M. Stephen Doherty

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

Monday, January 21, 2013

Painting New Landscapes in Virginia

New Landscape, New Approaches to Painting in Virginia

I moved from New York to Virginia in December, 2012 after months of not doing any plein air painting. The planning and physical labor of moving out of a house we occupied for 34 years was just too overwhelming to allow time for painting. But that hiatus gave me an opportunity to think about where I wanted to go with my landscape painting and how I might approach a completely new range of scenes. As I switched from painting the Hudson River to the Blue Ridge Mountains, I thought about the advice I passed on from artists featured in PleinAir magazine to the publication's subscribers.

Many of those featured artists recommended painting what one wants to see rather than the details of what one actually sees. That is, they suggested using the landscape as inspiration for paintings that captured the emotional aspects of nature as well as her specific markings. For example, artists like Michael Godfrey and Bryan Mark Taylor talked about the spiritual side of painting; and painters like Gil Dellinger talked about exaggerating what one sees in order to convey what one feels.

I also considered how changing the way I worked with a palette of colors might a significant impact on my paintings, and in particular how a color like ultramarine blue might add more warmth and vibrancy to a picture that a cool blue like cerulean or Prussian blue. In addition, accents of purple made by combining ultramarine blue with alizarin crimson or perylene red could enliven a shadow; and grays made from titanium white, ultramarine blue, and touches of red iron oxide might add clarity and harmony to a painting.

What I wanted to explore was an approach to landscape painting based on somewhat unexpected color combinations that might actually do a better job of expressing what I found to be beautiful about a location. Instead of painting a field of grasses with the tan color I observed, for example, I might be better off starting with a cadmium orange or yellow ochre rather than with titanium white and burnt sienna. And when I thought I saw a light green in the trees, I might achieve more harmony by painting that portion of the landscape with a gray tinted with permanent green light.

I'm including photographs of me with some of my first attempts at painting the Virginia landscape with this new set of objectives. I should also add that in the photographs of me beside the fence I am wearing my most prized possession, the apron my granddaughter, Amanda Deyo, made for me as a Christmas present.