M. Stephen Doherty

M. Stephen Doherty
The editor of Plein Air magazine at work

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Plein Air Landscape Painting: Risking Failure to Make Progress

After feeling good about the waterfall paintings I did in the early spring, I needed to take chances with a different range of subjects, painting techniques, and levels of finish. Yesterday I picked up on some of the ideas expressed by artists I've interviewed recently, including Joseph McGurl and Jason Taco, and I was pleased with the results. 

Joe talked about building up fairly thick applications of oil color modified with fast-drying alkyd medium.  His point was that the physical texture of the paint can impact the levels of transparency and opacity, thereby adding a greater sense of space in a landscape and, at the same time, making it easier to suggest detail. During a recent trip to Italy, for example, Joe used Winsor & Newton underpainting white during the early stages of the painting process and then added Liquin impasto alkyd medium when he was ready to paint foreground shapes with thick oil color. He applied the thick paint with a palette knife and manipulated the texture to suggest grasses, stones, plastered walls, etc. (Joe's paintings from Tuscany are on view at Tree's Place Gallery in Orleans, Massachusetts) 

Jason Taco talked about using a limited palette of colors to achieve harmony and subtlety in his landscapes. He restricted his palette to 4-6 colors + titanium white instead of trying to managing a wide range of tube colors that might not intermix particularly well. His point was that if all the color mixtures are created from the same base, they are more likely to work well together. (Jason will be profiled in the winter, 2012 issue of PleinAir Magazine)

Whether one follows these recommendations exactly, the key points are worth considering. Joe's recommendation goes to the issue of using thin and thick paint to suggest space, texture, and form in nature; and Jason's point is that harmony and subtlety can be achieved by wisely controlling the mixtures of colors. 

Painting at the entrance to Rockwood Hall State Park near Tarrytown, New York. 

The scene I began painting at 8:00am on Saturday, August 13, 2011 

The initial block-in of the large shapes on a panel toned with yellow ochre.  

The completed 9" x 12" oil painting. BTW, I'm going to bring the trunks of a couple of trees down lower on the right-hand side to break up that monotonous line along the ridge. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Plein Air Events

I don't often get a chance to be a participant in a plein air event because I am too busy taking photographs of artists and collectors, but I was able to join a local event in Ossining, New York that took place at the Shattemuc Yacht Club along the Hudson River. The weather was perfect and the 30+ artists were great to meet, and I sold my painting of the boats and river. Not a bad way to enjoy a summer day!

Both paintings were done on 11" x 14" canvas-covered panels I toned with yellow ochre, and I added Liquin alkyd medium to my oil colors so the initial layers of paint would set up quickly enough for me to add details. I set up at 7am and waited to find out whether the overcast sky would clear up, but by 8am I made up my mind to take advantage of the subtle cloud shapes and occasional bursts of sunlight.