Monday, May 4, 2009

Preparing for Class: Criteria for Workshop Painting Locations

"North Branch, Moose River"
9x12, pastel

Every teacher, whether of elementary school, college or painting workshops, needs to prepare for class. For my preparation, I need to strike up a meaningful friendship with the local landscape. This is especially true when I travel to teach.

Every area new to me, however similar it may be to my own territory, has its twists. Streams may run orange with tannins. Trees may be stunted because of miserly soil. Rocks may glisten with a wealth of mica flakes. I try to get into town a few days ahead of time so I can get a feel for these peculiarities. And if an area is utterly different from home, I'll make sure to visit and paint several times before I even dare to schedule a workshop there!

Most important, though, is that I prepare by scouting out good painting locations. It's important to me that I don't waste teaching time by dragging students from one spot to the next, hoping to find a better scene. When I get into town, I always try to line up a local painter as a guide or to see if the local painting group has a list of plein air spots. Next, I drive out to as many spots as I can and, for each one, I go down my checklist:
  • Is it "rich" with plenty of different views to exploit?
  • Can a good composition with strong contrasts be easily found?
  • Is there enough parking for everyone?
  • Is parking close enough to the painting spot so mobility-challenged students can reach it easily?
  • Is it a short drive from the workshop center?
  • Can it be accessed by a standard passenger car with only two-wheel drive and low clearance?
  • And, finally, are there washrooms? Many excellent spots filling all the other criteria will fail at this. Sometimes, rather than pass up a good spot, I will keep our painting sessions to two hours.
Once I've nailed down a good number of sites, I like to paint at a few of them. This helps immensely in really getting to know not just the new landscape but also any traffic, weather and neighborhood issues.

Yesterday, I went out to a little bridge overlooking the North Branch of the Moose River to paint the above scene. It's an almost perfect spot, filling all the criteria except one. You guessed it - no washrooms! But we'll make do.


Donna T said...

I love the soft, quiet feel of that pastel, Michael. What is it done on? I see some little areas of paper showing through and they look lighter than Belgian Mist. If only port-a-pottys weren't so heavy to lug around ...

Michael Chesley Johnson said...

Thanks, Donna. It's one on white Wallis paper.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

For me, the test of the whether or not somebody is an experienced tutor is whether or they've scouted their locations before taking their students there. It makes all the difference!