Thursday, February 4, 2010

A List of Plein Air Painting Books - Plus a Painting!

I'm a firm believer in having a library of books built around your passion. My passion, of course, is plein air painting, and so over the years I've accumulated quite a collection. Some are excellent and bear reading over and over again. I've started a list on of my favorites. Not all of the books address plein air specifically, but they all address important principles for the plein air painter. If you have a moment, I'd love to have you look at the list and let me know if I've missed an important book. The list is here.

The other day I wrote about saving a painting by cropping with a bandsaw and other desperate means. Sometimes, a painting is "close" and just needs a few tweaks. I had a painting like that, a 12x16 oil that I knew immediately upon getting home that it needed adjustment.

I was with a student over near Bell Rock, a popular vortex destination for tourists. Normally, I would avoid a spot that has the potential for high curiosity traffic, but it was early in the morning, and we had gotten some good, strong coffee and were feeling bullish. Because the parking lot was virtually empty, we set up there. We had a great view of some rim-lit rocks. In the process of trying to make the shadowed trees below the rocks "read" as shadowed and the sunlit trees "read" as sunlit, I made the sunlit trees too bright in value. The painting looked fine in the field, and as the parking lot filled to capacity, a number of tourists told me so. Never listen to spectactors!

Once I got it home, I knew it needed some work. But I put it aside and forgot about it. Normally, the surface of an oil painting will still be "open" for another day so you can make adjustments. A couple of weeks later, when I pulled it out of the stack, it was bone-dry. Yesterday I gave it a good spray of retouch varnish to saturate the colors and prepare the surface for more painting. To adjust the light passages, I scumbled over a darker but warmer mixture. And since I'd sprayed the whole painting, I made other adjustments, too - cooler, richer color in the shadows to increase temperature contrast and intensified the highlights. I even sharpened the ravens you see circling about the rocks. (Adding animals to a painting can make it rather saccharine, but I added the ravens - which were really there! - for scale.)

Here is the finished painting plus a detail shot.

"Raven Cliffs" 12x16, oil



Carolyn Jorgensen Potter said...

I think it's great, and the ravens to really give it scale. Maybe adding animals makes it saccharine, but ravens aren't exactly cuddly, so you don't have to worry.

Plein Air Gal said...

Your missing one of the "BIBLES"! Edgar Payne's Composition of Outdoor Painting! Thankfully, back in print again!
Sharon A

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Er, actually, Sharon, it is the second book on the list. I wouldn't dare leave that one off, and it's was the very first one I thought of (after my own book, of course!)

Steve PP said...

Great list Michael,
i've just found an old copy of Gruppe's Brushworks on the internet, thanks for the tip.

How about putting 'The Art Spirit" by Henri on there?
A great book full of wonderful and wise advice and instruction.

billspaintingmn said...

"A strong cup of coffee & feeling bullish!"
That sounds so cool, it could be a neck tattoo!
Michael, this list of books are very helpful, thank you.
This painting, looking down at ravens flying. Sets my imagination off. A good sence of depth and distance.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks for the reminder on Henri, Steve; I've added it. Bill - maybe not a neck tat, but certainly a tee shirt! You make the tee shirt, I'll take one.