Friday, October 19, 2012

Work in Progress: New Plein Air Pieces

Lately I've been pondering the question why I have not painted more landscape paintings -- I really love landscapes and they've been my initial motivation to become a painter, but I have only occasionally dabbled on some small landscapes here and there. Why? After much reflection I've concluded that landscape for me are much less literal, and more poetic; a whole lot has to go into the initial preparation stage -- dissecting the reference image (or the sweeping vista in front of me), deciding the mood I want to convey and the color scheme that can evoke such mood the best, doing small value sketches to choose which elements in the reference materials to include, and which ones to exclude. Also, a good landscape painting requires much more abstraction, utilizing simplified shapes to suggest objects, and pay a lot of attention to the actual mark-making process so that each individual mark on paper creates the illusion that it's representing something in the actual landscape. A good landscape is seldom a truthful copy of the reference material or the real vista in front of the artist's eye, but a rearranged, abstracted combination of value and color shapes that comes from within the artist's mind, guided by a good sense of design. It is in my mind one of the hardest genres of representational art and actually the closest to abstract works. I've been, subconsciously, quite intimidated by the process.

Since the best way to overcome fear is practice, I decide to work on landscape painting everyday from this point on -- this does not mean I will be able to finish a piece a day, and I can imagine there will be many throw-aways. But I will keep at it until I feel more comfortable for the entire process. I will probably do some studies of master artists' works, some plein-air exercises, and some practice projects from good how-to books, as well as work on some larger pieces from my own reference materials. Some days I may only be able to complete a few sketches or composition studies, other days I may be able to finish a couple of small works -- but I will share my successes and failures here, as well as what I have learned from them.

So here they are -- the first exercises, both started en plein air but would get finished in the studio. The first one is a river estuary view along Carmel Beach, where I am exploring the possibility of not painting any actual "objects", but just utilizing mark making to hint the undergrowth, river and sand beach. The focus is creating interesting color-variations and surface textures using various brush-marks. I did this one in a workshop with the wonderful artist Dale Laitinen, who is a master of abstracting shapes and create surface interest using brush-marks. I decided to study his work closely to add a weapon or two into my arsenal...

Carmel River Estuary,  Watercolor on Arches 140# Rough Paper , 7"h x 10"w, WIP 1

The second one is a near dusk view of headlands and rocky shorelines near Drake's Beach, in Point Reyes National Seashore. My focus is to use cool, low-key colors to hint the chilly, foggy atmosphere in the evening, and practice wet-in-wet in different stages. Again, I try to use brush-marks to hint the texture on the headland and rocks, as well as the undergrowth on the beach, instead of delineating everything I see while standing there. I did not get to finish it before dark, so the rest of the image will come from my imagination in the studio. Let's see how it goes! I will update tomorrow...

Dusk at Drake's Beach, Point Reyes,
  Watercolor on Arches 140# Rough Paper , 6"h x 8"w, WIP 1


  1. Good for you, Arena. I think you'll find these looser, more abstracted, plein air studies/sketches/whatever-they-become will compliment your more detailed and realistic florals.

    Also, you are wise to concern yourself more with the process than the outcome; the rewards will be there.

    Happy painting,


  2. Los dos son buenos, en el segundo me encanta el dramatismo. Saludos

  3. I'm with you! Have not done a landscape in a long time. Landscapes require the need to simplify, which can be difficult if you paint realistically. I admire your determination to devote time to this genre in order to understand it well, and I know you will be successful. I have been thinking of trying a landscape and am half way through watching a video on the subject. Look forward to your updates. Regards.

  4. I think both pieces are truly stunning, Arena. I really love the second piece for its colors and mood.

  5. Lovely paintings! I like the top one which reveals a lot of depthand the greens are specially nice.


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