Sunday, December 19, 2010

Getting the Big Picture: Large-Format

"December Morning in the Desert" 24x30, oil/canvas - Finished Version

Followers of my blog will remember that, about two weeks ago, I dragged a 24x30 canvas, along with my Beauport easel, a bag of paints and my Classic EasyL box, up to the Schnebly Hill parking lot. In the field, I worked on the piece over two separate three-hour sessions, and then I posted a photo of "our story so far."

Since then, I have gone back up to Schnebly Hill, but to do an 8x10 study of the scene. I wanted to zoom in on the terminator between light and shadow at the foot of the distant mountain. I needed to refresh my memory of how dark the shadow was in relationship to the light and of the quality of temperature contrast between the two.

I also invited a friend over to take a look and give me some feedback. M.L. Coleman ( suggested I break up the large, green area of vegetation between the chasm and the mountains a bit more. He said, "The painting is more about rock than about greenery." I completely agreed with him.

So, over a couple of afternoons this week, I made my adjustments. Using my study as a reference, I increased the contrast between light and dark along the distant terminator; pushed the mountains farther away with lighter blues and purples; and dug up some shrubs in the middle ground and exposed more rock. I also added highlights here and there to "punch up" the center of interest and pathway for the eye.

Now, as you know, I'm a committed plein air painter. Most of what I do is outside, and to be outside is always my preference. I'd say this piece, even though about one-third of my time was spent in the studio, still qualifies as plein air. What do you think?


NJ ART 73 said...

I do not think that it matters whether this painting can considered en plein air or not. What is important is this-did you bring this painting to a satisfactory conclusion? Did you resolve the painting problems that were there? Where you begin is not as important as where you end up. Whether you paint outdoors, create studies and work in doors, the process is only a means to an end.

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Absolutely, NJ ART 73. But, when you're painting in a plein air competition, it does matter - it's one of the rules. The question always comes up - 100% outside, or can the artists tweak a bit in the studio? And what's the difference between tweaking and cheating?

ML and Sheri D said...


I think you brought it together very nicely and
I agree that unless it is a plein air event, it makes
no difference where the work is finished. I find that
taking it to the studio for some editing can be
helpful because the painting can be looked at without constantly comparing it to the real thing.

Just returned from Tucson. What is with this weather?


Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, ML, and good point!

As for the weather, who would have thought this part of the country would see so much cloudiness for so long? But it'll pass.

Helen Opie said...

I believe that starting a painting outdoors, getting most of it down, the essence of it down, outdoors, classifies it as plein air, even though you night adjust both colours and com[position some after returning to the studio. To me what matters is twofold: is the energy of the place there because it was painted on location, and is the painting representative of the scene painted? Skme people, like Matthew Collins of the Liverpool NS area, paint plein air and what they paint is so much essence or his response that not much can be recognised as representative of the location, and yet he does get the gist, the essence of the place, even tough his colours can be arbitrary, and his marks non-objective as far as the person unfamiliar with the location can discern. If Matthew has a website, go look at his worl: it is usually highly abstracted.