Painting at Falls Lake Dam

plein air value study in oil at Falls Lake Dam Jun 16 2019
My goals for selecting a scene were big shapes, atmospheric perspective, and shade. This spot fit the bill!

Yesterday we took a little road trip to Hickory so I could see an exhibit of pastel paintings at the art museum. And even though it took us forever to actually get there, I left feeling inspired! There was also an exhibit of paintings by the Blue Ridge Realists, and I recognized one of the artists from the North Carolina Plein Air Painters group I joined last year. Scott Boyle’s landscapes were a treat to see in person, and he also contributed to a special little collection of plein air painting equipment and studies. After we got back home, I decided that in the morning I’d go out for some outdoor painting.

I wish I had stuck to the “morning” plan — instead I took care of some household chores in the morning and set out to paint after lunch. The problem was that it had gotten so warm out that as I walked around to find a good location for setting up, my energy got totally sapped. I packed it in and headed home. Except I took a wrong turn along the way as I often do here and found myself driving along the Falls Lake Dam. At the end of the road, there was a promising view of the kind of thing I wanted to paint (big shapes, tree masses layered into the distance, water) in a patch of shade.

I set up my gear and promptly lost all track of time. It was an enjoyable, although hot, plein air session, and I’m really glad I didn’t go home empty-handed.

plein air value study in oil at Falls Lake Dam Jun 16 2019
Experimenting with an 11-step value scale to capture the effects of aerial perspective

This time I did a black and white study, leaving out the color element and just focusing on values. I did a few plein air studies last week that were total flops and the main reason was that I didn’t handle the value structure well. It’s one thing to look at a photo and determine a structure for the values, but doing it outdoors has been a much different experience for me.

I’m currently fixated on learning about using a prismatic palette to help wrangle my colors. I’d rather not do so much guessing and hoping that things will come together on the canvas, and one of the main characteristics of this approach is arranging colors by value and setting out equivalent steps of grey, blue, and green. This kind of organization appeals to the methodical side of me. And although I resisted it because it seemed more structured than I wanted to be, it may actually be an effective tool for learning the ropes of outdoor painting.