Channelling Artistic Hate

Mirror Pond, Austin TX | 6 x 8” | Oil on Linen Board

Taking in more of the great Spring weather, I headed out to do some more plein air. This session was at a place called Mirror Pond in Austin, very close to Lady Bird Lake and part of the Zilker Nature Preserve, which was the first nature preserve created in Austin back in 1935 (learn more at No dogs allowed, so my canine assistant, Zip, could not join me today to keep the pesky squirrels away. 

Mirror Pond is gorgeous and tranquil when it has water, but I was pretty sure today it would be dry, which it was. What I wasn’t expecting was such a pretty site despite the lack of water. I probably wouldn’t have noticed half of the cool geological formations had there been a pond to ogle over. 

For those of you not familiar with plein air painting, one of the challenges is finding subjects that you can paint quickly and not get scuttled by the fast moving sun and shadows. I’ve included a gallery of photos below that show this effect and why it’s important to a) move fast, and b) take lots of photos early so you have something to work from in the studio to finish the work.

This composition started out as nothing more than a “get out there and paint” goal, but once I got the piece back in the studio and began fiddling around with some compositional ideas, it sucked me in for hours! 

I was asking myself “why the hell am I painting a cedar tree again?” As noted in previous posts, I hate cedar trees for many reasons, but it seems that I can channel that fury-based energy into artistic currency. In this particular case, I pivoted my initial focal point from the sideway limestone arch to the interestingly shaped cedar tree above it.

The first thing that caught my attention was the cool shape of the cedar tree; it’s actually the inverted shape of the limestone arch upon which it sits. See it? It’s not perfect, but close enough to draw my interest. Secondly, I used some artistic license to accent the red (representing my burning hatred of these trees) of the cedar limbs to make the entirety of the greens pop. It also had the unintended side effect of increasing the value contrast against all the other greens in this composition. 

Painting Mirror Pond has also reminded me that the craft of plein air is often about making a mediocre landscape come to life. Not sure if I managed to pull it off this time, but I learned a lot along the way.

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Attack of the Cedars!

Cedar Season | 5 x 7” | Oil on Canvas Board

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Cedar Season is my second plein air session of the year… I’m falling behind and need to get outside more often as Spring is upon us. However, to my credit, it’s not easy going into the field in Austin in January and February because cedar allergies are at peak. But last month I doubled up on the Claritin and headed into the woods along the Hill of Life and Barton Springs Greenbelt.

I brought my trusty painting sidekick, Zip, to help keep an eye out for any suspicious squirrel activity. Actually, I should say she’s my aspiring painting sidekick, of which this session was an initial interview. The real question was to see if she could manage 2-3 hours of watching me paint, or otherwise occupy herself without wandering around wreaking havoc with her 12 ft leash. 

Let’s be clear – I hate Texas cedar trees. They account for all of my sinus headaches in January and February, and anywhere they grow, they take over the landscape. Supposedly they’re not an invasive species, but last time I checked “invasive” was defined as “(especially of plants or a disease) tending to spread prolifically and undesirably or harmfully.” So, like I said, they’re invasive. 

Why did I opt for a painting of cedars? Well, it turns out they create a very pretty landscape when you’re buried in a forest trail of the damned things. I also wanted to tackle the challenge of all the greens, trunks, and cast shadows.

A few compositional decisions that seemed to work well. First, the cedar trunks are a brownish red color, so I used a heavy dose of Alizarin Crimson to accent the focal areas of the larger trees; I believe that mix also has some Indian Red, too. The second decision was to make the cast shadows very dark, which works well (at least I think so… what about you?) in creating more contrasts and a sense of tree coverage. 

In terms of the sidekick interview, Zip got the job! She was very relaxed and entertained by my strange activity, but occasionally treats fell from the sky… so she was content. 

Thanks for reading! 

Breath of Plein Air!

HOL Dam Falls | 7” x 5” | Oil on Canvas Board

One of my 2022 art-related resolutions is to do more plein air work. I’ve managed to log a couple of days in the field near my house to start the year; this is the first of those sessions. 

There is a trailhead in my neighborhood to the Barton Creek Greenbelt called the Hill of Life (HOL). At the bottom of the HOL (about 1/2 mile long and 300′ elevation drop) is Barton Creek, which is the source of these falls, unofficially called the HOL Falls. Over the past few years, however, due to the massive growth in Austin’s population (I’m lookin’ at you California and Florida), endless festival cycle, and general obsession the world seems to have with Austin, this area has been overrun and trashed with douchebags and idiots who are obsessed with Instagram selfies at the swimming holes along the creek. But I digress…

On weekday mornings, however, there is a respite from the obnoxious, disrespectful throngs and I can enjoy the greenbelt as it was intended. On this day I set up along the creek bank about 100 yards downstream from the falls. I made the aesthetic decision to represent a more springtime landscape, namely all the green trees in the background, but the remainder of the scene is accurate. 

It was a gorgeous morning with a very light wind. The sun was a little obscured by high clouds, but there were enough moments when it peeked through that I got a good read on shadows and value contrasts. Plein air session are always entertaining because something unplanned invariably happens – wind blew my trash bag up and onto my paints, tall reeds also brushed against my painting in the breeze a few times (nature’s paintbrush I suppose), and of course I forgot a wet canvas holder so I had to MacGyver a packing solution for the hike home. 

Overall I’m happy with the outcome, but the greens and atmospheric perspective are off. I’d like to get to the point where my plein air has a sense of place like Laurel Daniel, but that’s going to take a lot more practice… which I don’t mind given how fun it is to paint outdoors! 

Thanks for reading!

#artbern #berntx #crashboomzip #painting #art #abplanalp #austinartists #pleinairaustin #hilloflife #HOL #bartonsprings #closetheHOLtrailhead #sosalliance