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A Plein Air Session along Wisconsin's

North Branch Oconto River (1/3)

Author: Larry Seiler, Contributing Editor

It was a gorgeous winter northern Wisconsin afternoon. The weather was teasing us to believe spring was on its way early. Well, as of this writing it certainly was not true, yet as of this particular Saturday afternoon it was absolutely imperative that I had to take advantage of the sun.

I grabbed my gear and a 12" x 16" canvas board panel I had made and began my pursuit of finding just the right spot. Thirty miles later, I had crossed a bridge on highway 32 that went over the open waters of the fast running Oconto River. I found a place to park and wasted no time getting out along the snow and ice-covered shoreline.

I quickly set up...and began my session taking this photo:

I was particular moved by the strong shadows of the opposite shore, and the 4pm sunlight striking the trees in the distance. You'll note the very bridge in the scene that passes over this stretch for which I first drove over.

Aesthetically I was also taken in by the sound of the rapids. It was just beautiful. My desire was to discover EXACTLY what elements visually said, "beautiful" minus all unnecessary details. That is, we are seeking to take that which is complex and reduce it to more simplistic visual terms.

I had premixed my paint on my French easel's palette in anticipation of getting right to work. My routine involves arranging my colors from left to right in terms of color temperature- Cool blue (Ultramarine) and a warm blue (Pthalo), a burnt umber to help with darks, a cool red (Alizarin Crimson) and a warm red (Cadmium red medium), Cadmium Yellow Light or Hansa Yellow and the warmer Cadmium Yellow Medium, and then Titanium white. I use no black on my plein air painting sessions.

On this particular day I used "Flake" white, which is a lead based white. You have to definitely wear rubber latex gloves so as to not expose any possible cuts to the lead content. I had great difficulty on this colder day coaxing the flake white to come out of the tube. I basically had to double over and squeeze with two hands very hard to get an inch of paint out at a time.

I also added a Cerulean Blue which many landscape painters recommend for producing skies. Turns out I didn't care much for it, as I can produce I think any range of blues I want from Ultramarine and Pthalo, and won't probably use it again.

I add Garrett's Copal Medium to each of my colors, about one to two drops each and mix to the consistency of whipped butter with a small palette knife. I add as much as 10-12 drops of the medium to the white since white will be used with nearly every color mixture.

I don't recommend copal medium from regular art stores, and if you've tried it and haven't liked it, then I'd recommend Garrett's. The store bought varieties are resin based and care is not taken to prepare it in the time old fashion used of the masters. It is a major hassle to make it...and uses petrified woods in the process. I have been absolutely impressed and grateful to have found this medium. You can get more info by writing "Garrett Painting Mediums" Clovis, New Mexico or email [email protected].

What I discovered about this medium that was so agreeable to me was that a brushstroke goes and stays effortlessly exactly where you place it. I need my paint to work WITH me when painting out of doors, not against me, as maintaining a flow...getting into the "groove" so-to-speak is necessary to compete with the limited time the sunlight will stick around.

Also...copal has the property of being a natural varnish, and no further varnish is really necessary. It mixes in completely with the paint and dries from inside-out meaning no worry about cracking. It is also a natural siccative, which means it assists in the oil paint drying quicker to touch. An oil plein air I do today is relatively dry in about three days. Thus, if I sell a work near freshly done...I needn't worry about instructing the buyer how to varnish it six months to a year later.

Of course...the more copal you use the more natural shine your finished work will have. It just depends on how you develop your methods of using it.

I do tend to add a varnish later which I do to assure a unified shine in areas that I blocked in with paint and turps and never painted over fully. You could varnish with copal....or even add copal to the turps block in.

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