, where is the sun coming from in your painting, because it’s not going to be in the same place when you’re finished. I was told to bring a compass, so you can anticipate where it will be. I have a compass tied to my backpack, but I’ve never used it. It looks good though. I’m not sure I could really use it properly anyhow. The fire element can also be the sun burn too. Sun screen is also in my backpack, along with my ipod, paper towels, paints, brushes, palette knives, mineral spirits, business cards, phone, garbage bags, foot warmers (for winter months), a sketchbook and bug spray. Bugs are a special favorite, between the bite and the landing in the wet paint on your canvas, I’m not sure which is more irritating.

Having a backpack leaves my hands free to carry my French box, which is not light. It goes from being a wooden box the size of a brief case, to unfold into an easel and palette on legs. Of course I also have my lunch box (no not the old school kind with Bugs Bunny or GI Joe on the side) but an insulated bag with a shoulder strap.   My camera is also hanging around my neck. I do ok, lugging my gear around, it’s good exercise. But once again there’s a catch, what do you do with the wet painting when you’re finished. The French box has a carrying mechanism when it’s closed up, but it’s not a very snug fit and brushing up against anything could be a disaster.

With each of my outings I learn a little more. There is one practice I have now abandoned though. That would be putting the finished painting on the hood of the car as I pack the rest of my gear back into the back of it. It always seemed like a good idea. Get the gear in there and then much more carefully put the painting in, in a way that it is protected. The only problem is the fatigue factor. Usually by the time I’ve hauled gear to a site, set up, painted a few hours and made my way back to the car, I’m tired, and forgetful. Like the time leaving the Arnold Arboretum this Spring. It was beautiful day, with the flowering trees and new grass. My routine however failed me as I headed up the on ramp to leave Boston and I watched my painting fly off the hood of my car. It wasn’t a very good painting anyway, the tire treads didn’t help either.


Time, no matter what you do for a living, time seems to always jump into the conversation. For painters it’s a question that comes up often. How long did it take you to paint that? It seems like a reasonable question and in all likelihood just a matter of curiosity. But it’s not that simple. And artists tend to feel as though you’re asking how much do you get paid per hour.

Tracking the amount of the time it takes to create a painting, starts well before the paint ever hits the canvas. Painting plein air (outside) or in the studio has to start with a subject. When I decided to start my series on the White Mountains I wanted to capture them in different seasons for the variety of color.  I also wanted to include at least one painting of Mount Washington, more if possible. That’s easier said than done because it is covered by clouds more often than not.

It’s a three hour drive so I often checked the weather and the web cam’s of the area before beginning the trip. Even with all my preparations, after multiple trips I still was unable to see the peak of Mt. Washington so I would paint or take pictures of other scenes. Finally, staying up there for a weekend, the clear blue sky showed off Mt. Washington’s snowy peak in all it’s glory. I completed several paintings that weekend and then I worked on a larger version of one in the studio. I also worked from photographs of previous trips to continue the series.

So how long did it take to paint the studio version? When did the clock start ticking?