Sunday, September 28, 2014

Yes... But is it Plein Air?

Recently I fell victim to the argument that a plein air painting has to be painted entirely outdoors. I knew better than to believe this nonsense. And anyway, who cares? And is it any who who matters? But for whatever reason, I bowed to the pressure. This is the story of that painting.

I most enjoy working a bit large, so I took my 24x48 canvas out to the dunes, my favorite place to paint. I started at the end of July. The marsh and dune grasses were still green. I chose the two hours before sundown when the shadows create interesting patterns on the dunes. I was off to a good start.

Life intervened in August and I had to leave for a month. When I returned in September, I had to wait for good weather- we were in the afternoon thunderstorm pattern of late summer on the Gulf. When the weather cleared, I returned everyday that had similar light to my start. By now, the grasses were turning brown and gold. Fall is my favorite time of year to paint the dunes so I didn't mind adding the colors. I also had to start arriving earlier with the days growing shorter.

So, after 5 or 6 two hour sessions, the painting now stands 95% complete. So far, it's been completed entirely on the spot. I don't need to return to complete the remaining 5%. When I finish it, can it still accurately be called plein air?

At this point, I really don't care. I did learn some interesting things though.

    1- As usual, there's no substitute for painting from life. I was able to amend some earlier studio works with the lessons learned from this painting.

    2- It really wasn't necessary to haul such a large canvas out there. If my objective had been to gather information, I could have done 5 or 6 small quick studies and combined them in the studio. But then I wouldn't have had the pleasure of the salt breeze on my skin and the sounds of coastal birds and surf.

    3- I still prefer the results of a large canvas painted in multiple sessions mostly on the spot. to the less informed works painted quickly in one go.

   4- And yes, something large can be painted entirely outdoors if one feels the need to.

For more thoughts on the debate about the definition of plein air, read Eric Rhoads publisher's letter in the November 2014 issue of Plein Air Magazine. His is exactly my opinion too when it comes to defining what a plein air painting is.

How has this debate impacted your work?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Pearls and Paintings

Friday night was Gallery Night in Pensacola. Up and down stylish Palafox Place, businesses invited artists to exhibit for the night in their establishments. By four, the street was closed to cars and soon became one long pedestrian mall filled with art and music and business.

A  few years ago, rules were relaxed allowing people to stroll the street drinks in hand. hadn't participated lately fearing that Gallery Night had become more of a beer party night. But this year, I was invited to show at a beautiful jewelry shop, and I accepted. I'm glad I did. My host was gracious and accommodating and the clientele were interested and engaging. As it turned out, the business owner is also a writer. So I had a great night, a productive night and was gifted with a good read, The Deadly Reef, that I've been enjoying all day. 

Late in the day today I headed out once again to work on my large canvas. I'm one step closer to finish.

Late Day Fort Pickens  © T Grillo Laird

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Plein Air Cure

September in the Dunes © Theresa Grillo Laird - oil 9x12 
September on Pensacola beach is still plenty hot enough to go swimming. It's also a great time for painting in the dunes. The colors of both land and sky deepen and the beach plants begin to bloom. But, it is still very hot and humid.
When I first visited this area 15 years ago, I was completely defeated by the climate. It was only late June, but I was so overcome by the Gulf Coast heat and humidity, that I literally couldn't function. I spent the largest part of my vacation week sacked out on the couch totally enervated. I don't know whether I can credit the pleasure of plein air painting for making me so heat tolerant, but now I actually enjoy being out in it. The sun on my skin, and even the feeling of having just emerged from a steam room, adds to all the sensory impressions that make their way into a painting. But for anyone wanting to venture out with paint and easel in a Pensacola summer, I offer these tips.

   1. Bring water. Bring plenty of water. An Audubon field worker who grew up in these parts, gave me a very good tip. He freezes his bottles of water. They turn into icy drinks that are so much more refreshing than the tepid water that you get in no time with unfrozen bottles. 

   2. Don't even think of going out without covering yourself liberally with sun block. I inherited the Germanic skin of my mother's family rather than the olive tones of my Italian half. Right now I have a tan that would make the Coppertone baby envious, and I never use an SPF under 50. 

   3. Premix the colors that you are likely to need. I carry two palettes for my French Easel- one with my paint mixtures and one to keep everything from falling out of the paint box. With most of your colors ready to go, you can jump right into painting without spending unnecessary time in the heat.

   4. Take a break after 2 or 2 1/2 hours, and go back to your air conditioned car for a few minutes. It gives your eyes a break too from looking at your painting for too long.

   5. Pay attention to your body. As much as you might want to push on through, stop and take care of yourself immediately if you start to fell light headed or confused.  See # 1 and 4.

With a little bit of preparation and self care, you can paint your way through the most brutal summer. And if all else fails, use the summer months to do early day or night scenes.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Painting Autumn

Autumn Shadows © Theresa Grillo Laird 18x24 oil on canvas
click here for info 

I've heard talk lately about how sad it is to see the end of summer. September usually signals the end of warm weather and the relaxing days spent at the beach. A feeling creeps in of responsibility, serious work and shorter days to get it all done. Maybe it's just the place where I live, but fall is beautiful on Pensacola Beach. From September through November, the days are warm and the sun is angled low creating long violet shadows. The dune grasses turn to shades of red and brown setting off yellow blooms that only appear in fall. The gentle green and pink tones of summer vanish and the beach becomes it's most colorful. It's my favorite time of year to paint my coastal paradise.

Beach Flowers © Theresa Grillo Laird
11x14 oil on canvas. Click here for info

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Strongest Relationships

                                                                                                               August 31

My three week visit to family has come to a close this weekend with a very enjoyable gathering over dinner. If there is anything I learned from my dad, on this one year anniversary since he passed away, it's the meaning of family. Before painting, before ambition, before working and marketing and striving to make an art life work, there's family. and all the experiences of family wind their way into the creative work.

The Gilchrist Family Breakfast- William Gilchrist
Sitting around the table laughing and enjoying each other's stories, made me think of how often artists have portrayed gatherings of their family and friends.From intimate gas lit scenes of 3 or 4 around the supper table to boisterous celebrations among fellow artists, artists have painted their emotions about the people closest to them.

Hip Hip Hooray- Severin Kroyer

Dinner Conversation- Pruett Carter

dejeuner sur l'herbe- Monet
On A Turf Bench- Ilya Repin

I start my two day drive home with a smile at the thought of the events of the past three weeks and the sure knowledge that no matter what else, I'll always have family, the place I've come from and from where I take creative flight.

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