Friday, August 17, 2007

Plein Air Painting in Acadia


Every chance I get I go painting. It's kind of like fishing. Sometimes I catch a good one and other times I have to throw it back (paint over it).

The colors on the coast of Maine are different than the Pacific NW. More subdued, weathered. The mountains are worn and rounded. Because of feldspar, Pink suffuses the granite, making the sand beaches a warm color, vermillion mixed with yellow ochre. The skies are horizon to horizon without any great mountain range for the sun to hide behind. Pink clouds in a Cerulean sky over a steel grey ocean. Long lines of horizon, islands and headlands.

The lack of wildlife is curious. I've seen only whitetail deer, heard an owl and see the scat of raccoons. Why there are no birds, not even a sparrow is beyond me. Of course there are ravens and seagulls, some terns and I've seen a turkey vulture but as much as I am outside there is a perplexing lack of wildlife.

I'm coming to terms with maritime scenery. I visited galleries in Nw Harbor and was enormously impressed with the quality and quantity of work. What seems to be the significant difference between the NW and here on the east coast of Maine is both the amount of artists there are working here and the sufistication of the patronage. Of course this is the domain of 'old east coast money', so it would go to follow that the market would develop accordingly.

I was greatly inspired by an artist named Farandon who lived from 1880's to 1964. He painted the coast of Maine. His style is representational in the vein of Edward Hopper but less urbane. He blocks in areas of color letting the underpainting become lines, less expressive brushwork, empasizing composition. I'm developing my spectrum of values better, creating new darks mixing french ultramarine blue with umber mixed and either alizarin for warm darks or hooker's green for cooler darks. I have achieved some progress with the temperature of colors which means I think I have resolved values sufficiently although it is always a struggle to coordinate them into a cohesive composition, something that is difficult to pull off in the short time one has, plein air painting.

Plein air painting is a performance. It is like a jazz player's spontaneous interpretation of the moment when a familiar tune is improvised but is recorded and becomes an artifact of time. I am reluctant to develop my plein air efforts because I feel they need to be a record of that moment. It is difficult to not modify that moment. I think it removes the plein air authenticity and changes the painting into a 'studio' piece. The challenge is to focus on the moment yet visualize a finished product executed in such a fashion to not only memorialize the moment but for the effort to look finished and complete, like a haiku or a chinese character that has meaning yet is a visual symbol of substance. It is difficult to leave the piece alone and frustrating to not 'get it right' in one sitting.

I have a couple pieces in a local gallery in Seal Harbor and hope to have more. It is good to have my work accepted and on display.