Plein Air-McKinley Monument: #1

I have been wanting to get outside and try some Plein Air painting for a while. I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had time to get out, so I decided to prioritize it today. I need some sun, and some stillness.

I drove to the McKinley Monument and set up. I started with a sketch, trying to be good about measuring the sizes with my pencil. It’s funny, I tried at first without measuring, and everything is wayyyyy off. If I don’t measure, then everything I sketch is bigger than it really is. So tiny lights I draw like enormous dirigibles, because I get tunnel vision as I sketch. But, if I lay out some simple landmarks, it’s easier to get the proportions more accurate. I’m sure that the more I practice the better I’ll get, but until I’m better at seeing and replicating proportions, I’ll have to keep measuring.

To measure proportions, I stick my arm all the way in front of me, squeeze one eye shut, and put the tip of my pencil on the biggest shape in the painting. I move my thumb until it’s at the bottom of that object. I make a dot somewhere on the paper, and put my thumb there (still holding the pencil.) Then, I tip the pencil up to make a dot. Now, I have the height of that shape. I do the same thing to get the width of it, and now I have a rectangle where that shape will live. Everything else gets measured in relation to that shape. So, If I screw up, and put that shape too high, it’s really sort of ok because if I do it correctly, everything should be in the right proportions. It’s important for me to hold my arm all the way out, because that way I know it’s always the same distance from my eye. If I don’t hold my arm all the way out, it might be six inches from my eye on one measurement, and seven inches from my eye on the next measurement. This would give me two measurements that are out of proportion with each other, so instead I always put my arm all the way out.

I don’t like doing this because I feel pretentious. I feel like people are looking at me (because they are) and if they see me holding my arm out like that, I worry that I look like I’m trying to pretend like I’m some renowned artist. The truth is the opposite. I’m doing that BECAUSE I am not good at drawing yet. I need to measure everything otherwise it’s all way out of proportion.

I also love painting Plein Air – and hate it at the same time. I love it because I get outside, the subject changes constantly so I see multiple versions of the same thing while I’m there. The light is changing as clouds move or the day moves on, and I experience the subject in a thousand different ways. I feel like I understand it much more than if I’m painting from a photo. When I paint from a photo, I only have information from one moment at one place in time. If a branch is in a bad spot, I have to guess what’s behind it in order to use creative license to move it. If I paint Plein Air, I can just move, and actually see what’s behind the branch.

I hate it because I’m self conscious. I don’t see people painting outside here in Canton, so if people see me, I feel like they want to come take a look to see if I’m “good enough” to paint in public. I don’t think I am yet, but that’s why I’m out there. I’m trying to learn, trying to get better. So when people see me painting outside, I assume they are thinking, “Look at that douche bag – who does he think he is, Picasso? I bet he’s not even any good.” Then they come look at the painting and think, “Ha! See?! He thinks he’s so great, but a half-trained elephant could paint that!”

I’m sure no one thinks that. And if they do, I mean – I don’t care. I guess I mean, I don’t care if they think my painting sucks. I just don’t want them to think that I think it’s good. Does that make sense? I should just make myself a shirt that says – I’m trying to learn.

Anyway – this is what I was able to paint today at the monument. I wanted to stay to finish it – but I didn’t remember to pack a sweatshirt, and it started getting really cold. I will probably finish it later – or just do it over. I should probably just do it over.

Oh – here’s a photo of the spot.

This is what I was looking at.
Alvaro Castag-NOT.
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