M. Stephen Doherty

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

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Favorite Plein Air Sites. A Friend Share His

Mark Collins of Charlottesville, VA (www.markcollinswatercolors.com) introduced me to one of his favorite outdoor painting sites today, private property at the top of a mountain above Crozet, VA. The temperature was about 15-degrees cooler than in the valley and the flowering trees were about two weeks behind those in lower elevations. There were spectacular views in all directions, but we set up down hill from top of the mountain so there would be less wind, and we both focused on the Blue Ridge Mountains that were dramatically lit by the light breaking through the clouds.

Mark is primarily a watercolorist, but he enjoys plein air painting in oil and often paints on the mountain, especially when a friend travels and asks him to take care of her place. He enjoys being alone with nothing much to do except paint the many views on the mountain, some intimate and some expansive. I'm looking forward to joining him again as the location is inspiring and give me a better sense of how vast and magnificent the landscape is in the Shenandoah Valley.

Mark Collins (left) and me painting on a mountain above Crozet, Virginia

My 16" x 20" oil painting of the Blue Ridge Mountains

Monday, May 6, 2013

When Plein Air Is a Start, Not a Finish

As I've been challenging myself to work larger on location -- up to 16" x 20" -- I get home with the paintings and immediately notice somethings that are obviously wrong or incomplete. The issues are usually about the range of values and their ability to convey the sense of space, or they relate to areas that aren't sufficiently developed. I find that I get so involved in covering the canvas it 2-3 hours, that I lose the ability to see the pictures objectivily. As I work on resolving those pictures in my studio, I remind myself there is nothing sacred about completing paintings on location. Plein air is a process of gaining inspiration and information from nature, but it isn't the only path to expressing what is observed.

Here's a sequential set of photographs of a painting I did recently on a hill overlooking Fishersville, VA. I'm still trying to decide how I want to resolve the lack of spatial separation and the awkward change of scale in the middle of the canvas, as well as the lack of harmony in the depiction of the houses.