The acrylic painting, "Overlooking Orange Lake", a scene which includes a mimosa tree, is complete after many months of being put away while I worked on other projects. I painted the first stage--the entire background and grassy foreground--at a wonderful two-day plein air workshop in May of 2015. I have searched this blog in vain for the post in which I told you all about that workshop. Oh my. That post never appeared, and I apologize for the omission; it was a complicated time for me. Since telling you about the workshop along with information about this particular painting would get too long, I will post in a few weeks about the two-day workshop itself and the excellent team of artists who taught it.
Painting en plein air with acrylic paints was completely new to me and was difficult for several reasons. As a studio painter, I am used to taking my time and developing a painting carefully. Yes, what I paint is based on my personal adventures in beautiful coastal North Florida, but the outdoor time is spent observing in detail, making sketches, notes about color and atmosphere, and taking reference photos. Painting as quickly as plein air requires in order to capture the light and look of the moment was a real challenge for me--and an excellent learning experience. A second difficulty--or cluster of difficulties-- included the weather (heat and humidity in this case), wind (my work blew off the easel onto the grass at one point), bugs, etc. as well as constantly battling the quick drying time of acrylics with pared down equipment.
So, it was a small victory to block in the entire scene and to cover this 14" x 18", 1 1/2" deep gallery-wrapped canvas with the underpainting in the short time allowed for this particular exercise on day two. The main benefit of painting en plein air is to observe a scene and paint at the same time. Thus, painters can capture precisely the colors and values as they see and experience them. I did not attempt to duplicate the exact colors and tones I saw, but worked to get the feel of the bright afternoon sizzling in an unseasonable heat with realistic colors in the range of the actual view. Another concern was to show atmospheric perspective in the painting, especially because Florida's flat terrain makes a "long view" a rare treat. It was important to me to give the viewer a feeling for the way I experienced looking out over Paynes Prairie to Orange Lake in the distance.
Beyond adding the mimosa tree (for which I had color sketches, but nothing on the canvas), very little else needed to be changed when I began working on this piece again (after a full year!). I added some detail and texture in the foreground and completed the clouds, deciding just to "punch up" the rest a little. Although there was a large mimosa tree in the actual scene, it did not stand alone like a sentinel as it does in the painting. I left out some scrubby saplings and other tangled growth to provide this personal interpretation of that North Florida day.
Question of the day: What experiences have you had either observing painters working en plein air or painting outside yourself?