Have you ever had a morning where nothing went right?
Mine started when I woke up 20 minutes before the alarm. Wide awake. Don’t you hate that? I do. On those mornings when I need to get up early, it never happens. And there was no coffee in my immediate sight. Ugh.
Upon arriving at the painting location, the temperature was colder than predicted. It actually dropped once the sun rose. Shouldn’t the sun make it “warmer”? Apparently not in Tennessee.
As I started my notan study, I kept getting the edge line wrong. Yet I knew the irregular edge of building against the dark trees was the story. It was a fantastic shape. However, my frozen fingers wouldn’t allow me to draw. Why? Because I had forgotten to recharge my hand warmer the night before. Drawing with a frozen hand is not a recipe for success.
At this point I thought, I’ll just take a pic, play with it in the studio and come back. It was a great idea right up until phone died in my hand. Guess the hand warmer wasn’t the only thing I’d forgotten to recharge.
As I began sketching the large shapes, my pencil (a light blue, easily eraseable, pastel
pencil, CarbOthello #430) felt odd and literally came apart in the middle. I stood there with half a pencil in my hand and the other half on the ground. I think my Strada easel must have bounced on it in my backpack and cracked it.
Remember that edge I mentioned earlier? I was having a really hard time getting it right. For whatever reason, it didn’t want to be drawn. At this point I decided to just “go ahead” and began painting*. (*Please never do this! Learn from my mistake. If the composition is off – no amount of fun color will ever save it.)
And then, as if a sign from above, a school bus parked in front of the church right as I began blocking in the painting. Maybe the bus driver knew I hadn’t created a solid composition and was trying his best to save me from myself.
With all of this distraction (waking up early, colder than expected, no hand warmer, no phone, bad composition, broken pencil, and a bus) you’d think I would have just packed it in. Nope. Rather than quitting, I hit the reset button.
Plein air is about problem solving. Every time you strap your studio onto your back and walk out the door, you will have to solve problems. It’s what we do. Like a quarterback shaking off the last interception to throw again – every now and then an artist must hit the reset button. The moral of the story is multifaceted:
- It’s hard painting when you’re frustrated. Take a moment to back out of the ‘scene’ and relax. Take a breath. Get your mind right. Have a coffee. Laugh at the bus driver.
- Break the painting into it’s most simple form(s). A building is just rectangles, squares and triangles. Is the tree a circle, triangle or rectangle? Keep it simple.
- Make sure your value shifts tell a story. I knew the building’s white edge (9 value) in full sun against the wooded backdrop (2 value) was the ‘storyline’ because of the irregular edge it created.
- Above all else – even when everything conspires against your painting, you are still going to have a pretty good day because you’re painting. Enjoy the journey.
Onwards / Sideways,