Summer is here, and I’m outside painting. I started my work in late spring, after making plans on what I wanted to do. So what follows are stories about the six paintings I started the summer.
1) The painting I started first was of violets and dandelions on a hillside with large trees behind them. I spotted this view last summer. when I was working at River Hill Park. At first I was interested in painting the violets, but I was later attracted to the small, old tree in the front as it glowed in light greens while the old trees in back stood dark against the morning sky. I knew I had to paint the violets and dandelions in May, but then put the painting aside for a month until the old trees in the back leafed out. That pretty much happened as I expected, but I was surprised that as I was finishing the painting, the park people marked the small, old tree in the front for cutting. The tree was still there when I finished, and I haven’t been back since then, but I won’t be surprised if its gone.
Accidents of time have happened to me more than once in the past, and it has taught me to not delay the painting of a scene I like. One of my very early paintings of a park playground involved a house and bare trees in the back in winter, with a playground in front of it all. It was a rather drab painting. I put off working on the playground after spending many weekends working on the bare trees and houses in in late winter and early spring. This was when I was working full time.
When I returned the next year, the playground equipment was gone, and I had to drive around Milwaukee looking for the another playground similar to the one I forgot to paint. I also put off working on a painting of a rather old looking strip mall, only to have the owners completely strip off the old facade and update it. That should teach me.
2) My second painting, which is not yet done, shows the highway as it runs out of town to the west with a large sky over it. I have a rule: keep the skies simple if the sky is not dominant in the picture. Why have it fight with the rest of the clutter in the painting. But my wife wanted to see me paint an evening sky or even a sunset in one of my paintings. I set up at our nearest bank, after closing time, and painted the field next to them as well as the car lots in the distance. This all sits at the bottom of the painting with three quarters of the canvas left for the sky. One evening in May, I sketched out a rather lovely sky, although the clouds were moving too fast, and the space was too big to paint it all at once. Instead, I left painted notes on the canvas. Since then, we have not had one single night with a similar looking sky. As I told my wife, our evenings are either completely cloud free, or completely cloudy. Add to that the repeated drifting of smoke from Canada’s many wildfires, and I have a painting that is still waiting to be finished. Eventually, I did fill in the blank spaces in the canvas with color, but the detail and realism of it still isn’t there. Today is the first day we’ve had large puffy clouds in the sky, since the day I sketched in the sky in the painting. Maybe things will get better today. Let’s hope so.
3) This is a work in progress over the summer. It’s a painting of my wife’s garden, but I intend to work in various stages, as her plants blossom, at least the ones I can see from where I sit. So far, I’ve managed to do a fair job painting her irises, which appeared in late May. I’ve also painted some stray yellow flowers and the peony bush in the distance. Lately, its been on hold. As soon as I finish editing this blog post, I’ll go out and work on it. First time in two weeks.
4) I started a very wide painting of a view I used to see when I drove home from work. Its a fairly busy road out in the country with a nice view of the horizon, a number of trees, two farm houses and a road disappearing into the distance. To the right is a horse pasture with a horse in the distance. As with the other paintings, change haunts this one too. Not only have we had to deal with smoke from many distant fires, we have had a drought. In a way, it’s helped this painting as it was going to be laden with green from the trees, the pastures, the crop fields, etc. But the drought has turned some of the grass along the roadside a pale yellow. This does provide some contrast, and breaks up some of the green. A honey locust to the left also provides some of the yellow contrast. Even if we get some rain this week, as is promised, it will take some time to repair the damage to the grasses and the trees. But i should be done with this painting by then. I’ve also met a number of people while painting this view, which is kind of surprising considering I’m way out in the country. But as I said, this is a road to take to get home. So far, I’ve met the people whose houses I’ve painted, and they’ve been nice, especially the wives. I’ve met the couple who own the horse I painted in the distance. I met a gentleman from Arizona whose sister lives nearby, and he filled me in on the massive art scene in Phoenix and a neighboring Scottsdale. I’ve talked to a gentleman who works on the roads there, and yesterday, a woman drove by and paid my work a very nice compliment. I’m almost done with this painting.
5) After I finished the painting up at River Hill Park, I started one in a park in town. A stream flows into the distance with trees along the banks, and a platform for fishing is on the right. I’ve not done much work on this painting as the drought has dropped the level of the streeam well below what’s needed to paint it. Until we get rain, this very unfinished painting is sitting in the back of my car.
6) The last painting I’ve been working on, so far, is an alternate view of the highway that passes by the bank I mentioned above. What I’ve found over the years is that almost every time I paint in a location, I find second interesting view besides the one I was working on. Sadly, in most cases, I usually don’t paint them. That happened a lot when I used to paint in Milwaukee, and now that I am becoming more involved in my plein air paintings, it’s happening again. One time, back in those days, I was working with some dissatisfaction on a painting of a gas station during the heat of summer. I noticed a view big trees and houses down the side road I was working at, and decided to work on that view instead. It soon became one of my favorite paintings, with tall trees, dappled sunlight and a red car standing out among all this green.
The irony is that it’s another example of what I talked about earlier, lost opportunities. As I painted this gloriously green view with sunny houses and a red car, I was told by the neighbors that the neighborhood was condemned because they were now in a flood plain. Within a year or two, all of the houses were gone and it is now a city park. The only record of this neighborhood’s existence is my painting, and whatever photographs the owners have.
So this time around, I have demanded to myself that I take advantage of those second and third ideas and views that pop up. So after working on the sunset painting so far, I moved out of the field and onto the sidewalk in front of the bank, and started painting an evening view of the highway going into town with the various business signs, trees, and even the distant highway bridge. All these bright images stand out against a cool blue sky. I should have this done before the end of the month.
I have several more I want to start, which I will do as soon as I can. Hopefully we can get some rain in the meantime, or we may end up in the scary situation that Canada is facing at the moment. I’d rather not paint local forest fires.