Painting “En plein air” is French for painting outdoors or painting what the eye actually sees. The goal is to capture a moment in light and time and the essence of the landscape. To capture the mood and setting with ever changing light, an artist must work quickly, in two hours the mood has changed or is lost.
Vincent Van Gogh said, “I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.”
I’m not an accomplished “plein air” painter, but do it in order to learn how to do it. So, my goal is to plein air paint at each of the vistas or overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway of which there are over 200 in 469 miles. It will probably take three to four years to accomplish
“Before the Storm”, Open Acrylic on Canvas, 12″ x 24″
I was at the Black Mountains overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway, milepost 342.2. My intention was to paint a sunset, so I set up around 5pm and started blocking in the shapes using darker than normal midtones anticipating sundown. When plein air painting, I paint for three hours and stop. Two hours in with storm clouds building it was obvious that a colorful sunset was not in the cards. Oh well . . .
The elevation at this site is close to 6000 ft. The grasses and underbrush which were brightly colored just two weeks ago have died back. The temperature was in the forties while painting even though the sky was clear and the sun was out. The wind made it feel much colder. At 6000 ft., winter comes early. Every day is an adventure.
It was a bright day despite the haze that spent the day with me while painting. I finished as the clouds rolled in, it was a good day. There are different theories as to why it is called “Graveyard Fields” but the one I like, is that after a fire some hundred years ago, that the burnt tree stumps on the barren meadow looked like grave stones. It doesn’t look like a graveyard now, now it just looks beautiful.
Looking Glass Rock can be seen in the gap. It by itself from a different overlook will be a future painting.
Five out of the last six paintings have included a body of water, It was nice to paint this pastoral scene without water in the foreground. The parkway runs adjacent to land owned by the public and used for many things, perhaps there’s a homestead, an old farm house with barns, cattle, horses maybe some sheep just over the hill. You can imagine what you will. This area is only a mile from Price Lake and is beautiful in it’s man made order.
“Price Lake”, 18″ X 24″, open acrylic on canvas done in plein aire
Price Lake is a man made lake. The dam that created the lake is located under the bridge beside where I painted. I stood next to the rail with the water flowing beneath me. The lake was created on 4,200 acres gifted to the State by Julian Price upon his death to be used as a public recreation area.
I’ve been asked to share the size of my paintings in my posts as well as the medium. I’ve updated that information in the Gallery. He also asked why I was painting a plein aire painting on an 18″ X 24″ canvas, stating that it was to large to accomplish at one sitting.
My assumption is that many artists paint on small canvases when plein aire painting because of several reasons. They paint on small canvases because it’s easier to transport their gear to and from the painting site. They could paint smaller paintings to accomplish it in a shorter time allowing more time for additional detail or to capture the ever changing light better.
I paint most of the time where I can drive up and park my truck. I usually set up within 50 yards. I don’t have to worry about the weight of gear, the size of the canvas or how to protect it from unexpected weather changes so close to my truck. Also I’m a quick painter, as an instructor at Paint Along Studios I learned to paint quickly by painting over six hundred times, each time completing a 16″ X 20″ canvas while assisting students in three hours or less. A larger canvas simply requires a larger brush and larger brush strokes. In many ways I find that I enjoy the larger sizes because I don’t have to control a smaller detail brush while trying to stay loose.
This painting was done from the walkway under the James River bridge. It’s a beautiful place. I’m going back soon and paint a series of paintings from this location. I could paint 50 paintings under this bridge and never paint the same thing twice. I’m guessing that the bridge is 300 yds long. The James River is a 410 mile long river. It’s the 12th largest river in the country that remains within the boundary of a single state. It’s in Virginia.
I was twenty minutes from finishing painting when a Vietnamese woman vacationing from her home in Germany stopped and asked if the painting was for sale. I now have a painting in a private European collection. Sounds great doesn’t it?
Otter Lake is near Glasgow Virginia. The elevation in the area is less than 1000 ft. Otter lake is created by Otter creak and the Otters and flows in to the James River. Rudy and I sat up for an early morning painting on a rainy day. I started painting around 7:00 am and painted quickly, by 11:00 am the rain started. The rest of the day we drove around and scouted out other painting opportunities and visited a local museum.
Off the turnpike taking care of domestic issues at our Black Mountain Cottage but I found a few hours to paint this view of Lake Tomahawk one evening.
Shawn Hart a photography student at Appalachian State University photographed me painting last month at one of the overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was at high elevation and was windy and very cool.
One of the most distinctive features of the Blue Ridge Parkway are its stone bridges. This one(there are 168) allows the parkway to cross under another road. All of the overpasses except one are stone-faced arches. The stone is from local quarries or stone was obtained on site from rocks cut during the construction. 11″ x 14″.
Orange azaleas, really, I’ve never seen them in Florida but I’m not an azalea inspector. They grow wild along the roadside on the parkway. I was told that they are a wild variety not a hybrid some are darker orange, others more yellow. The predominate color looks like orange sherbet. The leaves are more like rhododendron they’re beautiful. This is a small painting(8″ x 8″) but still took me over two hours.
It rained all night and some of the morning. I didn’t have a rain fly to go outside, so I sat in my tent(staying at Linville Falls campground) and had cereal with bananas and almond milk for breakfast. I couldn’t connect to the internet, forgot to bring any books. I’m making a list of things to pack for the next trip out, so I as they say, I sat around and contemplated my navel.
I got on the parkway about 11:30 in the morning and was able to finish this painting just as it started to rain again.
Monday was more of the same, rain the night before and so foggy that painting a vista was not going to happen so I found a little picnic area with some tree cover and painted these Mountain Laurel under an over sized umbrella that I fastened to my easel with duct tape. I thought that Mountain Laurel was apart of the Azalea or Rhododendron family but Wikipedia says no, that they are a part of the heather family.
Wednesday was the brightest day so far, but the clouds are still ever present. So today, God only knows why, I decided to paint an 18″ x 24″ painting. Nobody in their right mind paints a plein air painting this large, but who said I was in my right mind. It’s a view of Grand Father Mountain but not the classic view as seen from Hwy 105, but then again, I’m not on Hwy 105, I’m on the parkway.
Well, that’s all for right now, I’m going back to Black Mountain NC, rest for a few days, shop for all the things I forgot, do my chores around the house, go to a Tim Barnwell book signing on Saturday, celebrate my birthday on Sunday and then back to painting on Tuesday, thanks for tuning in.