View Full Version : Please help this plein air beginner
04-17-2002, 08:24 PM
Please help me. I do know how to paint but plein air is mind boggling especially when there isn't any in person instruction. Everything I am learning is from books and online. Tomorrow I will try again but tomorrow they say we'll have some sun and so I may take another painter with me and that will help.
Problems I'm experiencing...I'm extremely self-concious. I don't want to go so far away and remote alone so that leaves me to public parks etc. Well, I noticed today I can't stand people looking over my shoulder when I paint. Especially since I don't think I do very well and its embarrasing. Tomorrow I'm going to try and get a friend to go with me so we can get away to a more remote place. (I also didn"t have much time today. Sun break was about 30 sec. The rest is on site but from memory)
I forgot to bring a mat to frame in the subject so that didn't help.
I don't like what I did.
Here are my poor attempts for the day
04-17-2002, 08:26 PM
And here is looking in the opposite direction
I'm determined to do this though and hopefully by the end of the summer I'll know what I'm doing.
04-17-2002, 08:57 PM
I think those are very nice! What size & medium?
I'm often unhappy with what I do outdoors, mainly I think because of the time factor-- with the light changing, I have to just dive in and paint, and too often, don't spend any time at all planning, composing, thinking about my color choices, etc.. It's a lot to deal with all at once, but the practice in dealing with it is just wonderfully valuable-- I think it's improved my studio work a lot.
Can you figure out why you're unhappy with your work? That's the key for me-- once I know where I went wrong, I usually get happier because even if I still don't like the painting, I learned something useful.
As for being bothered by people looking over your shoulder-- well, I've found that the more often I go out the more at ease I get with it. I just tell people that I'm just learning (even though I've been painting for 4 years, it's certainly true!), and in general people either say nothing or say something nice. When I really get into the painting, I stop noticing other people unless they speak, which they usually don't.
The important thing is to just keep doing it-- the way I look at it is that if I'm failing on a fairly regular basis in my art, then I'm stretching myself enough to do things that are hard for me, taking enough risks. (On the other hand, if I get on a bad streak and don't like ANYTHING I'm doing, I take it as a sign to back off and go paint a few things I KNOW how to paint. :D )
Determination will win out, you know.
04-17-2002, 09:01 PM
You have a good sense of color here...and your drive is a good one.
There are some resources here on WC that I hope you'll spend some time with.
For one...check out the Content Channel at the top of Wetcanvas pages...and go to specific areas like "Landscape" ..."Plein Air", etc;
Johannes Vloothius...provided a monumental published article all about landscape painting...23 pages!!! An indepth endeavor on composition, and what makes good paintings.
If you get a chance...I have about 9 or 10 such demo's here, showing step by step, and have them conveniently accessible on my own website on the demo page-
I realize its not the same as in-person workshops...but, since the authors/artists of such articles are members here...its pretty much the next best thing.
Diane Johnson has wonderful demos here...and is a great painter!
All in all....I tell people though, that it takes 120 bad paintings to learn something about painting. I love the Degas quote that follows my signature at the bottom of each post...because it is so true!
From where I sit...you are heads and tails ahead of many. A somewhat natural sense of composition, and a very natural atmospheric light color.
See yourself as a painter. Period. From there on...its a lifestyle. A life long endeavor. A vehicle for celebration.
Whatever we do enough of, we become adept at. Learn to enjoy the "process" and the "act" of art making just as much as the end product if not a whole lot more!
The wonderful grace-filled thing about plein air is it is more than an image. It is a record of a journey...an experience.
When you have all your plein airs set up around a room...you don't just see images. Each one is a rememberance of where you were standing. The smells. The sense of the breeze, the humidity, the sun. You remember the sounds. In essence, it validates that truly you were alive.
AS you get better...you gain more confidence. As you gain more confidence, you get better.
That is a wonderful thing when that happens. You enter the natural world ready to engage with all aesthetic resources fully charged. You welcome the world. Welcome the Creator. You welcome any challenge that might come your way. You feel fully charged and alive. A conduit for something deeply spiritual.
I guess I can at best remember feeling I was doing some service as an in-studio painter...but nothing as what entering the natural world does.
04-17-2002, 09:03 PM
I'm sorry, I forgot to post the size and medium. Oils and they are really small (I knew I didn't have much time) 6 X 8. I spent about 2 hours for the both of them.
I think you pin pointed exactaly how I'm feeling. I was so anxious to catch the fleeting sun that I didn't bother planning the composition, color etc. Its really a rushed thing. If ever we have a sunny day that I know is going to be sunny for more than a moment I may do better but everytime I looked up the sun did something different to the water. I wanted to catch that really mysterious color/absence of color when the water is quiet and mirror like in one spot, and ripply in another. I may have tried too much in these. They just look bland to me.
04-17-2002, 09:08 PM
Originally posted by walden
-- the way I look at it is that if I'm failing on a fairly regular basis in my art, then I'm stretching myself enough to do things that are hard for me, taking enough risks
..and, a good quote to remember is, "you never fail until you stop trying!"
It is so true!
As long as you keep trying, you are on the same similar path that we have all traveled on and will keep traveling on.
04-17-2002, 09:12 PM
Larry, your post brings tears to my eyes.
Actually, I read the whole 23 pages that you are talking about. Of course I need to read it again and again. After I read it I looked at the landscapes I had already done and saw all my no nos and have to admit I was a bit discouraged. I've also read some of your demos and will again. I'll also read more...but you're right. Reading and doing are two different things!
I appreciate your encouraging words...especially the spiritual ones. I will copy and paste them into a special folder that I have for inspiring words.
I don't want to lose the sense of journey in this. Tomorrow I will breathe deeply before I begin and love every moment of it. The salty air, the sound of the seagulls...the children laughing in the distance. Thank you Larry.
04-17-2002, 09:17 PM
The important thing is to just keep doing it-- the way I look at it is that if I'm failing on a fairly regular basis in my art, then I'm stretching myself enough to do things that are hard for me, taking enough risks. (On the other hand, if I get on a bad streak and don't like ANYTHING I'm doing, I take it as a sign to back off and go paint a few things I KNOW how to paint
This is very encouraging! You're right. I'm doing something that is hard for me and if I do it long enough I may get good at it and I probably will improve. Sometimes as we grow older we have a tendency not to stretch ourselves and though I wasn't realizing it that's exactly what I'm doing. Thanks for helping me see this.
Now, tell me something. I bought a large tube of zinc white. I have been unhappy with titanium white because it just isn't pure enough for me. Is this going to make a big difference?
04-17-2002, 09:22 PM
The second one needs more definition in the focal point, but I think it has good color and a good value pattern. My eye goes to the bright yellow area on the far shore, but I can't tell what's there.
The first one has good definition in the focal point and good color, but the composition bothers me. My eye comes in on the lower left and follows the lake shore all the way around and straight out of the painting. That dark blue water next to the lighter shore makes a strong line leading the eye right out-- you need something there to break that line-- a boat, angled diagonally to point the eye back into the painting and towards the focal point? a tree? Anything. Also, darkening the shore towards the left edge of the painting would help. The foreground could have a bit more implied definition, something to give a sense of scale, and that dark bridge, or walkway, or whatever acts a little bit as a visual barrier. Maybe if it were at somewhat of a different angle?
Anyway, that's what I see. Don't be so hard on yourself, though. Plein air is tough to master (like I would know?????) :D
04-17-2002, 09:43 PM
Lisa, you already have some very good advice from others, but I wanted to say I really like your work. You can paint. the rest will get easier as you go more.
I am intimidated by painting outdoors around people also, but it does get easier. Just smile if you don't feel like talking.
I can tell that you have already learned some things to do, and will be more prepared next time. Stay with it. I'm very shy around people, so I know how hard it is. Good luck!
(My other message disappeared, so I hope it doesn't post itself!):D
04-18-2002, 06:10 AM
If you are intimidated by having people watch you, think of it as a learning experience for yourself and those watching you. Because you are brave enough to go out and paint, perhaps you will help someone else to have the courage to try. I have been able to give courage to many that way. They come back over and over to learn and then go out themselves. It is very gratifying.
I think you are putting too much emphasis on making good paintings right away. Plein air is like no other genre' of painting. It is extremely difficult and takes much practice and time. Don't be concerned right away about whether the paintings are good. We have much to learn in the field and it is a continuing process. Try to have specific goals for each painting session. That will help you work on problem areas. If you have difficulty with some areas, try to work on those with small canvases. It is rather like assembling a puzzle over a long period of time. Don't shy away from diffficult parts of painting. Practice those problem areas first.
04-18-2002, 06:57 AM
One other thought on plein air canvas sizes: I did a lot of experimentation in order to find out what the best sizes are for me right now. I was attracted to the 6 x 8 size, because it seemed so compact, and like it would be easier, so I did several of them-- but I found myself really struggling to get the level of definition that I wanted. (I also tried 12 x 16 because I thought maybe I could do better on a much bigger panel, where I could be looser-- that didn't work either.) I have finally settled on 8 x 10 as my primary size, with 9 x 12 for those days when I have plenty of time and the light is fairly constant. I find that I complete an 8 x 10 in the same hour I was using for a 6 x 8, but I feel much less constricted (because, you know, it doesn't seem like it but it's more than sixty percent larger). To tell the truth, I often complete a 9 x 12 in the same time, but sometimes I'll spend an hour and a half on one.
Like so many aspects of art, I think this is a very personal thing that everyone has to figure out for themselves. I am always amazed and impressed by people who successfully work smaller and larger than I do-- but right now, I need to stick with what works best for me. I hope to someday be able to go bigger if I want, so I'll keep trying it periodically-- sooner or later, I expect I'll do a good big one and when I do, I'll expand my range.
04-18-2002, 08:07 AM
You really do get better and more confident with practice!
I have found Larry's method of "ragging-in" the big shapes and values to be the most helpful trick. It forces you to look at the overall picture and composition first, and gets those big lights and darks in early on, and fast.
That's what makes the painting, actually. I had gotten just that far on one, and a man stopped to talk. He said he'd been to art school but hadn't painted in years. I told him it's time to start again, and he said "Your work has made me excited enough to do it!" I hadn't done anything much except rag-in and start with some darks!
Also, remember K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid!) :D
04-18-2002, 08:13 AM
I have a tube of zinc white I bought, and don't use...I found it to be too transparent. I use titanium mostly. I also have a tube of flake white, which IMHO is the best. It is thick and wonderful with the copal medium I use. IT is "lead" paint, and you have to protect yourself. I wear dentist rubber gloves, as you don't want any lead paint entering cuts on your skin, etc;
I found though, that lead white is nearly impossible to use during the winter. It is so thick and concentrated, that the cold nearly makes it impossible to squeeze of the tube. I nearly double over in my efforts to press some out. hee heeee....
04-18-2002, 08:21 AM
Dianne, Plein air is always overwhelming for a first timer. The choices are so wide and the landscape has no limits , that pretty soon your painting looks like a compressed version of what's in front ( and all around ) you. The first thing I see is that you have chosen to paint a very wide area. That is a common first time mistake. Pick one interesting shape out there. A boat, a shed, a tree with a chess table, something simple. Then, move your easel pretty close to it, so you can really start to see color in the shadows, etc..
Take your time and spend non-painting time ( don't compete with the moving sun ) asking yourself if there are interesting shapes in front of you. If not, move till you see a couple. Then use Larry's method ( described in this forum, and in his article) ragging in your composition. Trust me, the painting will go much more quickly and smoothly if you do this.
Since your choices have been boiled down to one or two objects, you will have less confusion, and can concentrate on what's before you without being overwhelmed.Believe me, I have btdt and I know of what I speak. Try this next time. All the top artists who do plein aire subscribe to K.I.S.S.
Btw, we don't all have to paint mountains! You can setup a beautiful still life and paint it and if done from life, it's a plein aire. There are plenty of interesting people and shapes in your local park. Van Gogh painted his chair in the insane asyllum and you didn't hear him saying he had nothing to paint!:D Remember it's shapes, not things.
PS: One more thing about people looking over your shoulder. You get used to it. I was a commercial signman for fifteen years and Everyone talked to me while I painted oudoors ( trucks, boats, etc..), so I am oblivious to it now. However, when a real pest comes by, there's nothing wrong with politely explaining that someone talking to you makes you nervous and interfers with your concentration. Anyone normal will be courteous enough to leave.If they don't leave after that, get out of there fast. :rolleyes: Renee
04-18-2002, 10:44 AM
What wonderful advice! This is what I was hoping for by posting!
As far as trying to paint too much...
Yep, that's what I did alright, and I knew better too because this wasn't the first time but for some reason I thought I could paint the whole ocean and make it look good
Still life...Actually I did a still life a couple of weeks ago and its already framed and in the gallery. I was happy with it and plan on doing more.
I have a tube of flake white and I thought there was something wrong with it because it was so thick...like maybe it had dried up or something. Thanks for letting me know about this. I purchased the copal medium recently and I'll try it with the flake white. I also appreciate the tip on the gloves. In fact, I plan on getting some before I go out to paint today.
Ruth, thank you for your advice too...about the ragging in (which I did but I don't think I did it to the extent that I should have).
Walden, yes I agree about the canvas size. I don't see as well as I used to either and I think I need to use a little bit bigger canvas. I also need to get another pair of reading glasses because I can't find my 175s anywhere.
blondheim, you're right about wanting to do good paintings right away. Its been said that an artist is his own worst critic.
I'm bringing a friend with me tomorrow. She doesn't know anything about plein air either so I'm going to take my notes from this forum and we'll stumble along together. The art association here that I write the newsletter for is in the dark about plein air. No one is doing it. No one is selling much work either and the local gallery (which was built in the 1800s) may have to close because of lack of business. Its my intent to get some plein air artists painting the beautiful Puget Sound area and revive this community culturally. Thanks so much everyone. I REALLY appreciate your comments.
04-18-2002, 11:21 AM
I believe I called you by the wrong name,:D but it appears that you are on your way to happy painting. You are fortunate to have someone to paint with you. Wish I did. Good luck.:)
04-18-2002, 11:47 AM
Thank you, jenrou, for your encouragement as well. It is my experience that there are artists everywhere! If you are looking for someone to paint with, look in your local paper for art associations and go to a meeting. I didn't get involved for years but just recently joined an art association and am reaping the benefits of showing my work more for less, and enjoying some wonderful company.
Have a great day
04-18-2002, 02:06 PM
I couldn't resist posting and I haven't been in this forum since it started but am glad that plein air is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
As someone who also just started painting "on-location" last year, I'll let you in on a couple of things that helped me.
First, it does help to paint with others, you can learn from them as well you have a feeling of "safety in numbers", plus the onlookers generally go from one to another...so the hang around time is less.
Second, take a previously completed painting and leave it nearby..this gives them an idea of your style and what it looks like when done. This is really good when you first start the painting and it looks like blobs of color all over your canvas or the childish drawing their 10-yr old did. Then you are less apt to feel selfconscious or feel obliged to explain yourself. Note: some artists carry around a small photo album for onlookers to look at and who knows you might pick up a customer.
Third, if I'm having trouble getting something quite right, obviously the onlookers are going to make me even more uptight and nervous. Its best to leave that area for a bit and work loosely somewhere else on the painting where you can work in confidence. As soon as they leave, you can head right back to that spot.
Fourth, we all have bad days and good days, It goes with the territory and every artist has had them. I have worked on a painting all morning just to turp it all off back down to the canvas. Moved to a different location and produce something great that afternoon!
As far as size, I take a variety with me because until I actually see the composition, I have no idea what size I'm going to paint. I have painted as large as 18" X 24" and as small as 4" X 6". One of my favorite sizes is 12" X 24" for the long panoramic view. I can complete a 12" X 24" in 4 hours. But I have also taken 2 or 3 days....just come back at the same time the next day.
For me, I am hooked...Although I will always have to studio paint, If at all possible, I prefer to paint en plein air. Once you start to see things as they really are and not from photographs, its really hard to go back. Its amazing how much a photo modifies the colors and increases the darkness. Plus, the feeling of being outdoors and a part of nature.
Plus, you'll find plein air artists are a special breed of artists and they are some of the nicest people you will ever meet!
04-18-2002, 07:27 PM
Thank you Elisabeth for sharing! Those are really good ideas and I will incorporate them! I'm going to start a new thread because I painted again today and took a lot of advice that was already given and I want everyone to see the difference. I'm much happier with this one...hope you are too. And btw, I brought my new found friend to paint with me. I couldn't help talking about WC and I think she's going to be joining us if she hasn't already.
04-18-2002, 10:33 PM
I always feel my work looks bland when I get home with it! I think its because when I'm out in the big wide open spaces...everything is bombarding my eyes with color, contrast, light changes, depth, sky, lifesize trees! and then I get home... That little canvas that I spent two to three hours on looks rather trivial in comparison. So I put it away....and give myself time to 'forget' what it was like outside painting. Then the next day...my little painting reminds me of what it felt like to be there...and that's not so bad after all!
Enjoy yourself! You have a wonderful attitude...and you will get use to folks taking a peek over the shoulder. Paint in the same place long enough and you'll begin to blend into the scenery!
My fav of the two is the second one...looks more relaxed, more atmosphere!
04-19-2002, 10:57 AM
a sign painter for years also and one tip to keep people at bay is to wear earplugs like you are listening to a walkman, noone talks to you when wearing those I didn t have to listen just tapped my foot if some looked like wanting to talk but now I don t care and the kids are the best critics
04-19-2002, 10:04 PM
Just had to jump into wonderful thread. d_garden, you've brought up a subject that so many of us are concerned with I think. I've only had one experience with Plein Aire, and I posted that a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately I had no on lookers.... I also have the shy thingy... no conficence. I'd love to have a partner to plein aire with.... one art group in my vacinity, and I'm in it. If we were closer I'd love to join in with you two. Looking forward to seeing more of your posts.
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