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Mount Lafayette

Towards the end of break I hiked Mount Lafayette with a few friends. It took us a good portion of the day, but it was a decent temperature and sunny. Along the way I took a bunch of photos to practice my winter painting. It still hasn’t snowed too much here in southern New Hampshire and winter painting isn’t quite the same when all you’re doing is freezing and not painting snow.

Over the summer I tried to do a plein air painting in Kennebunkport, Maine, but time did not allow me to complete it. So I used it as an underpainting. You can still see the bumps and lines from the previous painting, which isn’t the greatest, but it’s a practice piece.

I spent two sessions on the piece for a total of about 3-4 hours. My goal was to test out atmospheric perspective with the mountains, but I think it reads a little better in person. The closer mountains got turned too green by the camera and lost their blues.

Hoping it snows soon so I can get out and paint a winter landscape for real.

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Winter Plein Air Painting

Merry Christmas! Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays. I usually start off these blog posts by mentioning how busy I’ve been and this one will be no exception. I have been working on applications for an MFA in Creative Writing. All my free time efforts have been going to that and so my art and this blog have unfortunately fallen by the wayside.

This year I promised I would have no grading to do over the holiday break. Somehow I managed to keep that promise. Which means I have been able to dedicate time to things I enjoy. Like reading. I’ve got so much reading to do. The last few years I’ve been steadily increasing the number of books I read, but I’m not going to reach my goal this year. Don Delillo’s Underworld absorbed too much of my time.

And since I’ve had some free time, I went outside for my first true winter plein air experience.

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Though we got hit with some back to back snowstorms a month or so ago, we’ve had little snow since, so the we wound up with quite a brown Christmas. Last year we got the opposite. We had a mini blizzard on Christmas day.

Snow is the main draw of winter plein air and without it I had to turn to the second best thing. Ice. It’s been cold enough for that at least.

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I drove a couple towns over to Durham and did some reminiscing as I went through the UNH campus. They’ve added some large buildings since I graduated, but it still feels like home. I parked at Durham Landing and walked along the Oyster River until I found a spot that intrigued me. I was very excited. The view offered rocks, ice, and flowing water. I’m thinking of doing quite a few studies of that spot as the winter progresses. When the snow comes, I’m sure it will be beautiful. Maybe one of my New Year’s resolutions should be to turn those studies into a larger painting. Man I should’ve jumped on the Michael’s Black Friday deal and bought the 5 foot canvas for $33. 

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I wanted to try a new palette because my last few plein air paintings have felt too consistent. Maybe that’s not the right word. Basically, I want to try to vary my color. 

I dug through a box of my unused paints (ones that my mom gave me or came free with orders from Dick Blick) and found some interesting options. I settled on: Sap Green, Transparent Oxide-Red Lake, Prussian Blue, Raw Sienna, Old Holland Yellow Light, Permalba White, Torrit Grey, and Ivory Black. Using the Yellow Light as my white, my hope was that everything would be a little dulled down since it is an off-white color. Then at the end I could come in with the Permalba White and make the lights pop. I especially wanted to try this strategy on the snow. 

But I waited too long and the Permalba White froze and wouldn’t come out of its tube. Which is fine, but definitely disappointing. I learned a few things from this session that I will carry forward to the next. Like: bring a lighter so that you can warm up the ends of the paints and get the caps off easily. Had to use my teeth. Which is something my dentist dad probably doesn’t want to hear. Also, getting carcinogens anywhere near my permeable membranes is not usually on my to do list. 

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The block in stage was quite enjoyable. Time has flown by and I definitely missed painting. I even talked to myself as I worked, getting hyped for my decisions. That’s not weird. Promise. But as the day went, I got colder and colder. It was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun and I was in the shade. My feet and toes got the worst of it. The rest of my body was fine. Even with both gloves and mittens on, my fingers turned red. The problem is that the palette hand simply stays in one position the entire time and the painting hand needs to be mostly free for mobility. 

Some hand and toe warmers will fix those issues I think. And if not, well we’ll see how much I paint outdoors this winter and if it warrants getting some nice winter boots. I’m planning on doing a lot of hiking this winter as well, so perhaps boots would be a good investment. 

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Though I didn’t include the bridge in this study, I’m planning on adding it in the next. With the bridge in view, I believe the shadows and light will make more sense.

I’m thinking each study will examine different perspectives of this view and also try different palettes. Then I can use them to rough in a large canvas before bringing it on location. 

I’ve been searching for videos that go over plein air painting rivers, but have found few resources. If anyone has some suggestions, please send them my way!

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I was listening to Steve Atkinson talk about plein air painting yesterday and he said that honest painters will admit they fail all the time. It’s part of the learning process. I’m not saying this study was a complete failure, but it sure did challenge me on many levels. Looking at the painting now, I can see that I lost the organization of my values. Everything seems to be all mushed together and there’s little separation between the different planes of the picture. Definitely something to keep in mind next time. That said, I believe this study reads the best from afar. So go ahead and take a few steps back from the screen. Does it come together? Is it easier to understand the relationships of the shapes? If not, I think the on-site photo does a good job of distancing the painting. 

I’m considering it a decent success and I’m excited to go back and do another.

See you next time!

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Morning at Fort McClary

On Sunday I was encouraged by Lennie Mulaney to join the NH Art Association at their weekly plein air outings. I truly enjoyed the weekend’s competition and decided to tag along today. We met at Fort McClary in Maine around 8:30 am. Several signs said the park didn’t officially open until 10 am and we joked about getting arrested for trespassing as painters. After a quick look around, I set up my easel on the far south side of the fort.
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The large rectangular stones are leftovers from the building of the fort’s walls. After the end of the Civil War, construction was ceased because the McClary style of fort was deemed out of date. The stones were left haphazardly stacked in a few piles around the property.McClary Step 1

I wanted to include both the stones and the fort in my painting and as luck would have it I found a location that delivered a great composition. The stones in the foreground pointed straight back to the fort, drawing the viewer’s eyes in.McClary Step 2The focus of this piece was color. I wanted my darks to breathe a little more life than they have in the past. Once I’d blocked in all the major shapes I focused on color comparison. I brought a lot of warmth into my shadows with Cadmium Orange and broke out the Cerulean Blue to help provide some interesting cools. Since my last few paintings have been somewhat dark I thought these two colors could work to bring more light into my painting.

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Fort McClary 5″ x 7″

Towards the end of the painting a couple masses of clouds collided just behind the fortress, creating a rolling, chunky column that brought some variety to my background. I have had almost zero experience painting clouds from life, but I threw them in. It was a challenge. I swiftly brushed out the purple darks and by the time I was ready to put in the mid-tones the clouds were out of my composition. I watched them float away to the right, still painting, imagining them still behind the fort, still painting, developing the fluffy transitions from darks to lights, still painting, and I was turned sideways by the time I was done.

I’m extremely happy with the final piece. It’s another one of my tiny 5″ x 7″ canvas panels and I’m really starting to fall in love with that size. Lots of work can be done in a short amount of time, making them great for studies.

If you’re interested, you can purchase the original, unframed panel for $100. Send me an email at thewritingmann@gmail.com!

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Plein Air Competition in Portsmouth

Ten or so months ago I was crouched beside the magazine racks at the Barnes and Noble when I plucked out Plein Air Magazine. I thumbed through the entire issue and read most of the articles until my bent knees and crunched toes told me it was time to stand up. Though I’d read most of it, I purchased the issue for its wonderful artwork. I figured they would make great references.

In Italy I painted en plein air almost every day, sometimes turning out two or three paintings. It was great fun and the ridiculous heat did little to staunch my enthusiasm. It’s possible I was energized simply because I was in a different country, for when I came back stateside I did little plein air painting. There was not motivation or incentive. On occasion I’d wander outside with my oils, but what little plein air work I did mostly came in the form of watercolor, pencil, and ink sketches.

My lacking personal experience with the harmony of the arts and the outdoors did not prevent me from marveling at the artists who call plein air paintings office work. I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing the painters I follow. I’ve watched video after video on Youtube of artists showing their processes. When I finally saw that the New Hampshire Art Association was holding a plein air competition, I signed right up. (Side Note: I commonly refer to the New Hampshire Art Association as NHAA, but it turns out that’s actually the New Hampshire Alcoholics Anonymous. I’m trying to avoid the abbreviation now so people don’t think I paint alcoholics or I’m an alcoholic painter.)

The seacoast is a haven for plein air painters and I knew it would be a tough competition. Still, I have a good amount of self-confidence and believe I’ve made substantial progress this last year. Though I have not been able to dedicate as much time to producing art as I’d like, I have made several museum trips and studied paintings intently. In the past I would just paint. Now I try to make decisions in my work.

I got to the New Hampshire Art Association’s State Street gallery a little past 7:20 am on Friday. Inside I was greeted by Lennie Mullaney and she signed me off the registration list. I was officially participating. We talked for a short while and I found out that I had seen her work several years before. She had been an MFA student at UNH while I was getting my undergrad. Her work had been displayed at the end of the year show. She has some absolutely lovely recent artwork focusing on bridges, houses, and ocean scenes around Portsmouth.

From the gallery I did a little fast walk sprint to Prescott Park to claim my spot. A couple days before I had scoped out the city with a camera, trying to decide on locations and subject matter. During my exploration I stumbled upon an almost surreal view of the Prescott Park gardens. It was as though the painting was already created and all I needed to do was copy it down. I had to paint it first.
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The day before the start of the competition I had purchased a $5 umbrella from Five Below to keep the sun off my canvas. Though my setup was by far the least expensive and the most jerry-rigged of all the contestants’, it worked and that is all I needed.

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For my last few paintings I have used burnt umber or burnt sienna toned canvases. There’s something intimidating about a completely white canvas and the tone diminishes that aspect while also contributing a base dark to work from. Additionally, with plein air painting the reds of the tone provide a nice complement to the greens of nature. Here you can see I also brought a level to avoid accidental tilts or skewed perspective.

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A couple hours into the painting my parents showed up with some surprise drinks and snacks. They were on their way to Nova Scotia and wanted to say hello. For the next three days I chomped on the pretzel thins they brought.

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While I worked on my painting the gardeners worked around me, pulling weeds and laying down loam. They’d told me early on that I may get wet when they turn the sprinklers on, but thankfully I was done before that happened. I may have been motivated to work fast because of that potential threat.

Prescott Park

Gardens at Prescott Park   8″x10″

Towards the end of the painting other artists began showing up and I directed a few towards the gallery. I had an older couple walk by and tell me that they’d seen quite a few of the other artists and that I was the youngest one, and the only male so far. Which wasn’t surprising. That’s been the reality of all of the classes and programs I’ve participated in. Only one other male student went on the Italy trip and in most of my undergrad classes I was one of three guys. Even in my English classes the proportions were female heavy. It’s great that love for the humanities and the arts is still very much alive, but it is kind of sad that I don’t have many same-age male artist friends to share experiences with.

I was satisfied with my first painting and ready to move on to the next one. I packed up and hiked out of the shade and into the heat. A couple blocks away I found another spot and plopped on down.

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It was around noon at that point, with the sun directly overhead. It’s hard to paint at that time due to the lack of long, deep shadows. But I knew which way the sun was setting and figured I could get the painting started and wait for the shadows to come to me. So I sat in the sun and was shortly back in the shade as the sun creeped down to the west.IMG_3170

Telephone poles have a paradoxical beauty that fluctuates between the complex and the simple. There’s not much to them besides a pole, a transformer box or two, and wires, but the sheer number of wires can make them appear complicated. It’s this beauty that has me mesmerized. In the fall I did a two day paint of a cluster of telephone poles that really got me hooked. Since then I’ve found myself staring up and thinking of how to include them in more paintings. The competition was a perfect opportunity to see what I could do.

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The view I chose for my second painting looked down into the heart of Strawberry Banke. The buildings I painted were hundreds of years old. Did the people who originally built them ever think that someone else would find their homes picturesque? I certainly love old colonials and I wonder if our current homes will ever be seen with as much interest and nostalgia.

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By the time I’d blocked in the painting the sun had lowered enough that some interesting shadows were appearing. I quickly threw them in, knowing that they’d soon change.

Nest

Nest 8″x10″

Four hours in I was ready to call it done. My eyes had spent enough time on one subject and the light was changing to a point that I couldn’t continue. I later decided to call this painting Nest due to the tangle of wires that dominate the upper third. It was a fun view to paint and the American flags brought me back to my days working on my Bennington Flag painting Hammer to Fall.

All wrapped up I headed into the center of town to meet up with my girlfriend and paint her portrait at Market Square. Since the sun was disappearing and I only had her as a model for two hours, I hurriedly painted her in and saved the background for the next day.

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Day two began with me waking up to torrential rain at 5:30 and deciding to hold off on painting for a bit. It lessened up in a couple hours and I drove through the showers into Portsmouth around 8:30. Amazingly it cleared up and the weather held off for the rest of the day. I can deal with overcast. I don’t exactly have an umbrella large enough to protect all my stuff from hard rain.

A short distance from my car I looked up at the telephone poles, saw the church steeple in the background, and found my spot. I’d told myself I wouldn’t paint the steeple because it was too generic. Everyone has photographed or painted it. But I felt the lines and poles added something new to it. Partway through the morning I met New Hampshire Art Association photographer Michael Sterling, who took the above photograph of me for the association’s Facebook page.

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As the days and hours went by I took fewer progress pictures. I’d always remember to do it, then see something that needs to be fixed in my painting, postpone taking a photo, paint away, and then forget to take the photo. It was an endless cycle.

Overcast

Overcast  12″x16″

This piece was my largest of the weekend by far at 12″x16″. It took me until four in the afternoon. I spent a solid chunk of time working out the composition, eventually going with a triangular approach with the tip of the steeple being the top of the triangle. There was a lot more I could have done, but like I mentioned earlier, I tend to tire of a subject if I spend too long on it. If the contest was a week long I would have let it sit for a day or two and then returned to it.

Portrait of Sarah at Market Square

Portrait of Sarah at Market Square 9″x12″

With a few hours left of daylight I returned to Market Square and worked on the portrait of my girlfriend. It was a bit frustrating because I could not place myself in the original spot. Other people were sitting there. I was also battling a sore shoulder from holding a palette all day. I painted quickly and went home to a hot shower and some quesadillas.

IMG_3194Day three was crunch time. I only had until noon to work. Three pieces needed to be submitted at that time for jurying. I got into the city at seven, hiked a short ways, and found a spot without fuss. Despite all the preplanning and city exploration I did before the contest, I never used any of my pre-picked spots besides the first one in Prescott Park. I just walked and was fortunate to find subject matter quickly. It helps that the city is gorgeous.

11705612_1465958913704497_7893740499672882910_oTwo-thirds of the way through the morning I met another New Hampshire Art Association photographer: Bill Moore. We talked for a little while, he snapped the above picture, and him and his mustaches and smile went on their way.

To the Side

To the Side  11″x14″

With excitement and satisfaction I finished my final painting of the competition at eleven. I met my girlfriend at my car and she helped me carry my paintings to the gallery. I selected the three pieces with telephone poles: Nest, Overcast, and To the Side. I felt as though they would exhibit well together.

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The competition was juried by Carol Aronson-Shore, a local artist who has done a lot of paintings of Portsmouth and Strawberry Banke. I did not get to meet her as it seemed she was not at the awards ceremony afterwards. Which I understand. No one wants to be confronted and questioned about their decisions and berated for making the wrong ones.

The final showing of all the pieces took place at three and I was happy to find that I had received an Honorable Mention for To the Side. There was certainly a part of me that was disappointed though. I had almost been expecting to place in the top three. I’ve always had a lot of self-confidence in my work. In undergrad classes I’d go around the room and look at everyone’s work and mentally try to calculate if I was one of the best students. I usually thought I was. That’s not to say I was cocky though. Simply, I am always proud of my work. This outlook has been beneficial and encouraged me to continue on with my art. I look back at my old paintings and drawings now and I question what I was thinking. Did I really think that was good art? But the self-confidence in the moment kept me going and so I continued to improve.
11728846_10153447834790903_7496215124281956325_oAfter the show was over I took a hard look at my paintings. I can see where I need to improve compositionally and more than that, I can see where I need to improve with color. When I first started painting I put varying color in every part of my paintings. It was very Impressionistic. Since then I have gravitated to a blockier, single color style. However, I need to find the happy median. There needs to be more color and variety in my work. Part of the problem is my earth tones palette and the fact that those pigments dry dark. I will have to take more time with my paintings and realize that the moment I feel done is the moment that real painting begins.

As a final note, all the paintings here are up for sale. I will eventually have a shop set up for prints and originals, but for now here are the prices:

Gardens at Prescott Park – $150

Nest – $250

Overcast – $400

Portrait of Sarah at Market Square – $200

To the Side – $300

If you would like to purchase one of the pieces, please email me at thewritingmann@gmail.com.

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Painting in College Woods

At last I am done with the semester. First year of grad school out of the way! To celebrate I headed out into UNH’s College Woods to do some plein air painting. Well, first I bought some 5″x7″ canvas boards, gessoed, and toned them and then I went out.

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Last Thursday was my first real free day and so I got up at six and headed to the woods. Campus was dead, even though graduation was just two days away. It was cold, the sun was barely up, and I bundled up in two layers of sweatshirts. After walking around a bit I finally picked a spot. The lighting was nice and creating a network of interlocking shadows on the tree trunks and ground. I spent about three hours working before the mosquitos drove me away. I met quite a few runners and dogs that morning.

Woods 5:15:15The next day I got up again, though a little later. I made it into the forest by 7:30 and found my spot by 8:00. I parked at a different entrance than last time and found myself on the far side of a pond. I picked a shady spot next to the water and painted the rising trail path. It was a bit more difficult of a painting than the first one. And once again I got driven away by mosquitos. They were horrible. Of course, I’d picked a bad spot as well. But I went out and bought bug spray on Sunday and it was a different story when I went out to paint that afternoon. (I’ll have Sunday’s painting up in the next blog post.)

On Monday the girlfriend and I traveled down to Boston to check out the Leonardo da Vinci drawing exhibit. The da Vinci drawings were mesmerizing and they were juxtaposed with drawings from his contemporaries, like Michelangelo. It was fun to try to compare the artists and see what their differences were. Unfortunately it was a short exhibit. But fortunately there was another major exhibit in the museum, a Hokusai show, so we headed right over to that.

Hokusai was a Japanese artist now known primarily for his print of The Great Wave off Kanagawa. The exhibit was an exhaustive collection of his works, and though it was interesting to see The Great Wave and the other views of Mt. Fuji, my favorite prints were the ones he did of waterfalls and bridges. Here are my three favorite:

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One Hundred Bridges in a Single View

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The Hanging Cloud Bridge at Mount Gyodo near Ashikaga

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The Falling Mist Waterfall at Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province

There’s a mystical quality about the prints that I absolutely love. While the latter two are from real locations, the first print was concocted after Hokusai had a dream of the place. I’ve been into comics a lot lately and it was interesting to see how graphic and similar Japanese prints are to traditional comics.

After the Hokusai show we wandered around the museum and I decided to do a sketch of Max Klinger’s marble bust of Beethoven.

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I tend to gravitate towards sculptures when I’m looking to draw in a museum. It’s hard to replicate a painting through pencil, pen, and white pastel.

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And when I’ve been given the chance, I’ve turned to doing some imaginary sketching. Here’s a recent doodle that started when I accidentally sketched out the outline of the bunny’s head. I was going for a sea lion, but my pencil had other ideas.

I’m gonna try to squeeze in another blog post before the end of the week. We’ll see what happens. I’m headed off on a road trip to New Orleans on Saturday. I’ll be bringing my easel along!