First day plein air painting

plein air sketch on Neuse River path
My gouache sketch along the Neuse River Trail in Raleigh

Well, you gotta start somewhere! My first plein air painting is under my belt and it feels great. The sketch is rough, with lots of room for improvement, but I’m so happy I got out there and finished one.

my view of the Neuse River for a plein air meetup
View of the area I chose to paint

I used gouache to get started because I wasn’t prepared to take acrylics out there on the trail yet. And I haven’t even cracked open my oils. Instead of purchasing an easel and paint box setup, I cobbled together some existing supplies to see how the experience painting outside felt before committing to a particular solution.

plein air painting setup cobbled together from various supplies
My ad hoc plein air setup: scored and folded corrugated plastic board, palette made from a gift tin of flavored salts (I knew that tin would come in handy one day!), and gouache painting accessories.

While it was comfortable to be seated with this on my lap, it was cumbersome to hold everything and some of my tools had to be stashed in the bag that was sitting on the ground next to me. But it gave me a bit better feel for how materials are used in this type of painting. Of course now I’m dreaming of all kinds of portable paint boxes and easel solutions.

It was really cool to implement the techniques I’ve been practicing for this sketch. I started with a few thumbnails to determine the composition, and did a couple of value studies. Then I took my small panel that had been toned with a mid-value earthy red acrylic, sketched in the placement of each element with burnt sienna, and mixed up my color value lines of the basic colors that I saw using prussian blue, burnt sienna, yellow ochre, and titanium white gouache. I followed the process of blocking in darkest colors, then lightest colors, then going back to work on details.

The sky was overcast, but you can’t really tell that from this painting — it’s more warm than I intended. I also wish it wasn’t so high contrast, and that the middle value colors were developed more. The things I’m happiest with are the drawing and the color of the winding river.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the experience was how even though the bugs were an obnoxious distraction at times, they didn’t make me want to pack it in and go home. I got into the zone and I stopped paying much attention to them. That’s in stark contrast to times when I’ve been sitting outside to relax, and was driven back inside by bugs. I took it as a good sign!

My goal for the next one: simplify. Oh, and to choose a view that’s not obscured by stuff I don’t want included in the composition.

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