Butter and Buttercups

Each year in early spring the rural counties in Virginia are blanketed with sunny yellow buttercups, and each year I vow to get outside and paint them in the field. More often than not though, I miss their brief appearance for one reason or another. It’s a busy time at my daughter’s school, or I am preparing for a show, or moving, etc., etc., etc.) This year I got lucky, thanks to the sweet tip I received from my husband, who spotted this location on his morning drive to work. 

 "Butter and Buttercups", Oil on linen, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

"Butter and Buttercups", Oil on linen, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

This dairy farm is about 20 minutes from my home in Ashland, out in rural Hanover County just past historic Hanover Tavern. I started out painting the barn and fields, cowless, with a plan of perhaps adding the cows later from photos I took on site. Just toward the end of my session though, the cows obliged, and ambeled over long enough for me to paint a suggestion of their general shape and position. I decided to leave them as I painted them in the field, as I felt the handling was consistent with the rest of the painting.

Change is Good (on revising oil paintings)

I’m not afraid of anything in this world
There’s nothing you can throw at me
That I haven’t already heard
I’m just trying to find a decent melody
A song that I can sing in my own company
— Songwriters: Adam Clayton / Dave Evans / Larry Mullen / Paul Hewson (U2)

I've heard it said that there's nothing new under the sun, and that's probably true when it comes to painting. Nevertheless,  I never stop striving to improve, both in terms of technique and in how best to express myself. I want to make work that speaks to me and hopefully speaks to others as well. No one painting can say everything and I don't expect it to. The best paintings say just enough, with sensitivity, but without overstating. 

And then there are the ones that need re-stating. :-/  Often with such paintings it is easier to just wipe down or tear up my first effort and see if I can try again on a fresh canvas. Sometimes though,  it seems worth the effort to attempt a revision first before scrapping the whole darn thing. If the painting is fresh and new, reworking is a fairly easy and straightforward task, as there isn't an under-layer of built up paint to compete with.

But it may not occur to me right away exactly what change is needed, and it's only after sitting with it a while that I want to go back into it again. In these cases, a little bit of elbow grease is required, both to ensure proper adhesion of the new paint layers and to knock down any unwanted texture. 

My painting, "Rugosa Coastline" is a studio piece that was based on a smaller plein air piece I did when I was up in Maine. After a few months of thinking about it I decided that it lacked something that the plein air piece captured. I felt the studio piece was labored, overall too busy, and the colors, especially in the foreground greenery,  too intense for the time of day. So I set to work to see if I could make a few changes, to maybe loosen it up, and tone down the colors to ones more faithful to the time of day I was trying to capture.

 First pass of my 24x30" studio painting based on the smaller plein air piece below.

First pass of my 24x30" studio painting based on the smaller plein air piece below.

 "Day's End, Lane's Island", Oil on linen, 11x14" ©Jennifer E Young

"Day's End, Lane's Island", Oil on linen, 11x14" ©Jennifer E Young

My first order of business was to knock back some of the texture. Not all texture in the under layer is bad, but if there is  a lot of texture that shows through as a "ghost" image I will sand it down a bit. If it's really built up I may find I need scrape it away razor blade, very carefully, (and pray I don't poke a hole in the canvas). 

Next I will "oil out" to give the new paint layer better adhesion to the partially dried layer underneath. To oil out, solvents or medium (or a combination) is brushed in a thin layer on the surface of the portion of canvas you want to rework. Most often I just use a little Gamsol for this purpose. 

 "Rugosa Coastline" (SOLD) Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

"Rugosa Coastline" (SOLD) Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

The resulting painting was still a bit different than the little plein air piece, but it felt truer to the time and place and to the feelings that I had when creating the painting on the spot. I felt significantly happier with the revised version of this painting, and wouldn't you know, someone else did too? It sold not long after the revision. 

Tune in to part two in my next post, where I'll share another revision I undertook, which ended up with more extensive and fairly dramatic changes. 

"Plein Air Unleashed"

Last week I posted about a planned trip to White Stone, VA to paint with fellow artists in a relatively new plein air painting festival called Plein Air Unleashed. There were ten of us artists at this year's event, which spanned over a period of three days. 52 paintings were turned in to Allure Art Center at the culmination, to be displayed at the gallery during the month of May.  This is a fairly newly minted event, so it was pretty relaxed and low-key, which was fine by me as I always feel a bit rusty in the spring after my winter hibernation in the studio. 

 This was my collection of paintings turned in at the end of the event.

This was my collection of paintings turned in at the end of the event.

White Stone is less than two hours from where I live, but I have never been to this area, nor anywhere in the Northern Neck. It's really quite a treat for plein air painters like me. The Northern Neck is the northernmost peninsula in Virginia. White Stone, Irvington, and Kilmarnock, where we painted sit at the southern end, where the Rappahanock meets the Chesapeake Bay. The area consists of small beaches, wetlands, marinas, farms, vineyards, and wineries, so there is a wide variety of subject matter to paint, with some really beautiful light and cloud formations from being that it is surrounded by so much water.

In all, I painted 8 pieces and turned in 7 (with one being a tosser). I can sometimes feel stressed by the more competitive events, but this festival was invigorating. It was great to be around other fine caliber painters and to just be able to submerge myself in nothing but painting for a few dedicated days. Here are a few on site photos of works-in-progress:

I felt fortunate to have stumbled on the info about this event through my friend Kim Hall, and hope to return next year. Here are most of the paintings I submitted for the show. I wish I had time to get a terrific record of the artwork submitted, but these photographs will have to do for now. 

The exhibit at Allure Art Center will run through May 26th. The gallery is going to be posting highlights from the event and artists on its Facebook page, so even if you are nowhere near White Stone, you can get a taste of the event online. 

Upcoming events

Sometimes I am grateful for the cool rainy days of spring. It makes me feel like I can do things like clean my studio or prep my plein air panels and frames without the tinge of guilt and regret from not being outside in the thick of it painting all of that spring color. But without the prep work, the other doesn't happen, so hooray for rain and clouds and wind! :-)  

This week I am preparing for a couple of upcoming events that I am excited to share with you. The first is coming up speedy-quick. It's a plein air painting event called "Plein Air Unleashed" in Whitestone, Virginia. I have never been to this area but from what I have read and heard, it sounds like a location ripe with subject matter for plein air painting. 

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Starting this Thursday artists will descend on the charming, sleepy towns of Whitestone and Irvington and unleash actual havoc with flying paint and violent brushwork! Seriously though it should be lots of fun scheduled over a long weekend this Thursday, April 26th through Sunday April 29th. Please visit the Plein Air Unleashed Facebook Page for all of the information on the demos and events planned. The paintings from the event will be on exhibit at the Allure Art Center through May 26th.

 "Charmed In Beynac", Oil on linen, 11x14", will be included in the upcoming "April Showers Bring May Flowers" exhibit of flower-themed art at Gallery Flux.

"Charmed In Beynac", Oil on linen, 11x14", will be included in the upcoming "April Showers Bring May Flowers" exhibit of flower-themed art at Gallery Flux.

Also this month I will be participating in a spring-themed exhibit at Gallery Flux entitled "April Showers Bring May Flowers". Come enjoy the color on display in this floral themed exhibit with works by over 20 artists. The variety of mediums, sizes and floral interpretations make an eclectic mix of artwork celebrating the beauty of spring. Opening Reception : Thursday, May 3, 2018 5:30-8pm. Exhibit continues through May 25th. 

I hope to see some familiar faces at one or both of these events. If you are further afield, follow me online on Instagram and Facebook where I'll do my best to keep you updated!

Plein air season

Every spring I jump the gun and think that the warm weather is here to stay, only to be blindsided by Ma Nature. Last week reached 80 degrees, so, after packing away most of my winter things, off I went to the garden center looking for color for my containers. That was last week. This week has been a totally different story, with rain, a March-like chill, and wind, oh so much wind!

Well the one smart thing I did in my zest for spring was to dust off my plein air gear on one of those summery mornings and visit the botanical gardens at Lewis Ginter. I went back to the Grace Arents Gardens that sit in front of the Bloemendaal House. I have painted this garden so many times but it is so beautiful and each season offers something new. In the early spring the garden offers a feast for the eyes dubbed "A Million Blooms", with acres of tulips, daffodils, and other spring bulbs.

 "A Million Blooms in Grace Arents Garden" Oil on linen, 11x14" ©Jennifer E Young

"A Million Blooms in Grace Arents Garden" Oil on linen, 11x14" ©Jennifer E Young

I also like this particular site because it is one of the few places where there is adequate shade, and as the years have marched on my skin has become very sensitive. I do slather on the sunscreen and wear a big goofy hat, but it isn't always adequate and I pay for it later. I also carry an umbrella, but I don't really use it that much because of the extra time it takes to mount it, not to mention the dangers of having my whole setup topple over from a surprise gust of wind.

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While I was there at the garden painting, I met several staff members who were enthusiastically commenting on my painting. Among them was the social media guru who took this snap of me in the early stages of my painting (bad hairdo and all). I had a great time and felt the sense of renewal that I always feel when I come back to plein air painting after a long break. Then came the wind and rain and cold, which delayed my ability to get a good shot of this piece outside until now.  I really hope the wind settles down today as I'd like to head back out there (or somewhere) today to get in some more on the spot painting while the spring flowers and trees are still going crazy.

P.S. Many of you responded to my last post with comments about my little obsession with a certain color on my palette. Yes, it is blue, but not any blue. It is (drumroll please) Indanthrene Blue. I will write more about it in an upcoming post.