"The Steam Clock" 8X10" oil on panel (#3 in my "91 days of Summer" project)
Opus Art Supplies held a plein air event a week or so ago, and I was asked to participate as a juror. I thought it would be interesting to paint something completely outside my typical genre so I joined in on the painting activities for the day.
I had about an hour to paint before I had to go move my car (nothing like a little time pressure to move the job along) and I felt a little overwhelmed at the amount of visual information in front of me. People were moving about, the light kept changing, homeless folks were asking for coffee money, and there were plenty of onlookers. Also, the pedestrians were standing right in front of my easel so they could watch the steam clock blocking the view of my subject matter. I must admit, I really had not forseen that little problem when I chose to set up there, but every fifteen minutes the clock blows off some steam, and the tourists gather. Luckily, I did not feel the need to blow off steam and took it in stride.
I am reminded of a quote as I pick up my brushes: "Take note of that which is inconsequential, and then ignore it". Simple but not easy. The time constraint and working on a small canvas really reinforced the necessity of greatly abbreviating the plethora of information before me.
Here is where painting becomes a meditation - it's all about focus, and asking the big question: What do I need to include, and how much can I leave out?
I found that doing a LOT of squinting down helped in task of abbreviating the painting into large tonal masses, and that is how I started. Big shapes to small shapes, keeping design as the most important element to control early on. Don't allow yourself to get caught in the minutiae.
I started with the large mass of the tree foliage and foreground building - next, the large dark mass of the steam clock. I painted the mid ground and foreground with a middle value in as few strokes as I could, then broke it up the masses with smaller color shapes as the painting progressed. The foliage masses were described by some negative space painting in the sky. Squinting down is your best tool for identifying and comparing the tonality of the big masses.
The big lesson in this painting was SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY. I would have never gotten this study complete while on location if I hadn't left out all of the inconsequential information. I guess the trick is to get fast at learning to discriminate between what is vital and what is extraneous.
This project is already creating some areas of growth for me - which is the best thing ever. As I proceed over the weeks and months to come, I will endeavour to share with you what I am learning with each painting - because I always learn something new. I hope you will too.
Happy painting everyone!