Salt Fork: #1

Here’s the closest thing I got to a decent painting today.

I drove out to Do some Plein Air Painting today.

A while back I drove home from camping along Route 21, north of Salt Fork State Park. On the drive, I passed a Mutti Dairy Farm, and I took note of it as something to paint some day.

So, when I decided to go painting today, I drove out for Mutti Dairy Farm.

I arrived at the location Google Maps identified as Mutti Dairy Farm, and there happened to be an elementary school nearby, so I parked in the parking lot, and set up my easel to paint it.

First, I sketched the scene in order to practice drawing, and to get a quick value study.

So busy…

Then, I did a small painting – which I thoroughly overworked.

So many shapes, so little definition.

I took note of all the places where I needed to simplify, (everywhere) and flipped it over to try again on the back. This time, I zoomed in the view a bit, hoping to cut some clutter out, and again massively overworked it.

I hate to admit, but this is the second attempt.

So, I grabbed a new piece of paper, and tried again… and screwed it up again.

By the time I was ruining the last iteration, there was a drizzle of rain coming down, so I packed up and drove south to avoid the weather. (Apparently I left that last painting in the elementary school. So… I littered.)

EDIT: I found the last sheet in my car, and trust me – the next two iterations were no better.

Looking at that last one, I realized part of the problem is in the composition. There is a background (the trees) and a midground (the structures) and a foreground (the cows, and the cattle pen) and there’s a Ultra-foreground (the grass in front of the cows.) if I break the painting down in terms of a stage for actors, the cow should be “center stage” the buildings and trees should all be background. By trying to differentiate the shapes of those buildings with warm and cool tones and long lines etc, I just bring them up, and they steal the spotlight. I shouldn’t do this. I should make the cows the focal point, and push the buildings back by merging those shapes and reducing the color contrasts. The trees can go back even farther, be even more neutral.

Also, after I drove south on 21 a bit, I came across the Mutti Dairy Farm that originally caught my eye. Turns out, I was painting the wrong thing the whole time!

Anyway… on to Salt Fork…

Salt Fork

I ended up going to the Salt Fork State park, and arrived at a spot that looked picturesque. So, I quickly set up the easel, and painted a quick sketch. That sketch ended up a blurred mess, so I tossed everything back in the car and drove home.

This is what happens when you don’t let anything dry.

That bridge should be much smaller.

Once I got home, I said goodnight to Rachel, and painted the scene from Salt Fork again.

This second attempt is closest to what I intended to create. Though I don’t like how dark the bridge is – it should be a much lighter value. I also wanted to get more texture on the sand at the foreground, but I don’t want to mess with it right now.

I would like to get the water smoother. I like the way a touch of ultramarine turquoise helps the water, but it isn’t magic sauce. I still need to be careful when I apply it. The first o

I like the lighting, it was a strong contre-jour (into the light – literally, against the day) scene with the sun just above the trees. As I painted the sun dipped down and started turning the sky into a gorgeous sunset, but I resisted the urge to add that.

It was a pretty disappointing day in terms of making great art, but I did learn a good bit.

1) I never let things dry enough when I’m painting Plein Air. So – I always end up painting into the danger zone, and everything falls apart. In the future, I should ditch all attempts at “glazing” when painting Plein Air. I need to mix the colors, get them to the right value and tone, and paint everything in a single pass. Maybe – MAYBE come back to add jewelry at the end, but that’s about it.

2) I should merge shapes more. I keep separating objects because they are distinct in real life, but doing this ruins the cohesive look of the composition. I need to remember what the focal point is, and paint the rest in as few strokes as possible.

3) I should look at what I’m painting more than I do. I usually look very closely at first, only to basically ignore the subject toward the end. This is a mistake. (If I’m generous… in reality it’s a blunder, not a mistake.

4) Forget color. Paint value and tone.

5) Deepen values by using thicker pigment of the same color, not darker colors.

6) Paint studies outside, and finished paintings indoors – right now. When I get better I’ll be able to paint finished paintings outside. But for now – consider them sketches that I can improve on at home.

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