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Old 09-09-2017, 12:22 PM
ImaginaryPigment ImaginaryPigment is offline
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Using charcoal as plein air medium

I'm quite new to going out and painting plein air but I'm struggling to get my tonal values correct. I like going and painting mountain scenes in the Lake District, England as you can get some fantastic, dramatic skies and shadows but it does make is tricky to capture.
I normally use watercolour and for my first venture out this was my go to medium. This the sketch that got closest to how I saw the mountains....

Next time I want to try and capture the gritty drama of the mountains so I thought charcoal would work better to get the darks and lights. Has anyone had experience of doing this and could offer any advice?

I had a play last night to see if I could create the kind of scene I want from a photo ( so much easier when the light stays in one place when your drawing it!!)
This is what I managed on a watercolour wash background using cartridge paper.

I can see it getting very messy in the field ( wet wipes are high on my list of supplies) but I feel it could be worth it. I'm all ears if anyone has any advice for this mini experiment.
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Old 09-09-2017, 05:55 PM
bartc bartc is offline
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Join Date: Aug 2015
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Re: Using charcoal as plein air medium

Your watercolor does it well. Stick with that if you must.

The challenge is not the medium.The challenge is there in all the media en plein air because lighting changes constantly, particularly if you have moving cloud cover (as I know you do in the UK, where it helped make Constable famous.)

Those of us who paint regularly outside just learn how to both block in what we want and work from there, and/or change it up as the light changes. My group paints over a 3 hour or less period starting in the morning and ending mid-day, during which you can expect the sun to move markedly even without the cloud cover. You just get used to it and work with it.

If you like doing it from a photo, you are in luck in the era of cell phones and digital photos, because you can take a shot and work from that both outdoors and afterwards, or go back to that if the light changes too much on you. There are lots of apps that actually can help you with your composition and values, for example a free app I use called "Artist Grid".

One more tip, since you have your watercolors and paper, is to start out with watercolor and add charcoal (or pastel) on top of that. Comes out rather nicely.
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Old 09-11-2017, 12:15 PM
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Trikist Trikist is online now
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Join Date: Jan 2010
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Re: Using charcoal as plein air medium

First of all, I think your watercolor is a really nice plein air painting. Watercolor makes for a nice compact kit if you can handle it - and you did.

I have not used charcoal for plein air or otherwise. I think "Baptist" has some charcoal plein air drawings in the drawing forum. Good luck with it.

Some Paintings: http://mcchelsea.smugmug.com/Art/Sam...1452689_MdFmBB
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Old 09-19-2017, 01:57 AM
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Mary Klein Mary Klein is offline
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Re: Using charcoal as plein air medium

Your watercolor is lovely - the values create a strong sense of depth!

I've just started making charcoal plein air sketches using Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Gray paper, soft vine charcoal and Conte white pastel pencil. The steel gray provides a medium gray and depending on how hard I press, the pencil and charcoal provide the other values needed. I use a casein fixative that works really well: Sprectrafix Degas Fixative. If you press the paper after spraying, you avoid any buckling. It's non-toxic which is so much better than the fixatives we used to use.
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