Energized by a morning plein air session

landscape study - plein air at Carroll Joyner Park
Great view at E. Carroll Joyner Park in Wake Forest


The afternoons have gotten really hot and steamy in my area, so getting outside to paint early in the day is a priority for me. Evenings could work, but I’ve found it tricky to time that well with the setting sun. In the morning the heat starts to arrive, but at least there’s enough light to work with!

I had an idea for a good spot at the great park near us that would allow me to study atmospheric perspective. I was super excited when I got there to find the perfect spot next to a tall tree that provided shade. Well, it provided shade for part of the time — after about an hour and a half I became aware of the fact that I was starting to cook out there. I was so absorbed in painting that it took me awhile to notice, but my nice shade tree was no longer protecting me from the glaring sun. I think it’s time to order that plein air umbrella I have my eye on…

After sketching a thumbnail to get familiar with the shapes in the scene and the light and shadow patterns, I mapped out the basic shapes on the canvas panel. Then I blocked in some average colors that helped me see color and value relationships. I was dubious about that wall of blue-grey that represented the distant tree line, but I kept moving ahead with it to see what would happen.

Average colors and values blocked in

Those distant trees are my favorite part of the painting, so I’m glad I stuck with the color there. My intention with this session was to study the effects of light in the landscape and to mix reasonably good colors with this set palette I’m trying out. I wasn’t too concerned with making a great composition, just wanted to paint a scene that I was excited about in general.

The palette I took this outing was:

  • cadmium yellow light
  • cadmium orange
  • cadmium red medium
  • transparent earth red
  • viridian hue
  • ultramarine blue deep
  • burnt umber
  • titanium white
  • ivory black

I found it pretty easy to use for quick color mixing. The transparent earth red and viridian hue made a good deep green. If I were going to do a big sky, it might be nice to add in phthalo blue. I have so many colors that I really like and are useful to have, but carrying all that weight on my back adds up! I can see how some parts of the year a different group of colors could make mixing more efficient. I’m imagining that in the fall and winter, having some purple and yellow ochre would be convenient.

landscape study - plein air at Carroll Joyner Park
“Park Vista”, 8×10 oil on canvas panel

Aside from the heat near the end, this was a great session of outdoor painting. I felt less rushed and more clear about my process than some of the others. And one of the best parts was that by wrapping up at 9:30, I had almost the whole day still in front of me and felt energized by the feeling of accomplishment. Gotta remember that feeling!