Many South Africans had the pleasure of a long weekend to tie in with Heritage Day on the 24th of September. I was one of them and it did not come too soon. The spring light and earlier mornings torment me with outdoor painting potential! An early riser by nature I am ready and out the door before the rest of my family. Fortunately with great weather and picturesque settings a good painting spot is often within walking distance too.
This past weekend I was in the lovely seaside village of Port Alfred. There are stunning beaches to paint with little disturbance from crowds of people if you are a bit shy of painting outdoors. My first stop was a little bay near Kelly's Beach.
This was a good opportunity to warn up and try my first painting for the day. The thing about plein air is that there is a tendency to tone down colours (values) due to the bright light. If you can use a umbrella to work under then do so as your painting may end up looking a trifle dark when viewed indoors. Since I was painting in early morning light I did not worry too much about this and I tend to have adapted to this issue.
I was happy to notice that I had company in the form of a little penguin. This fellow settled down to my left about fifteen metres away and warmed up in the sun. I am not sure of his attitude to painting, but he seemed unimpressed with my pedestrian activities. The poor thing's rest was later interrupted by a boy who tried to pick up the penguin. The lad received a painful peck on the lip and learnt a nasty lesson about wild animals. Let sunning penguins ... umm... sun themselves in peace!
One of the pleasures of outdoors painting is the occasional person who stops to chat. I know some artists get annoyed by this, but I enjoy it. If I am concentrating hard I may not even notice people watching, but when there is time for a break then we have a chat. It is fascinating how many people respond positively to art and take real pleasure in talking about something other than dreary news and politics.
I then moved to the Kelly's Beach carpark to overlook the beach for a different viewpoint. I liked the strong diagonals of the steps leading down to the beach, which made a nice lead-in to the scene. If possible I like to add a figures into the scene for scale and a touch of lively interest.
To capture a feeling or mood it is often necessary to jump right in and make a quick, bold start. So get the main shapes in with a large brush (no.6 or 8) and get shapes placed all over the board. Things change so quickly that one can lose a potential light effect or ideally placed figure if you do not react in time. Refinements can come later.
Another lesson learnt is that you do not have to include everything. It is also okay to move an object if it improves composition. What you leave out can be just as important as what you leave in. Make decisions first off and then go for it. It the scene still does not work then try another position.
It can be difficult to pull off a painting outdoors. The object must never be to produce a gallery piece or there will always be frustration. Outdoor painting is a great teacher. Lessons learnt under pressure are seldom forgotten. They make us better studio artists as decisions about colour, values and composition become better developed.
An added plus is the pleasure of enjoying nature first hand. There is no way that a quick photograph will imprint itself on your mind quite like the keen observation of your artistic eye and senses. You will never see your surroundings better than when you are painting them.
Anymore long weekends coming up?