Plein air in the garden

As I mentioned in my last post, I participated last week in a “call for artists” from Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens to celebrate National Public Gardens week. You may know from reading previous blogs that I have painted in these gardens many times as a resident of Central Virginia. But somehow, painting in this context, constructed around an “official event,” helped me to see this place with new eyes and renewed excitement.

I decided to challenge myself by painting some gardens that I hadn’t tackled before. The first day I went it was AWASH with tours and school groups. There were so many kids there stopping to give their input. All of it was actually very positive, but also a bit distracting. Now, I love kids quite a lot, (and even have one those cuties myself) but on this day they were messing with my mojo and I had a hard time concentrating on what I was doing😅.

The architectural elements were minimal, but even so, required some concentrated drawing, some sense of proportion and placement to get right, especially since I was fairly close up to my subject and didn’t have a lot of room to manuver. I moved my entire setup several times and wiped it all down, before finally settling on a view that satisfied. It left me less time than I had planned to get everything down before I had to head back to my house in Ashland, but I did a pretty decent job, with only the need for a few final touches in the studio.

“Illuminated Courtyard, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

“Illuminated Courtyard, Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens”, Oil on linen, 12x16” ©Jennifer E Young

When I was (finally) in a pretty good place with my painting, a kid came by to examine my progress. I estimate he was around my daughter’s age (3rd or 4th grade) . He studied my effort with seriousness, alternately looking at my painting and the scene, my painting and the scene. Finally he gave me a decisive and approving nod. “You’ve done your homework,” he said.

And that, my friends, is the beauty of painting outdoors. It’s filled with its share of frustrations to be sure, but the moments of spontaneity are pure gold.

Time struggles, plein air, and new calendar of events

This week has been a little crazy; two openings and a plein air event for me, theater rehearsals and school and sports for my daughter, and all of the regular stuff of life in between. But some version of crazy seems to be the norm for my schedule every week, and I am not alone.

While I was painting this week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (more on that in a minute) I ran into an artist friend and we started talking about how disorganized we can sometimes feel and how guilty we feel about not being better at marketing to social media, to our newsletters, and yes, to our blogs. When time is crunched, the choice of whether to do any of the above or to paint always seems to result in painting as the clear winner.

It’s a frustration that I know a lot of other artists share, many of whom, like me, aren’t always masters of time management or organization. “I need a calendar of events on my website,” I said to my friend, “a quick and simple way for people to check in and see my upcoming shows and events. Maybe it would help me stay more organized too.” When I got home that afternoon, I checked out my site and lo and behold it does have that functionality. So viola! I now have a calendar!😃

If you check out the aforementioned calendar you can see that I have been spending the week painting at the botanical gardens as part of a promotion for National Public Gardens Week. Local artists who applied to paint during this week will submit their completed works for a chance to be juried in to an exhibit at Lewis Ginter that opens June 22nd.

Work in progress, 12x16”, painted during National Public Garden Week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

Work in progress, 12x16”, painted during National Public Garden Week at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens

I really like these kind of events because even though I regularly paint outside on my own, they get me out and focused and inspired. I enjoy seeing what other artists are doing and collecting new ideas on various artists setups and tools of the trade. It’s a very different vibe from the more formal events that are organized around competition. I have some friends who thrive on competition and use it as a means to drive themselves onward to bigger heights. For myself, it’s a little more stressful. I do the competitions from time to time and haven’t yet regretted it, but I am not that competitive by nature. So the more relaxed festivals that are really just a celebration of art and plein air painting are truly my jam.

Escape to Provence! A Step by Step Demo

Over Christmas break as everything was pretty brown and exceedingly soggy outside, I decided to mine my many photos of sunnier times from my trips abroad. I will never forget my trip to Lourmarin, painting and eating my way through this beautiful part of Provence. I still long to go back, and am determined to do so, hopefully this time sharing it’s magic with my daughter. In the meantime I can always revisit the experience through paintings. So let’s get started, shall we?

“Le Printemps, Temple de Lourmarin”, Oil on linen, 24x30” ©Jennifer E Young

“Le Printemps, Temple de Lourmarin”, Oil on linen, 24x30” ©Jennifer E Young

Above is the completed work, photographed outside for correct color and no glare! This Protestant Church, Le Temple de Lourmarin, is simple and austere on the inside but it has a wonderful exterior and adds a sense of history and tradition as it sits like a sentry at the edge of town. Click through on the final image to read more or purchase this piece.

Edges, mark-making and tools

Happy New Year!🎉 Okay, granted I am a little late to the party, but I’ve had a busy couple of weeks moving into a new exhibit space for 2019. More on that soon, but today I wanted to share a bit about mark making, and neat little tool that I stumbled upon along the way.

I didn’t have tons of time over Christmas break to paint, but it doesn’t mean it hasn’t been on my mind. I have been thinking a lot about how I can loosen up, to create pieces that are truthful but not quite so literal. One of the things I struggle with is varying not only color but brushwork, so that there is not so much sameness everywhere. I vary brush sizes and shapes, but it still can leave me feeling a little bit like there must be something more. Sometimes I want to push a bunch of paint around and brushes alone don’t always do that.

Then one day, I purchased a Color Shaper. I actually bought this to spread gesso, because I have some pre-gessoed canvases that I bought that have been sitting around in my studio unused because are still a bit too rough and absorbent for my liking.

Before I even used it for gesso, I got curious. I had heard of other artists using these tools fairly extensively for applying paint in their work and I got to wondering whether it might be a useful tool for varying my edges and textures in my painting.

It didn’t really do what I was hoping for. These shapers come in varying degrees of firmness and the tool I ordered was an extra firm. Good for gesso spreading, but not for my painting. Still, I saw the potential so I went back online to see if I could get another one with more flexibility. But before I got that far, I stumbled upon these do-hickeys and fell in love.

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These guys, officially called Princeton Catalyst Wedges, are made of some kind of silicone or rubber and come in a variety of shapes . They are more flexible than my prior purchase but still firm enough to move the paint. They don’t have handles, but frankly I prefer this handle- less variety because it allows for more control.

What does it do? Well, for starters it pushes a heck of a lot of paint around, creating the ability to make bold, impasto passages or thinner, more ethereal ones.

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I can use it to make a fairly straight edge with the straight, thin side of the tool, or use it t scrape down passage to create softer edges.

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I can use it as a blending tool, or a tool to separate out colors and make them stand out. In short, I can use it to exploit the properties of the paint in a way that is a nice variation from straight-on brushwork .

I first ordered the white tool, pictured above, left. Then then I discovered the black, which I like even better because you have greater versatility with both a long and a short edge. “Why not just use a palette knife,” you might ask? Well, I do love palette knife paintings but I always just end up switching back to brushes and reworking them because I have never been quite able to achieve that combination of softness and boldness I aim for. These little tools act like palette knives with more of a brush feel, if that makes sense.

“Coral Reflections, Late Summer”, Oil on linen, 24x36” ©Jennifer E. Young

“Coral Reflections, Late Summer”, Oil on linen, 24x36” ©Jennifer E. Young


I’m still not ditching my paint brushes; they are the work horses in my studio. But I’m having fun playing around with these new tools and exploring what I can do with them in my paintings.

An Evening at the Boatyard

This painting was a little difficult to photograph due to the contrast in the subject and the thick texture in the paint. But I ultimately succeeded in capturing a good shot on a flat and cloudy day when it wasn’t too dark or too blaringly bright outside. Hopefully the energy I felt in returning to the easel shines through in the piece.

“Evening at the Boatyard”, Oil on linen, 20 x 24” ©Jennifer E Young

“Evening at the Boatyard”, Oil on linen, 20 x 24” ©Jennifer E Young

I have been looking at a lot of art lately and painting a few lemons in between (both literally and figuratively😅.) As a result I feel compelled to express myself in a way that is not so literal. I don’t know how far out into the world of abstraction I want to venture, but I do feel the pull to simplify in the very least. What’s enough but not too much? That’s the question. I haven’t found the answer yet, at least not in my own work, but it’s something very much on my mind. It will probably take many more paintings (and quite a few more lemons) before I even come close to an answer.