At the suggestion of my student Sarah Anderson, we’ve been painting at Larsen Lake Blueberry Farm, in Bellevue, WA. It’s a beautiful spot, with interesting views of the lake and the farm itself. There is also a lot of wildlife, especially of the avian variety. We saw wood ducks, a hawk that swooped by so fast that it could not be identified, and a great blue heron that parked its noble figure not far from where we were painting. It’s a wonderful suburban oasis, and full of interesting compositions.
This painting was begun over a year ago. It had been painted during the midsummer months where everything is boringly green. I had never been completely satisfied with it, so decided to rework the painting in mid-spring, hoping that the more dynamic range of tertiary colors and deeper atmospheric perspective would make a more interesting image.
The initial stages of this reworking corresponded to the first day of my plein air painting class. This photo represents that first day of work. It was a beautiful day at the landing, with lots of children, their parents, and squawking ducks.
You can see a comparison of this reworking with the painting that it covers over on my Painter’s Workshop page.
I’m currently having a sale on Plein Air Class sessions and Online Critiques. If someone close to you is interested in painting on site, or could use some advice from a well-known artist with almost 50 years of experience, both painting and exhibiting, this would be a good time to make a gift of lessons or critiques. Prices have been been substantially discounted for this sale, with savings of over $100 for Plein Air Classes, and discounts of almost 50% for Critiques. Check out my.
Update: This sale is officially over.
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,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.
SHARE THIS PAGE