Plein air: a term for sketching or painting outdoors.
Recently I read a wonderful book, Defiant Spirits by Ross King, the story behind the famous Canadian painters known as The Group of Seven. They used to journey out into the great woods with portable painting kits, and did many little oil sketches as studies for larger, more complex works that were produced later in studio. I had been toying with oil paint, hoping the magic of oil might suddenly be revealed to me, but my experiments with that medium have resulted in frustration, so for now I am sticking with acrylic, my favourite paint. Acrylic is simple and easy to clean up – that’s for me! I took my sketching kit out this afternoon with some 8×10 panels, a good size for carrying around.
I am trying to keep in mind not to overwork my sketches; to stop just before they seem finished. Usually they are truly finished at that point. I may have overworked this, but I hope not too much. It was a cool, dull afternoon on the side of the mountain looking out to the distant hills. I was lost for over an hour, as the sky spit a few random drops and the breeze caressed the hillside. Sometimes a grey day can be more beautiful than a sunny one.
April afternoon, Garry Oak meadow
Sometimes we just stop doing things for no apparent reason. For the past year I didn’t do any painting. I can’t figure out why. However, today was the annual Plein Air Challenge here, sponsored by a local art store. I’ve done it the past few years and decided I’d take part again. Last night I put my kit together and this morning I went out and did a painting. I was rewarded with a beautiful day, and a very pleasant time spent closely observing a boat and the harbour. One hundred and thirty people came out, and it was great to see them all over downtown with sketchbooks and easels. There were no prizes for artwork this year, only door prizes selected at random. I didn’t win any but I felt like I’d won a lovely day enjoying myself. Maybe I’ll be back painting and sketching again before I know it.
After the Mothers Day paint in I didn’t do any art for a week, until today. This afternoon I went out to a national historic site, Fort Rodd Hill, and sketched in the warm sun for two hours. The painting board was 12″ x 16″ and I spent about 2 hours, which means I covered 96 sq. in. per hour. At the Mothers Day paint in event I worked on a 9″ x 12″ board for about 4 hours, covering 27 sq. in. per hour. So today I worked 3.55 times faster than last week, and I think the result was as good or better. They say ‘haste makes waste’ but I say sometimes it doesn’t pay to work too slowly. Procrastination also has benefits, too.
Fisgard Light from Fort Rodd Hill, Victoria – 96 sq in/hr
Mothers Day – 27 sq in/hr
the final warm up sketch
I got one good sketching day in last week before the big day Sunday, Mothers Day. I sat in a glade of trees on the grounds of the oldest school in the Province of BC – the Academy of the Sisters of St. Ann. The sister came here via Cape Horn to found schools and also the first hospital, which was across the street from the grounds of the school. The city has surrounded the grounds on three sides but the south side gives onto the park. Now it’s an oasis even more than ever, as huge modern towers full of condos and hotel rooms have sprouted up all over. As I finished up an old fellow suddenly appeared on the rock wall in front of me, puffing on a smoke – then I quickly sketched him in and he was gone. I think the human interest makes the sketch.
Today was the paint in, and we arrived early and got a good start. We didn’t stray very far from the starting point, finding a quiet parking lot where we spent four peaceful but intense hours doing our artwork. Before I finished I decided the sketch needed human interest, so I added a street person pushing a shopping cart across the parking lot. Then we started to clean up, and I no sooner stood up from my stool than a street person came along pushing a shopping cart. It’s a common enough sight, but I was still blown away by this happening right after I made up just such a person, as if the painting had summoned them from wherever they were going and compelled them to cross in front of us just as in the sketch.
Victoria City Hall from the parking lot across the street
Fountain Lake – Beacon Hill Park – Victoria
Yesterday’s outing produce this sketch of Fountain Lake in Beacon Hill Park. The lake was built in 1888 before the park was designed by Scottish landscape architect Blair. I find the abundance of green tones a huge challenge, obviously!
I was also prompted to pull out my Brother 750TR after reading about poet Les Murray and his very similar machine on oz.typewriter. But oz also had a post about typewriters used in the Fuhrer bunker, notably Adlers. I pulled out the Brother and gave it a short workout on the bench to see if there was ink left in the ribbon. Good enough. I carried it up stairs. Then I went to the living room and saw my Adler Tippa behind the couch. Which one to use? I set up the Adler on the table, fed in a piece of 9×12 sketch paper, the closest thing at hand, and just blurted out the first thing that came to mind. Maybe the Brother tomorrow.
old church on a corner
Yesterday I got out for an hour or two again with my paint box, and drove around in search of a site where I could set up and paint a suitable scene. I saw this old church in need of repair, parked the van and walked up and down the street looking for the right angle. There were some good places but I felt too exposed setting up there so I settled on the corner just because it seemed like a neutral place where nobody might stare at me from their front window. Having left it too late, as usual, I only had an hour so I rushed the sketch and it was terribly bad. I went home disgusted with my effort, but with a photo of the scene for reference. Later on I did a better sketch, after having first laid the whole thing out in pencil this time.
Sketch 2 was technically better but it didn’t do anything for me, so I decided to rework sketch 1. It needed a story, so I created one. I think this proves that when you have fun and relax a bit, better results follow.
sketch 1 – reworked with a story added