I’m learning a lot more lately en plein air, painting outside essentially. In 2023 I intend to get in at least 30 days outside – I’ll keep track and post updates against that goal… more to hold myself accountable, but perhaps it will entertain all of you as well.
There is a great artist group in Austin called Plein Air Austin (www.pleinairaustin.org), which organizes multiple outings monthly for members – non members are encouraged to come join us to see what it’s all about, too. This particular outing was what we call “Urban”, where we get together in an area of town that has great architecture and buildings, as opposed to nature-based landscapes, and try to capture the scene. This particular outing was on South 1st near Mary Street, which has plenty to work with in terms of urban scenes. I tagged along with one of the other artists who had scoped out these great blue green umbrellas at a restaurant called The Soup Peddler.
The weather was ideal, a little chill in the air, but the clouds cleared out around 10 and gave us plenty of sunlight. It was tricky to simplify this scene, an ongoing challenge for me with plein air compositions, so I tried focusing on the umbrellas first and building the painting outward. Having just painted umbrellas in a recent studio piece, I was able to quickly get the bones of this piece on the canvas before the lighting changed. Luckily the lighting was steadily improving all morning, so I never panicked due to major shifts in value.
In terms of compositional challenges, I got most of it worked out in the field because I was happy with the umbrellas themselves. I also got very lucky in getting the structure of the building, sign, and patio details on the first try. Sometimes those architectural details trick me and I have to make a few attempts to get it right, or at least avoid having it tank the painting before it even begins. The updates I made in the studio were pretty straight forward, building on what I had already started, but I did leverage some artistic license. Most notably I opted to exclude the cactus coming out of the metal planter, in large part because it was nearly the same color as the umbrellas, and even a deviation from the coloring would have been a distraction. And while I don’t love the final look of the metal planter it serves as a good balance for the composition. Maybe I’ll add some other plants in the future, but for now I’m calling it done.
Thanks for reading!
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