Carlson, trees and me

Well I really do need to stop saying I'm "back in business", because no sooner do I say it then something goes awry. Mid-way into the James River studio piece I posted about in my last blog, Ma Nature delivered to us a belated white Christmas and sub-freezing temperatures. School closed for three days (!) but in fits and starts I got 'er done.

"Take Me to the River", Oil on linen, 24x30: ©Jennifer E Young

"Take Me to the River", Oil on linen, 24x30: ©Jennifer E Young

There's quite an investment in paint in this piece, but since I was able to work at least a little bit on it each day over our surprise break, it stayed open and wet enough that I was able to work up a nice texture without the dreaded gumming up of paint that can lead to over-work. 

Lately I've been looking at and thinking a lot about one of my painting heroes, John F. Carlson. If you paint landscapes (or are the connoisseur of them), you may already know about his well-loved book "Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting". If you haven't heard of it, I highly recommend picking up a copy if you are serious about the study of painting in this genre.

Carlson was a Swedish-American Impressionist born in 1875. His family immigrated to New York in 1884. Carlson went on to study art at the Art Students League in New York City, and achieve a fine career as a landscape painter, with prestigious exhibitions and a position as the director of the Woodstock School of Landscape Painting.

While he painted a variety of subjects, he made many powerful works based on scenes containing primarily groupings of trees. Carlson really was a master of form and negative space. The simplicity of his subject matter in many of his better-known paintings belied the abstract power of his compositions.

So in addition to thinking about light and shadow, variations in color, etc., I thought a lot about variation in shapes, both negative and positive. The James River series really does lend itself to this kind of study, as many paths to the river are wooded before you arrive at its rocky banks. Twisted roots along the forest floor add an additional element of interest to the composition. I had such a good time with this painting that I am developing a companion. More about that coming soon.

A new start in 2017

Happy New Year everyone! Yes I know that's a bit late, but we are trying hard to shake off the fun and lazy days of winter break and get back in the routine of waking up early to report to work and school. Since my daughter was home on break, I gave up on the idea that I'd get any real work done and took that time off leading up to Christmas to devote to family. As much as I love painting, I had such a sweet time hanging with my daughter.

Nevertheless, there is a time and a season, and now I'm back to work and it's time for some art! We are settling into winter in Virginia, and it's prime time for hibernating and lot more work in the studio. I have done a lot of small works this past summer and fall, so I'm upping the scale for a while inside.  I'm starting out by picking back up with the James River Park theme.  This is a 24x30" piece of the section of the park known as Pony Pasture. I painted a small piece at roughly the same location in the fall, though this new view is what I saw when I turned my head to the left.

jamesriver_wip1_jenniferyoung

I like this idea of peeking out at the river through the trees. We will see if what I have in my mind can be successfully executed on canvas.

jamesriver_wip2_jenniferyoung
jenniferyoung_wip_jenniferyoung

One of my favorite things about locations along the river banks are the trees. Years of the water's ebb and flow at the river's edge has left many of the tree roots bare. Roots stretch out like tentacles clutching the land, and yet these large trees manage to hang on.

More Plein Air to Studio

Last week I continued my quest to mine some of my favorite plein air paintings for larger studio pieces.  The inspiration piece was a little 9x12" Plein air painting I did in the spring down at Maymont Park in Richmond, VA:

"Spring Renewal", Oil on panel, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

"Spring Renewal", Oil on panel, 9x12" ©Jennifer E Young

I really wanted to keep the same freshness in the larger 24x30" painting, so aside from referencing my photos for some of the branch formations, I used my Plein air piece as my main reference. Here is my setup, with the large and small side by side: 

renewal_wip_jenniferyoung

If it appears that I'm using a toned canvas, it is because I am painting on one that was a false start for a painting that turned into a wiper. I will often reuse canvases as long as there is just a thin, non-textured base. Anything with too much of a texture is distracting to me and can sometimes create adhesion issues. There is a good deal of impasto (thick paint)  passages on this canvas. Here is a detail in progress:

renewal_detail_jenniferyoung

And finally, here is the completed studio painting:

"Renewal", Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

"Renewal", Oil on linen, 24x30" ©Jennifer E Young

Two James River minis before Turkey Day

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! In a couple of hours I'll be cooking up a storm, but first,  I'm sharing two little mini paintings of the James River.  "The Rivah" as it's known to many locals, is one of my favorite places to paint, or just to sit and meditate. It reveals different features at different access points  as it cuts its path through our fair city and beyond. Sometimes it is completely natural with narrow paths covered by tree roots. At other points it is fairly manicured. In either case there is a sense of the wild and untamed, and her rapids rage in spite of our civilized urban sidewalks and towering facades. 

"Lee Bridge", ©Jennifer Young. Oil on board, 6x8" (SOLD) 

"Lee Bridge", ©Jennifer Young. Oil on board, 6x8" (SOLD) 

The above painting features one of the many little "islands" you will find along this urban stretch of the James. In the background the Lee Bridge looms. Suspended below is the pedestrian footbridge that leads from Tredegar street over to Belle Isle. It is a most dramatic walk on a windy day, but the view is unbeatable. 

"The Falls at Belle Isle", ©Jennifer Young. Oil on board, 6x8" $395.00 (framed)

"The Falls at Belle Isle", ©Jennifer Young. Oil on board, 6x8" $395.00 (framed)

This view is the reward that awaits after traversing the suspended footbridge. From my safe perch on the bank of rocks, I often enjoy watching the kayakers making their way across the rapids, as well as  many waterfowl, including blue herons. You'd never know that you were right in the middle of a mid-sized city. It is one of the truly great things about living in the Richmond area, and on the eve of Thanksgiving, in addition, to family, friends, and good food, I am feeling grateful to live here. 



A perfect morning at the river

The last couple  of times I went out plein air painting, I faced some pretty gray wet days. The gray days are, for me, always the hardest. Things don't flow as easily with those close value ranges, and I don't get as excited about composing without the drama of the light. Don't get me wrong. I love a painting filled with gorgeous muted color and subtle grays, but a successful painting of lovely grays (not mud)  is not as easy to achieve as it might seem. Luckily, Tuesday, the sun was shining. It was also my last, long open day not scheduled with house stuff, moving, or preschool parties. So I and a couple of  painting buddies met down at the James River on Belle Isle to do a little painting.

I love this place. I have gone on several hikes around Belle Isle (which I highly recommend doing if you are in RVA). It's a fascinating place, from the trek on high over the footbridge that straddles the James River, to it's dark legacy as a  former Confederate POW camp during the Civil War.  Earlier still, it was also a pre-English settlement fishing ground for the Native Americans.

But aside from some historic markers and some large boulders used as cemetery markers, there is not much left from those eras to remind us. Nature has largely reclaimed it today, making it a beautiful spot for wildlife watching, sunbathing, or  kayaking on the class IV Hollywood rapids.

We set up at various points along some of the big flat rocks at the Rapids. Practically our only other companion when we first arrived was a beautiful gray heron sunning itself on a nearby rock. Later the sunbathers came, but they only added to the feeling that I was on a mini vacation being lulled by the sound of rushing water all around me.

"Morning at Belle Isle" Oil on panel, 9x12"©  Jennifer E Young

"Morning at Belle Isle" Oil on panel, 9x12"© Jennifer E Young

This was a practice in painting rocks. The large rock in the foreground was mostly in shadow, with just a few dapples of light peeking through the shade of the nearby trees. Once that large rock started getting lit up I knew I'd better wrap it up.

James River Painting in progress by Jennifer E Young
James River Painting in progress by Jennifer E Young

I'm still working on my plein air speed. I may be spending a little too long getting myself set up just so, but each time I go out I feel like I am getting a little bit more comfortable outdoors again. I am not exactly a novice to plein air painting, but life demands have kept me more often in the studio these last several years, and it's been hard to keep up a momentum or a rhythm painting outdoors. For me,  it's one of those things where you either use it or lose it, but I am determined to get my plein air painting chops back! Hopefully once we move and settle in the new house (a matter of a couple of weeks now) I will be able to "use it" even more.