Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Early Fall – On the Trail!

This watercolor painting was done from a photo taken on a recent hike in the Great Smoky Mountains.  Fall is one of my favorite seasons of the year to hike AND capture in paint!


The best way to start the painting is to analyze the scene and determine the colors in the landscape.   The Great Smoky Mountains are known by the smoky haze that rises over the mountain peaks.  This painting is of a vista along the trail in early morning before the sun peeked through the smoke.  The grasses are starting to die back, and there are gold and brown touches among the green grasses.  The trees, except for these evergreens, are slowing turning, but are still mostly green.  The background trees are cast in shadow and smoke.  


Materials Needed:


140# Watercolor paper – I use Arches


#12 round brush

Flat brush


Watercolor Paint:

Payne’s Gray

Sap Green


Yellow Ochre

Van Dyke Brown


Sketch the scene on your paper which has been taped to a board.   We will be executing this painting, as with most watercolors, by starting with the background and working forward – wet on wet.


Wet the top portion of your paper down to the horizon.  Using a pale wash of Payne’s Gray, paint in your sky using a flat brush and allowing the gray to form clouds, but leaving lots of white.    While this is still wet create areas of tree shapes with lighter in the background building into darker in the foreground.  Add more Payne’s Gray and a little bit of Ultramarine.   I used a large round brush for the tree shapes.   Leave lighter areas of gray and white space between the darker tree shapes to create the “smoke.”  Use a tissue or paper towel to blot out some of the excess paint to create cloud shapes.  This is painted down to the horizon with the green trees painted on top of this background.   Spray with water as needed to mist the trees.    Allow this to dry.


Layer in some pale shades of green for background trees, building in deeper color as you move forward to the trees in the midrange of the painting.  Deepen your green with ultramarine and add touches of this to indicate shadows in the trees.  Allow some of the lighter areas as well as background to show through.    Allow to dry.


Lay down your base for the grass by using a wet on wet technique of a light green and yellow ochre.  Drop in some of the deeper color of green and ultramarine under the trees for shadows.  While still wet pull up the taller grasses using shades of yellow ochre, VanDyke Brown and sap green.  At the base of the grasses drop in some deeper shades and pull up into the grasses.  Allow to dry.


Wet the trail area and using a round brush float in shades of gray and brown, letting some of the white paper show through in areas for highlights.  Allow to dry.  Using the same colors as the trail, spatter the area with paint to indicate rock, gravel, etc.  Don’t forget to cover areas of your painting that you do not want spattered.


For final touches, add a few pieces of tall grass.  Allow to dry.  Using a razor blade, scrape in some highlights in the grasses.


Congratulations!  Don’t forget to sign your name!


Happy Painting!










Plein Air Painting - A Battle of Wills!

Needless to say it has been way too long since I posed on my blog…..but I promise to try to do better.  Actually, I have been painting and gathering “inspiration” for my paintings and have been too busy to sit down and blog.    

Last fall, I spent a week at Arrowmont in Gatlinburg, TN participating in a plein air painting class.  During this time, a group of fellow artists went up into the mountains and painted trying to capture the subtle changes in the sun and shadows on the canvas. 

I usually paint in watercolor, but for this trip I chose to use acrylic paints.  This was an interesting change for me which I enjoyed immensely.    The painting above is one that I painted plein air with my easel set up by the side of a mountain stream.

In this blog, I’ll discuss the challenges in plein air painting as compared to painting in studio.

Where to start? 


1.       People
Actually, painting in plein air in a national park, especially one as busy as the Great Smoky Mountains, is not easy.  Fall is a popular time of year for the park for leaf viewing as some of the most beautiful mountain vistas in the world bring millions of visitors every year.  And, the novelty of an artist painting a landscape right in front of the tourist is a distraction that most tourists can’t ignore.    The artist’s time is limited and most tourists would like to talk about the painting…..not to mention, the one or two that would like to learn and ask to add a brush stroke or two to the painting.  (This one surprised me!)    However, I am an outgoing person and enjoyed the interactions, but had to keep painting and not stop to talk.  On the positive side, tourists are for the most part very complimentary - which gives a great boast to the ego.  Some of my fellow artists did run into one or two tourists that saw themselves as art critics. 

2.       Climate
We ran into numerous weather changes – sun, rain, wind, cold, heat….all in the same day!  We were prepared to dress in layers, but the rush of battling the elements when sudden rainstorms hit was quite a chore.  It never seemed to fail that as soon as we got to a location, set up and started painting, the weather would change.  Rain caused problems with all of the paints.  Wind caused many of us to hold tightly to our easel with one hand and the paint brush with the other.  Once a strong gush of wind blew over one of our artist’s easel and he chased it down  - almost falling over the side of the mountain.  He said that he had worked too hard on his painting to let blow down 3,000 feet – at least not without an effort to catch it.

3.      Bugs
Insect repellent works great and we all used it to keep the mosquitoes and flying insects away.   But, we could not spray our paintings and it was common to look up and see a gnat or some crawling bug working his way across the canvas of wet paint.  It did add some interesting designs. 

4.       Portability
Easels, paint and canvases:  we had to carry everything we needed with us including water, etc. for clean up.  All the equipment, no matter how pared down one thought they were, was heavy!  Boy, were we tired by the end of the day!

5.       Wild animals
Although the Smoky Mountains are known for black bear spotting, we never ran across one while out painting.  However, we did find bear footprints on the windshield of our van one morning.  We were serenaded by a bull moose in the North Carolina side of the mountains one day. 

 In summary:

The glare of the sun, rain and wind, biting insects or worrisome wild animals, as well as interruptions caused by fellow humans, all add to making what should seem like a delightful experience -- drawing or painting in the fresh air -- into a battle of wills.

It was a memorable experience and one that I would do again!

Below is a short description of Arrowmont.   They offer all kinds of classes and the experience of classes there is unforgettable!
Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts is an arts and crafts center located in Gatlinburg, TN.  The oldest craft school in Tennessee, Arrowmont offers workshops in arts and crafts such as painting, woodworking, glassblowing, photography, basket weaving and metalworking.    The campus contains the oldest buildings in Gatlinburg and comprises two historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For additional information or just some interesting reading, check out their site:  http://www.arrowmont.org/
Happy Painting!