Home / Blog
This is a long-term project, a painting of Plaza Guemes. Plaza Guemes is a public square in the Palermo Viejo district of Buenos Aires, Argentina. The painting is based on a small study that I did on location, as well as photomontages, and photographs and other source material that I developed during the course of my working on the study. You can follow the painting’s progress on my “Painter’s Workshop” page here.
This work in progress was begun earlier in the summer, while everything was still green. The valley is still predominately green, but beginning to shade into fall colors. You can follow its progress on my Painter’s Workshop page.
From August 22-28 I participated in the Pacific Northwest Plein Air 2016 event in and around the Columbia River Gorge near Hood River OR and Maryhill Museum, Goldendale WA. The event was a competition, exhibition and sale, hosted by the Maryhill Museum. I was joined by my friend John Laney and 38 other artists, and did four paintings over a period of four days. The works were done alla prima and en plein air. Because the works would immediately be placed in a museum exhibition, I built the frames around the panels before doing the actual paintings. This made work a bit awkward, but in the end the weight of one painting with the heavy frame helped stabilize my setup during the first day’s 30 mph gusts of wind.
I have mixed feelings about these events, partially because I think that competition in art tends to place emphasis on the wrong qualities, much like what takes place in Olympic figure skating. Nevertheless, I did get a ribbon award, for “Best Mountain,” and was flattered that Terry Miura, the juror, gave it to me. I owe big thanks to my friend and colleague Cathleen Rehfeld for encouraging us to participate in what was overall a really enjoyable week of painting in the Gorge.
This is a painting that I’m currently working on site, at the Snohomish Valley viewpoint. We are looking west on an unused Department of Transportation right of way, with gate chained shut and marked no trespassing. There is a red road sign that has no icon or instruction, and the entire fence, sign and the right of way itself seem in danger of being completely overtaken by nature. It reminds me of Sartre’s description of foliage waiting to envelope the abandoned town in his novel ‘Nausea.’
No Trespassing: I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that even if there is a sign and a fence barring entry, one’s eyeballs can penetrate the prohibited space, and go dancing and gamboling about like birds on a wing. One can inhale the colors and textures through the organs of sight, like forbidden fruits stolen from a farmer’s field.
This photo was taken after the second session. The painting is being brought up gradually, with the slow articulation of leaf forms and shadows where the brambles of blackberries entangle the left side of the painting. I may emphasize even more the static banding of gray-blue and gray-purple of the sky.
One can often see wildlife at this location; hawks, deer, eagles, garter snakes, wrens, red-winged blackbirds, crows and finches. On the day that this photo was taken I saw a small lizard, which I almost mistook for a twig. It was a fence-sitting lizard, so-called because they are often seen sunning on fence posts. It is the only indigenous lizard in the area, hence easy to identify. During this session I was accompanied by two of my students, Min Zhong and Bin Li. Both were busy painting the Snohomish Valley itself, while my mind wandered down this forbidden trail.
Summer finally seems to have arrived, and I’m celebrating the Sun’s rejuvenating rays by having a sale on Plein Air Class Session Credits. You can go to my classes page, www.williamelston.com/classes/ for details about the sale, which include some of the deepest discounts I’ve offered. There is a counter at the bottom of this page that counts down the days until the end of the sale. But don’t wait until the last minute!
Many people think that painting en plein air requires innate talent, that it is an unproductive way to spend one’s time. An artist once said ‘the great thing about plein air is that you get to live your life while you are painting it!’
Painting en plein air is less about representing the countryside or urban environment than it is about becoming aware of life’s underlying rhythms. By sustained looking and listening, the distractions of daily life fall away. We find ourselves more fully occupying the moment. By replicating nature’s pulse in the gestures of our brushstrokes, we train our mind on what is essential. The paintings that result, records of observation and reverence, are just the icing on the cake.
Painting en plein air is good for your soul!
I returned to Bothell Landing with several plein air students this past week, and reworked an image that was begun at this time a year ago. Looking up the slough, with the early sun passing through the trees and lighting the embankment beyond, there was one difference: This year the Cottonwood trees had decided to let loose their snow-flurry of puffy seeds a bit early. In the painting you can see the evidence in the grayish surface debris that eddies with the current, but at times it really was like a snowstorm. One had to be on guard to keep the stuff from landing on palette and painting, and to avoid breathing the stuff lest one become like the victims of one of Heliogabalus fatal petal parties.
The end painting is more textural, as it was done over an unfinished painting of another subject. I rarely do this, preferring to paint on fresh canvas. But occasionally one must, when there is not a ready canvas of the appropriate size at hand. Under such circumstances I try to take advantage of the shapes and value structure of what lies beneath, and incorporate the textural effects into my new conception.
The heat also presented a challenge. It seems that rarely can good compositions be seen from the shade. “Fishermen do not fish in the sand,” the old Spanish saying goes. I usually work with umbrellas, but they shade the painting and my palette, and leave precious little protection for me. Their purpose is to control the light as it falls on my work, as it is too difficult to judge color accurately in full sunlight.
Bothell Landing is far from being the pastoral oasis that it appears in this painting. Behind me is a bustling park of children, bicyclists, budding martial artists, yoga enthusiasts and the noise of motorists on Bothell Way and beyond. In the city one must take one’s bucolic pleasures where they are to be found.