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Abstracting the Landscape

When I'm plein air painting, I have a different process than when I'm painting in the studio. In plein air, you have a short period of time to capture the light (usually 2 hours before the light changes dramatically).

First thing I do is assess the scene and pick the best view which gives me a rich composition. (I look for a Golden Curve, if you don't know what that is, it's worth Googling!)

I love the light in this view and how it cools the shadows and pulls them away from the fence and grasses.

Next I make a quick Notan which shows me just the pattern of darks (hence the composition)

This shows me that my composition will be diagonal, and the orientation will be landscape. It also shows me how important the fence and the shadows are-this will be the focal point.

Next, I start blocking in the large simple shapes. I look for 7-10 large shapes and treat each one as a different color and value. I paint the whole shape the same color/value, and then refine it later as needed.

It takes a little practice to break down a landscape into simple shapes. I often print out black and white photos, and use a red marker to outline the simple shapes. After a few photos, you really start to get the hang of it. That's when you can do it on the fly en plein air!

Once the abstracted shapes get blocked in, then I start refining the smaller shapes like the individual slats in the fence and shadow, the grass clumps, etc. This is when the painting moves from abstraction to realism.

If you stopped at this phase, you would have a beautiful tonalist landscape. As you can see, I never stop at this phase because I have very little self control! I wasn't able to stop at this phase long enough to take a photo of this painting. I meant to, but I get swept away in the process and next thing I know is I'm starting to overwork it!

Personally, I think the trick to painterly, loose landscapes in having the self-control to stop WAY before you think it's finished! I'm obviously still working on that! Meanwhile, here's the finished study:

This final piece is in no way abstracted, but the process involves simplification and abstraction to get to the realism. I interpret the scene, not faithfully reproduce it. This means I change some elements, minimize and exaggerate others to make a more interesting painting.

As a painter, you are not married to what you see. People are far more interested in seeing the way an artist sees, then seeing if you have the technical ability to paint photo realism. When I interpret and put my own unique spin on a scene, it thrills me artistically, and people relate more to it.

Here's a recent example, this is "Clearwater Nocturne" pastel on 12x14 Ampersand Pastelbord as part of "Brushes on the Beach" Plein Air Festival in Galveston Island, Tx.

I won the Railey Reward #1 which is the equivalent of 3rd place. The judge, Maureen Seeba said; "I love the feeling of this painting. The painter responds in a personal manner to the evening skyline. The painting is very believable." Special thanks to brother-sister team sponsors Barbara & Bruce Railey for donating the Railey Rewards.

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1 Comment

Luv the rays of the sun coming through and I can see why the fence is the focal point which I often have trouble determining! Just gorgeous! And so is your other always! Magnificent! Ali 💜

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