I woke up this morning to a perfect, cool spring day so I set out early to do a little plein air painting. I experimented with a very limited palette, which was definitely challenging for me, especially when painting outdoors. My colors were three versions of the primary colors, (yellow red and blue, appearing as cadmium yellow pale, alizarin crimson, and ultramarine blue on my palette) plus white. I also added a fourth paint color, pthalo green, which is a highly tinted transparent warm green that can be used to mix a variety of colors beyond just green. My aim is to do some smaller paintings (pochades) as often as I can this spring and summer. On a sunny day, I find that I can only work on one scene for about two hours a session because beyond that the light has changed too drastically. By staying small I can do studies and cover the canvas within a limited amount of time. Small paintings also require you to paint loosely, as they cannot take a lot of detail unless you use a tiny brush. The whole idea for me though is to paint loosely and sharpen my ability to capture accurate color notes and the light effects in nature, not to render everything in a precise manner.
Here is the resulting 8x10" painting I did:
This is a redbud tree sitting along the banks of a little pond at a park near my house. It is definitely loose, but I will need to practice more with the limited palette as I did not get the contrast in the values, nor the colors quite as vibrant as I would have liked. Even so I think it is worthwhile to experiment with the limited palette as a way of really learning more about color mixing.Â
I think this is probably about 1 1/2 hrs. worth of work. It may have taken a little less time if some of the park attendants had not come by wanting to chat. It was probably around 10 a.m. by the time I really got into it, and the light moved very quickly. I started out with my easel in full shade and ended with up with my canvas sitting entirely in the glaring sun, which made it hard to see anything. For this reason I decided it was time to pack up. Many people erect an umbrella over their work space to deal with this problem of moving light and shadow. With both the canvas and the palette in the shade, it is easier to see your colors. Dappled light or direct sunlight on the canvas and/or palette makes it very difficult to see and mix anything. I do have an umbrella but I was too lazy to bother with it today. That'll teach me!
I haven't decided if I will do any more with this painting, or if I will just keep it as a reference and as a learning exercise. I don't want to do too much, but I may see if I can push the values (the lights and darks) a little more. In any event, even if some of my plein air paintings never reach the "finished" stage, they are worthwhile for the experience of honing my observation skills.