View Full Version : Pine Rhythms - Plein air WIP

Donna T
09-05-2009, 04:28 PM
Hi all, I thought it might try to document the progress of a plein air painting. I have been looking at the pines along my drive for awhile and I took note of what time of day the light was good. We have had some beautiful blue sky days here so no more procrastinating!

Here's the view:

I can put all my stuff in the back of the car and put the hatch up - the perfect outdoor studio. I had a piece of mounted UArt from a flopped attempt the other day. Lately, I've been noticing that I do so much better when I start on a flop. I brush off all the loose pastel, wet the board with water and blot up as much color as I can. I've learned not to rub with a paper towel ... fuzz! When it dries I try to balance out the color blobs that remain - I don't like a perfectly uniform one-color surface. I rub in pastel to make an interesting balance of warm and cool colors, squinting to make sure the value is about the same all over. Then I give it a quick spray with rubbing alcohol. This is what it looked like before the spray - no major changes afterwards.


Sorry, that's kind of blurry but you can see the roof of the ill-fated barn. I turned the board upside down so that area wouldn't be a distraction. I blocked in the scene, trying to be very aware of the sunlit areas (in orange) and the shaded areas (dark purple blue). I rubbed in the dark on the tree trunk because I don't want any noticeable texture there and I don't want to have to fill in too-light areas later. At this point I gave the whole painting a spray with alcohol - just enough to wet every area and set those colors into the tooth of the paper. I was able to start painting immediately because the alcohol dries so quickly. I knew I wasn't going to be able to finish in one day - the light had already changed and since this subject is accessable to me any time I didn't want to feel rushed. Most of my goofs come from rushing so from now on I'm going to take 'color notes' that can be used to finish later in the studio if needs be. This is as far as I got the first day:


Still with me? I hope I'm not boring you too much. :o Today was another beauty so back down the driveway I went at the right time. I promised myself not to fuss! I did a lot of squinting and tried to keep it fresh looking. It looks better from a few feet back and I forced myself not to tidy up too much. I actually like the areas of the underpainting that show - they kind of fill in for a lot of 'stuff' that I chose to edit out.

"Pine Rhythms" 9x12


Thanks for your patience! I did learn some things that I'm excited to share but I'll be back later. You need a break! :) C&C most welcome.


09-05-2009, 07:19 PM
looks good from here Donna

09-05-2009, 07:46 PM
Wonderful freshness and spontaneity!


nana b
09-05-2009, 08:18 PM
Donna, it's beautiful and thanks for the great demo! I was interested in the way you re-claimed your used paper. I'm going to give it a try and will be looking forward to you sharing the additional things you have learned from this.
Are you finished with this as it is very beautiful. I really like your style!


09-05-2009, 08:21 PM
Very nice, Donna! It reminds me of Handell's work.

- Ann

Bill Foehringer
09-05-2009, 08:28 PM
I like how you put just enough down and let it stand. :thumbsup: Bill

09-05-2009, 08:43 PM
Nice work... love the sky:thumbsup:

09-05-2009, 08:44 PM
:clap: Wonderful! Such a good post! I will be back to see the rest. Didn't know you had Pines in Maryland, they look like ours here! See you next post!

09-05-2009, 09:03 PM
Thanks for the demo Donna! The painting is lovely. The patterns of tree spacing and branches is very nice. It reminds me of stained glass.


Kathryn Wilson
09-05-2009, 09:27 PM
Shades of Handell - you definitely have that touch!

Ever use Viva towels? - the best towel to use and no fuzz

Winny Kerr
09-05-2009, 10:38 PM
Very nice, everything is so good about this painting, so well balanced, lovely. I must remember the Viva towel, thank you for that tip Kathryn :thumbsup:

Donna T
09-06-2009, 12:13 PM
Thanks so much you guys - I've had so many flops lately and you make me feel that all is not lost!

About the Viva towels, yes they work very well with a minimum of fuzz, especially on the 500 and 600 grit of UArt. For this one I used a little piece of Glad Press 'n Seal because I found in a cupboard in the kitchen and never used it like it was intended. It has a slightly sticky side - not good - and a slightly textured side - very good for lightly rubbing in a layer of pastel with no loss like you get with a paper towel. It's kind of a pain to use though - it crinkles up very easily. I just make a smooth spot with it and leave it on my finger until I'm done. If you have some of this in your kitchen you can give it a try but I'm not saying it's worth a trip to the store.

Here's what I learned:

Don't rush the underpainting. In a scene like this where the light on the branches was the main attraction, I needed to know where the lights and darks needed to go. If I wasn't able to return to finish this my 'color notes' would have been a big help. By placing the right colors on the right value areas of the underpainting I had enough information for a studio finish. I envy those of you who can do a loose watercolor underpainting and then get to work. I guess I need more structure. :rolleyes:

Don't go on autopilot. The upper branches were getting as much, or more, bright sunlight than the lower branches - my intended area of interest. I started putting the same light yellow-green up above as I had below and then froze. Just because it was that way in reality did not mean it was best for the painting. I switched to a same-value green but in a more neutral color. I have several that are kind of dull and don't fit with the warm or cool greens. I've read about using the greyer, duller colors to keep certain areas of a painting quiet and this idea is finally sinking in.

Pay attention to weird things that catch your eye. On the sunlit trunk, about 2/3 of the way up, there is a little piece of a broken off branch that had the most interesting orange glow where it didn't seem possible. How could it be orange on the underside when it was technically in the shade? I eventually realized that the color must be reflecting up from the bark of the tree. I had to look really long and hard to see it but it was there. As soon as I added some of that orange to the trunk the tree seemed much more alive. I'm glad I didn't rush and took the time to notice that. This is the kind of thing that doesn't show up in the photo but makes a big difference in the painting.

The more I do this the more I realize that I have lots of learning to do. I will try to stop beating myself up for not painting as fast as others. Learning to paint better, not faster, is more important to me right now.


09-06-2009, 03:02 PM

A terrific painting! :clap: I lived the little bit of orange glow on the underside of that branch and noticed it right away in the painting - it just makes it look so much more real as you say.

I need to learn the bit about not necessarily painting exactly what I see. :o Your choice of the greyer greens for the top was definitely the right one.

Mary Anne

09-06-2009, 04:30 PM
Lovely! Thanks for your description of your process, it is always so interesting to take a look into another painter's brain.


09-06-2009, 10:41 PM
Donna, what a great job and all the info what you did. I sure hope i could remember it something to keep in my mind while out painting. I like your idea about opening the hatch. I remember you doing it in the rain once. and last week i went to the doctors with my wife and it rained so I did the same. got to paint sitting on the back and stayed dry. thank you for such usefull info.

09-07-2009, 02:33 AM
Hi Donna!

You have given some great food for thought. This turned out great, love how the underpainting really worked for this. You did a great job in the editing process, and can see a lot of thought went into this. I am guilty for painting by the seat of my pants, and not thinking as I go. I will take all of this and digest it. I'm sure it will influence me on my next outing. Thanks for sharing with us!


Donna T
09-07-2009, 08:06 AM
Mary Anne, Thanks so much! I still have to remind myself that I'm making a painting, not attempting to duplicate the scene. It has only been in my last few attempts that I seem to be more able to interpret what I see instead of frantically trying to duplicate it. I need so much more practice!

Charlie, Thank you. I hope you are out and about with your pastels.

Pete, I still don't feel safe going out to paint alone but I might get brave and try parking somewhere and doing a very quick sketch from the back of the car. It is nice for rainy days! Thanks and I'm glad you found some of my ramblings useful.

Carol, Thank you! Editing is always the hardest part! It's much easier to put in what you see than to decide what to leave out isn't it? :lol:


09-14-2009, 05:42 PM
Donna, your process with the under painting was very helpful. This is a wonderful painting that has me all inspired. I have used those foam pipe insulation things for smudging pastel and it works without removing pastel or leaving fuzz.

Your thoughts on plein air are so helpful. I am going out on Wednesday with the Pacific Northwest Pastel group and I think I will print out your words so I can remember the importance of not going on autopilot (and copy nature) this always gets me into trouble. I have also tried shutting my eyes just before I start, I visualize the scene, and then start painting from that visual image in my minds eye and use nature as a handy reference. This helps me focus on the important stuff and leave out all of the unimportant and impossible to paint detail.

Thank you for posting this along with your process. This is wonderful.

09-14-2009, 05:47 PM
I'm likin this a lot Donna. Great start! will be interested to see the finished piece.

09-14-2009, 06:44 PM
:wave: Good going so far! It accurred to me that this is why a nice small notan is so important. quickly, in a small format---3 x 5 or so, you can do your editiong, and plan your values before you even begin your work on you easal. In your sketchbook! It only takes a few moments, and saves so much time in the long run! I know this is hard to do---I have spent the entire summer making myself do it.....I feel its important to learn this, and not skip this step so your work gets better...especially in planning the values. The when you are painting you can keep to your value familes easier. This has been a great thread!

09-14-2009, 06:53 PM
Forgive me if I am wrong. But I am thinking this is done! I know plein air, and for me this is a complete perfect painting. The light and weather never allows for more work and/or unecessary work, a good thing.

09-14-2009, 06:55 PM
Wow Donna I'm so glad you took the time to take photos of this in progress! You made a simple tree beautiful. Hmm I have trees in my backyard.....should go and look!

09-15-2009, 11:33 AM
Hey Donna, I totally missed this one! It's grande. I love the way that the other branches and trees fall out of my interest when I'm focusing on the pine you've provided the most detail. It's great to also see you pacing yourself and knowing your own schedule. I am so good at "rushing" into a piece and then wishing I hadn't.

Thanks for sharing all that you learned and keep them coming.

I see Albert Handell watching your work.... Barb

Donna T
09-15-2009, 11:55 AM
Donna, Thanks so much for stopping by to comment on this! I like your idea of closing your eyes to visualize the scene and will try that for sure. Anything to block out the unnecessary stuff. You are right - this is as finished as it's going to get. I know that at least once when I was painting I said "NO!" out loud when I even considered for a split second attempting to put some needles on those branches. They would have looked like broom sticks. :rolleyes:

Jill, Thanks - it's done. I'm trying to learn to live with the looseness.

Ida, Your plein air work just gets better every time I see it! I'm glad you found something useful in this. I did do notans - but mine are just too messy to show. I don't even use sketch paper but use the back of those annoying ads that arrive in packets in the mail. How cheap is that?!

Betsy, Thanks! I am always looking for plein air subjects close to home. The weeds in the field next door are starting to look good now.

Barb, Thank you! I am finally beginning to accept that I am a slow painter and I'm not going to fight it anymore. Better to have a good half-finished painting than a rushed, finished mess right? Someone over in Plein Air suggested that I grow a beard if I really want the Handell look. If that's what it takes ...


09-15-2009, 11:55 AM
Donna, like so many other comments I have to agree that there are shades of Handell in your work!
I think it's beautiful, so go and sign it!

Donna T
09-15-2009, 07:10 PM
Thanks very much Brenda!