Saturday, April 14, 2012

Spring is in the (Plein) Air

Miller School Event Draws Painters to Scenic Campus

Art Lesson.

Once again, Miller School of Albemarle hosted local plein air artists for their annual painting event. My daughter puts it on every year so I'm always invited. It is a great time, beginning with breakfast in Old Main where I enjoyed some art talk with my fellow painters.

Not feeling particularly inspired, I walked toward the lotus pond. All of my past visits had resulted in paintigs of the lotus pond, so it was time to expand my vision. A very round and red plum tree caught my eye.

Ordinarily one wants to avoid "lollipop" trees, but here was my challenge... my mission for the morning, as it were. I set to rendering the little plum and her majestic fellows. But the resulting painting was... er... plain, not particularly plein. It was time for some subtle glazing to try to capture the aerial perspective and lighting of the entire scene.

Then came the realization that much of the richness of the scene came from the play of light, not only in shadow, but within the eye. There was more happening here than the camera could record. I recalled the experience described to me by my assistant this past Summer, of being given a coloring sheet in Kindergarden: "Color the tree trunk brown, the grass green and the leaves green." the teacher said. Her reaction had been to paint the tree trunk green, the leaves orange and the grass brown... all colors that can be observed on those subjects in certain subtle variations. If I remember correctly, the teacher was not amused, and initiated a parent conference over it.

Occasionaly I have had the opportunity to speak to school groups. One of my favorite opening questions is: "What color is grass?" Someone's hand shoots up and before it is recognized, a child will invariably blurt out: "Green!" Then the fun begins: "Do you see any OTHER colors in the grass?" and (if a large window is available) it is amazing to see how many colors the eager little minds actually see. Let's just say I've been surprised and educated by the words of the students.

I laid down a challenge for myself, to paint the glazes with the contrasting color suggested by the casting off of conventions, to achieve the lighting and mood of the actual scene. That is why I gave the top painting the title: "Art Lesson." A light green glaze went on the trunks (there was actual lichen there), orange and brown hues had to be used in the deepening of field and foliage.

As the morning passed into afternoon, I noticed a big oak's golden new foliage overlaying the windows of Old Main, Miller's grandest building. Now my challenge would be to render as simple as possible, a recognizeable portion of Old Main while avoiding "Architectural Rendering." The resulting painting is below.

Old Main.

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